Graduate role? Make a great start in your new job.

September is an important month in the working calendar as a lot of graduates and apprentices in particular will be taking up new employment and starting programmes all over the world. Many new relationships will be formed, new experiences gained and new challenges faced. It’s a great time to see development in action.

Existing workers will welcome new entrants that may or may not have previously experienced full time work in all its glory. Whether you’re an experienced member of staff or an eager beaver starting out, take the time to get to know your new colleagues — they’ll be around you quite a bit going forward!

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Starting out in the world of work, the speed in which you develop into your new role and settle in your organisation will be influenced by your decisions and your actions alone. Despite the best efforts of management and HR, with their programmes and initiatives, the part they play in you reaching even your early stage potential, is marginal in comparison to your own efforts. Reality is, it’s 99% in your hands.

Starting life as a Graduate or Apprentice, you, like many others may place your faith in management and HR to do the right things by you. You might also subscribe to the notion that those around you are fully aware of how you can best be developed in the first years of employment. For a myriad of reasons, this is often not the case and you can quickly find yourself lost in the pace and politics of everyday work; left to fend for yourself in this strange new world. This means it’s up to you to determine how you ‘land’ at work with as few bumps as possible! In starting your journey into your career, it will do you no harm whatsoever to consider how you can try out the following.

Blast the millennial perception!

I dislike the term immensely but unfortunately this stereotype is used widely as an attempt to label younger people and understand newer entrants to the workforce.

Though your organisation might publicise your arrival with fanfare (‘your graduates will be here this month…!), a lot of people will see you as a burden, as a demanding and lazy millennial that is of little use to them and their daily grind, unless they need you to get them on the WI-FI. The work you are given might reflect this and the reality is that it’s up to you to show others that you are prepared to invest the time and energy needed to make a real contribution, so they trust you. To do this:

  • Put extra time into researching your colleagues, tasks and projects thoroughly. Get to know the history of their work, who gets on and who doesn’t and show that you are attentive, listening and interested.
  • When you can, be practical and get to the point quickly and incisively. People will need to see you have common sense, motivation and initiative.
  • Eliminate any instance that could stir up the millennial stereotype. Take the headphones out before you exit the lift and setup a LinkedIn account (with credible photo!)

Get interactive and where the action is.

Somewhat understandably, employers won’t let you in front of the number one client or project on your first day. They’ll need convincing that you know what you’re talking about and can behave competently in front of clients. Often though, bosses won’t want to risk you making a fool of yourself in front of clients or colleagues which paradoxically prevents you from ever learning how to handle yourself, so we have a catch 22 situation. Ultimately, you need to get away from your desk (if you have one) and interacting with as many people as soon as you can.

  • Get out and listen to what people say about the realities and challenges of your industry. This will simultaneously increase your knowledge and confidence.
  • Start small, ask to join people for a coffee and pick their brains (most will see it as a compliment).
  • Build up via relevant group interaction and ask more experienced colleagues if you can join them on client meetings or visits. Try and do this beyond the confines of your own four walls. Meetup and LinkedIn groups can be a great start to understand what is happening outside of your organisation. If you’re in a professional setting, explore the associated professional or society groups.

Make contact with people on your path, in other departments and organisations.

Speak to the competition! Your employer might be sceptical of your engaging with the opposition; they’ll fear you’ll see the grass as greener on the other side… Truth is, by building your network you get to grips with the crux of the industry quicker than you ever could by looking internally only. And — should you one day decide to move on, this can only be a positive.

  • Research organisations and connect with peers on LinkedIn or at least check for relevant ‘professional’ profiles on Twitter.

Devise your own development plan.

Let me state that of course, your organisation wants you to develop and do well. It’s just that more often than not, your development is on their terms, based on what they need and what they think the future holds for the company. Your personal needs are important but might come second for the organisation. Therefore, while important to keep an eye on the company personal development plan, it is essential to have your own plan that you can monitor against the opportunities you’re getting inside and outside of work.

  • Think about what you’re doing in big picture terms, what you want to achieve in the year ahead and how you can do it.
  • Use the contacts you know and engage with new ones you don’t to uncover aspects of your personal development that you should be thinking about. Don’t Google ‘ways to develop’, ask people for help!
  • Put it in your diary to go through where you’re up to at least once a month. Use the notes and reminder apps on your phone to check where you’re up to when you have spare moments.
  • Bounce your thoughts and ideas around with someone you can trust to give you honest and objective feedback. This might appear difficult at first, but believe me there will be plenty around you who will be interested in helping you — the trick is in working out who they are!
  • Take the time to take a quick picture of the work you’re proud of as a reminder of what you’ve done. It’s too easy to forget the good work you do.

Use your time well. Go after meaningful projects and experiences.

In the early days, months and even years, nice and interesting work won’t necessarily find its way onto your lap. You’ll have to go and look for it. Time will fly by and before you know it, you’ll be wondering where the first year went. To make sure you don’t regret year one:

  • Make a list of things you can likely experience or achieve in the workplace and link this to milestones in your own development plan.
  • Critically, try to get yourself involved in projects that matter. Far too often grads and apprentices work on ‘internal projects’ that lack sufficient pressure and application to derive any source of real challenge or sense of accomplishment. You will no doubt have to encounter these too, but make sure such projects do not consume too much time or risk them becoming a weight around your neck!

Hope you enjoyed the post and best of luck in those first few months. Chin up!

Photo — Saulo Mohana on CC BY

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