How graduates can kickstart their career in five steps

If your new job is not working out, don’t fret – you have plenty of options. Here, two career experts share their advice

Two career experts share their advice on how to kickstart your career if your first real job is not what you expected it to be. Photograph: Dmytro Varavin

Graduating from college and entering the workforce can be one of the most exciting yet daunting periods in your life. A year or two into your first proper full-time job and the last thing you expect is to be unhappy, but it does happen.

It might be that you’re having trouble finding your feet in a large organisation or perhaps the career you’ve chosen isn’t what you thought it would be.

We spoke with experts on the topic – career consultant Laura Griffin and managing director of the Communications Clinic Eoghan Tomás McDermott – on how to kickstart your career in five steps if you find yourself in such a situation.

1. Take a step back and realise there are options

First of all, don’t be too downhearted.


It is only natural to be disappointed or upset that your career isn’t working out how you may have liked or you’re not enjoying it as much as you thought you would, but try and remain positive.

Remember, it is so early on in your career and now is probably a better time than ever to decide to make a change as you have plenty of options.

“I would not be downhearted, although it can seem significant to the person, but I’d look at it to say that there are actually a whole suite of opportunities for them,” says McDermott.

Everyone has taken a step that has turned out different to how they had anticipated, and you still have a qualification under your belt.

“It’s just to take a second and to reset and say, ‘Right, I’m going to move on and I feel that is the right decision’,” McDermott says.

There are learnings from every single job, whether a person enjoys it or not. It is important to look at the skill set you’ve gained and what you can highlight on your CV from that. Most jobs will have transferable skills such as communication, teamwork and being in meetings with clients.

“You still have a whole lot to offer in terms of skills and qualifications. There is also still demand for that level of grad in the Irish jobs market,” McDermott adds.

2. Make a list

Figure out what is making you unhappy with the current position – is it environmental, the culture of the organisation you’re working for, or are you finding the job itself dull and boring or too difficult to get a handle on?

There are different kinds of categories that lead to discontent, says McDermott, and “it’s worth looking at what are the categories that my own happiness falls within”.

Make a list of what you do and don’t like about your job. Ask yourself: do I like working by myself, alongside other people or in teams? Do I prefer being in an office environment or have I enjoyed working from home? Am I finding the tasks being set too difficult and is there any way I can improve this?

3. Talk to your manager/HR

Once you have identified what you do and don’t like about your job, approach your manager and/or HR and see if there is the potential to move into a different area that you think you might enjoy more or work on a project you believe you’ll find more interesting.

When having this conversation, keep things positive – highlight the aspects of the job you find most fulfilling and which part of the company you believe might suit you better.

“If it is a larger company, a lot of them, especially the big tech companies, will have opportunities for you to change departments if you’re particularly unhappy or help you retrain,” says Griffin.

“If it’s a smaller organisation, see if there is an opportunity for you to get a bit more experience in the area you enjoy and use it to build upon your CV.”

Often having that conversation with your manager can resolve some of the issues you’re experiencing.

4. Research

If you are serious about changing your career, you need to spend a lot of time researching before you make that decision. Speak to people who are in the field that you’re thinking of moving to and inquire as to whether there are courses/further education you may have to complete.

What are the employability rates of the industry you’re looking at entering, will the work be remote, hybrid or full-time in an office and will the hours differ from your current role?

What is the salary like and how does it compare to your current job, would you be happy/financially comfortable if your earning power was drastically less?

“There are a whole host of considerations that people need to look at, but I think what they’re looking for ultimately on a basic level is working to find something that’s interesting and fulfilling, which may take a little bit of time”, says McDermott, who advises that salary should not be the primary motivator.

5. Consider returning to education

Griffin says while the majority of those looking towards a “big career change” will probably have to do some sort of reskilling or further education, “it is not as big of an undertaking as most people think”.

“If they are graduates, and they have a level-eight degree, that’s sort of half the battle. There are also so many options. Springboard is brilliant and there’s a load of part-time courses, which are heavily funded as well,” she says. ”Alternatively, the likes of the UCD Professional Academy do some short courses; they can be a bit more expensive, but they are a great way to get a better insight into different areas.”

Springboard+ is a Government initiative offering free and heavily subsidised courses at certificate, degree and master’s level leading to qualifications in areas where there are employment opportunities in the economy.

There are more than 300 courses available for 2022-23, the majority of which are flexible and part-time, and include ICT [information and communications technology], engineering, green skills, manufacturing and construction.

When considering returning to education, it is also worthwhile to talk to the course head and having a look at the university and its style of teaching. Will it suit you to complete the course full-time or is there something more suitable and affordable that could be completed part-time?

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times