How to make the most of your graduate programme from day one

By Rachel Lund

If you had asked me when I started on the GSK Future Leaders Programme (FLP) what I thought I would learn most about during the three years on the scheme, I would have said technical Microbiology (being on the Microbiology FLP you would expect that to be the case)! I didn’t imagine however, that I would learn just as much about leadership and personal development as I would Microbiology. It’s been equally about building my leadership training as it’s been about technical knowledge. Knowing that now, here are three things I would do differently if I was starting over again.

I wouldn’t be afraid to ask questions.

At school, you’re always told to ask questions when you don’t understand something. In the academic environment, you need to do this to be able to pass your exams. When you enter the world of work however, it can be easy and natural to only focus on asking questions you feel are immediately relevant to your role.

But asking questions about anything you don’t understand - whether it’s related to your role or not - can really amplify your experience on your rotation. You start to build knowledge in a number of areas, realise you enjoy aspects of a process, and topics, you wouldn’t previously have been exposed to. You gain a well-rounded experience of the site or department you’re working in. As you move from site to site through your rotations, you realise that these questions you asked (or didn’t ask) which weren’t relevant to your previous role are now paramount to understanding your new role. In my first rotation, although I worked with engineering, I didn’t ask the right questions about how valves work, how a vacuum pump works or how you design a process. Fast forward to my current role, and I’m responsible for reducing the microbial risk related to valves, pumps and process design - I only wish I’d asked the right questions 12 months ago!

I’d make the most of all networking opportunities and not be scared!

Your first business networking event can be daunting. When faced with a room full of senior leaders, it’s not unusual to become nervous and afraid of saying something stupid. Sound over-dramatic? It is! What I’ve found is that senior leaders are people – not surprisingly. They’re interested in you: as graduates on the FLP and as new additions to the company; in what you’re doing for GSK; in what your career aspirations are and what you’re gaining from the FLP. They’re not asking questions to trip you up or test you, or hope you make a mistake. They’re people. Very important people, but people none-the-less! The more you use these networking opportunities, the more you build your own personal network. Not only do you have people to call on should you ever need help or advice, but an opportunity to find out more about the people leading our company and how they got to where they are today.

I’d think beyond my own to-do list.

At university, most of us will have had a “to do” list - at least in our minds if not in writing. This list could have been three, thirty or three hundred items long, but as we completed the items, they were ticked off the list. I’m sure all of us will have felt great achievement when the list reduced towards the end of term and all of us will have felt successful when, at the end of the year, the list was complete.

At work, one of my biggest challenges has been controlling my “to do” list, and recognising my achievements even though my list gets longer instead of shorter! As a colleague in the workplace, you’ll need to spend time helping people complete things on their “to do” list, which won’t necessarily address yours. I’ve found that spending five minutes at the end of the day, writing down or thinking about the things I have achieved, has been a great way of still feeling I’m achieving - even if my list gets bigger! It’s allowed me to see just how much I’m learning, developing and progressing through the scheme.