Finishing university and getting into the jobs market is usually a great feeling. With prospects of independence, career growth, and wealth building, fresh graduates are a goldmine of career possibilities.
But there are some insights about the corporate world that are often only learnt by experience, never really spoken of enough, but are essential for new entrants in the career journey. The career phase right after university has certain things in common: 20- to 30-year-olds; little or no work experience; little pay expectations; minimal family responsibilities, etc.
This job group is also prone to exploitation by being overworked, or being paid disproportionately; because they have not mustered the art of negotiation, not versed with organizational politics, and can hardly defend themselves in the face of seasoned professionals.
They will sometimes be the ‘yes people’ on whom all the menial work is thrown to. But the way the early career professional charters these grounds can determine whether they excel or stagnate.
According to the Career Stages Model, this job group is in the ‘trial’ career stage. They need to focus their efforts on build skills and competencies, might find their work tasks boring, have a high level of mobility and can quickly change organizations.
To succeed in this career stage however, this group needs mentorship and coaching from managers, engagement with challenging tasks, exposure to independent decision making, and support in building self-esteem as they transition to new responsibilities.
As such, a key indicator of success in this stage is the extent of skills developed, as it ultimately decides whether they are promoted to more responsibilities. So, how does one make the most of the early career stage?
Horn your communication skills
It is true that good communication skills are essential in order to excel in personal and professional settings. In the corporate world however, the ability to communicate clearly and succinctly has a whole new level of magnitude – big. From the way you write emails, to the way you engage in meetings, they all matter. Fresh graduates may lack these skills and face some pitfalls and dilemmas on the way, especially in communicating with seniors: is this email polite enough? Do I sound rude? How should I address this person? Do I say hello, hi, or dear? – valid dilemmas.
But the key here is to understand the culture and be conversant with any unspoken rules of the game in the organization. It does no harm to conform, at least in the beginning, as you become more conversant with the culture.
Be intentionally visible
The thing about the corporate world and especially large organizations is that you can easily become the needle in the haystack. It is good to have mentors and advocates at a senior management level who know your abilities and can root for you in ‘closed-door meetings’. But this does not happen often, and even when it does, you have a part to play.
One way to create visibility is to engage and contribute meaningfully. Give your opinions in departmental meetings, offer to share something you have learnt with your peers, take part in road shows – just show up! It does more harm than good to just say oh … “I am an introvert” or “I cannot speak in public”. So what? Go against your comfort zone and learn public speaking. The problem is this; if you are not visible in your first year of work, it will be much harder later. When you join an organization, people are interested in learning about you. They are eager to see what you bring in. And remember, what you bring in as a fresh graduate is aggressive learning – carpe diem!
You may face resistance, and that is normal
Your efforts to be visible will make some people feel threatened, and don’t be surprised if even your manager is in that flock. Others may think that you are trying too hard and make attempts to put you down. But remember, it is okay to try very hard because it is your own future and career at stake, no one else’s. So, don’t let that get into you. Learn organizational politics.