The Real World

As fresh graduates, you enter the workforce full of dreams, ambitions and passions. Unfortunately, you are often shocked to learn that your education and good grades may have landed you the dream job but to move up the corporate ladder, a lot of labour-intensive grunt work and perseverance is needed. Interim professional training and personal growth, how should you manage your expectations without being too idealistic or too rigid?
By Ananya Mukherjee

You have a degree, you have a dream job and you have a fair idea of the industry standards; yet when you actually enter the workforce, you are often clueless about what lies ahead. You have no perception of the real alignment of your professional dreams with the job scope, and before you know
it, it is time for the first appraisal. You leave the critical choice of applause against criticisms in the hands of destiny. Nine times out of ten, you really don’t know what to expect, and worse still, what everyone else expects from you.

Reality Check

Yes, you have been a star in the university campus, you know what you want and you have nurtured a corporate high-flyer’s dream that focuses only on the CEO’s chair for long. But in reality, there’s no fast forward button that can accelerate your career exponentially from campus to corporate life in a wink. Of course, your employer understands that your aspiration to become a part of management can be a good motivation, but to demand to be a manager after one year on the job may be a bit unrealistic, argue human resource pundits.

“Many graduates expect to land a good job which relates to their education background, and enjoy a competitive compensation package that aligns with the market rate and their qualifications. Also, young graduates hope to get a job at well-known and established companies where there are
exciting opportunities for career growth. Some expect to be put on major projects right away, while a few may even harbour thoughts of accelerated career progression and overseas attachments almost immediately,” Joleen Tiah, HR manager, Agilent Technologies, elucidates.

Now that’s where the equation of expectation versus reality gets a jolt. Whilst you may be looking forward to better and faster short-tracks to reach the top, your employer is definitely keener to consolidate the foundations of your existence and potentials within the organisation. “Building a strong foundation from the base and then moving up would be a safer bet than not laying down a strong foundation at the bottom,” Sharon Lim, campus
recruiter, Oracle, observes. You cannot really disagree on that, can you?

Go slow and steady

It takes time and consistent effort to learn the ropes and get there. Most employers feel that it is important to set and manage expectations in terms of performance and desired behaviour right at the start (even before the first day at work), and it could work both ways. Make an honest communication with your superiors with regards to your expectations and get a clear map of the organisation’s expectations from you. Do not leave any space for ambiguity and suppositions. It may sound obvious but if you do not know what you are waiting for or what is required of you, a mismatch is inevitable.

Most importantly, you have to be patient; and most of all with yourself. Unlike experienced job seekers, you will definitely have a longer learning curve. Hence, do not expect to be put on major projects immediately or to have a quick career progression. Be prepared to take at least a year to learn the ropes and another year to start contributing to your job. Your drive to learn and to acquire new skills can help you immensely in building
yourself up during this time. Ask for a coach or a mentor to support you in this knowledge-building and skillsdeveloping regime.

Also, sometimes you may be undecided about where you would like to start your careers, so think about the bigger picture in the long-term. Do you view yourself with the same employer in the same industry two years from now? For instance, Ernst & Young had a young graduate who left the company after working for a few weeks to join a different industry only to rejoin Ernst & Young after a year. Clearly, the graduate had little or no idea about his own preference in the beginning. However, this could have been easily avoided. While short-term considerations may sway their career decisions, young graduates should also take a long-term view of their careers and look to build up the competencies and experiences that can truly
add value to their future, observes Steven Phan, country managing partner, Ernst & Young LLP.

Learn, learn, learn

There’s no greater mistake than trying to run even before you have learnt how to walk. Use this time to observe others, your colleagues, superiors and must at first and inculcate the same desirable potentials of leadership in yourself. Learn by watching how something must be done in a certain way, and then groom yourself accordingly. Academic knowledge can only be bolstered by applications in the real world. Take all the opportunity to network with experienced seniors and get a grasp of what it takes to succeed in the industry of your choice. From an HR perspective, a mentoring programme or a buddy system can also be effective in helping you quicken your pace of learning. HR must leverage on your strong desire to learn and need for variety. “It is a viable option to involve them in projects where there are clear boundaries of what they are accountable for and expected to deliver. Another option is to engage them in assignments where they can put their creativity and ideas to good use,” notes Chan Hoi San, head, human resources, StarHub.

“Often fresh graduates enter the workforce thinking that they finished learning when they sat their last exam. However, the real learning starts on the job and many are often surprised to learn that they need to go back to the basics and re-learn things that they thought they already knew,” notes John Mullins, managing director, human resources, Burson-Marsteller, Asia-Pacific.

What they expect from you

Just as you have expectations, all companies too have expectations from their new/potential hires. The first thing you ought to understand is the
company’s core business, its vision and strategy, its culture and values. You need to understand that the company is looking for like-minded people -- people who, besides having the talent and skill set required for the job, share its values, and are able to fit into its culture. In other words, people who are willing to grow together with the company, says Tiah.

Of course, there will be challenges in a new environment. For career starters, there must first be a commitment to learning and self development
both in professional skills as well as interpersonal abilities. “It would be very helpful for career starters to be open-minded and receptive to criticism. Other tips include being prepared to be hands-on, to be a good team member and to pick themselves up when they fall,” she adds.

The gist of it

As young graduates, you need to recognise that one is rewarded at work not just through remuneration, but also the experiences that one can gain from the job. Employers encourage young graduates, in the early years of their careers, to be motivated by the learning opportunities presented to them. By building up meaningful work experiences, you are enriching your careers for the longer term, and other rewards will follow because discerning employers can recognise and will pay you for value and capability.

Just hang in there and make the most of the opportunity that you have found to groom yourself and hone your leadership potentials. The rest will
automatically fall in place. Last but not the least, as Lim from Oracle advises, be open-minded and prepared to absorb everything like a sponge in
your brain.


x Over-promising and under-delivering
x Overselling yourself as a product or service
x Not being clear or honest about what you want and what you can deliver leading to a mismatch of expectations
x Disagreeing on time frames, targets and unwilling to negotiate
x Compromising on standards
x Not giving regular updates to your superiors


- Take initiative: Try to get your hands on more stuff to do and ask for more jobs if you don’t find you have enough to keep you busy. There will always be new things that you can learn.
- Ask & inquire: Ask for clarification and look for answers. It’s your responsibility to get the information you need to get the job done well.
- Learn by observation: You as a student may not have the expertise to practically complete a task. But you can learn by watching and understanding how something is done and why it is done a certain way. You might also learn proper business etiquette or the way something is done according to industry standards.
- Be Patient: Success won’t come to you in a day. Work for it slowly and steadily.
- Network: Take all the opportunities you can to ask your more experienced co-workers a few questions about what it takes to succeed in the industry.
- Review: Hear your feedback and criticisms well. Consider improving on what you lack and honing what you are good at.

No short cuts, please!

Beware! Unrealistic expectations and illogical timelines can work against you! For example, John Mullins, managing director, human resources, Burson- Marsteller, Asia Pacific, shares an anecdote. One of the entry-level candidates in Burson-Marsteller (BM), Asia expected an international assignment to its London office after only completing one year of service with the firm. She didn’t realise that with only one year’s experience to bring to the table, the London office wasn’t interested in her. As BM was not able to meet her expectations, she left the company and joined a competitor firm. Her move didn’t bring her any closer to London. It just earned her a reputation of being a job hopper.

Mullins cites this example as the classic example of an unrealistic demand. “It is because we wouldn’t transfer that employee to London after only one year of service, she left the firm,” he says. On the other hand, if she had have asked about the criteria for qualifying for consideration for an international assignment, BM would have considered this as a tool to motivate her and groom her professional development within its global network.

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