Trying to be something you’re not, failing to master the art of asking questions, and accidentally becoming the office ‘irritant’ - are you guilty of these common first job mistakes?
If you’re a student at university, and someone potentially about to be thrust into the whirlwind world of work, then graduate employability is a big deal.
And once you do land that first job upon completing your degree programme, it’s crucial for your career longevity that you thrive in it.
So says Ian McKenna, Head of Liverpool Hope University’s Business School and who is committed to giving students the workplace edge they need to succeed.
This week sees Hope’s annual ‘Insight to Business’ awards taking place - where deserving students are handed sought-after short-term work experience placements with some of the region’s most forward-thinking firms and organisations.
Ian says: “Liverpool Hope University places a huge emphasis on graduate employability - it’s vitally important that we’re preparing our graduates for professional practice, not just to excel in the classroom.
“But landing your first job out of university is only just the beginning - because if you fail to impress in those vital first few weeks and months, it could have a real knock-on effect for your entire career going forward.”
Here some of the key individuals from Liverpool firms who are offering work placements as part of the Insight to Business Awards give their own hints and tips for those seeking to really wow on their workplace debuts:
Don’t try to be something you’re not:
Peter Lawrence is Director of Operational Development at Ai Change Management - a business committed to helping other firms ‘grow their own health’ as an organisation, with ‘appreciative inquiry’ principles at the forefront of minds.
Peter has many years experience running the rule over fresh-faced new starters, including a previous role that saw him running fast-track assessment centres for the HMRC’s graduate development programme.
And he says a common pitfall is for graduates to ‘pretend’ they’re someone else.
He explains: “The big mistake you see is for graduates to try to be something they’re not. There’s a big push at the moment to bring yourself to work. And if that doesn’t fit, then you’re in the wrong job, basically. If you’re working for a good employer, they will welcome your creativity.
And remember that you’ve been selected for that role because of who you are. So be yourself and don’t pretend to be something else to fit into what you think the workplace wants you to be.”
Don’t think that you know everything:
Jessica McDonagh is Talent Acquisition Lead at MHA Moore and Smalley, a leading independent provider of accounting, business advisory and wealth management services located in Liverpool.
And Jessica is urging graduates to speak up - in order that they don’t ultimately mess up.
She says: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s better to ask and learn rather than guess and make a mistake. Here at MHA Moore and Smalley, like a lot of other firms in the city, we’re a really supportive team and there’s always somebody to direct your questions at.”
Peter, of Ai Change Management, adds: “Graduate employees have what I call the ‘ignorance dividend’ - and it’s a wonderful thing. It means you can ask what you might feel are stupid questions - ‘What does that mean?’, ‘Why do you do it this way?’ - without any fear of being criticised for it. It’s about getting to grips with the gentle art of asking questions - and asking questions really is an art form, by the way - and it’s also about being humble. You’re going into an organisation where you don’t know everything, so you should never assume that you’re the answer to everybody’s problem.”
Don’t go it alone:
Peter adds: “In the first six months of a new job it’s vital you’re getting constant feedback on how you’re doing - so find someone within the organisation who you can trust, ideally your manager, and really try to build that relationship.”
Don’t think that you know everything:
Peter: “Graduate employees have what I call the ‘ignorance dividend’ - and it’s a wonderful thing. It means you can ask what you might feel are stupid questions - ‘What does that mean?’, ‘Why do you do it this way?’ - without any fear of being criticised for it. It’s about getting to grips with the gentle art of asking questions - and asking questions really is an art form, by the way - and it’s also about being humble. You’re going into an organisation where you don’t know everything, so you should never assume that you’re the answer to everybody’s problem.”
Don’t be the irritant in the room:
Peter: “I’ve seen a lot of graduates come into the workplace with an attitude of, ‘Don’t worry, everything’s fine, I’m here now’. And they get emotionally excluded from the team because they simply don’t fully appreciate the camaraderie and trust that’s needed to really thrive in an office environment. Those human connections with the group you’re working with are really important.”
Jessica adds: “You need to be social, and you need to make an effort to go to the company or team social events. It might sound like something that falls outside of your remit, but being proactive in this way really does help you to bond with colleagues, and that’s hugely beneficial to your working relationships both in and out of the workplace.”
Don’t get too big for your boots:
Peter: “Be willing enough to do the jobs that no-one else wants to do, and make sure that you do those jobs to the best of your abilities. Showcase the fact that you don’t mind rolling your sleeves up and reaching down, because that will ultimately enable you to reach upwards. As a new employee, you want to make yourself indispensable. If you walk into the kitchen and see a pile of dirty dishes, wash them yourself. It’s not beneath you. It’s about being part of a culture that wants to get things done.”
Do your research:
Jessica says doing your research and getting prepared is vital if you want to hit the ground running.
She explains “You need to really connect with the team from the get-go. So, between your job offer and your start date, research the company and team. Connect with them on LinkedIn if you can. This will help you get a better idea of what working life is really like, and it’ll help you prepare for what’s in store.”
Peter: “Do some deep research on the company you’re about to join, and also the context in which you’re joining them. Aim to know more about the business than even the people who are already there, so that you’re going in with a real understanding about how you might fit in and what you can offer. Having an external mentor might also be really useful - perhaps a university lecturer or personal tutor - who you can check-in with over the first six months of the role so that you can chat about the situations you’re encountering, and whether or not they’re a normal part of professional life. Having a mentor can be a really powerful way of having honest conversations about how you’re progressing.”