Monday, April 8, 2013

The Graduate Conundrum: Where to Next?

Graduation (Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik)
Professor Leigh Wood is Associate Dean, Faculty of Business and Economics, Macquarie University.

So you have graduated with a business degree. Congratulations and welcome to the world of business, writes Professor Leigh Wood.

The business and finance sector workforce is huge and presents exciting opportunities for you all. The main item on a new graduate’s wish list is usually ‘a job’ - and, if I probed further, you would probably say ‘a good job’.

You may have specialised in finance, accounting, human resources, marketing, supply chain, economics or information systems. Whatever the business degree, the aim is to equip graduates with skills, knowledge and some experience.

So what is a good job for business graduates, and what will help you in your evolution to being a full professional?

A good job

A good job is about people, prospects and pay. Your manager and the people you work with will make a huge difference to your work time, which will be a large chunk of your day.

Do you think you will fit with the culture of the organisation? Here is what Helen, one of my graduates has said:

“I think the biggest help was the people I work with. When you’re comfortable, especially with your manager, the person you report to, it makes a big difference, I think. I’ve taken a step back and had a look sometimes and, if I’d had a different manager I don’t think I could have gotten as far as I have and I’ve only been here seven months.”

Managers take note, you are a critical person in the life of a new graduate and how they develop a successful working career in your industry and organisation.

Initial work experiences, particularly the new graduate’s relationships with their manager and their workmates, have a strong influence on ensuring a positive transition to the workforce.

A good job has prospects for your future, perhaps training and travel opportunities as well as a chance to contribute to the organisation. The work should be interesting and challenging - remember though, every job has the tedious parts that need to be done; it is not all excitement!

And you may be starting at the bottom, so try and find a mentor from higher in the organisation, or from a professional organisation, to guide you as you grow and develop. Evan, a top graduate had an interesting transition to work in finance:

“The underlying thing of coming out of uni is you’re not going to be CEO in three years’ time! It’s something they had to beat out of me in the first three months! I guess one of the main things is the responsibility is just given very much in piecemeal, and built up over time … you might have got HDs in everything, but you’ve still got to prove yourself in a particular context. And that’s not uni anymore.”

A good job rewards you with reasonable pay, interesting work and prospects to increase that pay and expand your horizons with good performance.


So you have researched the job market and the organisations you wish to work for. The people are good, the prospects and pay look good. How do you get the job?

• Online and mobile. You need a profile on LinkedIn and you need to monitor the positions available on online employment
• Networking. You have to be out and and out your cool business card (what, you don’t have one? Get one) and get your parents and friends to spread the word.
• Professional associations. Here is where the professional associations are able to help by providing mentors and connections. Join the Australian Marketing Institute (, the Australian Human Resources Institute ( or the association in your speciality.
• Think laterally. An organisation may not quite match what you’re seeking, but it might give you the opportunity to develop your skills set.
• Elevator pitch. Can you summarise your skills and knowledge and how you will contribute to the organisation in three minutes? Practise this on your mates. They will laugh but you will get the job.
• Facebook and social media. No pictures of you throwing up, draped across someone half naked, or tweets of racist/sexist jokes. Keep your social media discreet.

Computing skills

Our research shows graduates in finance use a range of computing skills and employers expect graduates to pick these up on the job. Another note to managers: we believe organisations would have significant productivity increases if graduates were formally taught the computing tools required for their particular role.

But for you graduates, I recommend you sharpen your skills in spreadsheets and the industry standard software for your area, even if you pay for it yourself. It will help you gain employment and then perform better on the job.

Numbers and data

Big data is the new black in business. Data is everywhere and making sense of that data (numbers and other forms of intelligence) make the difference to the profitability of a business. A new graduate can have the edge because they are savvy to new ways of gathering and presenting information.

Learn the key data in your field. Learn the assumptions, the gaps and where you need data to find out what your customers want.

Keep learning

A business degree is great and will get you started. Once you have a role there will be more specific skills to develop and others to expand. Keep up with your learning by participating in activities organised by professional associations and your workplace.

After a year, enrol in a Masters of Commerce or Applied Finance and take one unit per semester. It will keep you up-to-date and learning new ideas. It is also a fantastic networking opportunity and a way to enhance your future prospects.

Other options

If you are having trouble securing your first role, think about volunteering or an unpaid internship helping those in need, or looking after the environment.

These opportunities give you good skills in dealing with people and unfamiliar situations and are increasingly part of ethical corporate culture, which aims to give back to our communities. And you may even end up with a paid job with the organisation!

Don’t underestimate the skills you learn in unpaid activities such as running the local choir or contributing to a bushcare group. The trick is to reflect on what you are learning as part of those activities and link the learning to your studies and to the business position you want.

For example, a final year student who was graduating with a Human Resources major was worried about her lack of experience in a real-world workplace. However, she had been running the local choir for three years.

Looking at the skills she had developed it included: work health and safety, delegation, defining of roles, dealing with the local council for hall hire, dealing with difficult people and so on.

Once she thought about it, she could easily write up a resume that demonstrated the experience required by employers.

If you feel you have limited professional experience, be creative about writing up your other life experiences. Make links between what you have learnt and what you have accomplished.

Competition for jobs

There is competition for good jobs. New graduates can have the edge on older workers as employers often see graduates as having fresh ideas, as being media and technology savvy and mouldable to their organisation.

You may be seen as being free of entrenched bad habits picked up from other workplaces, and as enthusiastic and keen.


So the job is not perfect, but you can learn, find out what is in the area and beef up your resume. All jobs - sadly! - have their less interesting parts. Don’t forget international positions, particularly for those of you who are fluent in more than one language.

Before you graduate

The evolution to professional work is facilitated by what you do at university. Firstly, good grades are useful; however, it is more important to have learnt deeply, to really understand what you were being taught.

Reflect back and look for links between subjects and how all the pieces of business fit together. Where do your skills lie? What general skills did you pick up along the way? How will you be able to contribute to the organisation?


Feel proud of your achievement! A strong business sector in Australia is good for the economy and enhances a strong society. As a business graduate you will be contributing to Australia’s wellbeing and supporting productive communities in Australia and globally.
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