Now what? Problems graduates encounter in the workplace

Posted on September 13, 2017


Graduating from university and getting your first job are great achievements. However, the transition from student life to the life of a working professional should not be underestimated. You have just spent several years learning how to party the whole night long and function properly in class the next day. This familiar lifestyle comes to an end and your new life as a young professional is about to kick off. You are bound to encounter some problems in the transition to the working world that you did not anticipate as a student. To help prepare you, here are a few challenges you can expect to face (and how to deal with them):

Your years of studying have not prepared you for everything

Many recent graduates are unprepared for the emphasis placed on teamwork skills in the professional world, the importance of dealing with different types of people, balancing work demands with personal life, and personal finance issues. Furthermore, some graduates mistakenly believe that superior academic standing translates into automatic favour in the work environment. Having a degree does not entitle you to your job and most employers will not be as impressed as you may be with your grades and education. In actuality, all new hires are basically on an equal standing. Focus less on why employers should be so impressed with your credentials and more on how to use your talent and skills to make a meaningful contribution.


Wherever you work, whoever you are, and however flawless and fabulous you appear to be, criticism is going to come your way at some point. Learning how to deal with it is incredibly important. Of course it is difficult to be criticised for something you feel you worked hard on, but if someone senior is telling you that they are dissatisfied, then they are probably right and there could be room for you to improve. Do not take criticism personally – use it as a tool to get better at what you do.

Lack of experience

A lack of jobs, extended unpaid internships and being dubbed too inexperienced for graduate jobs are the biggest challenges in the graduate job market right now. Being rejected for jobs for not having enough experience (or being labelled as inexperienced within jobs) is the toughest issue you may face as a graduate jobseeker or a first-time employee. The key advice to all graduates (and those preparing to graduate) is that you should seek work experience. This advice seems like common sense; however, gaining work experience (even if it means working for free) can help you plan your career and gain vital experience in competitive industries. When the time comes to apply for full-time work, your work experience can set you apart from your competitors.

Time management

You may have thought it was difficult managing various classes, tests and other activities while at university, but it may be even more of a struggle to manage your time once you are employed. Most jobs require that employees be at work, take lunch and leave work at specific times. As a student, your day was less structured. This can be frustrating and the new time structure will require an adjustment. Your future with your new employer depends on how well you can manage your time.

Eager to succeed but slow to move (delayed gratification)

Another reality in the transition from university life to being a working professional is that a large number of the jobs available for graduates are entry-level. These jobs often entail hard work, long hours, and low pay. Employers want all employees to start at a certain level to better understand the business or profession. Recent graduates should not reject work experience because they feel that it is beneath them. Be realistic in your expectations, and once you start the job, expect to demonstrate some serious grit in order to prove yourself in the organisation – rewards and promotions do not come easily.

This is not what I pictured. Did I even study the right degree?

It is beneficial to have a vision of what you want your career path to be after graduation, but do not panic if your first job does not fit perfectly into your envisioned plan. Your first job may serve as a chance to gain experience, maturity and confidence. Many recent graduates change jobs after their first year out of university; sometimes it takes that long – or longer – to fully understand who you are and what you really want to do with your life. Your first job may be a stepping stone and not your true calling. The days of working a 30, 40, or 50-year career at one company are over. The trend nowadays is for graduates to change careers – not just jobs – multiple times over the course of their working life.

Moving into professional adult roles can be accomplished by staying open to change and embracing opportunities. Even the most prepared graduates face ever-changing employment conditions, so the key to navigating the complex waters of entry-level employment is to remain flexible and open-minded, and to persevere towards your career goals. Nothing good comes easily.


In conjunction with Enterprises UP, the University of Pretoria's Career Services Unit offers a work-readiness initiative, Ready for Work, which prepares graduates for the world of work. For more information, please visit or




- Author Ms Suzanne Gericke, PhD student and part-time lecturer: Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences

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