What I wish I knew…

… as fresh graduate before entering the work force

In order to know where to go, you need to remember where you came from. So, several times a month, I am having 1:1 mentoring sessions with future university graduates in order to help, guide and assist them with their queries before their entry in the working world. A recurring discussion topic is today’s focus: searching a job as a future graduate.

Before I start answering

University is the ultimate test before joining the professional world and they try to prepare (or “push” – depends on how you look at it) you as much as possible. For me, being a student felt like a constant and stressful juggle between lectures, assignments, group work, exams and of course your thesis paired with small pieces of freedom (and perhaps a drink) after getting a good grade, before diving back into it the following day. On top of that, let’s add a part- or full-time job, GMAT, internships, application rejections, personal stuff; and voilà, you are part of a rat race that never seems to end. Rest assured, you are not alone.

Fast forward a few years and I am now working at a German multinational software corporation that is market leader in enterprise application software. I will be honest, I did not expect moving to Germany nor being in the IT industry – and yet, it fits me like a glove (funny how things go).

The step from being a graduate to a professional can seem like a huge leap, so let’s demystify some parts in order to give you a head start.

What did you wish you knew?

Actually, there are quite a few things I wish I knew back then but instead of listing them all, I will give you the Top 5 that would have actually helped me:

1. Take a break: if financially possible, take a break before entering the work force. Yes, we cannot travel today, but take a moment to “catch your breath” before storming into the next challenge. The time between ending your studies and starting your work life is the ultimate “freedom” without obligations. Also note that some companies have a 6-month “no holiday” policy for new employees.

2. Have a meaningful CV: I was taught that my CV had to fit on one page which can be a challenge and lead to possibly cutting essential information. My key take aways:

– Check for current CV templates that are visually appealing and that restructure the information in groups;

– Make it readable (in terms of letter type, letter size and white spaces) and check for spelling mistakes (absolute no-go);

– Summarise the key information in “responsibilities”, “achievements” and “activities” for your 3 most recent experiences;

– Proof-check that the information fits to your LinkedIn profile and do not exceed 2 pages

– Verify that your experiences and CV fit to the job you are applying for. In the eyes of a recruiter, any major job requirement that you forgot to mention on your CV, “did not happen”. 

3. You need a “double fit”: regardless of what Forbes, Glassdoor or GreatPlaceToWork state, you need a “double fit”. Even though you for instance always dreamed of joining BCG or Google, you need to “fit” to the company, but the company also needs to “fit” to you. So check their websites, their vision and mission statement and reach out to possible connections upfront. Interviews are for both parties (you and the company) to check the compatibility just like for a relationship! Not being a fit is okay.

4. Focus when looking at applications: you are about to enter a new world and it is normal that you do not precisely know what you’re looking for. My take, is to think about the university topics you particularly excelled in and/or enjoyed, and where you could see yourself working in. If you fulfill 70%-80% of the requirements it is safe to apply! Keep in mind that no job will be forever; studies show that 70% of millennials quit their jobs within 2 years. Do not forget to ask questions during the interview! (e.g., “what does your typical working day look like?”).

5. Rejection is part of the process: this is a tough one. “What does not kill you makes you a stronger”.  That’s great, but in the meantime, I still do not have a job. This relates to the double “fit”. Maybe you were rejected because your profile did not match, you have too little/much (it exists!) experience or perhaps you randomly applied just to get “a” job. Recruiters know what they are doing and what they are looking for. Being rejected is part of the process; use it to refocus.  If you have been in contact with the recruiter, there is no harm in asking why you were rejected so that you can learn from the experience.

Dear Graduate, so now what?

One thing after the other: breathe, focus and make a plan. When do you hand in your thesis? When will you graduate? How long is your break? When do you expect to start working?

When you have a broad plan, start focusing on the occupation. List the key words on what you expect from your job besides a pay-check (e.g., would you rather be a generalist or specialist, are you more a consultant or sales’ person), what industries interest you (e.g., banking or pharmaceuticals) and what company type you see yourself work in (e.g., national or multinational) to gather your thoughts. Review the list several times over a period of 2-4 weeks (preferences change!). Then select companies that “fit”, check their internship or job openings (global corporates have their own job pages) and apply! Good luck!

graduate work student

Short Bio

My name is Anouk Mulder and after completing a BSc of International Business Administration and a MSc of Organisational Change & Consulting at RSM Erasmus University (Europe top 5 university), I joined SAP. Currently, I am so-called Pre-sales for Training & Adoption, meaning that I take care of the entire Education portfolio for multiple industries in Germany. We guide and advise customers on how to best prepare and train all their workforces for the digital future. My motto? The sky is the limit!