As I stand on the edge of the real world, graduation approaching, my first-job anxieties are at their peak.
My first job is right around the corner, and boy, do I have some concerns. Is this where I’ll hone those crucial skills for future jobs? Will it open doors to other opportunities? How will I negotiate my first salary? How do I even know what's fair? It's a whole new territory and time isn’t exactly on my side.
Concerns of a university graduate-to-be
My first-job anxieties stem from a few things:
- Having to give up my freedom
I’ve seen how life has changed for friends who’ve graduated and entered the workforce. They now have the challenge of balancing personal pursuits with work commitments, which usually means prioritising rest over hobbies and passions, and putting their carefree days of exploration and late-night gatherings behind them.
As a student on the other hand, I’ve been enjoying the freedom of trying new things and uncovering my interests – even if it sometimes means sleep has to take a backseat. How will I cope with the routine and demands of working life and the loss of freedom?
- Landing a job that’s not right for me
My first job is where I expect to gain experience and learn skills that’ll help me move up the professional ladder. Will I be able to land a job that aligns with my passions and skills? Is there a company out there that’ll see my potential?
I can't help feeling anxious about how my first job will pan out. What if I don't learn as much as I hope to? What if I'm not cut out for it and can't keep up? The fear of not living up to expectations is so real right now.
Essential first-job advice from people who’ve been there
Every graduating student faces first-job anxieties, and it’s comforting to know that countless working adults who were once in my shoes have navigated the transition from school to workplace successfully – some with more hard knocks than others.
These are the people I turned to for advice on how to make a successful entry into the workforce. Coming from different fields and all at different stages of their career, they’ve kindly shared invaluable career tips, including mistakes to avoid on a first job, which will help me make that great leap into the professional world with more confidence. By sharing them here, I hope other graduates will feel less worried and more prepared for working life. Good luck!
Ng Jia Xi
Freelance dance instructor for 4 years
I made three big mistakes when starting my journey as a freelance dance instructor. Firstly, I failed to establish clear terms and conditions with clients before commencing projects, which led to issues with compensation. As a freelancer, having open discussions with potential clients is important, and if a project doesn’t align with your goals, walk away.
Secondly, I was shy about marketing myself and my services. Active communication and networking are essential for finding work opportunities. Lastly, I neglected the importance of proper time management and rest, which led to burnout. I now make it a point to set boundaries and take breaks.
Find a supportive community and build connections with genuine interactions – this is crucial for career success, especially in the early years. Being a freelancer can get lonely. Look after your mental health and have a strong support system of friends you can turn to when you need to fill that void.
Financial tip for first-jobbers: If you want to be a freelancer, save a bigger portion of your income during good months so you have enough to cover your expenses during lean periods, and keep track of payment schedules as delayed payments could affect your monthly budgeting. Additionally, have separate bank accounts for spending and saving to manage your finances more effectively.
- Ng Jia Xi, Freelance dance instructor
One of my early lessons was on the importance of asking questions and clarifying doubts. As a young intern, I hesitated to seek clarification or question the methods used for completing tasks I was assigned as I thought these were things, I wasn’t privy to. Even though I completed the task to my supervisor’s satisfaction, the process of getting there wasn’t always the most efficient. Therefore, I advise young professionals to question respectfully and share their thoughts openly with colleagues and managers.
Having a curious mindset has been vital in my journey. Resources like Google, ChatGPT, Bard and free online courses enhance my knowledge. Being open-minded to unknown opportunities has broadened my horizons, and building a strong network while in school and, later on, at work has been invaluable when navigating my career and the challenges it sometimes brings.
Financial tip for first-jobbers: In terms of personal finance, I believe in spending within my means by avoiding overborrowing and credit card debt. I suggest saving 20% of your salary before spending and allocating it to different saving goals. Prioritise paying bills and budgeting for daily expenses, while setting aside funds for leisure activities and investments.
- Winnie Lim, Talent Management
Entrepreneur for 11 years
My biggest advice for those entering the professional world is to prioritise your health. In my earlier years, I neglected regular exercise. The transition from university to the workforce can be demanding, often leading to increased stress and a sedentary lifestyle. Neglecting exercise and succumbing to stress and unhealthy habits can hinder your physical and mental well-being. By making health a priority, you'll be better equipped to handle challenges and maintain focus and energy.
Network extensively to expand your opportunities and knowledge. Connect with alumni, professors and professionals in your field to gain insights, stay updated on industry trends, and find mentorship opportunities. Embrace networking as an ongoing practice – it’s an indispensable asset in your career journey.
Financial tip for first-jobbers: Financial prudence is equally vital as you may not know how to manage your newfound income. Seeking advice from financial advisers and experienced individuals helps. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to financial health and wealth accumulation.
- Apple Keng, Entrepreneur for 11 years
Pricing actuary associate who’s been working for 4 years
I’ve always dedicated myself to my primary job and career path, however, I’ve started to see the value in embracing new opportunities beyond my core responsibilities. So, I encourage graduates embarking on their careers to embrace diversions from their main roles, as this can enhance dynamism, versatility and engagement, which are all crucial for excellence at work.
It’s also important to have conversations with others – interacting with peers, superiors, and people from various teams and industries enriches your perspectives and profoundly influences your career.
Read about the financial moves people made for a richer life.
Financial tip for first-jobbers: While there’s that initial thrill of financial independence that accompanies your first paycheck, be cautious of excessive financial commitments, including investments, savings, subscriptions, insurance and allowances.
- Brandon Lum, Pricing actuary associate who’s been working for 4 years
Investment officer who’s been working for 20 years
Having worked for 20 years, I must emphasise that mistakes will occur, and it's perfectly okay. The key lies in how we acknowledge our mistakes, reflect upon them and learn from them. Rather than refraining from asking questions, actively seek clarifications and avoid making assumptions.
My final piece of advice for those new to the workforce is to stay well-informed and knowledgeable about your areas of interest. When I was a young and the internet was not as big as it is today, I did this by reading books on various subjects extensively. Today, you can harness the power of the internet to your advantage, ensuring you remain updated on the latest trends, innovations, and global events. Knowledge unlocks potential.
Financial tip for first-jobbers: Everyone is unique and it's all about taking a personalised approach. "Spending within your means" and "Investing for the long-term" are frequently touted as golden rules for a sound financial future. However, I'd add two points: 1) prioritise your spending by deferring less crucial expenditures and opting for cost-effective alternatives; 2) remain focused on your financial end-goal even if there are short-term distractions.
- Shae Kuek, Investment officer who’s been working for 20 years
The shared experiences and advice from these career women and men have eased my anxieties somewhat. As I make my big move into the working world in the coming months, I’ll carry these words of wisdom with me, hoping they give me the lift I need to make a successful start in my first job.
Lately, I’ve also learnt about the importance of having medical protection. There are no guarantees when it comes to health – or life for that matter. With a medical insurance plan, I won’t have to worry about the impact of hefty hospital bills on my first-jobber salary. There are now medical insurance plans that can cover my treatments at private hospitals and are also affordable. After all, I’m a Gen Z-er who values comfort as much as good value!