Throughout your studies at university you will dream about life after graduation – a life without 4000 word essays, literature reviews, Harvard referencing and SPSS… a new life in which you’ll find and start your dream career. Naivety, hope and wishful thinking (and typically deliriousness from lack of sleep) tell you that your life as a graduate will be so much better than your life as a final year undergraduate. However for many, the reality of graduate life is unemployment, no more money and at times no hope.
I graduated when in July 2014 but started my job search after my exams in May 2014. My summer was spent looking for the ‘perfect graduate job’ and I can say with some confidence that the whole process was the most difficult and depressing I’ve ever been through. Nothing had prepared me for the 100s of rejections. I was lucky and found an internship after 5 months, but these are the lessons during my 5 months of hell.
Lesson 1: Having a degree doesn’t guarantee you a job
Many young people go to university because they’re told that having a degree will make it easier for them to get their perfect job. Yes, your degree will help and will demonstrate your knowledge and skills, but it won’t make you stand out from the other applicants. I had a 2:1 degree, had chosen the perfect modules to work in the green sector (Global Environmental Change, Global Environmental Issues, all the climate/environment ones), but that didn’t make me stand out.
Think about it, how many thousands of other graduates are out there with a 2:1 degree applying for that same job? Employers can’t and won’t interview everyone with a 2:1 degree who studied the right modules, so they’re looking for more!
Lesson 2: Having a job whilst studying wasn’t a stupid idea
A lot of students get part time jobs in local pubs, coffee shops or retailers so they can support themselves, but others decide not to because they want to have more time to ‘study’. I was one of those ‘I can’t work AND do well at university’ students – I convinced myself that having a job would jeopardise my studies. In reality, all that having a job would have jeopardised was my valuable Netflix time – how could I study, watch all of season 1 and 2 of Game of Thrones AND have a job? Not possible! So I had a relatively easy 3 years of university – I studied (probably not as much as I should have), went to lectures, and spent the rest of my time watching TV or playing Sims 3. This was great – until I started the job hunt!
Like I said earlier, employers are looking for more than just your great degree – you’ll be one of thousands of graduates with a degree. A big thing all employers will look at is your work history. You might think that your part time job in the local pub or coffee shop isn’t going to help you find that dream office job, but you’re wrong. Demonstrating that during your studies you still found the time to work shows that you have a fantastic work ethic – you’re hardworking and great at managing your time (juggling deadlines with a job). Any job will look good on a CV – it doesn’t have to be related to your chosen career path!
Lesson 3: Volunteering really counts
During my final year of university, I agreed to help at a couple of local GirlGuiding groups and decided to get my Adult Leader Qualification. I didn’t do this thinking that it would help me get a job after university, I did it because I was bored at home and wanted to do something fun! It was the best decision I ever made.
Generally, volunteering looks great on a CV. It shows you’re a charitable person (often means you’re pretty nice!) and if you have no real work experience then it can help bulk out your CV and show off your workplace / engagement skills.
Lesson 4: (Paid) Internships aren’t so bad
When I finally got my job at Global Action Plan it was a 3 month internship. Alarm bells started ringing when I read the word ‘internship’ – aren’t interns unpaid slaves? Aren’t interns treated like rubbish? Don’t interns buy coffee and type notes all day? Wrong wrong wrong! Maybe in some organisations this is the case, but organisations are increasingly offering paid internships and they’re a fantastic way of getting experience and getting your foot on the career ladder.
I was incredibly lucky to have my internship extended a few times, and then be offered a permanent position at Global Action Plan – but even if this hadn’t been the case I gained the most valuable experience in my first 3 months of working. I was one of 3 interns employed at the time – two of us are still with GAP, and the other went on to find a brilliant role at another charity after her 3 month internship.
So don’t be afraid of the word ‘internship’ – they are getting better, organisations are starting to pay their interns, and whether an internship is 3 weeks or 3 months it will be valuable experience and help you find a more permanent position in the future!
Lesson 5: Swallow your pride and go to the Job Centre
The hardest part of the whole job process for me was the day my Mum made me go to the Job Centre. After graduating, I was adamant that I wouldn’t go there – but I swallowed my pride and did it and it was worth it.
Walking into the Job Centre the first time was terrifying – I shouldn’t have but I felt ashamed. Why didn’t I have a job? I had a good degree, I’d worked hard, I’d done everything right (or so I thought) so why had it got to this point? The first few sessions and visits were painful – sitting through talks on apprenticeships, on charity programmes aimed at school leavers or ex convicts (I was a graduate, why were they making me sit through this?!) and in CV workshops. I was sent out of one CV workshop – the trainer shocked that they’d made me attend when my CV was ‘perfect in every way’. FInally, after 3 weeks I met my personal advisor and she made me see how helpful the Job Centre could be. She was a graduate advisor – an expert in helping people in my position to find jobs. The first thing she said to me?
“I promise I won’t make you work anywhere you don’t want to”.
We met weekly to discuss vacancies I’d found, interviews I had coming up. She checked over my cover letters for me, and she gave me tips before interviews. The Job Centre helped me pay for interview clothes, paid for me to get to interviews (Birmingham, London, Milton Keynes) and when I was offered my internship they paid for my first month of London travel so I could afford to accept the offer.
Yes, you may feel like you’re ‘above’ the job centre – too good to go there, too qualified. But the fact is that you won’t be the only graduate or experienced person that has to go there, and they will help you. Swallow your pride.
Finding a job isn’t easy and it isn’t fun – and there isn’t really a wrong or right way to do it. Not everyone can volunteer, or work during their degree, and not everyone will get offered an internship, but I believe that eventually everyone will find the right job. Whether it takes you 5 days, 5 weeks, 5 months or 5 years – it will happen eventually. Don’t lose hope, don’t give up and don’t ever think that you’re not good enough. There is something out there for everyone. You may not take the most direct path to it, it may take several years of working other jobs to get to it, but if you work hard then you’ll make it!