At a glance
An internship or graduate role can serve as a valuable springboard for career progression, but early career professionals should also capitalise on the opportunities they can provide.
1. Be on time
Making a good first impression is crucial. Misadventure in the form of traffic chaos, public transport woes or a car breakdown can strike at any moment.
Play it safe by aiming to arrive at least 15 minutes early, says Professor Julia Richardson, head of the School of Management and Marketing at Curtin University.
2. Look and listen
Once on the job, soak up as much information as possible about the role, the organisation and the industry more broadly – and take plenty of notes.
“As the new kid on the block, you want to make sure that you fit into the team and the culture of the organisation,” says Leah Lambart, a career coach and the founder of Relaunch Me.
“Watch how people interact and communicate among themselves but also with clients, customers, and other stakeholders on the phone or in person.”
3. Demonstrate that you’re motivated
Don’t sit around waiting for someone to assign a task, says Richardson. Your supervisor or co-workers “may not have time – for want of a better term – to ‘babysit’ you”.
Instead, show initiative and ask how to help the team. Take note of any questions as they arise to ask your supervisor later and seek feedback about ways to improve.
“It’s about demonstrating your collegiality, the fact that you can work independently, that you’re proactive, and you’re a keen learner,” she says.
4. Use downtime effectively
Use any spare time to study, read up on the industry, practise new skills or ask a supervisor or manager if you can shadow them in a meeting, suggests Lambart.
“Don’t sit around talking, or worse, be seen on your phone scrolling social media during quiet periods,” she says.
5. Build relationships
Develop strong connections with fellow graduates, who “often become friends for life and a great network for you as you progress your career”, says Lambart. Learn the names of people beyond your immediate circle.
Attend social events out of hours, participate in volunteer programs and strike up conversations in the tearoom.
“Be pleasant, be welcoming,” advises Richardson. “Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities.”
6. Be available to network
“Networking is a skill everyone should learn – introverts included,” says Lambart.
Networking doesn’t necessarily mean handing out business cards at large events – it can happen in smaller groups or one-on-one.
“What is most important is building a meaningful connection with someone and then taking the time to follow up and nurture that relationship after the first meeting,” she says.
If the transactional nature of networking seems cringe-worthy, change the approach. Focus on how to help others instead of how to get their help.
“That’s a very different mindset,” says Richardson.
7. Set goals
Initiate a conversation with your supervisor or manager about your short-term goals and their expectations of you.
“It shows that you’re motivated, and you want to achieve and make a contribution,” says Richardson.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a firm career plan yet. “The early years of your career are for experimenting,” says Lambart.
“These are the years when you can afford to try different things and get a feel for what you enjoy.”
8. Prioritise professional development
Jump on every opportunity to complete formal or informal training to expand your skill set.
“Graduates will go further if they demonstrate a love of learning and are constantly looking to improve both their technical or ‘hard skills’… as well as ‘soft skills’, including written and verbal communication, relationship building, teamwork and leadership skills,” says Lambart.
9. Focus on personal wellbeing
Looking after yourself outside of work will help ensure you’re in the right frame of mind to perform your best in the office.
While some roles require long hours, if the demands of the new role are affecting wellbeing, talk to your manager about how to better manage time to become more efficient at work.
“If you feel that you are working efficiently, but the workload is excessive, then you may need to push back … and set some boundaries,” says Lambart.
10. Prepare to make mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes in the workplace. As a new graduate with much to learn, one or two missteps are inevitable.
“If you receive negative feedback, don’t take it personally,” says Lambart.
“Use it as a learning experience. Listen to the feedback, reflect, and think about what you can do differently.”