Carla King, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers, managed large-scale, high profile graduate development programmes for over seven years in industry before deciding to make the change and help UCL students. Using her experience, she has listed the top 10 reasons why Graduates Sink or Swim in the workplace.
Swimming in the Dead Sea/Christian Haugen/Flickr.com
- Managing Expectations
One challenge graduates face is a mismatch between their own expectations and those of their new organisation. As difficult as it can be gleaning information up front about the role, flexibility is essential. Most graduates quickly appreciate the need to work their way up and to seize opportunities. The most successful graduates are those who embrace whatever comes at them.
- Integrating and building relationships
A really insightful way of integrating into an organisation quickly is to make new contacts as quickly as possible. This means speaking to people outside of your team at every available opportunity, be it after a meeting or at the coffee machine. The more you find out what people do the quicker you will be able to link your work with theirs that may potentially benefit your team.
- Managing workload effectively
Whilst you are likely to have only one line manager, invariably you will be working for multiple people on a daily basis. The key thing here is to manage your time well by blocking time in your diary, ensuring you keep to deadlines and managing your stakeholders’ expectations. If you’re struggling to meet a deadline, you should be transparent and tell people in good time, ie. 5pm on a Friday will not leave a good impression.
- Your profile and reputation
As you begin to achieve and build on your skills, it can be easy to become complacent. Graduates will sometimes fall into the trap of either only doing the basics of what is required or falling in with a negative crowd. Be aware of the risk that may stem from not going above and beyond, and of not being discreet. Once an impression is made, it’s difficult to un-do and your reputation is likely to precede you.
- Seizing opportunities
With every job there are the boring bits – don’t let it put you off! Most managers are happy for you to take on things that interest you as long as it won’t impact your work. Think about what you can comfortably do without impinging on your work. What might be an obstacle to you gaining the opportunity? What will reassure your manager?
- Managing upwards
One of the largest of graduate complaints is a perceived lack of management or misunderstanding. Often, managers manage other staff as well as having their own large workloads. If you would like a catch-up, or to speak to your manager about something confidential, why not put half an hour in their diary if they have not already done so? If there is a project/ area you would like to get involved with, talk to them about it – line managers are not mind-readers!
- Making mistakes
Graduates have to learn about a new organisation, circumvent office politics, attend skills training, master a new role, all in a very short time. It’s a very steep learning curve. Making mistakes in your first ‘real’ role is to be expected. However, the way in which you deal with mistakes is what stands you out from others. Be responsible, transparent and think of a counter-measure so it will not happen again.
- Challenging constructively
Most organisations will talk about needing fresh ideas. However, it’s how you communicate those ideas that will get you heard. At university, you may be used to challenging others in a social context. In an organisational context, you have to use professional language, logical thinking, and not to be bullish in your approach.
- Technical vs Behavioural
Graduates sometimes believe that all they need to be is technically brilliant. However, the reality is that in every role you need to communicate, influence, work in a team, sometimes lead on a project and be motivated. You will leave university with a specific skills set but your employer has recruited you on your potential. It is only with time and experience that the workplace will give you that which will make you into a well-rounded employee. Time is your friend, not your foe.
Over your time in education, you will have received lots of feedback. However, in a work context, feedback is different. As well as commenting on your technical ability, you will also have feedback on how you behave, e.g. why didn’t you contribute in that meeting? How might you handle yourself differently? The purpose of feedback is to increase your self-awareness to help you to adapt and improve. When receiving feedback, thank the person, digest the feedback, implement it and move on.
If you need advice on what is expected of you, book a Short Guidance session with a Careers Consultant
– Carla King, Careers Consultant, UCL Careers