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grads starting work


On August the 15th 2013, I started my first professional job. I wasn’t going to be stacking shelves or scanning shopping. I was an actual grown up sat at a desk. I woke up at 5am and agonised over what I should wear. I got there an hour and a half early but sat in a near by coffee shop because I felt it would look weird if I arrived that early. After the awkward introductions I spent my day going through health and safety procedures and finding out what my job actually involved. The job description could never have prepared me for what would happen over the next 12 months.

Learning the job was just the beginning. I had to adjust to working with a wide range of people, get to grips with company strategy and learn how to manage my emotions. At times I wanted to cry because I felt so low or I was convinced that people didn’t like me. Working with students brought it’s own unique challenges. A big part of my job is retention which ensures that more students make it to graduation. It was great when I could prevent someone from dropping out. It’s still heart breaking when I have to tell a student that they have been withdrawn and there is nothing I can do to help them. Through these experiences I have learnt my weaknesses and strengths. I can sense when I am becoming too engrossed in the story and need to pull back. All of this wasn’t outlined on my job specification.

There are so many aspects to work and it’s likely that no one will tell you about them before you are thrown in. You need to leave your competitive student persona behind and be prepared to start at the bottom. Your a toddler who needs to learn the workings of an organisation and figure out your place in it. I hope these tips will make your transition from graduate to professional a little bit easier.

You have six months to learn a job

Six months is usually probation period for most jobs. In this time you need to learn about your role and how to do your job efficiently. This means you don’t have to worry about being sacked (unless you commit a major breach) during this time. I remember thinking that I was going to be sacked in my first month of work. In my student advocacy role, I struggled to speak up because I was intimidated by the university staff. In time I found my voice and enjoy representing students in disciplinary settings. When things get hard think about how difficult your first term at university was. Your new job is going to be a lot like that. You don’t have to be perfect and no one expects you to be. Ask lots of questions, especially from the people who have been in the organisation for a long time.

Understand the different personalities in the office

I know most CV’s state “enjoy working in a culturally diverse environment” but few know what this actually means. While you may enjoy experiencing different cultures on holiday or have a diverse friendship group, working with different people can be a challenge.  I like to call this one cultural conflict. Although we can enjoy and appreciate people’s differences they can also be a source of frustration. I have had a turbulent relationship with my colleagues (much like other relationships in my life) and it will always be like that.  When I thought I had hit resignation time ( I was fed up particular person in my team), my manager introduced me  to Bruce Tuckman’s “Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing” concept.


According to Tuckman all teams go through these stages. The “Storming” stage is when you feel like work has become unbearable. Unlike other uncomfortable situations, you can’t just leave. You need to learn how to work with the people in your team. This means accepting them for who they are and recognising their strengths. In other words, how will this person help you get to where you want to be? This isn’t school and you can’t be in constant conflict with people you have to see every day. Get over it and focus on becoming highly efficient in your role. Learning how to deal with different personalities will be the most challenging part of any new job.

Discover what motivates you

This may be your dream job or a temporary position until you find something better. Either way, you need to understand what motivates you to go to work on those days when you want to stay in bed. Whether it’s the money or your need to change people’s lives, you must have one thing that makes your job worthwhile. Like most things in life, the excitement of work will fade and you will want to quit. Don’t do it! If we only live once, then we deserve to create the best lives possible. You can’t go on holiday or nights out if you don’t have a job. Think of that in your most desperate moments (believe me I have had many of those!) and you can keep going. The very concept of “job” is a financial transaction. You sign a contract to say you will fulfil certain things and you are paid in return. Don’t let work get you down.

A stressed employee is an unproductive one


Don’t take on more then you can handle. When I first started work I thought that I needed to work harder then everyone else. I stayed late, took on extra work and would avoid work socials. I was desperately trying to prove that I was the best person for the job. This made me stressed and I got to a point were I was struggling to cope. Over the past year, I have learned that being a superhuman is impossible and no one appreciates it. In order to get the best out of yourself you need to have a manageable workload and learn how to leave work at the office. This will also help you achieve a better work/life balance.

I have experienced so many things in my first year of work and I wish someone had prepared me better. Like most things in life, there are no mistakes only experiences. Are you a graduate starting their first job? Leave your comments below.