Just over one year ago I started working at Optimum in my first job since graduating university. It’s humbling to reflect on all I’ve done over the past 12-months, from assisting CEOs with leadership development, to working with executives in interpreting data to understand their company’s culture across a range of sectors and businesses.  It’s been a great ride. It’s surreal to think that just over one year ago, I was still at Uni completing my thesis and preparing for final exams.

While university provides you with the key technical skills required to perform your role, there can be a gap in knowledge of particular soft skills. I was fortunate enough to complete my undergraduate in psychology, where we were taught skills such as critical thinking and problem solving. However, the largest areas in which I’ve gained knowledge over the past 12-months have been in areas that I didn’t even consider or think about while studying.

Here are my thoughts on the biggest areas to develop upon graduating university and my learnings from the first 12-months in the workplace:

1. Influencing Skills

In my opinion, this is one of the biggest skills that graduates can learn in their first year of work. The ability to influence is essential at every stage of your career, across a multitude of different situations.  For a graduate, knowing what works theoretically can be completely different to what may work practically. Being able to appear knowledgeable, while keeping the motivations of the person you are speaking to is a key ingredient to being successful in your role. Rambling off knowledge is useless if you cannot influence and make others see why your knowledge is necessary and helpful.

Some may think this is not important unless you are a sales person, but almost every single job requires the ability to sell. You may not be selling a product, but you may be selling an idea, or an improved way of doing a task, or even selling yourself at a job interview. Being able to influence others is essential in everything you do.

2. Initiative

I found the biggest difference in what I expected from work compared to the reality, is not constantly being given work to do. I found that while I would have certain tasks or duties, I still had to keep myself busy and be productive outside of my day-to-day tasks. This may have been my own naivety going into the job, but I imagined that I would always be provided work to do, whereas instead tasks are given, but it is up to you as an individual to be accountable to ensure you are staying productive and advancing the business.

I think this is a great way to approach work, as it encourages initiative, and requires drive and motivation. These skills are often quite innate, however, being able to be proactive and show initiative with tasks, is a huge differentiator.

3. People Are Just People

I remember in my first week of this job, I met with a HR Manager to assist in planning a team building workshop for the leadership team of a manufacturing company. I distinctly remember feeling nervous and overwhelmed by meeting someone at this level after so recently graduating and how lucky I was to be able to consult to a HR manager. Luckily, I learnt very quickly one of the most important lessons in the last year, that people are just people regardless of what their title is.

Stepping into a graduate position you will meet a lot of senior people when you start. At first this can be intimidating but remembering that everyone is just another human and they also once started as a graduate makes the transition into work easier. Everyone has interests, everyone has pain points, and being able to find common ground and get to know the ‘person’ not the ‘title’ makes working with others easier and way more enjoyable. I’ve gone from being nervous around HR managers in my first week, to collaborating with CEOs, so trust me it is possible.

Should University Prepare Students Differently?

I’ve heard a few people talk about how graduates aren’t taught a range of necessary skills to make them ready for work, and in some respects, I agree. I think there could be a greater emphasis on improving interpersonal skills and communication which the above points all relate to. However, I understand that these subjects do exist in some degrees. I also believe there is no substitute for gaining practical experience and that continuous learning as a graduate is essential.

These skills I’ve mentioned could actually be used as a big differentiator for graduates in the workplace. I know that when I graduated university, 60% of our cohort received first class honours! This shows two things – there’s an increase in students performing strongly at university, and it’s becoming harder to separate graduates purely based on academic performance. Therefore, maybe university shouldn’t change their approach to these soft skills and allow students to determine this themselves as it could be an advantage that places them above their peers. I would love to hear your thoughts and what should or shouldn’t change at university to prepare students for the first step in their careers.

About the Author

Daniel Cosgrove

Daniel is a Consultant at Optimum Consulting. He recently graduated from The University of Queensland with a bachelor of Psychological Science (Honours, Class I). During his time at university, Daniel maintained a strong focus in organisational and business psychology, human resources, data measurement and interpretation, and consulting. He joined Optimum Consulting in January 2018 as a graduate human resource consultant.