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What seven new graduates want you to know about joining the workforce

You dream of spreading your wings, but the thought of starting a job for the first time may feel completely overwhelming. We have advice from seven new graduates to help you through your journey.

New graduates, we know it’s a bit of an uncertain time for you right now. You dream of spreading your wings, but the thought of starting a job for the first time may feel completely overwhelming (what do people really DO all day anyhow?) For some of you, fresh with memories of internships, perhaps you’re wondering if working as a full-time, official employee feels the same as these summer break stints, or even if the time you spent working rather than traveling or lounging around was worth it.

The good news is that not only are your concerns normal, they’re global. Across the world, new graduates like you face identical challenges as they transition from student to employee. How do we know this? We spoke to seven of our fresh-faced graduates from our Middle East, Poland, U.S., Canada and UK offices. We asked them to reveal their biggest ‘new-graduate’ fears and share their advice on how to cope with this major step in your career journey.

Here’s what they wanted us to tell you:

1. Yes, you’re qualified to be here

You’re gazing at your dream company’s website, and you can’t help but think that maybe you’re just not good enough to work there. Jack Greene, a water intern between his Bachelor’s and Master’s programs out of our Denver, Colorado office, feels your pain. “The first time I went to CH2M’s website, I thought, ‘wow, this place is really great.’ I was overwhelmed by how impressive the company was and how many interesting projects they’re working on across the world.” When Greene got his offer from CH2M, he worried that he didn’t have enough to offer his future boss and team. “I was nervous in my abilities,” he said, adding with a quick laugh, “I still am sometimes!” Mohammed Alghubari, a Project Engineer out of our Riyadh, Saudi Arabia office, agreed with Greene. “It took me five months to find my job, and during those months, my confidence wasn’t so high,” Alghubari stated. “I worried that what I learned in school wasn’t enough for me to join a company like CH2M.”

The reality is no one is hired in a vacuum. “You get hired for a reason,” said Greene. “Someone during the hiring process believed in you and believed that you could do this job. You’re here for a reason, you didn’t slip through the cracks. If someone else believes that you can do this job, so should you.” Remember that regardless of experience level, we’re always learning and developing. As a new grad, you’re at the start of your professional journey, and while it won’t always be easy, you’ll be surrounded by teammates who want to help you grow. 

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Janina Zerdzinska, an Assistant Bridge Engineer in our Krakow, Poland office, admitted that her number one fear when starting her job was “asking stupid questions” – a supremely common concern among our new grads across the globe. “At the beginning, I tried to answer all the questions myself,” Zerdzinska said. “I spent an hour looking for an answer that would’ve taken someone else five minutes.” Much like Zerdzinska, Alghubari would spend hours searching for the answer to a question that a colleague sitting next to him would ultimately know, and Greene could barely stand the idea of asking a question. “Before working at this job, I was mortified at the thought of admitting to not knowing something,” Greene shared.

According to our new grads, this is one of those fears that subsides as you learn more about your role, your team and the professional work atmosphere. “It’s an adjustment, learning when to ask and when to figure it out on your own,” said Greene. For Alghubari, things changed for him when he realized that asking questions was actually quick and painless. “I found people with lots of experience willing to share their knowledge to help develop the team”. Zerdzinska advises not to waste too much time solving tricky problems on your own at first. “I was once told that if you have a question and it takes more than a quarter of an hour for you to figure it out, then go ask someone.”

3. Don’t fear a “male dominated industry”

When Architect Wiktoria Wilk, out of our Krakow, Poland office, first began the job hunt, she worried about being female in a field often thought of as consisting of mostly men. “The position of men in Architecture is really strong in Poland,” she shared, “and some places don’t even hire women.” When she found CH2M, she was encouraged to see women in leadership positions across the organization – from her group to her office and the company in general. “I met women who were never looked at differently for being female in this industry,” Wilk said. “I saw women doing the same great work as men.” Kaytlin Roode, Water Design Specialist out of our Toronto, Canada office agreed. “There are tons of women at CH2M. We have great female leadership at all levels.”

To other young women joining CH2M, Wilk has one last thing to say on the subject: “Don’t be scared, because you’re in best place imaginable.”

4. Cultural challenges abound when you work abroad, so give things time

If transitioning from university to the working world sounds complicated, then imagine relocating to a different country for a brand-new job. Both Konstantinos Petropoulos, a Graduate Transportation Engineer originally from Athens, Greece and now located in our Swindon, UK office and Xiaohan Li, a Pavement Engineer originally from Beijing, China and now located in our Derby, UK office, agreed that cultural differences can be the biggest challenges you face when you choose to work abroad after graduation.

Petropoulos worried that he wouldn’t be able to work professionally in a foreign language. “I thought it might be really tough, and it still is sometimes,” he admitted. “I really appreciate when other people rephrase what they’re saying without me asking. When they do, I think maybe they’ve been in a position of learning a foreign language and appreciate how difficult it is on this end.” If you’re struggling with the same language issues, Petropoulos says it takes time and patience. “You have to try hard. No one can give you the right answer. Keep practicing, keep trying, keep learning. Listen to the radio, watch TV and engage with the local culture. Being from a different culture means that I don’t always get the jokes that people are making, so it can be difficult to socialize, but that doesn’t stop me – I just make notes on my phone and look the jokes up online when I get home.”

Li confessed that he sometimes feels lonely. “All of my Chinese friends are back in China. I don’t have any Chinese friends in the UK, so I try to participate in as many office activities as possible, including our Junior and Mid-Level Professionals (JuMP) employee network group,” said Li. “If you’re from another country, you’re usually not the only graduate, so reach out to others,” he advised. Zerdzinska, who works in her native Poland, agrees with the importance of socializing with your work colleagues, regardless of whether or not you’re working in your home country. “So many graduates worry about whether or not they’ll get along with their colleagues. Don’t be afraid to organize social events. Take the lead and people will get to know you.”

5. Internships and apprenticeships are game-changers

Wish you could briefly transport yourself into a job to see what it’s like before you officially commit? Well guess what, it’s doable – and no, not through some crazy-advanced technology, but through internships and apprenticeships.

“Internships are a great idea,” said Greene. “You have successes and learning moments during your time interning. You make mistakes and you learn from them because you’re in the office and on-site and experiencing the reality behind what you’re learning in school. You’re even learning things they don’t teach you in school. Those soft skills – how to monitor your email, keep your calendar updated and plan your time, how to present to an audience, how to interact with coworkers and supervisors, how to ask for guidance – they’re not taught in school. Successful engineers need to know more than how to calculate.”

“I’m lucky,” said Roode, thoughtfully. “I didn’t have a lot of fears when I started working at CH2M full-time because I knew what I was coming back to. I already felt comfortable here because I interned here.”

Still feeling nervous about taking the plunge into the working world? Alghubari wants you to know that it’s okay. “Don’t be afraid of responsibilities. Always ask questions and ask for help whenever you feel the need. Initiate learning opportunities and take pride in what you do. Always remember that every single person you admire had a first day of work too. They shared the same fears as you.”

You’re truly not alone in any of this.

Take it from our grads.

Find out about graduate jobs and internships

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