No matter how many supermarket shelves you stacked in your summer holidays, nothing quite prepares you for leaving behind your comfortable university life and being thrown into the world of work full-time.
Sure, you’ll figure it out eventually, but at first the whole thing can be scary, disorientating, and really, really confusing. To help you out, here are the seven things that all workers wish they’d known as new graduates:
- The Most Important Thing About a Company is Its Culture
You are going to spend 1/3 of your entire life at work. Consider that you’ll be asleep for another third of your time and you’ll quickly realise that unhappy workplace = unhappy life. Whether a company is a household name, offers a certain job title or pays a certain salary is ultimately not as important as finding somewhere you fit in.
All workplaces are different. Some are gleaming glass-front offices where everyone wears designers suits and swearing is a sackable offence. Some are basements filled with beanbags and loud music, where employees sip beer at their desk. Neither is necessarily better than the other – it’s about figuring out what suits you. Do you want every day to be different and to take on a lot of responsibility? Work for a start-up. Do you prefer structure and a clear division between your personal and professional life? A more traditional, corporate firm will be better for you.
Always ask your interviewer about the values and ‘vibe’ of the company. Most companies now understand the importance of employer branding and will have a strong idea of the sort of company they want to be.
- Nobody Cares If You Have Grade 3 In Piano
Or a Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award. Or that you once came second in an Under-15s rollerblading tournament.
Employers care about just one thing – how well you can do their job. It’s not that extra-curricular activities can’t be a valuable addition to your CV. It’s that they’re only a valuable addition to your CV if they demonstrate a skill or personality trait that would help you to a job well. If an activity is generic, has no obvious transferable skills, or took place several years ago, don’t mention it.
- Work Politics Are Impossible to Avoid
If you still believe that being an adult means existing in a lovely shiny world where everyone is professional all the time you’re going to have a rude awakening. Sooner or later you’re going to come across colleagues or clients who are difficult to work with, who let you down, or who are just downright obnoxious. You’re also going to face workplace cliques and gossip.
It can be incredibly frustrating when people don’t seem to play by the rules, but it’s an unfortunate fact of life. Accept that there will be arguments and disagreements, learn not to let the bad things get to you, and wherever possible try to rise above the fray yourself.
- Travelling Won’t Render You Unemployable
Too many graduates are scared senseless by the horror of having a “CV gap”. It’s true that employers can be suspicious of applicants who have done nothing with their life for a long period of time. But taking time out to travel is not only a pretty common path for young people, it is also looked on positively by employers because it tends to develop confidence and other skills that can be beneficial in the workplace.
So if you want to take a few months to trek the Himalayas or learn yoga in Bali, then go do so. Life is too short to be miserable.
- There’s a Fine Line Between Entitlement and Exploitation
Your first job is almost certainly going to be a little bit rubbish. You’ll likely get paid peanuts. You’ll probably be treated as the office dogsbody. You’ll almost certainly be asked to do things that are boring, or menial, or that you just don’t want to do. Tough. Sure, you worked really hard to get a degree, but so did loads of other people. Almost everyone starts at the bottom. Suck it up and you’ll soon work your way up.
At the same time, there are some genuinely awful people and workplaces out there and bright-eyed new graduates are easy targets for exploitation. Know your rights: working unpaid is almost always illegal. It’s also not okay for someone senior to bully you or treat you with disrespect. Work hard and be humble, but always be prepared to walk if you feel abused.
- There Is No Way to Avoid Sales or Networking
You don’t have to be the next Wolf of Wall Street but whichever career you go into, you’re going to need to master some basic sales techniques. Almost every company has products to flog and clients to schmooze – even artists have to sell their paintings.
More importantly, to be successful you have to learn to sell yourself and build your network. Getting your name out there and impressing the people you connect with is how people get jobs, projects, promotions… everything! Luckily, sales and networking are not as hard or scary as they can first seem. Just be friendly and be yourself; your personality and talent will shine through.
- Sometimes Successful People Don’t Deserve It
There will almost certainly come a point where someone you work with is promoted or otherwise rewarded who you don’t feel deserved it. Perhaps they’re not as qualified, perhaps they cheated their way to the top, or perhaps they’re just rubbish at what they do. You may even experience bosses or managers like this.
The world isn’t always fair, but always keep calm and try to maintain a neutral perspective. There may be things about the situation you don’t know, or they may have qualities you haven’t had a chance to see. Use friends and family – not colleagues! – to vent off steam, and realise there will come a time when dumb luck will work in your favour.
Beth Leslie writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching candidates to their dream internship. Check out their graduate jobs London listings for roles, or if you want to hire an intern, have a look at their innovative Video CVs.