Asking for a raise, making career decisions and manoeuvring through office politics can intimidate even the most savvy recent graduate. How do graduates successfully make the transition from university student to corporate player? And what do they do when they get there?

“Be open-minded,” said Hamish McDonald, Head of Real Estate, BlackRock Australia at UNSW Business School young alumni event, ‘Navigating the Corporate World’.

“Be honest with yourself on your strengths and weaknesses – play to your strengths and address your weaknesses.”

Supported by Women in Banking and Finance, this event held at the Sydney offices of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, sought to give graduates a range of perspectives on forging a path through corporate life.

Many young grads join a firm bursting with new ideas and are eager to get noticed by management.

“Ideas are great – but the real issue is where it stands on the priority list, what are the costs, the savings, the benefits, what is the method to implement,” said Graeme Edie, Managing Director, eCommerce, Westpac Institutional Bank.

“Once you’ve thought it through, your idea is robust – it shows preparation. Take the time to work out how to apply the idea to your organisation, rather than outsourcing it to management.”

Graeme has been with Westpac for 25 years but his role has changed every two-three years.

“Whenever I was given a role, I made it my task to fully understand and master that role. I understood where I fitted in as a cog in one great machine and once I became an expert, I was moved to a role that changed and adapted to my new skills,” he said.

With a new role, and loyalty to a company, usually comes the expectation of a new salary. Hamish explained it can be difficult for graduates working in smaller organisations to achieve salary increases.

“The risk is higher in a smaller organisation that people will be left behind,” he said.

“People may not be monitoring salaries as they fall behind the market. You’ve got to be well informed, do your research, understand where you sit in the market, and be brutally honest about your performance.”

Strategy Consultant and AGSM lecturer, Janet Menzies discussed the well-documented gap between the genders, and pointed out that women often don’t negotiate salary. She acknowledged the culture of female exclusion is changing, but women need to keep an eye on the system that can shut them out.

“Women face many barriers in the workplace,” said Janet.

“These days it is becoming less acceptable to intentionally or even unintentionally exclude team members. When I started, after management meetings, the women were asked if we wanted to be dropped off before the team went to the strip club. Now if we’re talking cricket at the pub, I don’t know the first thing about cricket, but I would go and get involved and network. But if you feel excluded, it’s important to step up and speak up.”

Adrienne Bloom, Managing Director of Corporate Banking, Bank of America Merrill Lynch advised graduates to be brave in their career choices and find the confidence to put themselves forward for new opportunities.

“Any job can be learned,” she said.

“Your core skills can be exported to different areas. Build your core skills to increase your mobility.”

Great advice for new graduates looking to make a mark.

Find out more about UNSW Business School Young Alumni.