19th Sep 2014

How to survive the first 100 days of a graduate scheme

This week, PwC topped the table for the eleventh consecutive year in The Times’ Top 100 Graduate Employers list. The company reportedly received 24,000 applications for 1,450 graduate places, reminding us all of how competitive corporate graduate programmes are. So how can a graduate shine in such a competitive environment and take full advantage of their graduate scheme in order to land that dream job?

Here at First100 we have helped hundreds of new senior executives and leaders accelerate their performance in their first 100 days. Working with business leaders has helped us gain an in-depth understanding of how leaders exceed expectations in their first 100 days. Furthermore, we have the opportunity to observe what leaders expect from their executives, teams and graduates in their First 100 Days. Here are our top ten tips to help you hit the ground running in the first 100 days of your graduate scheme.

1. Recognise and understand your key challenges. With any new role, you will face transition challenges which you need to overcome in order to be successful. Typical challenges you wll face in your first 100 days include i) time pressures and an intense learning curve ii) being overwhelmed with your workload, and iii) lack of experience of office and company culture which can lead to inadvertent mistakes.

TIP: Recognise and understand your challenges and identify ways to deal with and overcome them.

2. Set up your energy management system. Typically the first 100 days can be very emotionally charged. Your ‘mood’ will switch between supreme confidence and severe under-confidence. There is no denying that you will be stressed! You need to be ‘fit’ emotionally and physically.

TIP: Identify the best ways for you to relieve stress and to stay fit and healthy. Build them into your routine.

3. Build a clear profile of your role, the organisation and the market. You need to know the business inside out, how you fit into this and what your contribution needs to be.

TIP:  Write your own personal brief on your role, the organisation and the market. You will find most of the information you need by keeping your eyes and ears open (and by searching on the internet!).

4. Create a First 100 Day Plan. Everyone with ambition, from graduate to CEO, needs a plan. Writing a plan sounds like an easy task but very often ‘plans’ end up being ‘To-do’ lists – this will not be good enough. If you want to accelerate your performance and deliver early success then you need to create a proper, structured 100 day plan. Be mindful of the information you have compiled regarding your role, the company and the market. This structured planning approach will ensure that you not only survive the first 100 days but that you will, in fact, thrive in your first 100 days and set yourself up for success in your graduate scheme.

TIP: Create your First 100 Days Plan. You need to be strategic in order to exceed expectations in your role. Start with the end in mind. Envisage your goals for the end of the graduate programme, and then establish your mid-point strategic priorities (for a two year programme this will be at 12 months). Once you have done this you are ready to write your First 100 Days Plan.

5. Get to know your team and colleagues. Having good rapport with your colleagues is as important as meeting deadlines and getting work done. Getting to know your co-workers will help you to work more efficiently with them and will lead to opportunities in the future.

TIP: Invest time in getting to know your colleagues.

6. Show leadership skills. Companies want to see graduates demonstrate leadership skills. This doesn’t mean bossing people around, it means showing leadership at the appropriate moment. Laszlo Bok, SVP of Google’s People Operations poses an important question: “when faced with a problem and you're a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead? And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else?"

TIP: Take the initiative and show leadership when it is appropriate for you to do so. 

7. Remember EQ (Emotional Intelligence) will be as important as IQ. It is important that you are aware of people’s emotions in the workplace. This will be a key factor in your ability get on with people and get things done. Manage your own emotions, and develop an awareness of the emotions of those around you.

TIP: Invest time in developing your EQ.

8. Network. Invest time in your existing network from University and/or previous jobs and expand your network through the graduate programme. Networking can be fun – think of it as an opportunity to meet new people and be inquisitive -it doesn’t have to happen through formal networking events.

TIP:  Figure out what works for you.  Use tools such as LinkedIn to help you.

9. Ask for feedback. Bill Gates said it best: “We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve”. Ask for feedback through formal and informal channels. When receiving feedback, look for real constructive feedback and not just pleasantries that scratch the surface. And remember, if you don’t like what you hear, say thank you and use this new information as fuel for development.

TIP: Ask for informal feedback and approach HR about engaging in formal company 360 feedback.

10. Take advantage of your newness and your energy. You have a fresh perspective, so don’t be afraid to offer opinions, suggestions and insights. Volunteer for jobs – both big and small. Your willingness to contribute will be remembered.

TIP: Be bright, be brave and get involved!


Colm Flood



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