I cringed when I found out that I will be required to do National Service, although I went to a private university. I thought National Service was for only graduates who patronized public universities, as it was an opportunity for them to give back to the government because their school fees was subsidized.
Well, regardless of the system of education one went through, we all had and still have to give back to mother Ghana.
I didn’t know what to expect on the National Service journey, although I had had some internship experience while in the University. My major worry was the uncertainty of committing to an entire year which may either end up well or horribly. I was equally anxious about what would be next after National Service.
Indeed, most people don’t seem to be too amused about National Service. Some see it as a waste of time, when other more important things can be achieved during this same period. Others also feel it’s an avenue employers use to exploit fresh graduates, and of course we have those who are indifferent.
We can debate about whether or not National Service is even necessary for graduates. I am of the opinion that this program when managed very well by all the stakeholders involved will yield extreme positive results for both employers and graduates.
In this same vein, I would like to outline some opportunities graduates who are yet to undergo this journey should take note of for early career planning. Many of your predecessors made some mistakes and I believe you should not repeat these same mistakes as you go down this path.
With an open mind, you can see and tap into opportunities that will set you apart from your peers and make you sought after by your supervisors and professionals outside your company even before you complete your National Service program.
Here are some few pointers to consider while on this journey –
- Network with all the professionals in your field of career interest in the organization – Speak with these professionals to get a sense of what they really do on a daily basis at work. Be inquisitive, ask all the questions you have; this will provide you with first-hand information from people who may be doing what you hope to do in future.
NETWORK! NETWORK!! NETWORK!!!
- Spend time with the HR team members and business leaders to find out what they look out for when hiring fresh graduates, and strategically position yourself to grab available graduate job opportunities.
- Identify people in the organization who can be great mentors to you – let them share with you their success stories and failures, career journey etc. everyone needs a mentor/coach to walk them through life. Value the relationship and make the best out of it, but do not exploit them.
GET A MENTOR WHILE ON THIS JOURNEY
- Enrich yourself by taking up a weekend or evening short course program – We must constantly add value to ourselves and you can effectively do this as a National Service personnel. Most people while on this journey forget about the short programs they can sign up for whilst working. This will be a great time to start your ACCA/ICA, CIMA, IHRMP courses, learn a foreign language or a sport, and start a small side business. It’s all about finding a balance and managing your time effectively – one crucial skill for a successful life.
TIME FOR THE SIDE GIGS
- Avail yourself and help out in other departments – Get to know what other departments do and how their input/output affects the organization. For those of you who might be unclear about what you want to do, volunteering on projects outside your duties can help you discover yourself and for you to know what you are really passionate about. Put yourself out there (I mean in a good way) and learn as much as you can from helping/volunteering even if it’s not within your domain. But of course, don’t neglect your core duties!
- Attend conferences/workshops/parties organized by/for employees of the company. Don’t see yourself as just a National service personnel. I know how some employers don’t include non-permanent staff in programs – quite sad but their reason is mostly about cost and the fact that they don’t see why they should invest in someone who may not stay after the one year engagement. Whatever the case may be, you can just give it a shot by letting your supervisor know about your interest to attend any workshops/conferences organized. By doing this, you get some exposure outside your organization, as well as learn how to behave in a professional social setting. Give them every reason to get you on board, however, you must be worth their dollar if they decide to give you this exposure.
- Socialize with other National Service Personnel (NSP) in your organization. Don’t keep to yourself or spend time with only the NSPs in your department. I know people who have found their business partners just by being nice and getting to know other people who share similar interests as you.
I MET MY CO-FOUNDER WHILE PURSUING MY NATIONAL SERVICE,
I AM GLAD OUR PATHS CROSSED
Regardless of what you think about this national program for graduates, there have been some success stories for people who took it seriously and seized every opportunity that came with it. There have also been others who are still unemployed because they messed up in their National Service program and their employer did not want to retain them after the program.
Remember this as you go on this program – You are being watched and assessed from the first day you stepped in the organization. Whether or not you want to work with the organization after the program, you still have to give off your best. You might never know when you will need their help/support. One day you might need your supervisor/HR Manager to write you a reference/recommendation letter.
I believe National Service is an opportunity for fresh graduates to buy time to decide and prepare for next steps post-graduation. Use this period to map out the industry and companies you would like to work with after this program if you don’t want to stay with your NS organization although you should have done that before graduationJ. To my future entrepreneurs, use this program to connect with the right people before going full time. And to my scholars who might be confused about the course to pursue in grad school, take advantage of some of the aforementioned points to get a sense of direction.
All the best as you embark on this journey.
Written by Akua Ampah