When you’re fresh out of school, stepping into the working world feels like you’ve been dropped into the jungle without a compass. There are no roads to show you exactly where to go and how to survive – you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and work out your own path.
If you’re feeling lost, the good news is that you’re not alone.
As part of a year-long exercise to better understand youths’ work-life aspirations, NTUC’s Youth Taskforce polled Singapore youths on their struggles in the transition from students to working professionals. Career planning, financial adequacy, and mental well-being emerged as the top concerns.
While there’s no real roadmap to the “real world”, you can make this transition smoother by setting priorities and creating your own sense of structure. Here, we’re sharing five tips to help you navigate the big changes ahead.
Develop a healthy routine – and protect it
New job blues are a thing, and the feels hit especially hard when you’re experiencing the 9-to-5 for the first time. Suddenly, you’re deskbound for eight or more working hours, overwhelmed by new tasks, and surrounded by unfamiliar faces.
During this transition, it’s easy for healthy habits to go out the window. For instance, after a long day in the corporate grind, you might feel like staying up late to reclaim precious “me time” – aka revenge bedtime procrastination. This can leave you too tired to hit the gym the next morning, setting off an unhealthy cycle.
Protect your mental health by developing a routine to keep your mind in shape, from working out three times a week to meditating during your lunch break. To keep it realistic, lay out exactly what you need to enable yourself to stick to the plan. To hit the gym after work on Fridays, for example, you might need to plan your week such that you finish all tasks by 6pm on the dot.
Most importantly, learn to protect your routine by setting solid work-life boundaries. If overwork is draining your energy, don’t feel guilty about asking for deadline extensions or letting your boss know there’s too much on your plate.
Build a personal budget with your first paycheck
When you’re earning more money than you’ve ever done in your life, the temptation to splurge is real. But as you treat yo’ self, don’t forget to treat your future self too. A few years on, future you will need to plan for big purchases like a BTO, and there’s no better way to start than budgeting your first paycheck.
To plan your budget, the 50/30/20 rule is simple and effective. No more than 50% of your pay after CPF deductions should go towards your essentials: food, phone bills, transport, student loans, and so on.
The next 30% of your salary is your fun money, which you can use for splurges like weekend getaways and TGIF drinks. The final 20% goes straight into your savings account for your future home, emergency medical bills, or the times you need an F-you fund.
One hack to keep yourself on track is automating your savings. Setting up automatic transfers from your transactions account to a high-yield savings account every month will stop you from spending over your budget.
Create a flexible career plan
While you don’t need to have your career all mapped out, doing some career planning will give you clarity and direction. Here’s how to get started:
Do a self-evaluation of your skills and values. Understand your current skillsets and experiences. What kind of work do you enjoy, and what type of workplace do you prefer?
Set down some goals. Reflect on what’s important to you and what you want to accomplish. What are your crazy, aspirational dreams? What are your more realistic and achievable goals?
Identify the gaps to fill in. If you have a skills gap in the way of your most immediate goals, chart a plan to upskill yourself. What training opportunities or resources are available to you?
In our fast-changing world, the key to any good career plan is flexibility. After all, up to 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.
Build flexibility into your plan by writing down a range of goals and dreams that come to mind – even if they don’t seem to fit into your main career path. As you come back and revisit your plan every year, you may find it useful to develop these alternative paths.
Use this time to explore
For most of us, our 20s are the perfect time to explore and experiment. This early in your journey, it’s often easier to pull off a career switch by taking up internships or doing part-time training than it would be mid-career. Want to become a digital nomad and work remotely from beaches around the world? You have few commitments to hold you back.
This means that while having a career plan can give you focus, don’t get locked into the expectation to establish one linear path. As certified Executive Coach Deborah Richardson puts it: “One common mistake is to think narrow. Thinking narrow only pigeonholes you into previous roles, but doesn’t explore what it is that you really do best… or why you do what you do.”
Make this transition into the working world your personal age of exploration. Take leaps of faith, experiment with new interests, and get comfortable with not knowing how a risky move will turn out. Even when the outcome isn’t ideal, it will help you figure out your weaknesses and learn to take smarter risks.
Prioritise finding a supportive work environment
When searching for a first job, pay and work-life balance are the top factors that Gen Zs look for. But to make that tough transition to working life easier, there’s one more factor you shouldn’t overlook as well: a supportive work environment.
A supportive workplace empowers you to adapt fast and work to your full potential. You can suss this out during a job interview by asking targeted questions about their training processes. What kind of onboarding experience do they provide? Do they offer ongoing mentorship and development opportunities?
To support fresh grads in the workplace, NTUC is set to launch a Career Starter Lab Pilot. Jobseekers in this programme can undergo a three-month career trial with hosting companies to explore a mutual job fit, prior to full-time employment.
You can expect to benefit from stronger support at your hosting company – all companies in the programme will provide jobseekers with structured training and personalised mentorship from a workplace mentor. By end-2023, NTUC plans to have over 100 companies on board, including Copthorne King’s Hotel and Rolls-Royce.
Adapting to working life doesn’t need to be a struggle
The transition from classroom to corporate world can feel like a shock, and it’s all about carving out your path with the right support.