Career Advice

Graduate job fears: 6 common first-job worries busted

It’s normal to be nervous about starting a new job, but the stakes can seem especially high when it’s your first ‘career’ role after uni. These tips will help you face your fears and beat the nerves in your first week at work.

1. Degree doubts and money worries

Don't let money worries be one of your graduate job fears

Lewis Martin graduated three years ago with a journalism degree and now works as an assistant fitness manage – a move which illustrates a common fear after uni. Martin says: “The thing most people fear is ‘what if it isn’t for me? What if I’ve wasted 3 years of my life and I’m now in crippling debt all for nothing?’”

The financial and emotional cost of getting a degree hangs around for a long time after graduating. Once Student Loan repayments kick in (along with guilt about how much you borrowed from your folks) it’s tempting to compare uni costs and choices with where you are right now.

Top tips:

  • If your fears are about student debt, remind yourself how the Student Loan actually works. If you’re worried about being skint or in debt, money skills will keep you right.
  • Your time at uni – and everything you put into it – helped you get this job. Whatever choices you made, they’re paying off!

Finally, remember that a job is part of the journey, not the final destination! “I have first-hand experience of not working in the industry of my degree,” Martin comments, “and it makes no difference whatsoever. Do what makes you happy, not necessarily the most money. Job satisfaction is more important.”

2. Feeling like a fraud

Imposter syndrome is a real graduate job fear.

Imposter syndrome is the “secret belief that deep down we’re not as bright, capable, competent or talented as other people seem to think”, explains Dr Valerie Young. When you think like this, you may even convince yourself that any success you have is a fluke and that someone’s going to find out you’re a fraud.

There are different theories about what causes imposter syndrome, but it may be more common when we feel isolated or different from our peers. Thinking your difference makes you less deserving is when your self-esteem, stress levels, and even salary can take a hit.

Top tips:

  • Don’t wait for your work place to become a beacon of diversity: make connections and network beyond your day job if necessary.
  • When you spot negative thoughts, look for the evidence. If there’s no convincing proof, ditch negative beliefs that bring you down.

3. Not knowing anyone

Don't know anyone? Don't fear!

Being the newbie is always awkward: everyone knows everyone else, while you don’t know a soul. They’ve got nicknames and in-jokes and you … don’t.

As hideous as that sounds, remember that making friends takes time. In the meantime be yourself, stay friendly and “above all, know you can rely on small talk”, advises CV and recruitment expert, Laura Slingo.

Open questions are good conversation starters that show you’re interested in and receptive to others. Slingo suggests: “How was your weekend? You doing anything tonight? What are you doing for lunch today?”

On the other hand, avoid nitpicking about your job or employers (past or current) as a conversation starter: put-downs and gossip can easily reach your boss or other colleagues.

4. Speaking up in meetings

Speak up in meetings.

Meetings are about sharing ideas and agreeing on next steps. Once you let personal anxieties take over – like proving how funny or smart you are – you feel under far more pressure to perform. Of course, that then makes it harder to relax.

“A sense of awareness is your golden ticket,” comments Laura Slingo. “If you can read the room or the situation, you’ll be able to spot the pauses and appropriate times to speak up. If you’re nervous, jot your thoughts on a notepad before you say your piece. You’ll increase your chances of a strong, confident delivery with the words on paper to guide you.”

Top tips:

  • Find out the meeting’s purpose and agenda, then tailor your prep and background reading as required.
  • Try to contribute opinions and advice that benefit the team’s goals ahead of personal gain.

5. Making mistakes

Mistakes are a common job fear but don't worry.

Where there are people, there are blunders – it’s just what we do (even at work).

Firstly, stop stressing about mistakes you haven’t made yet. Like accidents, if we could predict mistakes we wouldn’t make them! Co-workers will understand if you get things wrong because you’re new to your job.

Want to lessen the odds of making a howler? “Really listen and ask questions,” advises Louis Venter, MediaVision’s CEO. “Sometimes grads can be over keen and jump into a task before asking crucial questions. No employer is expecting you to have all the answers on week one – what we are looking for is that you’re asking the right questions.”

Top tips:

  • Not sure what you’re doing? Ask for clarity. Think you’ve already screwed up? Own up before it gets worse!
  • Treat mistakes as learning opportunities to come out of them stronger. What would you do differently next time?

6. Impressing the boss

Don't worry about impressing your boss.

Everyone wants their boss to know they hired the right person – and that takes a fine blend of showing up and speaking up. “For me, it’s don’t be sycophantic,” comments Venter. “Bring ideas that you have learned in your experience thus far and from your studies.”

Top tips:

  • Ask what your boss would like you to achieve, and by when. This gives you a clear route map and removes uncertainty about your performance.
  • Keep your career goals in mind. This removes the pressure of trying to gain favour and gives purpose and motivation to the things you do (so you do them well).

Observing how others interact can also give you pointers but, Venter adds, don’t just mimic them: good relationships take time – trying to fake a vibe can just come across as forced. Be genuine (and patient) and let your professional relationships develop naturally.

Patience is the best antidote to job fears. While doubt is reasonable and to be expected, most of your worries are likely to vanish as you settle in. Laura Slingo sums it up: “Show a willingness to learn, soak up everything from job-specific skills to workplace culture habits, and never be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Before long you’ll be part of the furniture.”

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