IT CAN often be disconcerting for fresh graduates to transition from the height of their academic achievements to the bottom rung of a corporate organisation.
Apart from a reversal of status (in a hierarchical sense), many find the unarticulated rules of the game, expectations about norms of conduct and the drivers of recognition, somewhat disorientating.
There are two stages of “cultural conversion” that the new entrant needs to go through:
Get into the sell mode
To quote Robert Louis Stevenson: “Everyone lives by selling something”.
Consciously attempt to drive the agenda.
You don’t have to craft your curriculum vitae (CV) in a chronological manner; you can choose which areas to highlight and elaborate on based on the narrative that you wish to get across.
Do not just describe chapters of your life. Illustrate them with examples and stories where possible.
As in any marketing context, take the opportunity to connect your offering with the advertised description of the job.
Take the opportunity to demonstrate that you have done some homework on the firm and its business.
The medium is the message
Your communication style, clarity of enunciation and body language make a disproportionate impact on the interviewer.
Technical skills are usually tested at the pre-interview stage.
How you present information and how you optimise the time of the interviewer (who will probably conduct dozens of job interviews that day) will be a key determinant of success.
Your choice of words must display a sense of personal accountability.
Someone who describes every negative experience as somebody else’s fault does not inspire confidence.
In addition, there must be at least one item on your CV, even if unrelated to the job, which you can display genuine passion for.
Finally, you must be prepared to talk about everything that appears on your CV.
A response such as “I don’t recall much about that dissertation from three years ago” is a guaranteed turn-off.
Early days on the job
The non-linear syllabus
Unlike the academic world, where the curriculum is laid out in advance with a clear progression of topics from the basic to advanced, the working world does not present its challenges in a neat order of difficulty.
The learning is not sequential, so it is important to keep at it, ask questions and improvise where possible.
Many of the tasks will leave you feeling like you are floundering at the deep end without sufficient support.
It is a temporary phase but I have seen several academically gifted graduates struggle with it. Perseverance is key.
The incomplete command
In several professional settings, the full requirement of a particular project may only become clear over time through a process of iteration.
To the fresh graduate, both clients and bosses may appear unreasonable when they expect action based on incompletely specified tasks.
Again, I have seen high-scoring students paralysed into inaction because “the problem has more variables than equations”.
Dealing with these situations is an art form but inaction is not an option.
Influence without authority
Some academic settings, though not all, may allow the student to return a reasonable grade without the need for extensive collaboration with others.
Furthermore, a wide range of decisions related to conflict resolution is taken care of by authority figures in the school administration.
By contrast, your effectiveness on the job will hinge crucially on your ability to collaborate with and influence those over whom you will have no formal authority.
Interpersonal skills of persuasion and negotiation are tested early on and you should not underestimate the scale of this challenge.
Finally, if there is an overarching characteristic that is most valued — both at the interview stage and on the job — it is that of reliability.
At every stage of your career, you will be part of a wider value chain.
It is important to establish yourself as a strong link in that chain, to cultivate a reputation that says yours are a safe pair of hands.