By Anja van den Berg
Exhausted. Lost. Anxious. Struggling.
These are just some of the ways that a group of young graduates, recently interviewed, described their experience transitioning from tertiary education to the professional world.
According to a research article published by Brandeis International Business School, many young graduates feel disoriented, confused, dissatisfied and overwhelmed by the world of work.
Graduating from university and getting your first job are great achievements. However, the transition from student life to the life of a working professional should not be underestimated, warns Suzanne Gericke, PhD student and part-time lecturer at the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, University of Pretoria.
“You are bound to encounter some problems in the transition to the working world that you did not anticipate as a student.”
The main challenges faced by young graduates are divided into three categories: feedback, relationships and accountability.
- Feedback in the workplace isn’t linear
At school and at university, feedback is clear and consistent. You have a syllabus, which details the requirements for the semester and the standards by which you’ll be graded. The feedback paradigm shifts entirely once a student enters the professional world. The feedback you receive at work is often less consistent and less easily decipherable than at university.
Depending on your manager and your organisation, you may receive very clear, detailed and consistent feedback on assignments. You could receive feedback in an intermittent and difficult-to-decipher manner, or through a quick comment here or there until you have that rare official performance review. Recent graduates also need to learn a new skill around feedback in the working world that wasn’t a common part of the university paradigm: how to receive both positive as well as negative feedback in a poised, professional manner.
- Relationships become complex
During your student years, you mostly build relationships with people you want to – and for the most part with people around the same age. Relationships evolve naturally through interactions in class, from extracurricular activities on campus, through friends of friends. Moreover, there’s typically very little pressure to keep up relationships you don’t enjoy.
In contrast, relationship-building in a professional environment is about developing a robust network of colleagues who can help you succeed at your job and advance in your career. This means interacting regularly with people of different ages, backgrounds and interests. It also means developing a connection with your manager – a new authority figure who not only directs your output but also has a lot of power over your future career development.
- Mistakes could have profound consequences
The entire goal of university – at least from a learning point of view – is to develop your knowledge base and critical thinking capacity. Making mistakes is part and parcel of the learning process, with often very limited real-world consequences.
In a professional environment, in contrast, there typically is much more at stake, and mistakes can have severe consequences. If you fail a key assignment, damage a client relationship or mismanage an interaction with a supplier, you can’t make up for it by asking for extra credit. Mistakes aren’t necessarily or exclusively learning opportunities. Mistakes can have serious consequences for your reputation and career, which adds a whole new level of pressure and personal responsibility on a young professional.
It is beneficial to have a vision of what you want your career path to be after graduation, but do not panic if your first job does not fit perfectly into your envisioned plan. Your first job may serve as a chance to gain experience, maturity and confidence. Moving into professional adult roles can be accomplished by staying open to change and embracing opportunities. Even the best-prepared graduates face ever-changing employment conditions, so the key to navigating the complex waters of entry-level employment is to remain flexible and open-minded.
University of Pretoria: https://www.up.ac.za/news/post_2558580-now-what-problems-graduates-encounter-in-the-workplace
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2019/04/the-biggest-hurdles-recent-graduates-face-entering-the-workforce
Brandeis University: https://www.brandeis.edu/global/about/index.html