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A primer for the first job for undergraduates

It is an interesting time of the year in India. Students who have finished their schools are busy selecting their universities and programs to start off their higher studies. Students at engineering schools such as IITs, NITs are winding up their internships, compiling reports, sharing their cool internship tales, shopping with their stipends etc. College campuses are ready to welcome fresh faces and graduate the older and matured ones. Freshly minted graduates are ready to enter into new phase of life, either a new job or a new institute to pursue masters, MBA, PhD, research etc.

For those who are stepping into a phase of employment by entering into the industry, Harvard Business review has some essential tips for you to follow. Some would have got their dream jobs (either on-campus or off-campus) whether it is Google or a start-up that is doing great. While others would have compromised, either little or more, to find their fit with the company they have got. Whichever it is, you are going to be employed and working and the helicopter campuses which treated you like kids won’t be there to spoon-feed you. Some jobs might involve learning some new things whereas some might involve doing mundane routine stuff, some might be relaxed 11 to 8 jobs with work from home options whereas some would be 9 to 7 jobs with strict leave and attendance policies.

Whatever be it, it is often hard to like your first job. The excitement of leaving the campus and solving real life problems cools down after meeting with the harsh realities of the corporate world. The euphoria of earning lacs and thousands of rupees in monthly salaries and getting economic freedom gets balanced by the monotony and struggles of the new life. Despite all this, first job is an exciting beginning and prepares you for the career steps in future. Even if you land in a misfit compromise job, you realize your true calling and start working towards it (often the vent is provided by MBA, UPSC, changing jobs, learning new skills, going for MS/PhD, starting one’s own venture) and if you land in a better fit job you start developing your skills and advance towards your career aspirations either within the company or by starting your own venture.

Here are some of the tips for the first job as learned from my personal experience. I have been working for a private sector bank within Fintech space for an year where I have worked on exciting projects such as chat-bots for banking industry, automating bank processes and applications etc.

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  • Learning and constant learning is an ‘imperative’: The college education teaches you ‘how to learn’ and the theoretical foundations forms the base on which your learning would be build. Corporate world is more about ‘learning-on-the-go’ and being ‘street-smart’. There are several practical limitations and processes that the books and professors cannot teach and would require you to familiarize with new stuff with the assistance from peers. I did my Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering, my internship in Visual Speech Recognition (VSR) with Microsoft in Lisbon, Portugal and my minor in Humanities and Social Sciences and here I was working within IT Management and Banking space. I had never studied about networks, servers, and had very basic understanding of banking and fintech. Here I was working in new initiative projects such as chat-bots and discussing infrastructure solutions with the vendor, negotiating and optimizing the hardware and software based on forecasts and past data points. No doubt, a degree with IT specialization would have been far more useful but nonetheless a degree in engineering, which taught me how to approach and solve a problem, didn’t render itself redundant.
  • Shed your ego and break the ice: This is often directed towards the graduates of top institutes (Tier-1 colleges) such as IITs, NITs, etc. After studying at such elite institutions, one tends to develop a top-down approach and an ego. Many avoid intermingling with freshers from other institutes and seek privilege from other employees. The reality is that the most of the workplace treats everyone equally. A trainee recruited for his/her skills from XYZ college would be treated at par with a trainee recruited from IIT A/B/C or NIT U/V/W etc. Infact, you become the ambassador for your college at the workplace. Shed your ego, start mingling. You should be known for your execution, problem-solving attitude rather than by the college you graduated from.
  • Be a team player: There is no alternative to team play. During your college, confining oneself to silos and studying hard could fetch good grades and recognition but not at workplace. Confining yourself to your desk and being an introvert would not get your work done. Processes in industry involve multiple stakeholders and you would require co-operation from all of them to steadfast your project. This cannot be done without being a team-player. Start understanding your team(s) and colleagues, gauge their strengths and weakness, assist them when they need your assistance, ask them when you need theirs. In some scenarios, you might have to leverage these teams to accelerate the projects and meet deadlines. While working on my projects, I had to work with business teams, security teams, infrastructure teams, network teams, legal teams, finance teams etc. and had to take in their opinions/suggestions, get clearances and permissions from them, negotiate my requirements and urgency, get my ideas and thoughts across the table. All this is possible only by being a team player.
  • Think out-of-the-box: Organisations are often so much stuck in their processes, controls, documentations and routine work that they hardly get time to reflect upon ideas (even simple ideas and thoughts) that could maximize efficiency or productivity. Make sure that you don’t get stuck in the quagmire of routine and keep generating ideas. Most freshers with undergraduate degrees are young in their early 20s, they have enough bandwidth to work and think beyond the norm. The early 20s and limited liabilities associated with the age allows room for taking risks. Make sure every now and then you are contributing in ideas. Trust me, your manager and bosses would really listen to you more carefully if you are coming up with ideas in every meetings that you attend. Infact, your team would respect you even more if your idea could reduce their boring work or get them recognition.

Don’t stretch your limits by being over-productive in the routine work instead take that extra time and space to innovate and disrupt.

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  • Start Networking: Networking is a good habit to be inculcated from the college life itself. If you haven’t started it in your college life, make sure you start it with your first job. As Piyush Gupta, CEO at DBS Bank, in his article ‘Taking charge of your career’ says, “The reality of life is people give jobs to those they know. Networking is not just a question of making friends. It is about winning respect from a broad body of people.”. Start talking to people across domains and verticals and along with this inter-vertical interactions, make space for inter-horizontal interactions with your bosses and their bosses and managers. Get to know about their work and projects they are working upon. Networking isn’t a one-way thing. More often than not, your interactions and discussions with other person should have value for them. Stay relevant and professional while networking with other people within or outside the organisations.

Networking, in my definition, is not just knowing a large number of people, but ensuring that people who are relevant to your job choices know you, and develop a healthy respect for your capabilities….” – Piyush Gupta, CEO at DBS Bank

  • Grab the opportunities that come your way: Being a fresher, make sure you grab every possible and relevant learning opportunity that would be of assistance for your career path. If you are still undecided about your career trajectory (which is completely alright) make sure you grab all possible opportunities to learn about various functions and domains. Attend conferences, meetings, free seminars, lectures to either broaden your horizon and deepen your knowledge. During my stint, I made sure to attend as many events, conferences that were held in Mumbai relevant to my work and interest.
  • Don’t be a ‘Yes’ man: One thing that follows if you are performing well beyond your expectations is that you get variety of other tasks. In my organization, I worked with multiple other senior management people than my own boss and manager. On various occasions, I was asked to do some stuff apart from my key responsibilities to assist them in their projects. Manage to say a ‘polite No’ when you are over occupied or when you are sure that you are not interested or in position to contribute something significant to the extra work being offered. Being a ‘Yes’ man always could bring bad image to your profile and work ethic if you are not able to meet the expectations and even delay your key responsibilities.
  • Stay honest: Make sure you don’t lie about yourself with the manager and even with your employer. Stay honest about your skills and be frank when deciding and crafting project timelines with your manager or your boss. Consult your team-mates while designing project deliverable and time-lines. Having unrealistic deadlines would not only hamper your performance, it would lead to stress (being over-worked) and bad team image and reputation. It would even hamper your relationships with your managers. Staying honest and frank (at times) allows you to build trust and rapport with your manager which could be leveraged to get a good recommendation, referral (in case he shifts to an organization you wanted to shift), concession in leaves or late work hours, bandwidth to attend extra events and activities.

First jobs are always a learning experience though not pleasurable often. 8 out of 10 times, I meet fellow alumni’s, colleagues, friends, seniors complaining about their first jobs and planning to change tracks or offices. Despite all this, the first jobs are a stepping stone for your career and assist you in facing the real corporate world and decide on your trajectory rather more carefully as compared to what you would have done in your college days. It is often the case (especially with Tier 1 institute in India such as IITs, NITs) that they make you dreamers and instill confidence in you about achieving every damn possible thing. It is the first corporate experience and working in the corporate world that lands you with pragmatism and reality (but, don’t stop being a dreamer and innovator, India needs many of them to solve the challenging issues that she faces). Best of Luck to all the young graduates who would be starting their journey in the corporate world whether with large organizations or with start-ups, whether with private sectors or with public sector units.

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