Seven years ago I finished my bachelors degree and began the search for a graduate job. Today, I’m job hunting again as I get ready to move back to the UK from China. I can’t help but compare how I felt then to how I do now. What advice would I give my former self, if I could? What key advice would I give any recent graduate?
Essentially, it can be boiled down to three things: quit worrying about finding your ideal job, gain some experience and enjoy yourself.
It’s okay to not know what you want to do
Because no one really does. Most people I’ve met and worked with, both young and mature, rarely believe they are doing the job they really want to do. Yet this is never talked about by career advisers. Of the people you’ll work with, some will be working for money, others will simply not completely hate their job so have decided to stay, for now. Others are using it to pay the bills until they get their foot in the door of their dream career. All of these are okay, and we shouldn’t feel like a failure for not finding our dream job, especially if you don’t even know what that is yet.
Gain valuable skills and experiences
Even if you don’t like your job, you can still make the most of it. Some of the best transferable skills I have were gained are from roles I never saw myself having a career in, such as working in I.T. In that job I developed valuable skills in training, communications and liaising with a range of professionals and senior managers. All skills which I’m grateful to have and which make me far more employable in things I might want to do.
Figure out what you want to do in a job
Rather than what job you want. You might not be sure what you want a career in, but you can start making a list of what you want from a role. If any of you have watched season six of Parks and Rec, in which April decides she wants to change career but doesn’t know what job she wants, you’ll understand what I’m getting at. Instead of trying to figure out where she wants to work, she makes a list of everything she knows she wants from a job – opportunities to problem solve, working one on one etc. This is good advice! It will help you when you start searching for jobs and is more likely to lead you towards a role you will enjoy.
Beware the unpaid internship
Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not saying you shouldn’t do one. I’ve done a few and they were highly worthwhile. However, some organisations use internships as a chance to offload boring and menial work onto unpaid volunteers without thinking about what skills and opportunities they will provide the interns with in return. Read the job description carefully and ask about what personal development they have planned for you if you take this internship. If it seems like it will be a waste of time, don’t take it. If you do take it, remember that interning in a big organisation is a fantastic opportunity to network so treat it like a proper job and try hard in your role.
A better option: Volunteer with a small charity
Rather than an internship with a large organisation you may want to look at volunteering with a small charity. If you’re a go-getter or a self-starter this can be a great opportunity for both you and the charity. As they are far less likely to be able to afford a whole team of specialists you’ll have more more of a chance to be hands on and do tasks that you might not be able to do in bigger organisations. You could also pass on the skills you learn to the other volunteers.
Wait to do a Masters
I would recommend waiting a minimum of three years before doing a masters, as a lot can change. You may decide you want to go in a completely different direction from your undergraduate subject. You may find your dream job and it requires a different Masters degree to the one you did straight after university, or it might not even require a degree at all! Unless you know you want to go directly in academia, is there any need to rush?
If you ask most people what they regret not doing when they were younger, you can be sure travel well be pretty high up there. So go, do it! Now is the time! Before kids and mortgages and everything else. If you can’t afford to travel full time (who can?) have you thought of TEFL? It’s great: you’ll pick up new skills, experience living and working in another culture and you’ll be able to travel in the holidays.
A final word
We are so quick to define ourselves by our job, particularly our successes (or failures) in our career. Which is silly really, because when I think of the friends I graduated with, I don’t think I could have predicted that any of them would be in the job they are in now.
At the age of 26, when many of our peers were working their way up the career ladder, we decided to quit our jobs and go see some of the world. The experience has definitely changed my values and perspective on life, and I’m glad we chose to do it. As a recent graduate I was very caught up in the notion that your success was defined by your career. We’re too quick to let ourselves be valued solely on our jobs.
Time and travel have reinforced something I already knew: everyone is different, and we all have different ideas – about success, love, travel ,politics, careers. Accepting our differences, and letting go of our judgement of others, is so important.
I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t worry. Enjoy being young. And be grateful for the opportunity you had. Not everyone gets to go to university.