• Maud Vanhoutte

Transitioning from School to Work: Important Soft Skills Needed


The transition from school to the workforce can be a rocky and intimidating experience. The dynamics of an office and work environment is vastly different to those found in a student's schooling experiences. A student is used to writing papers, library study sessions and general student experiences. These experiences are traded from those of a full-time office job, where the focus is on meetings, client presentations and the biggest shift of all, going from part-time or casual hours to full-time and all that is entailed with that. These shifts can be daunting, however, there are key skills and strategies available that will help you to smooth this transition.

Maintain a positive frame of mind when transitioning from student to professional Starting your first 'real' job is an emotional roller coaster. It can feel at times that your education has not fully prepared you for the role and that you are not effectively equipped for what it entails. Good news, you are not the only one. The truth of the matter is that your education has provided you with a solid base, but most of the learning will be done on the job. There will be times when you are acclimatising to the role, that you will make mistakes and feel incompetent and down. But these experiences are all part of the process in your professional development. The importance of a positive mindset is that these mistakes are viewed as stumbling blocks that are viewed as opportunities for learning and future development. Thus, you are able to overcome this setback quicker and continue on. The important lesson here is that it is expected you to make mistakes and have some growing pains, but how effectively you deal with these setbacks will determine your success within the role. Maintaining a positive mindset will allow you to effectively transition to the workforce more effectively by learning from your mistakes more effectively.

Learn to work within a team when transitioning from student to professional Key findings in a recent industry are that a major concern for employers is that lack of developed soft skills within graduates. The education system is highly focused on providing students with transferable technical knowledge and skills, whilst the development of soft skills is neglected. Within a work environment, these soft-skills are more prized than one's technical knowledge. As mentioned before, most of your learning within an organisation will be done on the job. Your school results demonstrate that you possess important transferable skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and effective written communication. Within the work environment, employers seek and prize individuals who are able to effectively integrate into a team environment, effectively work well with others and have strong interpersonal communication skill-set. The ability to connect with others, develop relationships and communicate with others can be developed in a variety of situations. From school functions, university groups, and subject teamwork activities. Employers value the ability to transition these skills and experiences into a professional environment. Through participating in university groups, functions and other extracurricular activities you develop the foundation soft-skills that will equip you to successfully integrate and develop strong teamwork and interpersonal communication skills. The best thing about these activities is that it is a good testing ground to develop and learn from others what are successful behaviours and skills within a team environment, thus allowing you to employ these to help your transition into the work environment be a lot smoother and effective.

Join social and business networking events to help you transitioning from school to work One of the most important skills for anyone in their professional development is the ability to network. Networking involves the formation of relationships to create and act upon opportunities that arise. Networking is an important aspect of one's career progression, but it is also important for one's ability to create social support networks. Starting a new job for graduates can be intimidating not just because of new responsibilities but also may involve the transition to a new city or location. Many graduates will have to move away from their established base to new locations in order to gain opportunities within the workforce. This means leaving established networks and support systems. Starting a new job in a new city is challenging, as one does not know anyone there, making it feel a lonely place. Individuals who are more successful in transitioning into a new job are those that have a strong network, both professionally and socially. They develop contacts and relationships to help navigate the new experience more effectively as they can rely on advice and support to help them overcome barriers and setbacks more productively. Strong professional and social support contacts within the office possess the advice and knowledge that helps the individual successfully deal with the issue as they have the experience dealing with the same issues. Support networks also provide individuals with the ability to 'blow off steam' and communicate their issues, which allows a sense of relief and clarity for the individual and may provide them with a new perspective of how to tackle the issue. Having a support network is a strong indicator of one's ability to successfully transition from school to work through the development of social and professional relationships.

Be flexible, creative and adaptable to help your transition from school to work A key reality for graduates is that the job description is only a drop in the ocean of what the new position will entail. The reality of being in a graduate or 'first out of school' position is that the role will entail working in different departments of the organisation, doing tasks that were not highlighted within the job description and being involved in projects where your university education will not have trained you for it. Graduates and individuals new to the workforce must have strong adaptability and flexible skills and mindset that can be applied to a wide variety of situations. Developing a strong range of soft skills, such as critical analysis, problem-solving, communication, leadership and creatively, will allow young professionals to greater adapt and exercise greater flexibility within the workforce that will allow them to successfully transition. Thus, students who are more adaptable and flexible will be better able to successfully navigate the transition into the workforce.

Developing a strong routine to transition from school to work Transitioning from school to the workforce will have a significant impact on a student work/life balance. The biggest transitional challenge will be the changes that accompany the shift from casual/ part-time work to full-time work. This will force you to organise your life and work in a different manner than what you are used to. This change involves the development and adaptation to new routines and environments. The transition from school to full-time work can be challenging and eye-opening. Full-time work involves a different schedule that involves working on projects, making deadlines and meetings within a 38-hour workweek. This involves being at the office for long periods of time, 9-5 and even later, a more rigid schedule than a student's university one, which impacts your previous free and personal time. With full-time work, it can seem that you have less and less personal time than what you used to. It is important not to neglect your personal time as it allows you to 'cool down' and recharge your batteries, which prevents you from burning out. A key skill to get the most out of your personal time is the ability to successfully organise yourself. This is achieved by developing a strong regular routine. Getting up early, an organisation of sleep hours so that you achieve 7-8 hours a night, making sure not to skip breakfast and leaving around the same time each morning. This may be challenging within the first few weeks, the temptation to sleep in a bit longer will be ever looming. However, replacing that desire with 20-30 mins of meditation or simple relaxation time will help to overcome this desire and allow you to get into your new routine much more effectively and quickly. After a while maintaining the routine will help to boost your productivity and energy, allowing you to effectively adapt to the new requirements of full-time work. The development of strong organisational skills and a routine is a key strategy in transitioning from school to work.

What about you? Do you feel ready for this transition? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section!

Evan Clifford and Maud Vanhoutte.

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