AS A fresh graduate, you may be feeling nervous about starting your first “real” job, and that is completely normal.

The transition from student to professional can be a rough one. In college, your time was clearly structured and the expectations were easy to understand.

More importantly, you were basically only responsible for yourself.

If you slacked off, skipped class or phoned-in assignments, you only hurt yourself (and maybe your tuition-paying parents!).

Now, you have a supervisor, a team of co-workers and a whole company relying on you and the work you do every day. If you mess up or flake out, you burden other people and can negatively affect a business and the lives of the people that the business employs.

In today’s workplace, employees are changing jobs and careers more than before, resulting in a transient workforce.

Today’s professionals are likely to have six to eight different employers and potentially three direction changes throughout their career.

This means businesses need individuals who can slot into a role and perform from day one.

While the skills that allow you to be immediately and effectively productive are highly sought after by employers, the good news is, they are not that difficult to master.

Here is how you can make the best and successful transition from student to employee.

These tips are also relevant to you if you are moving to a new organisation after being with your previous employer for a long time — a move which can be just as daunting.

Starting right

When embarking on a new role, the first rule to follow is to simply observe how people operate and interact with one another in your new work environment.

Every organisation has its own unique culture. Aim to get a good understanding of the language, working styles and collaboration among team members.

Learn who the key players and decision-makers are and speak to them about how they like to do business.

Get a feel for the methods, structure and hierarchy and whether collaboration and innovation are openly embraced or achieved in small steps.

Be willing to adapt your working style if you used to work in a particular way because every organisation does things slightly differently.

Draw upon the skills and experience you built up with your previous employer but don’t have the mindset that you can do things in exactly the same way.

Even though you will deliver the same quality of work, you may need to change the way you go about it.

Remember also that you are not going to change the world in a day — it is unrealistic to expect otherwise.

The most effective workers and leaders do not “reinvent the wheel” but, rather, copy good ideas and make them relevant to the environment they are in.

Ask for help

If you are finding the demands of your new role challenging, the most important thing is to ask for help and, more importantly, ask for feedback.

A steady, constructive, open approach and clear communication of what you are doing with your fellow workers will help you win the career performance race.

You should never be too proud to approach others for help or consider it a sign of weakness — especially if this is your first job.

It is perfectly normal to feel helpless outside your comfort zone at times but you can manage this by communicating with others.

Your organisation may even have a formal coaching programme in place to help you through the transition.

Ask if this is something that is available to you and if it is not, let your seniors know this is something you are interested in pursuing.

Even when you are feeling challenged, it is important to maintain an optimistic outlook and focus on your achievements rather than the mistakes that often come with a new role. 

Don’t place unnecessary pressure on yourself by making ambitious predictions about what you are going to achieve in the first days with a new employer.

Instead, develop small, measurable and achievable goals. And when you feel a little more sure of yourself and comfortable in your new surroundings, stretch the next goal farther. 

Find out what is expected of you

A critical part of being successful in a new organisation is to be clear about the goals and expectations of the organisation, and align your own personal goals to these.

By focusing on what matters and what is expected, you will ensure you are keeping your eye on the bigger picture.

By taking things one step at a time, remaining open to change and asking for feedback along the way, you will build the foundations for your success.


Article by Adam Bawany, the Gen Y business development manager of the Centre for Executive Education (CEE). CEE Global offers executive coaching and leadership development programmes that help professionals catalyse success in their industries. For details, e-mail or visit