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Graduating to New Professional Status: Transitioning to Your First Full-Time Role Post-Grad School

New Professionals and Graduate Students
October 18, 2022 Anna Pietrzak

It is finally October– the leaves are changing, the weather is getting cooler, and for many new professionals, like me, they are a few months into their first full-time student affairs role post-grad school. To say it’s been an easy transition would be an understatement. For many new professionals, this process involves uprooting their entire lives to drive across the country for work. Even if they are fortunate to get hired relatively locally, it can still be difficult to navigate everything that comes with moving and starting a new job. It is hard work, but hopefully worth the effort. 

As a recent graduate student turned new professional, I wanted to share some observations and advice from my process of moving and starting my first full-time role in residence life. This advice is by no means an end-all-be-all way of doing things, but I have found it helpful to know that what I am going through is not unique to me. I hope that someone can find comfort in my experiences and realize that they are not alone in their transition. 

  • Enjoy the time you have off between graduating and starting a new job: This situation may not apply to everyone, but many graduate students have some amount of time between when they graduate and when their new job begins. This time is precious, and something you will not get back once you start working full-time. Take full advantage of not having work-related responsibilities or being bound to the 9-to-5 grind– plan a vacation (or stay-cation), look into local day trips, pick up a new (or old) hobby!

  • View your new position as a clean slate: It is likely that your new position is at a new institution or different office at the same institution. Your new coworkers don’t know you that well yet. Starting a new job is an opportunity for you to re-evaluate your needs and expectations, both personally and professionally. For example, set boundaries at the start. It is a lot easier to ease up than to promote stricter boundaries as the months go by. You should also determine what your goals are for your new position. Ask yourself– What do you hope to learn? What experiences and connections can you seek out to help you build the skills you need to move onto your next job? How can you utilize your professional development funds, if you have them, to achieve your goals?

  • Look into what there is to do outside of work: As a new employee, you will probably feel compelled to prove yourself and your worth to your employer. DO NOT OVERWORK YOURSELF OUTSIDE OF YOUR CONTRACTED HOURS! It can be okay to help out your colleagues once in a while, but do not become the “go-to” person to hand off work to. Whether intentionally or not, people will take advantage of your generosity for their own gain. Instead, dive into exploring the local culture. Eat out at new restaurants, visit different tourist attractions, work on changing personal documents (like getting a new driver’s license or insurance policy), or simply exist in a space doing something other than work– I promise you, taking time for yourself will positively benefit how you are able to show up at work.

  • Ask questions: Even if your new job is in the same functional area as your previous position, you will not know everything and you should be expected to. Yes, you were hired because of your experiences, but that does not mean you know how that job functions at your new institution. For me, although I have worked in residence life and housing for the past four years, I have found that my current institution does certain processes differently than how I am used to doing them. I can confidently write that your employer would rather answer 10 questions while you are working on a project or task, than have to spend extra time fixing your mistakes because you assumed you knew how to do it. If that is not the case, I would consider that to be a red flag. 

  • Don’t hesitate to be on the lookout for your next job opportunity: It may sound crazy to think about only a few months into your new role, but entry level jobs are not meant to be career-ending positions. They are designed to get your foot in the door and gain professional skills in a specific area that can push you up the ladder over the next few years. For instance, I currently work as a live-in housing professional, but I do not wish to live in a residence hall for my entire life. Be selfish and use your department’s and institution’s resources and connections for your benefit, just as they are employing you to better themselves. 

I will leave you all with this final thought: your professional journey is yours to own. Don’t let others dictate what your next steps should be. If you aren’t happy with how things are going, make a change. No one will (or should) judge you for doing what is best for you. 

Author: Anna Pietrzak is a new professional at the University of Delaware, where she serves as a Residence Hall Coordinator. She recently received her Masters of Education in Counselor Education (Student Affairs) from Clemson University and also has her dual Bachelors of Science degrees in Management and Human Resource Management from Rowan University. Anna is a member of the NASPA New Professionals and Graduate Student Steering Committee and one of the Recognition & Connections Co-Chairs for MACUHO. Outside of work and school, Anna enjoys taking walks around campus, attending weekly trivia or bingo, watching new releases on Netflix, and discovering new recipes to cook or bake! Feel free to ask her anything about residence life, student leadership, Grey’s Anatomy, or the Philadelphia area!