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A graduate’s survival guide to navigating the workforce after uni: Q+A with Alanna Bankovic

After years of working hard, you are finally ready to graduate. But what happens next? Getting a degree can lead to excellent opportunities, but that’s assuming those opportunities fall into your lap. In reality, navigating the workforce after uni poses unique challenges and forces you to prepare for every outcome.

Entering the workforce and making the professional transition often depends on personal effort and determination mixed with a few industry connections and a positive mindset.

Alanna Bankovic, 22, graduated from the University of Canberra at the end of 2020 with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy. With her cap thrown in the air and a certificate clutched in her hand, Alanna was ready to take on the next phase of her life and finally join the professional world.

Now as a full-time worker in physiotherapy, Alanna explains how she coped during the transitional period and what helped her along the journey.

Q: Did you have a job lined up when you were graduating? 

A: Yes, I got my job at the start of October, and I didn’t finish my studies until mid-November. Because the workforce is so competitive, I wanted to get in early, so I was doing a lot of research into private practices around Canberra. I was also in a Facebook page called ‘Physiotherapy Job Vacancies’ that I kept checking all the time, but then a friend of a friend, who is also a physiotherapist, was saying there was a new grad position coming up for the practice she works at, and I should send in my CV and cover letter as soon as possible. So, I did that and I went in for the interview, but at the same time I was also looking for other jobs in other places just in case this opportunity fell through. Luckily, the interview went well and I got the job.

Q: University often teaches students about what to expect in a job interview. How did you find the interview process and did you find it similar to what students are taught?

It was a lot more laid back than what I was expecting. In the lead-up to the interview, I was doing everything I could to prepare; I was googling, ‘new graduate physiotherapy job interviews,’ I got my friends to give me a rundown on what their interviews were like, and I looked up most common job interview questions. So, I had prepared answers for anything I thought they were going to throw at me. When I got to the interview, it was quite laid back, so I was able to adapt quickly to the interview setting, and I think being prepared helped me in that regard, and I think part of the preparation did come from the university as well.

Q: How did you find the transition between the workforce and university?

A: I think I have been really lucky, and I have found it quite easy and that’s because of the place that I’m working at. Before starting my job, I went through three days worth of inductions where they gave me a rundown of the practice, how everything works, and all the information on the notes and booking systems. I also had online zoom chats with our interstate workplaces where the colleagues explained to the new grads how their practice works, and I still get regular mentoring sessions with three mentoring sessions a week.

The transition has also been pretty good in regards to putting theory into practice, and that’s mainly because of the team environment I am in; everyone is so lovely to me, and I don’t feel like I’m at the bottom of the food chain, but rather I am equal to everyone else. I think the team environment was really important in helping me transition, and it is something I definitely kept in mind when applying for jobs.

Q: Now that you are in a full-time job, what are the main differences between university and the workforce that have stood out to you?

I think that in my spare time, I now get to do things that I enjoy. In uni, I felt that I spent most of my time doing my assignments and studying, and I really struggled to find time for a social life. I used to feel guilty going out and hanging with friends if I knew that I had an assignment due. It was constantly at the back of my mind, whereas now I feel that I do have the time to do those things without feeling guilty. I also have a steady income now, so I have greater financial independence that I didn’t have in uni.

Q: Do you think you have fallen into a healthy work/life balance coming into the workforce?

A: At the moment I would say no. At this stage, I think I am finding it hard to switch off from work. I do have a social life, but that is only on the weekends as, throughout the week, work is what I think about the whole time. I have struggled [to sleep] because I am constantly thinking about what I am going to do the next day with certain patients. I am thinking about if the patients have gotten worse, or better, and what I can do to help them, so as of right now, I would say my work/life balance isn’t great.

Because I have a six-month probation period, I am also constantly stressing about doing my work perfectly and making sure it is up to my workplace’s standards, so that has affected my work/life balance as well. But I think with experience, that will change as I build on my confidence and learn to switch off when I am not at work.

Q: In uni, we are often told what to do most of the time and a lot of the things you need are provided for you by lecturers and supervisors. Working life is different as there are more independence and responsibility. Have you found there is more pressure that comes with that?

A: Not as much as I thought there would be, and I think that is because of the high standards the university sets for students. If I think about my placements that I did at uni, in particular, there was a very strict rubric that the supervisor had to mark your performance on. They were constantly watching you, so you had to perform perfectly, and you had to do things that might be irrelevant, or stupid, but you had to do them to meet the marking requirements.

This was the same with the practical exams where I was given fake patients, and I had to answer questions that are normally red flags where you just know that in the real world these questions are silly, or not appropriate, and there are other ways to be kind and use your clinical reasoning.

I definitely think the university helped prepared me for the responsibility I now face [in] the workforce because looking back to when I was doing those practical exams, I used to think at the time, ‘this is stupid, why do I have to do this?’ but now that I am working, I see that there was a purpose for the uni being so strict as it made me more thorough in my work and made me more prepared for various workplace situations.

Q: What are the main points that you took from going through the transition between university and the workforce?

A: For me, I have been welcomed into such a nice and positive work environment which has made the experience as a new grad so much easier, whereas if I was in a negative environment where the colleagues look down on new grads, or if I was just thrown into it without proper guidance, I think that would have made it a lot harder to cope with. So, I think researching the workplace you are applying for really matters as you start to look for jobs because it will make the transition so much easier and you will have a healthier outlook on your work life.

Q: If you could go back to just before graduating, what would you say to yourself as you started to make that professional transition?

A: I would say stress less. I was very nervous about starting, which I think is normal for anyone that is starting a new job, especially your first job out of uni. I would remind myself that if it doesn’t work out, it is not going to be the end of the world. I would also say to have a bit more confidence in yourself and in your ability to do the work. You have done the years of study, and you have put the time and effort into completing the course, so you can [successfully] do the work.

When I came out of uni, I was thinking, ‘I can’t remember anything, I will make mistakes, I am not going to be good enough.’ But then you start working and everything just starts coming back to you, and you’re like, “Oh, actually I can do this,” and then you start getting five-star google reviews and it’s like, maybe I’m actually better than I am giving myself credit for. So, I would say to definitely have more confidence in yourself and in your ability to do the work. You have done the degree, you’ve got the certificate, and you got that for a reason.

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