College to Career: Navigate the Transition

By Leandra Gunnion

As university undergraduates, we occasionally think about our future workplace. We wonder if our experience will be like the movies with colleagues who are like family, if the workload will be manageable, or what kind of boss we will have.  

The transition from undergraduates to new entrants into the workforce can be simultaneously exciting and daunting, but understanding some of the expected changes is a step in the right direction. To shine some light on this pertinent matter, U-Insight interviewed some NTU alumni who shared their valuable insights and advice. 

Image Credits: Nicole Descalsota

1. Forge professional relationships

The first significant change involves the process of building relationships. In university, we have the liberty of choosing our social circles based on how well we get along with someone. Furthermore, such connections are formed with people of similar age and common interests, which makes striking up conversations easy and forging connections instantaneous. 

However, workplace relationships may no longer about common interests and fun. Considering the collaborative nature of any workplace, being exposed to diverse types of people is unavoidable. Most may be kind, helpful, and friendly, but some, possibly manipulative and harsh. 

Hence mastering the ability to work with various people is crucial to excelling in the workplace. Exhibiting values such as trust, reliability, responsibility, and respect when interacting with colleagues is a key step in fostering meaningful connections with them. 

2. Adapt to the learning process

The approach towards learning is yet another inevitable change in the workplace.  

As a newcomer in any organisation, learning is mandatory in order to perform assigned tasks correctly, but this takes on a much different form in a professional environment. In contrast to revising from a fixed syllabus and crafting relevant answers in an examination, the workplace usually requires a more hands-on learning approach, with a broad set of skills and knowledge necessary. 

Furthermore, feedback we receive in the workplace may differ compared to the quantifiable grades we are accustomed to receiving in university. Given the busy schedule of some bosses, they may not have time for a detailed review of tasks we complete. This usually results in generic feedback which may bring about some difficulties when trying to improve one’s work. 

Thus, in such cases, connecting with fellow colleagues is especially handy. Colleagues typically offer the most support during our early days in a new job, so it’s important to find trustworthy people whose feedback can be helpful. 

3. Acquire and develop practical skills 

Amidst the myriad of changes to expect in the professional landscape, our alumni emphasised the importance of acquiring practical skills before starting work.  

This includes skills gained through opportunities presented by modules, CCAs, research opportunities and projects.  

When asked about experiences in NTU which help in her workplace, Sharlynn Lee, who graduated with an Accountancy degree in 2015, recounted her overseas exchange program experience. “It allowed me to meet more people from different backgrounds and made me more open-minded,” she said. 

Chua Yi Jie, Mathematics and Economics alumnus (Class of 2021), emphasised the importance of widening one’s skillset in a variety of ways. 

Try to gain soft and hard skills by joining different activities and clubs in school,” he advised. “Apart from internships, joining and upskilling yourself through CCAs or school clubs will contribute to your future career too.” 

Vanessa Wong, Fine Art (Design Art) alumna (Class of 2021) attributed the development of teamwork-related skills to group projects and presentations. 

“Group projects and presentations helped a lot in teaching me basic skills in working with others and pitching new ideas and projects. “Final Year Project (FYP) was also a good stepping-stone in meeting new people and getting my works in the industry,” she added. 

Kwek Jun Heng, Electrical and Electronic Engineering alumnus (Class of 2021) expressed the importance of acquiring problem solving skills. 

“Find the solutions to solve problems by yourself rather than purely relying on given notes or lecture material.” 

For Livia Lee, History alumna (Class of 2022), critical thinking tops the list of useful skills to cultivate 

“This is an extremely essential skill that allows you to navigate through a huge terrain of information and make a decision best suited to your needs,” she said.  

Livia also encouraged current undergraduates to invest time in learning while they still have the time to do so.  

Learn (whatever you want) as much as you can now, especially when you are a student. You are in an environment where mistakes are more tolerated, and you have the time and energy which would not necessarily be available to you after you start work,” she advised.  

It’s no surprise that parting with our beloved university life will be challenging. But it is important to be optimistic and well prepared for what the next stage of life has to offer. By heeding the valuable advice given by our alumni, and with some luck on our side to have approachable co-workers, we can be confident that we will do just fine when we enter the workforce. After all, the only constant in life is change.    

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