What I wish I knew when I graduated from uni

10 March 2022

Yesterday I was invited to speak at the Career and Development days at the School of Business and Economics at Maastricht University (NL). What a pleasure it was! I remember exactly how only 4 years ago I was attending the exact same event, never thinking I’d be on the other side of it so quickly.

Thinking back about my life and career after graduating in 2018, made me realise that there are so many things I would have liked to say to my younger self. So many things I’d like to share with the students at Maastricht University (or anywhere in the world!) who are about to embark onto the next chapter of their lives.

So here we go!

Stay true to yourself

Thinking about starting that 5th internship, doing another degree, starting a part-time job and learning yet another skill to make your CV even shinier?   

Good for you! Just watch out that you are doing these things because you’re truly interested in them and not just to add something else to your CV. I started learning Chinese and Javascript, because to me that just sounded like the right thing to do to set myself apart in today’s world of work. I never even thought about if I enjoyed doing these things, and the truth is, I didn’t.

Always stay true to yourself, keep developing and choose your own path. After all, the most successful people are those that are in true alignment with their interests, values and passions! And employers see that.

Be honest

There were so many times when I prepared for interviews, learning sentences by heart to show I know what I’m speaking about and to ultimately land the job. What a waste of time! Especially when it comes to your first job straight out of uni, it is ok to not know everything. You literally can’t! If you knew everything already, then why would you even apply for that job?

I realised that quickly and do you want to know how I landed my first job at one of the biggest tech companies in the world? Through honesty! In didn’t pretend to know things I didn’t, told them clearly how I can contribute to the success of the business but also what the areas are that I still need to develop in. That way I was able to show that I’m reflective, honest and willing to learn. Qualities, which all companies are looking for!

Nothing is set in stone

Growing up in Germany my path was set from when I was born. First school, then uni, then work in the field you studied for the next 30 years, house, kids, retirement. So you can imagine the pressure I felt when it was time to choose the right study course (after all this was going to determine the rest of my life) and the first job afterwards.

This is complete bull***! How are we supposed to know at 18 years old what we want to do for the rest of our lives? It’s ok to try. It’s ok to start a job that you don’t like and then go for something completely different later. Some people label this as “failure”, but honestly I don’t think failure exists. It’s a learning experience, which will point you into the right direction of who you truly are and what you really want to be doing.

Talk about money

You’ve gone through 3 rounds of interviews and are now on the phone with the HR manager, who asks you the one crucial question: “What are your salary expectations?”.

That question made a nervous mess out of me. Why? I had applied for a job in a different country, in a different currency in one of the most expensive cities in the world (London). How was I supposed to know what I should be making? I had one single point of comparison, which was a friend who just started her job at an NGO in London, making £28K annually. With all the courage I could muster I decided to high-ball and told the recruiter I wanted £40K. He just grunted and the conversation was over quickly after.

When I told my parents about this they couldn’t believe it. “That’s way too much! You should be happy if you get any job for any amount of money!”, “God Anni, now they probably don’t want you anymore! You always have to start small!” (I will write another blog soon about what’s so wrong with these kind of comments)

2 days later the recruiter got back to me with a £35K base + £20K bonus (guaranteed) deal. Morale of the story?

  1. It’s always easier to enter these kind of conversations if you have more points of comparisons than I did.
  2. Don’t sell yourself under value.

Application processes are a two-way street

As you just read from the comments my parents made upon the reveal of my salary expectations, you might already be able to tell that I come from a family where it’s believed that you should be forever grateful to the company that decides to employ you. It doesn’t matter how little they pay, how many extra hours you’ve got to do, just be grateful.

I believe this is a common thought in the post-war generation, however, it is completely outdated. Always keep in mind that it’s not just you trying to convince the company to give you the job, but they also need to convince you that they’re a good enough employer for you to spend 8h every single day of the week there. It has to be a fit on both sides.

If I had known these things right after graduating, it would have spared me a lot of stress, anxiety and sleepless nights. So I hope this will help you embark on your journey into the world of work!

If you have any questions or need advise, I’m always more than happy to help!

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