3 Steps To Transition From School To The Workplace


So it’s a beautiful, bright summer day and after four long years of all-nighters and early morning cramming, you finally walk across the stage and get your shiny new undergraduate degree.

But beneath all the hand-shaking and toothy smiles, you can’t help but think, “Now what?”

I was thinking those exact same words when I graduated from UBC in 2010.  Sure, I’d considered grad school and I’d started to look for a job, but I didn’t have any real plan for what to do after school ended.  Eventually, through perseverance, networking and a bit of luck, I did manage to find meaningful work and learn a few important things along the way.

Spending several months in professional limbo immediately after graduation, however, made me realize the importance of being prepared for the world after school.  If you’re planning to graduate from college or university this spring and you’re feeling a bit worried about the transition from school to work, here are a few tips that can help you ease into your first job:

1. Apply for jobs in your field

Well, this seems obvious.  For many graduates, however, the initial application process can be daunting.  When some employers ask for three to five years industry experience and the only experience you have is working at the campus pizza parlour, it’s easy to tell yourself not to bother applying at all, since you’re obviously under qualified.  However, often times you will find that much of your schoolwork has practical applications.

When you’re writing your resume, make sure you highlight any instances in which your work or your ideas were used professionally.  Did you take part in any industry projects while you were in school, or did you have any of your work published in the school newspaper?  Even regular schoolwork can be made to sound much more work-friendly.  All those endless nights spent writing research essays can translate into “excellent writing skills and extensive research and analytical abilities,” for example.

In order to increase your chances of having a job upon graduation, you should start looking for work at least four months before your graduation date, since it can sometimes take this long to find work and get through the application process.

2. Apply for jobs that will help you gain skills and experience relevant to your field

If you haven’t found a job directly in your field within one month of graduating, it might be time to start looking for other jobs that offer similar kinds of work.  This way you can continue your job search while also gaining valuable industry-related experience.

For example, if your goal is to get a job in journalism, it may help to start your own blog and start self-publishing your work.  If you have an Electrical Engineering degree and you can’t immediately find a job as an Engineer-In-Training, it might be useful to work as a field technician first in order to get some hands-on experience.

Working to keep your skills and training up to date will look attractive to future employers.

3. Apply for any job that will give you useful general skills and experience

If it’s been more than two months since graduation and you’re still jobless, then it’s probably time to start broadening your search even more.  Any work experience will benefit you in the long run, regardless of your field.  However, you should focus on work that helps you both refine your existing skills and gain new ones.

If you feel like you have a weakness in a certain area, such as communication skills, look for a job that will challenge you in that area.  Personally, I found that a job in sales helped me develop my interpersonal skills—skills that later benefited me not only in future jobs, but also in networking with potential employers.

Most importantly, don’t procrastinate.  The absolute worst thing you can do after graduation is nothing.  If you’ve tried all the steps above and you still haven’t found work, think about volunteering or even starting your own business.  Staying busy and showing initiative will always help you stand out from the crowd.

Photo credit: Andalib

About the author

Justin Louie graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2010 with a BA in History/English. Since then, he's bounced around various industries, including telecommunications and sales, but now he's finally returned to his passion: writing. A massive history buff and trivia aficionado, Justin's interests include martial arts, enjoying the Vancouver outdoors, and accumulating massive amounts of useless information. You can follow him on @louie_justin.