Diary of a Welsh graduate: My first year in work
There are several times in life when you are forced to make a huge transition in a short space of time, whether it’s your first day of school or university, which can be traumatic and certainly life-changing. But how well does the halcyon days of being a university student prepare you for the real world of work? Not very well in my experience, especially since the last few months are sharply focused on the stress and formality of passing exams, and then followed by the celebratory carefree summer. It's only then that reality hits - OMG it's time to grow up and get a job!
My first year of work post-graduation was one of the most difficult but rewarding years of my life. Having left uni thinking I knew everything, I soon realised I knew nothing. The comfort zone of formal education was over and the time came to take control of my career plans and ambitions. This was a huge change for me. My job at the local pub between term time instilled me with workplace values and a strong work ethic, however, nothing can have prepared me for what to expect from graduate work.
"My first year of work post-graduation was one of the most difficult but rewarding years of my life. Having left uni thinking I knew everything, I soon realised I knew nothing"
I’m writing this article as a part of a self-reflection. It comes with a sense of relief, that WOW I coped and even thrived over the past year and as a heads up to any other school leavers or graduates who are wondering what to expect for their first job and what values and habits to start adopting early to help you prepare for one of the steepest learning curves you will face in your life.
Shock to the system...
The first few weeks for me were a shock to the system, getting up at the same time every day and focussing on multiple tasks until the evening takes some adjusting to. Hearing words I’d never even heard before and being asked my opinion on topics I’d never even thought about was sometimes overwhelming. At times it felt like information overload, my brain hurt a lot. In every new job, your employer will expect you to hit the ground running and want you to get up to speed quickly so you can be productive as fast as possible. This big expectation and information processing left me feeling like I was way over my head and had me questioning why I was even hired in the first place. This, I’ve now learnt, is a completely normal feeling to have and one that everyone (whether they admit it or not) has felt during their working life. Once I realised this, I learned to be patient with myself. Once you get to grips with the basics of your new role, the social dynamics within the company and adapting to your new team and boss, you’ll begin to shine.
Learning new skills, honing old ones...
Once my initial ‘shock’ few weeks were behind me and I was beginning to settle in, to use an analogy, I’d learnt the doggy paddle & keep my head above water, but not how to swim properly. I felt good and it was time for me to develop new skills that would build the foundation for my future career, wherever that might take me. Skills that I thought I developed In uni are completely different in the real world. For example, I developed greater self-awareness during my first year of work, as there was more riding on my actions. By enhancing your self-awareness, you can also understand your strengths and weaknesses. I want to note that it’s actually completely fine to have weaknesses, it is what makes us human after all. Realising what you’re not so good at, gives you a good starting point to improve on and with the wide range of tasks you’ll take on during your first year of work, it is a prime opportunity to hone your skillset and widen your thoughts.
Me (far left) discussing mentoring and networking as part of a panel for Venture Graduates.
For me, my biggest weakness when I first started was public speaking and presenting. I was terrified and hated getting up in front of people, whether that be in person or on Zoom. A year on I’ve hosted countless group calls, pitched in front of hundreders of people and featured on a live panel discussion in person talking about my experiences. When you demonstrate, that you can complete a difficult task and do so independently, you’re left with a warm fuzzy feeling. In my opinion, the difference between a good employee and a bad employee is how they take any opportunity to participate in a new task. Whether it scares you to the core, makes you anxious or uncomfortable, you’ve got to go for it. Who knows… you may even begin to enjoy it, I did and continue to.
"My generation is great at social networking, and being digital natives, but when in a business setting have little idea how to talk to people. I remember the first event I attended, it had me thinking “how the hell do I talk to these people”."
Learning the importance of networking...
Uni is great for developing your interpersonal skills, meeting new coursemates, joining societies and sports teams and having a laugh over a few beers at the student union bar. However, communication in a work setting is, to a degree, completely different. What I’d now tell my past self before I started my job is to talk to as many people as possible and become visible. My generation is great at social networking, and being digital natives, but when in a business setting have little idea how to talk to people. I remember the first event I attended, it had me thinking “how the hell do I talk to these people”. For the most part, it is practice, but one tip that I got told by my boss, which I still use to this day, is just to listen intently and ask questions based on what you hear.
Networking to me, when looking for my first job felt daunting. It wasn’t until I started my job, that I realised how valuable it really is. It can help develop your own brand and become visible.it's about changing your attitude to become relationship-driven, altering your behaviour and learning new skills. It is a great skill to start building as soon as you leave uni and like most things, it gets easier the more you do it. It builds confidence and communication skills such as empathy and emotional intelligence, two key skills that are needed in the art of negotiation.
The power of mentoring...
Last but not least, the final bit of advice I would give my past self before embarking on my new job is to seek out a mentor as soon as you can. Mentors come in all shapes and sizes but generally, they are someone who has more experience than you and can help guide you through your career progression. They are someone you can feel comfortable around. You can use your mentor to express your thoughts and feelings no matter how big or small your issue or challenge. My growth in the past 6 months has been due to the support from my mentors. Looking back, it has helped me to accelerate my progression and confidence in my role. My mentors provide me with a space to talk about myself, help me to conquer challenges and generally just reassure me. I will never stop actively looking for mentors as I go through my career.
Me and my colleague Zara on the red carpet for the Princes Trust Awards 2022 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London.
So on reflection and in just 12 months, I’ve learnt an amazing amount, been scared witless, achieved more than I ever thought possible and done things I had no knowledge or experience of. These include working with start-up entrepreneurs and a network of angel investors, working on exciting global projects alongside the Welsh Government, talking at and attending thought-leadership and pitching events, producing marketing videos and now… publishing articles!
All in all, it's been a white-knuckle ride and a life-changing experience. Here’s to the next 12 months and beyond.
If my reflections are in any way helpful please let me know. Also if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me. I am also enrolled as a mentor on the GlobalWelsh MyMentor programme and would be happy to mentor any recent graduate who wants support getting through that first year of real work. Cheers Tom (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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