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What do you need to succeed? The challenge facing you as a university graduate in establishing your career

By ITS Education Asia

Finding a career

As a student who has fine-tuned the skills needed to study, pass exams and succeed in school and university, the transition to job hunting and the workplace can be a huge culture shock.

Formal education is typically about knowledge. Passing exams requires you to remember a set amount of information, which needs to be expressed in writing to successfully answer exam questions.  It does not require you to interact with the exam paper, negotiate with it, persuade it, sell to it or manage its performance.

As such, you may be very good at receiving and remembering information. Depending on the subject matter you may also have become adept at analyzing problems using set rules or logic. This is usually a solitary experience, demonstrating your own knowledge and intellectual capability.

The workplace however requires an entirely different set of abilities. When starting a new job there will still be a need to remember a lot of information, and absorb instructions from a manager. However there will also be a wide range of variables to deal with for the first time.

First of all there will be a team to work with, and often it will be the collaboration between members of the team, as opposed to one’s individual effort, that will determine success. Working productively with the team will require an understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses, but also those of other team members. Some people in the team may act irrationally, based on ego, insecurity, a desire to impress or other personal agendas. Understanding this requires observational and empathy skills.

There will also be the need to use personal judgment, on a wide range of decisions. When should I attempt to solve a problem myself as opposed to seeking help?  How can I prioritise different tasks or requests?   When should I speak up and when to listen in team meetings? These are just three questions that a company employee might ask themselves, for which there is no set right or wrong answer.

As working involves interactions with other people, there are always various emotional pressures to deal with. In education there is always pressure to gain good marks and pass exams, and this can perhaps be likened to job performance reviews. However add on top the demands made by clients, the need to keep a boss happy, establish a good reputation among colleagues and the need for career advancement and salary increases to meet life goals, and the pressures become much more complex.

When starting a career a graduate is therefore suddenly faced with a need to use judgment, intuition, imagination and creativity, and accept that few things are a clear black and white.

It is for this reason that many employers value extra-curricular activities, such as volunteer work, or participation in student clubs or associations. Involvement in these activities can simulate some work conditions, and require the development of some of the soft skills
covered above.

It is also highly advantageous to make the effort to interact with different groups of people. This can be by means of sport or outdoor activities (social, not competitive, is fine as it provides opportunities to meet people), courses or clubs related to creative pursuits (art, photography etc) or events where the purpose is to interact with others, such as charity networking events. In some cases young people may be shy when surrounded by adults, however all that is needed to start a conversation is to introduce oneself, ask what the other person does and if appropriate take the opportunity to ask for some advice or guidance.

Developing a world view is also important. This can be achieved over time by following global news and events, or topics of interest such as social causes, the environment, or animal welfare. These are also useful educational topics, broaden a person’s mind beyond their own immediate surroundings, and provide conversation topics when meeting people.

When looking for a job, be sure to set yourself apart by illustrating these extra-curricular activities that you have taken part in. Go beyond stating only what the activity was – continue to outline what you learned as a result, and what skills you have developed that you can bring to your employer. This might include teamwork, influencing skills, knowledge of social media, project management or knowledge of a specific field. Your knowledge and experiences all have value – use them!


About the Writer of this article

Steve Corry

Steve is the founder of Career+, a workplace skills training company. Having been educated in New Zealand, Steve subsequently spent 12 years working in Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore and Taipei, before moving to Hong Kong
in 2010. He is fluent in Mandarin. With a background in marketing and business development, Steve has worked in the education, consumer goods, and medical/pharmaceutical iindustries, as well as Beijing Olympics projects in 2008. Much of his career was in client service roles, serving multi-national companies such as Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, BP Castrol and Chevron. He has managed teams of western, mainland Chinese and Hong Kong staff, and is well versed in training and developing talent.

Dulwich College Singapore

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

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