The Most Stressful Event of Your Life: Entering the Workforce

Entering the workforce for the first time is arguably one of the most stressful events in any young adult’s life. Beyond the sometimes exasperating challenge of simply finding a job, the transition from education to the working world brings a new array of problems and tasks, and a wide range of emotions. Arguably, the first thing anyone should do when choosing a career path or field they want to enter is to identify and prepare a list of transferable skills that are relevant to that field. The foundation of every résumé is built around your education and experience, but it is those transferable skills that turn you from an applicant into an employee.

(As an aside, I’ll give you one of the most valuable pieces of advice any prospective job candidate can have: proofread absolutely everything you send to a potential employer… twice. A silly spelling error in a letter or résumé conveys sloppiness and a lack of care or respect. I cannot overemphasize this: check it over, and then check it over again, every time.)

Identifying a career path is only the start of the journey; even people who have long known what they want to do as life’s work must make some pretty critical decisions when it’s time to enter the workforce. A medical or law graduate, for example, does not simply leave school and magically become a seasoned professional. Specialization and hard work are factors in even the most prestigious careers—and deciding what, exactly, to do with those credentials is a laborious process in and of itself.

As I prepare for my own move into the workforce, I’ve begun to consider the job skills I need (and want) to advance or improve. Recently, I’ve begun to work on polishing my French language skills by cracking open some of my dusty grammar texts and re-learning obscure and forgotten terms. As someone born in Ottawa, a highly bilingual Canadian city, I am fortunate to have learned relatively competent French at a young age. Opting to take the Government of Canada Second Language Evaluation promises to open up a wide range of positions working with the federal and provincial governments. Even exceptionally fluent speakers are advised to review and prepare before taking their test(s), whether in English or French, and ensure they are capable and familiar with not only syntax and grammatical intricacies, but also the complex or unusual vocabulary items required for public service positions.

Although a second language is an extremely valuable asset when it comes to entering the workforce, particularly in Canada, it is not the only transferable skill that can set an applicant apart. Communicating competently in multiple media has become indispensible to modern working life; knowing how to use a wide range of computer systems and programs (Mac as well as PC, for example), and to analyze and transmit information through various social media platforms are essential tools in most professions now. You can’t get away with knowing how to use Word anymore; you need to know how to navigate a digital world.

Similarly, organization and time management abilities are more critical than ever. Business is becoming ever more globalized and fast-paced, and more deeply interfaced with every other aspect of life. Keeping up takes more than a desktop calendar or Blackberry note – there are people waiting, projects to finish, and things to do. The key to managing it all is learning how to manage your time well in the first place.

Of course, it isn’t all about the struggle to outperform and compete against others for that “perfect job.” It isn’t even necessarily about that job at all. Being young and starting out in your career is one of the most exciting and novel opportunities of life; it is a fleeting experience that needs to be enjoyed before it’s long, long behind you. It’s a time to test the waters and try different things.

Attitude is key when it comes to settling into a new position, and it’s important to pay attention to both how you feel about your job and how you convey that. Recognizing whether or not you enjoy your work is important; if you aren’t happy or satisfied, perhaps the job isn’t for you. Perhaps the specific skill sets you’ve developed are better suited to a different position, or a different career choice entirely. Nobody wins when employees doesn’t like what they’re doing, because they will naturally be less loyal and less committed to the tasks at hand. Being willing to assess and determine whether you are stressed with the demands of your environment, or aren’t suited to that work in the first place, is a sign of maturity. Admitting you aren’t happy and want to move on to something else is a sign of strength. Even if you discover your dream job isn’t what you expected, the beauty of youth is that you can always try something new, perhaps completely novel. Through identifying your skills and things you do and don’t enjoy, the freedom to try different vocations can open you up to unexpected adventures. You may just find the true calling you never knew you had.

So what are you waiting for? Get started on those lists and papers; think about what you like to do and maybe try something new and different. Instead of stressing about it all, embrace the fun and folly of it. Enjoy the adventure and all the ones still ahead.

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