In the months leading up to my university graduation, I was so sure I was prepared for the ‘adult life’ I was about to embark on. I’m pretty sure a good number of the 2019 graduation class feels that way!

The idea of now earning a living and not having to depend on pocket money from parents, the end of taking classes, and the general idea of living an ‘independent adult working life’ is definitely one to look forward to. However, we sometimes fail to realise that school life is so different from the working world.

While there’s an inexhaustible list of things to help students and recent graduates prepare adequately for the 21st-century world of work, there are three reflections I want to share from my own experience.

Decide if you’re going to pursue a career in line with your degree or not. Fortunately, the current labour market no longer relies solely on your degree as a prerequisite to employment in a particular field. Part of the joy of the 21st century is that you can become a writer without studying English or a banker from a science background, provided you can prove your abilities. Deciding early will help you take advantage of opportunities to build and develop the skills required in your desired career path. From internships to blogging to volunteering, nothing beats using a good experience to sell knowledge and skills to employers.

Networking. Networking is crucial but not just with the senior managers in your desired company or industry, but also with recent graduates or soon-to-be graduates who are working or have interned in the field you desire to pursue a career in or company you’re looking to apply to. Building a good rapport and keeping the communication lines open with such people means that you get to hear the real deal about working in that company/industry from someone you can relate to compared to the first year trainees you see at career events, who are now representing the company. More so, given that c.70% of new jobs are in the hidden job market—according to statistics—you’re better off expanding your network than sitting in front of the computer all day completing job applications.

Build and improve your soft skills. Perhaps all you needed to do within the school system was to focus 100% on getting good grades. However, work-life requires you not only to do the work but also that your work is noticed. Failing to (i) appropriately communicate the hard work you’re putting in and (ii) ensuring your good work is visible to the key decision-makers will be doing yourself a disservice for that promotion or new opportunity. Sadly, no one teaches you this within the school system. It is not just about what you know (knowledge and technical skills), but what you do with what you know – this is where soft skills such as being a good communicator and team player come in handy.

The school-to-work life transition can be tough, particularly when you think about going from long summer holidays to having only 20-25 days annual vacation days, depending on your location and company policy. On the bright side, there’s joy in knowing that you’re progressing from one phase of life to another. For me holding on to these three principles made the transition a tad bit easier:

  • Career progression is not linear like moving from one grade to the next within the school system. Sometimes you need to move horizontally to progress vertically and that’s okay.
  • Prepare to receive and handle rejection, but most importantly remain resilient. I’m yet to see a successful person who wasn’t faced with rejection at any point in their work life.
  • No one has it all figured out, so do not let social media deceive you. Plan for the future but also learn to live and enjoy the present.

If you have to take only one thing away about tackling the school-to-work-life transition, remember ‘Success is a journey and not a destination’ – Arthur Ashe.