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Navigating the Transition from Student to Employee

Earning your undergraduate or graduate degree is a cause for celebration as it represents hard work and perseverance, and it's a milestone on your career journey that opens up new possibilities. Similarly, the transition from being a student in higher education to an employee in the workforce requires a lot of effort and dedication. The process of landing a target role, adjusting to a new workplace, taking on novel responsibilities, and building a sense of community requires intentionality, and there are key strategies and resources that you can utilize to navigate this next chapter on your career path! In this blog post, Ali Erk (Associate Director of Graduate Student Career Development at Lehigh) shares tips for successfully transitioning to your next role after graduation.

Landing a target role 

You have invested your time in earning your degree. Along the way, you have developed key skills, expanded your experience, and engaged in experiential learning opportunities. It is exciting to take steps to utilize your Lehigh degree in a new role. Whether you are looking for your first full-time position after graduation or advancing to a new role with increased responsibilities, executing a job search is a process with multiple steps. 

The job search process requires thoughtful strategy and planning, but you don’t need to go it alone! The Center for Career & Professional Development (CCPD) supports current students and recent graduates every step of the way in leveraging their degree. The CCPD team can help you to consider roles, industries, and employers that align with your priorities. It is important to invest time in exploring career options to find your “fit” as you launch an active job search. In addition to finding job opportunities, the CCPD team can assist you with crafting your job search materials, building networking connections, preparing for interviews, and evaluating as well as negotiating your job offer. For a comprehensive overview of CCPD resources and services, check out this blog post: CCPD Resources & Support.

Staying proactive during your job search

University recruiting timelines may vary by industry, and the length of an individual’s job search may be impacted by a number of factors. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the average (mean) duration for those looking for a job in April 2024 to be about 5 months of time. While on an active job search, it is essential to continue actively building your skills, connections, and experiences. Employers value on-going learning to develop key skills and evidence of relevant experience to demonstrate the application of those skills.

Here are some ideas to try:

  • Upskilling: Identify opportunities to expand your skills through professional associations, online courses on LinkedIn Learning or EdX (such as Lehigh’s free courses) along with other platforms, and independent projects. 

  • Networking: Develop your networking connections by joining LinkedIn groups such as Lehigh’s alumni group, attending events such as those held by employers or professional associations, and reconnecting with your network. Consider asking your connections for a warm introduction to others in their network and look for ways to offer support to others along the way. Conduct informational interviews with individuals in roles or employers of interest to gain key insights. 

  • Industry Exposure: Gain experience by volunteering and look for the chance to connect to your field or area of interest with tools like Volunteermatch. Explore freelance opportunities to utilize your skills using tools such as Upwork and Fiverr.

Adjusting to your new workplace

Once you accept a job offer and sign your contract, you may begin preparing for your new role. You probably learned about your new workplace from conducting employer research and talking to your interviewers during the hiring process. Although you may have gained important information, you may still have questions. If possible, connect with your new colleagues ahead of time to gather insights about your work environment such as parking options, expected office attire, and commonly used tools. 

There are ways to position yourself for success even before you onboard for the role. While you await your start date, you can:

  • Prepare to Succeed: Watch Big Interview’s First 90 Days Curriculum for actionable steps with worksheets to gain insights related to understanding your transition, managing impressions, setting goals, and handling challenges. 

  • Plan your Work Attire: If you are shopping for your work wardrobe on a budget, consider key pieces that you can wear in different ways and shop sales at your favorite stores. You can visit Lehigh’s Swap Shop if you are on campus and try online thrifting to save money plus benefit the environment. 

  • Assess your Work Style: Whether you will be working onsite, remotely, or on a hybrid schedule, tap into resources to maximize your productivity and handle any challenges such as the Succeeding at Work series by the Muse.  

  • Opt-In: Take advantage of training, onboarding activities, or staff events (even if they are optional) offered by your employer to gain relevant information plus foster new connections. 

  • Prepare Questions: Keep notes to record your learning, capture any questions that arise, and remember important details about your new colleagues. This will help you to manage the volume of information and connections that you encounter in the early months of your new role. 

Taking on novel responsibilities

Graduating with your degree can be a marker in time of your life’s journey. This new season of life may bring a lot of new challenges and responsibilities. You may be relocating, starting a new job, living on your own for the first time, and managing your finances which might be a lot to handle at one time. Transitions can bring a multitude of feelings including excitement and stress. By gathering necessary information, leveraging resources, and creating a plan, you can manage transitions with ease.

Here are some tips to try:

  • Calculate your costs: If you are relocating, it is important to understand the cost of living so utilize tools such as Payscale’s Cost of Living Calculator

  • Manage your finances: Creating a budget can be invaluable if you are living on your own and managing your finances for the first time. Invest time in resources such as those by FDIC to understand your expenses along with strategies for spending and saving. For additional tools including a post graduation budget worksheet, visit Lehigh’s resources located in Handshake. 

  • Seek support: Tapping into guidance from a trusted family member, friend, colleague, or mentor can be helpful when you encounter new challenges. Asking thoughtful questions of others and identifying relevant resources can equip you to move forward to reach your goals. 

Building a sense of community

Undergraduate and graduate study may be filled with a flurry of activities, daily commitments, and ongoing friendships. Leaving that behind to begin a new chapter can be difficult at first. It takes time to develop authentic relationships and establish community in this new season of life.

Here are some ways that you can focus on building connections:

  • Stay in Touch: Maintain your existing relationships and find ways to keep in touch whether that be by text, video chat, phone, or in person get-together. 

  • Build Bridges: Get to know your new colleagues and their interests to find commonalities. Perhaps, you will find some new running partners or fellow foodies to spend time with. 

  • Engage the Community: Seek out local opportunities to nurture your hobbies and things you enjoy. Join the local gym that you have been looking into or sign up for a painting class at the Community Center near you. 

  • Give Back: Volunteer with a local organization for a cause that matters to you to meet like-minded individuals and give back to your community. 

  • Leverage Alumni Connections: Find Lehigh alumni on LinkedIn andi on Lehigh Connects in your area. Explore Lehigh’s regional networks and professional alliances

Final reflections

Earning your Lehigh University degree is an amazing accomplishment - Congratulations! Although graduation marks the end of one chapter, it signifies the unfolding of a new one. As you navigate the transitions that come with this season of life, take time to reflect on your unique strengths, skills, and accomplishments that brought you this far and will continue to propel you forward. Remember that you are forever a part of the Lehigh University family, and I hope you know that the Career Center is here to support you as an alum!

Ali Erk is the Associate Director for Graduate Student Career Development in the Center for Career and Professional Development since 2019. She is passionate about equipping graduate students to take a proactive stance in navigating their career development journey. Ali provides individualized career coaching, collaborative programming, and customized resources to build skills and connections for career success. She is certified as a Certified Career Services Provider through the National Career Development Association (NCDA) and as a Global Career Development Facilitator through the Center for Credentialing & Education (CCE) 

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