Career advice for Gen Z

Prepare to nail that first job

06 / 04 / 2021
Robyn Du Plooy
HR and Learning Manager

The first chapter of your career is an exciting time, but for some it can also be quite overwhelming. And not to overwhelm you even further, but there are literally thousands of applicants competing for the same jobs as you, so it’s important that you are prepared. Once you land that perfect job, you want to feel confident that you can face challenges head on and make a positive contribution to the organisation.

If you’re in your final year of studies, about to start your career or in your first year of working, here’s some advice that may help you navigate this exciting, but uncertain time.
  1. Prepare to enter the workplace

The word anxious is often used to describe Gen Z’s. I’ve found that the best way to feel more comfortable is to mentally prepare and know – as much as possible – what you’re getting yourself into. While getting a formal education is important, this alone will not prepare you to enter the workplace and start adulting hard!

You may have heard these tips before, but I’ll give you my perspective as to why they’re crucial.

  • Job shadow – It doesn’t matter how good the job description is, there is simply no way that words can describe what the actual experience at a job will be. The best way to know is to job shadow beforehand. This will give you hands-on experience of the technical aspects of the job, what it’s like being in the organisation, and what it’s like working with the various people. It will also help you determine early on whether this is really the career path for you.
  • Find amazing mentors – Speak to people who have been successful in the same or similar fields; people who are passionate and have a good attitude towards their career. Since they’ve already walked this path, they are ideally placed to give you guidance and advice. Ask as many questions as possible, so that you can make the most informed choices.
  • Do part-time work during your holidays – Internal recruiters can easily tell when graduates have unrealistic expectations of the workplace, and an easy formula for anxiety is misaligned expectations vs reality. Try to do casual work during your holidays to get a feel for what it’s like to work and be part of an organisation. Even a short stint as an unpaid intern will also show us whether or not you’re a good fit. In my experience, the people who have tried some other work before, are more likely to adjust easily when placed in a permanent position.
  1. Getting through the probation period

Different jobs have different probation periods, but if you’re just starting out, your probation period will likely be three months. This allows us to assess your work performance, set realistic goals with you, and collaborate with you, to make sure you get to where you need to be, in order to be a productive team member.

Your first review can be daunting, but it need not be. Here are some tips to help you during the probation period:

  • Understand your job description – When you start, ask your manager/supervisor to go through your job description with you thoroughly. Ask if there are any performance targets you need to meet, as well as what kind of tasks you would be expected to do that may not be listed on the job description. Understanding what’s expected of you beforehand will put your mind at ease when going into the first review.
  • Take notes – Taking notes will help you to remember important details of the review discussion. Keep in mind that you are not going to be anywhere near perfect in your first month, so take note of your strengths, improvement areas and other discussion points to refer back to. This way, you’ll be able to see how much you’ve progressed from one review to the next and let your manager know that you are developing into the role.
  • Set realistic goals – Think about the job-related goals you’d like to achieve before your review period and assess whether the timelines to achieve these goals are realistic. Together with your manager, discuss the best ways to achieve the goals you’ve set together, and don’t be afraid to ask for guidance while you set about achieving them.

 

  1. Avoid being a commitment-phobe

There are those lucky few who have known what they wanted to do since they were kids, and never go off course, but for some this is not the case. The start of your career can be a very confusing time. You’re asking yourself, “Have I chosen the right career? Have I studied enough? Should I take this job, and study part-time or go back to study full-time? Should I specialise in my field? Am I going to earn enough?” Soon after, your flight reaction kicks in and you want to run away from all your new responsibilities. If that happens, take a breather – you’re young and you have your whole life ahead of you. If you feel like giving up before you’ve even begun, the tips below may help you commit to your decisions and responsibilities.

  • Make the decision to commit – Recruiters are weary of job-hoppers for good reason. Companies spend a lot of time and resources on employees, so while we know younger generations don’t stay at the same companies for years on end like previous generations, if you accept a job, try to commit to it and do your best. If the job is really not a good fit for you, we’ll know very early on. However, if you are good at it, stick it out – and do you best – for at least a year or two. I promise you, even if you feel like it’s going nowhere, you will learn valuable career and life skills and be more prepared for the next stage of your career. This advice also applies if you choose to do freelance work. Once you decide to take on a contract, fulfil your commitments. Companies are not likely to want to use your services again or recommend you to others if you’re unprofessional and leave them half-way through a project.
  • Get out of your own head – It’s easier said than done, but so important. If you’re overthinking everything, you’re bound to get overwhelmed, and be tempted to “ghost” your responsibilities. As your career progresses the work pressure only increases, so it’s important to have constructive ways to get out of an overwhelmed headspace, very early in your career. One simple way to get out of your own head is to focus on someone else. Ask someone if they need help or try to teach them something. This is mutually beneficial as you stop overthinking, they learn something and you start forming a friendship. A good attitude goes a long way.
  • Practice self-discipline – “The first and best victory is to conquer self.” – Plato.

Practicing self-discipline can really help you get into a focused, committed frame of mind, and enable you to deliver on your expectations. One simple way to start practicing self-discipline is to remove distractions. For instance, if you feel like you’re taking too much time to get through your work because you’re distracted by your phone, put your phone somewhere where you can’t easily see it for two hours. You’ll feel much better once you realise that the quality of your work has improved because you’ve removed the things that distract you.

  • Learn how to work with your earnings – Being financially stable is a major goal for any career orientated individual and can really stress you out if you feel you’re not earning enough. During an internship or your first year, you probably won’t be earning your desired income. You’re still learning to do your job, so be patient. Learn to work with what you’re earning early in your career, and life will be so much easier once your income trajectory takes an upward turn. Yes, your expenses increase but if you can’t work with what you have now, you will never have enough. Try to seek financial advice from a professional early in your career to help you work with a budget and reach your financial goals.

If you’ve classified yourself as the “anxious Gen Z,” I hope these guidelines have helped to put your mind at ease. As many have said before me:

Work hard, but also remember to have fun along the way.
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