7 things to know before starting your first job

The graduation photos have been taken, the gown kept, and you’re now ready to begin your first full-time job. Nervous and uncertain?

We’ve been there, and we feel you, so we’ve gathered some advice* (on both the job hunt and starting work) from actual seniors who’ve gone through the same journey and made it through. We hope it helps even the tiniest bit!

*Comments have been revised and summarised for clarity. By seniors, we mean university graduates now in the workforce! 

1. Research, research, research

“Find an unbiased industry article or overview. Let me give an example: When I first studied engineering, I thought it could be the beginning of something, but the market crashed after my internship… If there were an overview that tells us about the market and what prospects there are out there, we’d be able to see things more clearly and make better decisions.”

Do your homework! Make sure that your understanding of an industry is backed by facts and not assumptions. Speak to your seniors who are working in the fields you’re interested in because they will have an insider perspective — and may be more forthcoming about the positives and negatives of a specific role or career! Don’t be afraid to ask about what surprises them too.

Keep up with market trends by subscribing to Google Alerts, so the latest news updates will not escape your inbox.

You can also read reports and guides from international employment and recruitment agencies like Robert Half and Hays for even more insights. These resources often provide valuable data on salary trends, in-demand skills, and emerging job opportunities, giving you a competitive edge in your career planning and decision-making. Just ensure you know when their data was captured: the report could be published in 2024, but use information from 2023, for example. Fast-moving industries could have seen even more developments since then.

2. Cover your bases

“Learn how to read contracts, haha… or the cans and can’ts when speaking to interviewers. Mostly in terms of questions to ask (what is appropriate, e.g., Benefits, team dynamics, etc.).”

Once a contract is in force, it becomes hard to break. Failure to abide by it, even if the terms are unreasonable, will result in repercussions that you might not be able to bear, including monetary compensation. Make sure to read your contract down to the last word and seek clarification about clauses or content you are uncertain about.

Tip: Employment contracts should cover your job scope, benefits, salary, probation clause (if any), working hours, notice period, and more. For a more detailed list, check out the Ministry of Manpower’s list of key employment terms here.

Do stay proactive, too! Many interviewers will give you an opportunity to find out more about the company by asking if you have any questions for them. Come prepared and take the chance to ask about things like the work culture, your would-be supervisor, growth prospects, and so on. You could also ask the interviewers about the company’s biggest challenges or future goals. Avoid asking about things that can be found on the company website or in well-known publications. This is where your research comes in.

It should go without saying, but please, don’t ever ask about bonuses during your interviews.

Also, don’t take all you hear during the interview at face value: most interviewers will sell you the job and the company. Check out Glassdoor reviews and LinkedIn to see if everything tallies: one important thing to note is if the company has a high turnover rate. If you see the same position surface on job portals regularly, for example, and only one person fills this role, this could be a red flag for issues like poor management practices or instability within the organisation.

3. Don’t shortchange yourself

“I think I’d say just apply for everything and look out for things like MA (Management Associate) programs.”

You know how it goes: You lose 100% of the shots you don’t take…even though there is only a 1-5% probability of scoring*. Apply for the programmes you think you don’t have a chance of being accepted for, just so you won’t regret giving them a miss down the road. Remember to give your all and be confident, too.

Another piece of advice was not to settle because “your first job will be the benchmark moving forward”.

However, yet another senior reminds us, “It’s okay not to get a perfect job from the onset, as long as it’s related to what you are interested in pursuing. Ask around and evaluate how far you want to go in the company. Learn to recognise if you are stagnating or if the role has room for you to grow.”

Many successful individuals started from the ground up! Every role, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, will provide transferable skills and other takeaways beneficial to your career trajectory. Show enthusiasm and a willingness to learn, and ask questions or seek guidance from more experienced colleagues. A good attitude gets you places. Also, don’t be afraid to highlight your achievements or what you have done for the organisation during reviews. Keep a record/data that you can refer to, which you can also use to update your resume.

*(Walter Gretzky, by the way, is the person who gave the world this great quote, which features in the January 16, 1983 edition of The Hockey News)

4. Give things some time

“It’s important not to give up too quickly and say, “Well, this job or office culture doesn’t suit me”. It takes about 6 months for someone just to adjust to a new full-time job, and it’s gonna be tough as sh*t at first, even if it’s your dream job. Not to mention every time people come and go, it’s another few months of adjustment.

Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that sometimes, you have to tide over the bad months instead of just upping and leaving. Obviously, there are cases where you SHOULD go (e.g., upper management is awful), but if it’s just a difficult period or a period of transition, you should give yourself a chance. Growth comes in times of hardship. Opportunities open up when your colleagues leave.”

This doesn’t apply if it’s a really toxic environment, however.

You should also take ownership of your career; seek out opportunities to grow! Set goals, work towards them, and identify gaps in your organisation that you may be able to fill. Employers value initiative. If you propose innovative ideas and solutions to problems, they may very well sit up and take greater notice (of you).

5. Seek those with experience

“I would definitely want to know the industry’s cold, hard truths—what it lacks, what it needs, and what it has.”

We’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Networking is a necessary evil that opens up the doorway to opportunities— at least half of all open positions are not listed and it also gives you the chance to make important connections. So even if you hate speaking to people you don’t know, make sure to network before or when you’re in your first job when given the opportunity. The more you go, the better you’ll get. The people you meet might even become your friends and mentors!

Keep in touch with your schoolmates and course seniors, too. Sometimes, all you need is a little support when going through a hard time at work — or someone who understands your angst with just one sentence. Amirite?

6. Learn to prioritise

“Sometimes we try to do things fast and all at once, but work will never end. There will always be more and more things to do. Learn how to prioritize or manage your clients (or boss’s) expectations if possible (really understand their needs, measure the urgency and negotiate for more time if needed)”

You might have had clashing deadlines during school days, but work is a whole different ball game. That’s because you’re no longer answerable only to yourself, but to your boss, colleagues, clients…Learn to pace yourself and work out a rhythm, or you’ll risk burning out. Also, if you are working in an organisation that sets unreasonable deadlines at the cost of your mental or physical health…it may not be the best fit. Speak to your seniors or mentors to get another opinion.

As one senior points out, “Health is wealth; no job is ever worth your health.”

Trust me when I say health issues can snowball. You wouldn’t want to spend all that hard-earned money on medical bills.

7. Always clarify (things)

We end off with this short and sweet one: “Don’t assume”. 

Take a colleague’s wacky but golden advice: assuming makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”.
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If you’re unsure about a task, ask. If your boss said something a few days back but didn’t give a clear direction, ask if it’s a project with high stakes. Never assume that things will go okay because everything went fine for a similar engagement a few months back. Instead of worrying that you’ve done a bad job, ask for feedback. If your colleague seems unusually tense at work, don’t convince yourself that you’re the cause. Wait and see, or carefully broach the subject when the time is right.

Question the veracity of assumptions and prevent them from causing doubts or negative thinking! Learn how to recognise their arrival and work your way through them. It’ll take you a long way and save you many headaches.

 

We hope you’ve found the advice above helpful. All the best in your future careers and for the job hunt. We believe in you and look forward to seeing you give advice to your juniors in the near future!

Or send us your advice so we can include it here. We welcome this, too!

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