Navigating the Change: Student to Employee

Grads Corner
31 October 2016 | Grads Corner | Guest Author

Zinzile SibandaIn an ideal world, the perfect job would be waiting for graduates as soon as their cap and gown come off. Real life is a little less ‘fairy tale’ and a lot more complicated: what’s next? What career is the right one? Which industry offers the best opportunities?

For some, graduating might seem like something to tick-off before thinking about a career. Others start planning their big career moves before they’ve even started university. Both routes have their pros and cons. There are so many different opportunities out there, making hard and fast choices might direct an individual down the wrong road. As an alternative, simply laying down some rough plans offers a student the chance to best position their studies to support an eventual career, while leaving enough room to manoeuvre.

Having recently graduated, it wasn’t long ago that I found myself looking ahead and wondering what my career might look like. Things grew more complicated when I discovered a solid curiosity for software engineering after experiencing some programming modules as part of my degree. As graduation drew nearer, I wasn’t sure how my degree in physics would support me in pursuing my new interest in software engineering.

To prepare myself as best I could, I undertook several different placements so I could expand my skills base and extend my knowledge of programming. This not only boosted my CV, but gave me the opportunity to check that I would enjoy a career in this field. I also gained new perspective on how to approach the many different roles out there that I could potentially apply for.

It was during this exploratory phase that I came across my current role working for CRITICAL Software. I realised that the graduate role that was open would really suit me. I applied and subsequently became a Junior Software Engineer!

My first few months here have been brilliant. Already, my training programme has given me hands-on experience, an opportunity to work abroad and a chance to engage in real projects. With the support of a strong team, settling into my role has certainly been an enjoyable process. One of the things I love about being here is that I’m encouraged to take initiative, discover solutions and speak up about my ideas.

I’m delighted I’m now working for a company that values my skills, experience and personality and I’m glad I took the time to work on expanding my learning in key areas during my degree. I know that I contribute towards the unique service this company delivers to its customers.

But, I know it can be confusing out there for young people looking to start their career, so here are my suggestions for students wondering how to navigate the path from education to work:

Check the weather

A ski trip wouldn’t be much fun if all the slopes were closed due to a lack of snow. Roughing out your itinerary and conducting a little research helps you get a feel for what awaits you. Look at the roles you might be interested in, consider how you could apply your knowledge now and also when you’re due to finish your formal education. This can really help you get a feel for what future employers are looking for and give you a good idea of where you are now and what you need to do to close any gaps in your skills set.

Pack the essentials

Just as you’d pack a bag for a trip, pack your CV with the things you need to make your journey to a great job easier. While you’re at university, get involved with extra-curricular activities and apply for internships that support what you’re passionate about. Don’t wait until you’re applying for roles. Instead, brush up on your skills and learn more about what you like before you finish your education. This also demonstrates your capability and willingness to learn.

Reach your destination(s)

There’s a lot of cool places to visit in this world and there’s a lot of different jobs out there that might suit you. Remember that the title of your degree doesn’t define all that you are. Fuelled with an education and your CV packed with extra goodies, you don’t need to limit yourself to just one career outcome.

Go off-piste

There are many routes to get where you’re going: don’t forget that you’ve got options when it comes to how you reach your idea destination. In the same way you shouldn’t let the title of your degree limit you, you also shouldn’t allow preconceived notions to inhibit how you get there. What you love at the moment might not be what you love later on, or it might expand to encompass new things you’d never considered. The only way you’ll discover your passion is to take the road less-travelled and try things out – so go with where your heart takes you.

Draw a people map

Joining groups, applying for placements and expanding your horizons will mean that you naturally build a wide network of people that can help you to get where you want to be. Maintain the connections you make at careers events, within professional environments and other related situations. People will introduce you to people, who know other people, and that might be how you end up in your perfect role.

Life is about choice, making mistakes and trying again. Flexibility is important which is why young people in education don’t have to make rock solid decisions now. Looking ahead is useful though and can make the journey from student to employee an easier, more pleasant one. For me, I find that how much I prepare determines how much I achieve. I believe that preparation attracts opportunities - not the other way around. Happy navigating!


Zinzile recently graduated from the Royal Holloway University of London with a Masters in Physics and is now a Junior Software Engineer at CRITICAL Software, focusing on project development. An avid basketball player and with an interest in languages, Zinzile intends to increase her skills in software development through travel, reading and the investigation of new technologies.

In today’s business world, the failure of critical IT systems can irreparably damage missions, profitability and corporate reputations. In extreme cases, software reliability can be a matter of life and death. CRITICAL Software provides systems, software and data engineering services for safety, mission and business-critical applications. The company has been operating in mature markets since 1998, with NASA its first client, and has offices around the world.

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