Working in the business is frequently a collaborative process, so it’s vital that you foster strong professional relationships characterised by open communication, mutual respect and the shared pursuit of common goals. As a graduate, you can learn a lot about how to do this by observing your colleagues, taking their advice seriously, and remaining open to constructive feedback.
Below we have discussed some ways to establish and manage your professional relationships with the key people you are likely to encounter during your initial graduate experiences – your manager, colleagues, clients and other stakeholders.
When you start your role, you will be assigned a manager. Sometimes you will have met your manager during the interview process, other times they will be an entirely new face. Regardless, it’s important that you’re open with your supervisor about what you expect to learn as a graduate. You are the only person in charge of your career. It’s important that you are clear about what you’re there for and what you would like to learn and achieve. Your manager is someone you can rely on to help you achieve your professional goals. After all, if you don’t tell anyone what you want to learn, they won’t be able to read your mind!
The level of interaction with your manager will depend on your organisation and specialisation. Typically, however, the role of your manager will be to assign you work as required, hold you to account and assess your performance (which then has implications for salary increases or bonuses). It is important then that you understand exactly what is required of you when delegated a new task. If you are confused or unsure, communicate this to your supervisor and seek clarification.
Don’t be afraid of asking questions! You will gain respect for demonstrating a desire to learn and get things done in the right way. Taking notes is a good way to ensure you successfully integrate advice, and gives you something to refer back to if you need to refresh your memory.
If you feel that you are unable to complete a task by a given deadline, it is important to let your manager know immediately. Your supervisor can use this information to manage workflows across their team more effectively, ensuring that you aren’t assigned too many tasks or tasks of undue complexity. Remember, managing your time means being aware – and realistic – about how you spend your time and prioritising accordingly.
Finally, it is important that you own up to your mistakes. You’re there to learn! While a mistake may feel mortifying in the first instance, remember every mistake is an opportunity to ask for feedback and advice on how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Doing this will help you to establish trust in your relationship with your manager.
One of the best things about entering the workforce as a graduate is your cohort – the people who start with you as a graduate during the annual ‘intake’ at your organisation. Depending on your specialisation, these graduates will have studied similar things to you, such as accounting, finance and marketing; or if you enter a specialisation such as management consulting they could have a diverse range of backgrounds beyond business, such as science, arts or engineering.
Depending on the graduate program within your organisation, you will typically find yourself spending a lot of time with other graduates, from formal group training sessions to casual Friday night drinks. It can be comforting to know that there is a group of people who are going through the same challenges as you are and that you can share your experiences with. It’s common for many graduates to hang out beyond the office and it can be the start of many lasting friendships. While this is a great way to get to know the people in your organisation, remember to be careful about what you (or your colleagues) post on social media.
Aside from your graduate cohort, you will inevitably work with other members of your organisation. These may range from the more senior partners or directors to more junior colleagues. While it may be intimidating at first to meet so many new faces, it is a great way to learn more about your organisation and all the different roles. At some organisations, you may be assigned a ‘buddy’ or a mentor – don’t be afraid to ask them all your questions from routine queries like how to apply for leave to more serious advice about how to progress within your organisation or on different career paths.
If you work in professional services, you will increasingly be expected to deal directly with your organisation’s clients. This may even mean spending time directly on-site during a project. It’s worth taking some time to really ‘walk in your client’s shoes’ – what do they think about, what keeps them up at night and what do they really need? They might be big-picture oriented or love the nitty-gritty details. Being on the front foot and anticipating client needs – and questions – is critical to success. For example, when presenting a piece of analysis, think about what your clients might ask you, where might they challenge you and what might they think are the next steps. Running through your analysis with your team or manager ahead of time will help you be prepared for anything that might come your way.
If you’re working in-house or at a corporate, your clients may, in fact, be your end customer, particularly if you are working in sales or customer service. Thinking about their needs in a similar way – and how you can service them – will be the key to building a successful relationship.
Depending on your specialisation, you are likely to work with a range of stakeholders like suppliers, customers, agencies or consultants (particularly if you’re working in-house or for a corporation). Remember, these are all opportunities for your future – you never know where you might end up.
If you’re interested in expanding your network, it is also worth considering joining professional bodies or attending university alumni events. These are good ways to meet new people, who might be relevant to your specialisation – or future specialisation!
For more tips on surviving and thriving in your graduate program, check out GradAustralia’s article about managing your time.