Starting your career after graduating from school is an exhilarating experience. Not only will you have your first taste of independence, you’ll also start to experience financial freedom. With a new set of responsibilities and a desire to start living life on your own terms, it’s important to be well-prepared and build good habits from the start. Whether it’s picking up skills to climb the corporate ladder or using your salary to build a nest egg for the future, here are four important things you should know as you embark on your first job.
1. Set Boundaries
There are two types of boundaries you'll need to set for yourself as you enter the workforce. The first is setting boundaries with your job responsibilities and the second is setting a work-life boundary. While you may be eager to prove yourself to your boss and show your colleagues that you can get the job done, you may quickly find yourself overwhelmed if you take on more tasks than you can handle. Not only will this create additional stress, but it may be logistically impossible to handle and lead to missed deadlines and low-quality work.
Instead, you shouldn't be afraid to ask your colleagues for help and learn to say "no" when you have taken on as much as you know you can realistically handle. To create a realistic set of expectations, you can have a meeting with your boss where you outline a schedule of your tasks and responsibilities for the near future. Creating a visual schedule can help you and your boss prioritise your most important responsibilities and figure out which tasks can be tackled on a later date or given to someone else.
When it comes to managing expectations, this also includes setting boundaries so that you can establish a healthy work-life balance which can and also support your well-being and productivity. Work-life balance is important to avoid burnout, which will lead to lower productivity, increased stress and generally lower well-being. An easy way to promote work-life balance is to pick up a hobby outside of work or create wellness routines (like meditation or reading your favourite book) to start or end the day in a good mood.
2. Learning Doesn't Stop In The Classroom
Just because you graduated doesn't mean you can abandon learning new things. In fact, one of the best ways to advance in your career is to continuously learn new skills and industry trends. The internet is full of free courses that can help you excel in your current position and give you a leg up towards career advancement. For instance, Youtube hosts many free full-length lectures from top US universities like Harvard and MIT. Paid courses that are available online like Udemy, Coursera and Coursemology also offer professional development courses like Effective Workplace Communication and Personal Effectiveness.
If you want to save on paid courses, you can also take advantage of SkillsFuture courses, which cover an array of topics ranging from data analytics to Adobe Suite to management courses. SkillsFuture courses are subsidised up to 90% by the government and you may be eligible to receive a S$500 credit when you turn 25. If you work in the service industry, taking SkillsFuture classes like the Customer Service Excellence course can also reap financial rewards. For instance, you can get an award between S$200 to S$1,000 for completing a WSQ diploma or certificate.
3. Soft Skills Are Just As Important As Technical Skills
Once you enter the workforce, you'll quickly realise that your knowledge doesn't matter if you can't communicate it effectively. Grades become obsolete as your main form of showcasing your accomplishments and working up the career ladder is through communication and building a rapport with your colleagues. In fact, soft skills like teamwork and effective communication are some of the top skills that employers in Singapore are looking for. In fact, 65% of employers surveyed by NTUC LearningHub said that soft skills were a top priority for their workforce.
So what are soft skills? In addition to the ability to work in a team and effectively communicate with your coworkers, soft skills also include emotional intelligence (being able to control your emotions), leadership, analytical and critical thinking skills, curiosity and the ability to see the big picture. The best way to sharpen your soft skills is to take classes or read business development books. Alternatively, there are free resources you can find online that discuss how to develop your soft skills.
4. Start Saving As Soon As Possible & Have a Contingency Plan
If you had a part-time job as a teenager, you probably spent most of the money on things you wanted—video games, clothes, going out with friends. While these things are still on the table as you move into adulthood, you will need to move towards saving most of your money rather than spending it if you want to save up for large purchases like a car, flat or wedding. This means creating a budget where a portion of your salary goes to saving and investing as well as to bills and emergency planning. You should aim to start investing and saving as early as you can to pay off your debt as soon as possible.
A fairly easy contingency plan is to get a term life insurance plan. A term life plan will provide coverage for death, terminal illness and total and permanent disability. Since you're young, premiums are still affordable, costing on average between S$20 and S$35 per month for S$400,000 of coverage. That way, if an emergency happens and you are no longer able to work, you will have enough to pay for any dependents and yourself.
Your Mistakes Are Just As Valuable As Your Accomplishments
As you begin your career, you'll be worried about whether you're doing everything right. In a sense, you will be. Even mistakes provide valuable opportunities for growth. At this stage in your life, everything should be taken as an opportunity to grow and become better at managing your career and your personal life (including your finances). That said, don’t forget to plan ahead so that you can live the life you want now without worrying about the future.
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