Moving from secondary school or university to the workforce is an exciting life step ... but it can also be daunting.
Olivia Luxton, a BCom/BA graduate of Auckland and Otago universities, started working for ANZ as a retail graduate at the start of this year.
Seven months into the Auckland job, she advises new graduates not to be afraid to get involved and to take on as much as they can. "Challenges are making sure you're proactive with your time to fit everything into your day."
Tonia Calderwood, senior consultant with a recruitment consultancy, Debbie Graham & Associates, which specialises in the banking, financial services and the accounting sector, says competition is so tough at university that some graduates focus on getting their degree and don't get career information. She suggests they make the transition go more smoothly by thinking like job seekers before graduation and taking full advantage of university career services.
"I recently interviewed a candidate who missed all the cut-off dates for the graduate programmes at the banks because she was so focused on getting through her degree. She will have to wait another 12 months to apply so that will have a huge impact on securing her first job.
"Graduates need to be aware of what is happening in the job market, know what type of occupations are in demand and where the skills shortages are. Some graduates can tend to ignore the subjective part of an application such as communication skills, professional presentation (ie, clothing/shoes) and ability to develop rapport.
"They must treat finding a job like a job. They have to take responsibility for this process and allocate time to do it."
Luxton's advice for graduates making the transition into work is to extend themselves throughout university, taking on volunteering or job placements to gain experience.
"University was what you make of it, taking any challenge that comes your way," she says. "It was a way to become independent and learn to think on your feet. It is important being driven in your own learning and success.
"Try to think long term, think about what's important to you in your career and what you want to get out of it - enjoy the journey!"
Georgia Dry, graduate programme manager for ANZ Bank, says that when bank staff look at applications, they take into consideration what else students have done apart from university, such as part-time jobs or being involved in sports teams, church groups and volunteering. "This shows they can interact with others, which is essential on our programme and in fact any role at the bank.
"At the beginning of the programme we talk about the importance of networking and building relationships. I feel the grads really embrace this and develop their skills in these areas. The grads want to do well, the bank wants them to do well so they can progress with the goal to become the next-generation leaders of the bank."
Calderwood says a lot of how well prepared school leavers and graduates are for the job market depends on candidates knowing what they want to do.
"Some graduates know exactly what they want to do when they leave university and have put academic and career-specific steps in place to make sure they are well positioned to be successful. However the reality is that many grads don't.
"If they don't understand their skill sets and how these can apply to a job in the real world, they tend to be less prepared. But the key to having more confidence when entering the process is the amount of support and guidance provided by schools, universities, parents and recruitment companies.
"Most graduates I see are doing commerce degrees with a double major but still aren't exactly sure what they want to do. In this situation, most graduates are just keen to get their foot in the door with an entry-level or graduate role that relates to their course of study and degree they have achieved."
She says schools and universities can assist by employing career counsellors who have the tools and experience to identify the qualities and interests of a school leaver or graduate and are able to direct them towards jobs that reflect their strengths and passions.
For school leavers, she says it is important to have a strong academic record, a good attitude and an understanding of the industry they want to get into. "To maximise opportunities, start by trying to get holiday jobs and part-time work throughout the year. Experience is huge. It's where you develop your work ethic and understand the importance of punctuality, working in a team, taking instructions and so forth. If there aren't a lot of paid opportunities in the area you are interested in, offer to get part-time, unpaid work experience.
"Make sure you present yourself well, how you dress is important and make sure it is appropriate to the role you are applying for. Offer a handshake, look people in the eye and smile."
Students can use school or university services or personal networks to gather advice on the particular industry they want to work in, and some corporate website career pages provide information about putting together CVs, the format of an interview and questions that may be asked.
"But more importantly," says Calderwood, "they need to use industry specialists for specific and informed advice for the relevant sectors. Career counsellors can provide generic overviews, but they don't have in-depth knowledge of each specific industry.
"Some graduates are doing an outstanding job in securing their first job; they appreciate just how competitive it is and focus on their career opportunities long before they have completed their degree. They do the due diligence on the companies they are interested in to see whether they offer a graduate programme, internships or summer programmes.
"They will diarise all the application cut-off dates and prepare well for each application. Many graduates have taken the initiative to set up their own LinkedIn profiles to give them more presence and profile within the business community."