Fresh out of university with a shiny new degree, interview nailed and job offer accepted, the prospect of finally starting the job you’ve trained for – and being paid to do it – is exciting.

Settling into the reality of your first full-time job can, however, mean overcoming a few challenges.

After the relative freedom of tertiary education with its late starts and breaks between lectures, the grind of getting up at the same time every morning, five days a week, and putting in an eight-hour day can come as a shock.

Janet Tuck, career development specialist at the Career Clinic, says new grads need to be organised for the working day in different ways than for their student days. She suggests first-time employees put a plan together for the first week.

“Include what time you need to get up in the morning, what you need to do each day before you leave for work, what you’ll wear each day and how you’re going to get to work. It could be helpful to practise getting to work the week before so that you are realistic about how long it’s going to take and what the traffic may be like.”

Adjusting to the reality of a 40- hour week and learning new things is tiring, and Tuck advises cutting back on late nights for a few days before starting work.

“Then work out a routine that makes it easy for you to get to work on time and show up at your best.”

Having lived in casual clothes for years, it can be challenging to put a “work wardrobe” together before paydays kick in and new clothes can be bought. Tuck suggests checking out really good used clothing stores and TradeMe to buy a “starter” wardrobe. “Concentrate on two or three good basic pieces that all work together colour-wise. If your parents are able, you could ask for a loan to buy the basics to get you started.”

A young person in their first job may feel a bit of an outsider – shy with colleagues and unable to participate in office banter, and Tuck says this is normal. “But if you make an effort to be friendly and talk to people, you’re more likely to make friends quickly,” she says. “You could set yourself a goal to talk to someone new each day. Work out a few questions as conversation starters and go from there. Make an effort to go to work social events because people will have more time then to chat and be friendly.”

A new grad may occasionally find themselves abandoned after orientation – not given a project to work on, or enough work to do. On the other hand, they may be “dropped in at the deep end” with work dumped on them and no direction, leading to feelings of panic and being overwhelmed.

Tuck says that in both cases, the manager is likely to be busy and unaware of how their new employee is feeling. “Your boss won’t know how much work you can and can’t cope with unless you tell them,” she says. “Don’t just sit and stew if you feel a bit overwhelmed or abandoned. If your boss is not regularly checking in with you, go and talk to them.” She suggests scheduling in a regular time to discuss how things are going, which includes letting the boss know if there is too much or too little to do. “It’s okay to ask for feedback about your work and it’s also okay to ask for help if you don’t understand something. You can also keep your eyes open for things you can do for others. It’s good to be a bit proactive sometimes.”

Due to lack of experience, a first-time employee can sometimes make a serious mistake at work. This can at best be embarrassing and at worst, cost the company money or even put lives in danger. Tuck says it’s easy to make mistakes at the beginning and you can deal with the fall-out by telling yourself you’re just starting out and mistakes are normal. “Just apologise and get on with the next thing. Make sure you learn from mistakes, however and try not to repeat them.”

New grads should not expect their first job to be their dream job. Tuck says a first job will be a lot about doing what the boss tells you to do. “That’s a manager’s job. Your job is to get stuck in and learn all you can, and there will be a lot to learn.” She adds that if a new employee has a positive attitude and demonstrates a willingness to learn, they will prove they can be trusted with more.

Sometimes, after years of studying and becoming qualified in a particular field, a new grad may start their first job and find they really don’t enjoy their chosen career. Does that mean throwing in the towel and moving on to something else?

“Don’t be too hasty to make that kind of decision about a chosen career,” says Tuck. “First jobs in most careers don’t look very attractive, and often bear no resemblance to jobs further down the track.” She suggests talking to others further up the career ladder, and reflecting on the things that were attractive about the career in the first place. “Ask yourself if they still apply and if they do, then just stick with it and give yourself some time to get a real feel for the job.”

Tuck believes it’s unwise for young people to chop and change jobs too frequently, because they can end up always being in entry-level roles and therefore never developing the skills to progress to the really interesting things.

“However,” she says, “if you still feel that your chosen career may not be a good fit for you, go and talk to a career adviser and let someone else help you work out what to do next.”

Source: New Zealand Herald


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