Expert Outlook

Transitioning from College to the Workplace: Advice to New Graduates and Interns

Lindsay Janssenby Lindsay JanssenMay 29, 2024

With college graduation season in full swing and summer internships taking ship, our current employees offered valuable insights for interns and graduates navigating the transition into the professional workforce.  

In season one of Southland Speaks, we interviewed Larissa Wehling, Project Engineer I, and Nikki-Ann Bosque, Project Engineer II. Larissa and Nikki-Ann shared their unique journeys from college to full-time employment, advising current students experiencing this exciting yet tumultuous time.   

Establish career goals

To maximize one's opportunities for success, students need to consider what they want out of a career — or rather, what they do not want.  

With a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nikki-Ann emphasized the importance of identifying one's preference early in one's career, sharing, "I knew I didn't want to sit behind a desk all day and be secluded," Nikki-Ann said. "I like the engineering process and figuring stuff out."  

Like Nikki-Ann, Larissa, with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, unveiled her passion for project management during her summer internship with Southland. Her internship involved a mix of field and office work, giving her a well-rounded understanding of the industry and the opportunity to apply her academic knowledge in a practical setting.  

"My previous internships were with a manufacturing company, and it was a lot of desk work. During my internship with Southland, I realized I loved going into the field, seeing something from the ground up, and being a part of it," Larissa said.    

Find your passion

The construction industry includes a wide variety of disciplines, from design to project management. Identifying and capitalizing on what drives one's fulfillment in the workforce is crucial. Find your passion — this could include a passion for problem-solving, a desire for hands-on work, or a preference for collaborative environments.  

Larissa wanted to see the tangible results of her work, and communicate and collaborate with a wide range of audiences in her full-time career. "I loved the idea of having something that will outlive me. The idea of being a part of a project that will be standing there even when I'm gone is powerful," Larissa said.  

When Nikki-Ann first started with Southland, shewas looking to find her niche in the company. She worked on three major projects, two near our Las Vegas office and one in Utah.

"I did get a lot of opportunities early in my career to travel and travel with the company, so that's been a great experience," Nikki-Ann said. 

Ask questions in the interview process

While the recruiting process may seem overwhelming, it is important to remember that all full-time employees have been through it and want to help graduates succeed. New graduates and interns have the power to shape their future. They must keep an open mind and be ready to take risks. Sometimes, those can have the highest rewards.  

According to Larissa, "What drew me to Southland was not only the location (being able to get away from your hometown is sometimes fun, especially at this age), but being able to try something completely different than what I was expecting going into when I started college."  

Additionally, if something feels right, lean into that feeling. Ask the tough questions. These could include questions about the company's values, work-life balance, or opportunities for growth. The goal of this process is also to ensure students are making the right choice for their future, just as much as the company is making the right choice for the role.  

"The one question I asked everyone in my interview was, 'Do you like working here'?" Nikki-Ann shared that one interviewer responded that they'd been with Southland for over 15 years and that it was the only company they had worked for. "Well, if that doesn't say something — I'm guessing it wouldn't be a bad place to work," she laughed. 

Find your fit with a company's culture

Employer reputation and culture are imperative to finding the right fit for a graduate's future. It's not any different than when a high school student chooses a prospective college. What about that college that stood out? The people? The atmosphere? 

Nikki-Ann highlighted the importance of feeling comfortable with your co-workers and said, "I can be open with my supervisor, I can be open about how I'm feeling, and I don't get judged for asking questions. This is a safe space, and this is the space where it's okay not to know everything. That sense of team and togetherness helps propel my growth and understanding."    

Expanding on that sentiment, Larissa found throughout her internship and now full-time career with Southland that employees across all levels of the organization want to help more junior employees succeed. "People here are so willing to teach you and to sit down with you and explain things. You really can't go wrong with asking someone for help," Larissa said.  

Develop your hard and soft skills

As many of us know, time flies. Whether someone has been with a company for 40 years or attended a college for four years, it is essential to act like a sponge — soaking in as much knowledge and information as possible. This is the student's time to expand their skillset and grow.  

College students are encouraged to seek an internship to help identify their likes and dislikes in the classroom. Larissa's internship experience with Southland helped to prepare her for her full-time transition post-graduation.  

"I am so glad I did my internship with Southland. It prepared me for all the acronyms in construction and all the forms. When I started full-time, I delivered them faster and more accurately. Instead of having that learning curve, I would have to get over as a new hire, I got that learning curve as an intern," Larissa said.

Find your #SouthlandStory

Southland's culture of collaboration, innovation, and mentorship creates an ideal environment for new graduates and interns to learn new skills, make meaningful connections, and build a foundation for future success. Find your #SouthlandStory by exploring our current job openings.

To hear the full interview or more episodes from Southland Speaks, listen here.