Grads need to be solid, not spectacular

The undergraduate existence is an interesting one – they spend their days striving for academic excellence (as well as enjoying the social side of university life!), while their weekends and holidays are often spent in a somewhat mundane introduction to working life, in jobs such as shelf-stacking and data-entry. Yes, they can be more interesting too, such as the event work we offer at Brightsparks; working with high-end clients in the hospitality and events industry. They will definitely gain valuable experience doing student jobs, but this is rarely their end game. Rather, they go to university to get a great job, a “proper job”, the job to kick off what they hope will be a stellar career.

On their first day at their first “proper” job, they naturally want to smash it.

This over-exuberance can sometimes derail a promising graduate. They have been hired for their potential, and no one expects them to deliver this on day one, month one or even year one. We tell our grads about the importance of mastering their jobs first, much as it is tempting to try to master the job of their boss.

In conversations with our clients, many of them liken it to keeping an energetic puppy on a leash…. It is true that enthusiasm can be contagious, but if channelled in the wrong direction it can equally be destructive, and it is these setbacks that cause a graduate to go into their shells. Within a corporate environment, the best course to middle management is oft a steady one – and consistent performance will most likely guarantee it.

There are of course exceptions, and they grab the headlines; but the reason they do so is due to the very fact they are the exceptions.

The most experienced managers of new grads, as well as HR professionals, know that there is a fine line between extinguishing the fire and keeping their feet on the ground. They should be given projects to stretch them, they should be encouraged to try things with the understanding they will make mistakes, which is fine provided they learn from them. Everything should come from a solid place of “I can build on my previous experience to make this next step.” Some grads get thrown into the deep end and swim, but far too many jump in too early themselves and sink slowly to the bottom, with all their colleagues watching and saying “I told you so”. Shooting for the stars is fine every now and again, but if you fail too often, your judgment will definitely be called into question.

We get a great sense of satisfaction when the Brightsparks we have employed or placed get back in touch a few years later to make hires of their own. They tell us the stories of their success, and it is rare that they shoot to prominence overnight. They worked hard within their teams, they networked and added value to the wider business, they saw contributing to others as a vital part of their own growth, and they learned to motivate themselves by taking small (but consistently successful) steps. They took calculated risks rather than unnecessary ones.

Most graduates want to boast to their friends about how they are “killing it”, but it is often the more modest, solid performers who stay the course to boast about a promotion a couple of years later. Simply doing your job well is good enough in the first year or so.

Grads should focus on being solid to start with – spectacular can come a little later on.