Congratulations - you are one of the graduates of 2021! Now you're ready to hit the ground running. There are thousands of questions to answer: What is the right job for me? Should I add a master's degree or a PhD? Do I have enough qualifications and experience? Should I move to another city or even another country if the opportunity arises?
For many, however, it is also about something else: It is the time to think about your personal business personality.
University degree, but no degree in self-confidence?
Being a student is great, but when you move from university to your first job, you're entering uncharted territory and taking a big step in your own development. And it's hard not to get nervous.
How do you want to appear and be recognised on the job? What do you stand for?
Particularly in times of a pandemic, it is difficult for young academics to go job hunting with a huge amount of self-confidence. Women in particular are beginning to doubt themselves, I hear that time and again. The step from academia into professional life is a real challenge for your own self-confidence.
You have the feeling that you didn't try out enough practical things during your studies. Alongside this, the prospect of virtual onboarding and remote working in the first few months is worrying. Making contacts, learning processes, the first presentation of your own and the first feedback meeting...these are all things that require you to be confident; even on the phone and via video conference.
Getting tougher: here's how
Be aware: you are not alone with self-doubt and there are proven strategies that can help you build self-confidence. I speak from personal experience and want to share my best tips with you. I've also polled my Confidence network and asked for advice for you.
From student to professional - how I gained self-confidence and what I would do differently today.
At 28, I had my PhD in the pocket and it felt great...for about four weeks. When I started looking for a job, I suddenly realised that I was going to start all over again at the bottom, very small, with my first real job. Suddenly, all the self-confidence I had accumulated over the last few months during the PhD was gone. The university had been safe territory. But a corporate environment is something else entirely, something I had no idea about (at least that's what I told myself). And so began the spiral of self-doubt.
It quickly spun faster and I started to question all my skills, like "good at writing a dissertation preface, but no good in PowerPoint" or "good at literature research, but never negotiated a budget". I was also unsure if my peer group, who had done a bachelor's or master's and had been on the job for 2-3 years, didn't have an unmatchable advantage. Wouldn't an employer demand so much more from me with a PhD, and anyway, wouldn't it look weird if I applied for a junior or entry-level position with a PhD?
It was getting worse by the day. Typically female, you might say. I was caught between knowing that I had already accomplished a lot and fearing what the future held and if I could deliver. My reaction to the lack of self-confidence was to accept a trainee position at a PR agency. 18 months of learning and junior work. It wasn't what I had planned. I had already spent so much time in college and didn't want to learn more. I had hoped that was finally over. But I didn't trust myself to do more at that time. Was it a good decision? If you're curious, skip to the end of this article where I will answer the question.
What can graduates do to boost your confidence? Here are my top three strategies for you.
- Define your Image
Instead of drowning in self-doubt and ignoring all the positive feedback from my friends, family, and professors, I should have started by defining my professional identity. It is important to know who you are and how you are perceived or want to be perceived. Write down your thoughts to create that positive vision of yourself.
If you don't know where to start, you can begin with these core questions:
- When fellow students or teachers describe you, what categories do they use? Cooperative, competitive, solution-oriented, or analytical are just a few ideas.
- If you had to write a short biography of yourself today, for example for your new employer's intranet, what would it say?
- If your new boss introduced you at the first all-hands meeting, what would she/he say about you?
- Know your value as a "graduate the 2021 pandemic."
One reason I lost my confidence after graduation was my low level of work experience. But was it really true that I had no real-life experiences? What about you?
I did a lot of internships in PR and communications departments, so I actually did have experience. There were also a lot of projects I worked on during my studies. This gave me experience in team building, organisation, presentation and reporting. Instead of thinking that I don't know anything, I should have written down a list of these things and translated them into the typical "business vocabulary". You can easily find this in company job postings.
OK, don't exaggerate - that would seem unrealistic. But trust that you already have basic skills in all relevant business fields. Don't forget to add resilience, flexibility and a positive mind-set to your list. You're just making it through the Covid 19 pandemic. This also counts as experience in biting through, persevering and positive thinking!
- Build a Confidence Network and a Safety Net
You're not alone in feeling like you don't have enough confidence. Why don't you look for allies in your work environment? I learned about the concept of "wingwoman" (too) late in my professional career, but it has changed my life. So you can benefit right now, I'm introducing it to you today: The best thing you can do is look for a Wingwoman or Wingman.
A wingwoman can either be a more experienced mentor for, say, your first major presentations, or someone on your team who has a little more practice with situations like team meetings. What is the role of the Wingwoman? A Wingwoman makes sure that your ideas are heard, not "stolen" and also not forgotten. She maintains eye contact with you, always providing a positive, encouraging face to look at during the presentation or meeting. She can be the first to applaud, laugh at your joke, or repeat your idea so it doesn't get lost: "I like what Constanze said. Let's talk it through again...".
Basically, a wingwoman is something like a sparring partner. She needs a briefing beforehand about your goals and what you want to achieve in the specific situation. So talk to her (him) beforehand. After that it is mainly about positive encouragement. I have been working as a wingwoman for my team and employees for a long time. When I see someone getting nervous before a presentation, I often pro-actively offer to be their wingwoman. I'm just there, in the audience or in the meeting, nodding in agreement, smiling, and making them feel like they're not alone. And that helps! I promise. It's also a great chance to get feedback in a constructive way from someone you trust. That's worth so much, especially in your first few years on the job.
Just try it out with your colleagues. You'll find that building a Confidence Network in your company is the best thing you can do to start your first job. And it's fun, too.
How do you make it easier for yourself to start your career?
Let's come back to my own story and the question of whether volunteering at the PR agency was the right thing to do ... it was spot on! Because it allowed me to lower my own expectations of myself a bit and focus more on being able to try things out. Officially being a beginner helped me accept that I didn't have to be able to do everything and be perfect on day 1. It allowed me to ask questions and ask for help. It was ok to say, "Hey, I've never done this before, can you point me in the right direction or is there an old case I can look at? Can I sit in on a client meeting as a guest to get a feel for how this works?".
It was a great time because I made it a little easier for myself to get started. And you know what? Thanks to all the experience I had gained in my studies and dissertation (and because I was also just a little bit older than my fellow volunteers), the first few months were already very successful and I was able to take over a €300,000 budget straight away. Allowing myself not to have to be perfect from the get go released so much positive energy that I was really good.
Relaxation and the right expectation management can help your self-esteem
Therefore, if you doubt your self-esteem, my recommendation for you is to start with a graduate program or trainee program. You can find offers for example here on talentbay.
Many companies offer programs. In addition to the learning phase, it also offers you the chance to get to know the corporate culture across various departments through the different stations. Often there are projects with senior management, so you can start networking right away. And you'll also find your wingwomen or wingmen among the other trainees.
Another possibility is offered by companies in the context of sandwich degrees (mix of work & studies). This offers a good mix of hands-on work experience and academic know-how that fits your new field of work. This way, you will acquire subject-specific expertise for which you will be recognized and appreciated in the company.
After graduation, you can also start with a few internships at big companies - before you decide to make the full commitment. This way you can find out where your personal strengths and interests lie and what the perfect job really is.
To close, I have a top tip for an easy start on the job: Establish a network of solid contacts with companies while you are still studying or training. Why not get started with your first internship right after high school? You can then build on these contacts over time.
Where can you find contacts in companies that are willing to meet you? Platforms like talentbay can help you. They let you create a personal profile where you can describe yourself, your skills and your experience. And then talentbay matches you. So you find companies that might be a good fit for you, and companies find talents like you that are worth contacting.
This way, you won't be thrown in at the deep end right after graduation, but will have long-standing points of contact and, if necessary, contacts who can refer you or help you with questions about the job. Today, the top companies (and especially hidden champions and start-ups) are on platforms like talentbay and are proactively looking for you. So be sure to there from the start and invest some time in building your network. This makes it easier to start your career and you can approach it with a lot more self-confidence.
For more tips on confidence in the job, check out the book „The Confidence Commandments. Make Confidence your Superpower.“ or view the web version at www.confidence-commandments.com
Lot's of success and always remember: When you are confident in yourself, people will be confident in you.
Dr. Katrin Luzar is a marketing expert, PR pro, storyteller and early riser. Her mission is to support women on their Confidence-Journey. After completing her dissertation in communication sciences on the topic of "Content analysis of web-based information offers", she worked for seven years at the PR agency fischerAppelt. In 2011, she moved to the online job board monster.de as press spokesperson, where she managed the B2C and B2B of the DACH region since 2015. In 2019, she additionally took over an international team and was responsible for brand management and content marketing in the EU. Her leadership style is very collaborative and focused on the idea that sharing ideas and stories drives better results and makes a company more successful. Currently she is "in-between-jobs" and looking forward to a new challenge. Together with an international team of experts, she published "The Confidence Commandments" in April 2021.
Photo: Ian Stauffer on Unsplash