Low contact- time degree to office job: how to smooth the transitionBlogs
Starting your first job after you graduate can feel a bit like returning to school, only instead of sitting in a classroom watched over by a teacher, you'll be sitting in an office watched over by a manager.
This can be a real culture-shock when you're coming from a low contact-time degree with only a few hours of lectures or seminars a week. Having mostly set your own schedule for the past few years, you're now faced with a strict timetable and day-to-day monitoring. Here are some ways to get used to the change.
Accept the early nights and early mornings
Most office jobs are nine-to-five. Few students on low contact-time degree courses work these hours. The stereotype of the student waking up at noon and working late into the night does have some substance, as does the stereotype of the student who goes to the pub on weekday evenings. There's nothing wrong with embracing your freedom as a student; you can definitely do this and emerge with a great degree. But we all know that the student lifestyle is untenable: that's why it's the 'student lifestyle', and not just the 'lifestyle'.
It's therefore a good idea to prepare yourself for the nine-to-five before it becomes a reality. Accept that weekday nights out are going to be much fewer and farther between, and have a think about how you're going to reorganise (without abandoning) your social life to take this into account. If you have some time before your job starts, have a go at resetting your body clock. You want to habituate yourself to early nights followed by early mornings, with a good amount of sleep in between. Starting a nine-to-five job when you're still programmed to wake up at 10am is going to be a pretty grim experience, and you definitely want to avoid falling asleep at your desk in those first few weeks.
Students on low contact-time degree courses can get up from their desks whenever they please. If inspiration eludes them, they can watch TV, take a walk, go to the gym, meet up with friends. It goes without saying that none of these is an option in a nine-to-five job, except at lunchtime. However, the human brain can only maintain concentration for so long, and we do need to take breaks. According to research conducted by themuse.com, the most productive people work for 52-minute stretches, resting for 17 minutes in between. The 52 minutes are spent in total concentration, the 17 minutes in total relaxation. You can find many similar time-management techniques online.
Ideally, you want to spend your rest periods away from your computer, visiting the kitchen, chatting to colleagues or just making a circuit of the office. If this isn't possible, you can just turn your attention away from your screen and practice mindfulness or do some desk-based exercises.
Sometimes you simply aren't going to be able to stop working. Maybe your boss is looking over your shoulder; maybe the time during which you're logged out of your computer is monitored. You've had deadlines as a student, of course, and on occasion you've needed to cram for an exam or write like crazy to finish an essay. But you could always get up, stretch your legs, breathe some fresh air, even if only for five minutes. It's probably been a while since you've had no option but to power through. If you find your attention wandering in this situation, you can try task switching, which is exactly what it sounds like: focusing on a different piece of work. Doing something new wakes up your brain, helping you to concentrate again. While flitting from one task to another in a short space of time isn't a good idea, spending too long on a task can leave you restless, inattentive and unproductive. Moving on to a new task at that point can lift the fog of boredom.
Student life to office life is a big transition, but if you plan ahead, you can make it a bit easier on yourself. Your new schedule might be trying at first, but in a year's time, you'll find it's second nature.
Rosemary Proctor writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in finding candidates their perfect internship. To browse our graduate jobs, visit our website.
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