Life after a structured graduate training programme.
After the elation of landing yourself a graduate job after university, it can be difficult to plan ahead when your fixed training programme comes to an end.
I remember finishing my graduate programme at BT, and wondering what the next official ‘career stage’ was. I had dutifully completed two years for my A levels, four years at university, followed immediately by a structured two year business management graduate programme. Now what?
I was used to living my life in academic years, and had so far followed quite a traditional academic route, without giving too much thought to what came next. I felt I was about to graduate into the big wide world of ‘real life’, with no more formal training, structure, and certainly no five-year plan.
I was pleased I had secured a permanent role in the department that I wanted (graduate recruitment, in the HR department), but as to how long I would (or should) stay with the company in my team – I had no idea.
Fast-forward 8 years after graduating from university, and I don’t think any amount of career planning could have predicted I’d end up where I am today, having left the security of a full time corporate job to set up my own coaching and HR services business.
Throughout my career working in corporate graduate recruitment, I had conversations with many others who felt similar to me – not quite sure that direction to take their career in a couple of years after graduating.
Here are my top 5 tips to help you deal with life after a structured graduate training programme:
This is a really important one. Don’t think that you’re the only one without a 5 year plan. It’s almost impossible to work out what the future has, and the people that pretend to have it all worked out might change their mind anyway.
Don’t bury your head in the sand and ignore the future completely, but don’t think you have to have it all worked out now.
Reflect on what you have (and haven’t) enjoyed so far:
Most people will think about this in their head, very few will write it down and reflect. Think about that you have enjoyed so far in your career – what team environment you have thrived in, what kind of culture it has been etc. Also think about the type of work you have enjoyed – high pressured? Relaxed? All of this information is really useful to help make future job decisions.
Note your biggest priorities:
Everyone wants different things from their career. Some people value flexibility and purpose, others independence or a high salary. You may value different things depending on where you are in your career. It’s important to weigh up any career change against your preferences and priorities, not the expectations of family, peers or colleagues.
Talk to your boss:
Whether you love your job and plan on staying there for years, or hate it and can’t wait to get out, try and have some honest conversations with your manager or supervisor. Having managed a team myself, constructive feedback about how team members are feeling is something I valued enormously.
There may be things you love or hate about your current job that your manager isn’t aware of, and honest two way dialogue helps everyone better understand the situation. You’ll be better informed when faced with future career decisions, such as deciding if you should stay in role or explore opportunities outside the team.
Get a mentor or coach:
Maybe I’m biased, but I don’t think you can have too many different types of support in your career. I’ve had a variety of coaches, mentors, and peer mentors throughout my career, and they’ve all been incredibly helpful in different ways.
Be proactive in seeking out a mentor in an industry or team you’re interested in, but make sure you approach them in the right way without them feeling obligated to say yes. There are many online forums that help match you up with mentors, so look into that option as well.
Hannah Salton is a career coach specialising in helping professionals create careers they love.