I usually scroll right past those Facebook ‘flashback’ posts, which I often think are designed to make you feel bad about yourself for having achieved absolutely nothing over the last 1, 2 or 10 years. They’re also not ideal when you’ve been through a number of questionable hairstyles and ill-informed fashion faux pas – yes, we’ve all been there. But when photos from my graduation showed up today as being exactly 1 year ago, I couldn’t quite believe that much time had passed…
At first I thought, “God, a whole year of being a proper adult.” And then I thought, “Come on, pull yourself together!” Because it’s been such a strange 12 months of ups and downs that, although it’s nice to be in a place where I can sit and write this with a positive outlook, it’s not always a smooth ride, and I wanted to talk openly about the reality of what happens when you collect your degree certificate and walk away from university for the final time.
Going from education to work is one of the biggest changes we face in our lives, especially since – unless you’ve taken a gap year – from the age of 5 or below we’ve been in full time education. Through nursery, primary and secondary school, then sixth form and university, education is the employment equivalent – and we really don’t have to think about anything too ‘serious’. Yes, there may be part-time jobs somewhere down the line, but that’s not the same as building a career, and certainly doesn’t compare with the pressure of having to stand alone.
I was one of the “lucky few” to land a job right after I finished studying – which was great, because I had no desire to move back home. I submitted my dissertation of May 11 and started working on May 24. But I fell into the trap of applying to anything and everything even remotely related to the career I wanted to get into – journalism – thinking it would take time and patience to finally land a job. But I was wrong, and was only out of work for a week before I started full time.
Clearly, that wasn’t the best idea, and as much as I want to suppress my inner cynic, I feel like I can’t write this post without saying: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Business is business, and of the course the majority of graduate jobs are about gaining experience for a not-so-great salary. The job I took promised a great opportunity and a lot of responsibility, and I didn’t mind the low pay because I thought it would be good experience. However, when a company hires a graduate they’re going to be skeptical of what they can actually do for them, and that job became so far removed from what was promised, the reality was a bitter pill to swallow.
Anyway, long story short, the drama part of my degree clearly failed me, and I was fired for not seeming to be enjoying myself. Well, no shit. In fact, that was all done over the phone, and I remember grinning from ear to ear as the weight of having to work another day lifted off my shoulders. I really don’t mean to sound ungrateful – and looking back, that job was a lesson in tolerance, patience, and dealing with the harsh reality that, in the workplace, there’ll always be somebody who thinks they know better than you (or several) – and there’s nothing you can do about it. But what I would say is, know what you’re applying for, and make sure you’re truthfully happy with it. Because there’s no worse feeling than waking up every morning and dreading the day ahead.
So, although I was unemployed, it felt great – for a while…
Another part of the graduate job search they don’t talk about is just how long it takes. Like I said before, I really was lucky to land a job right out of university (no, really), but this time it was a matter of months – from October 2018 – February 2019 – that I was out of work; and, in the end, down to my last paycheque. I didn’t get a temporary job, which I could have, because I wanted to focus 100% on the applications I was submitting. And, in all honesty, there were 2 or 3 jobs I did get, but that didn’t work out because of various mix ups out of my control. So, just when I thought it was over, it wasn’t, and I went back to the drawing board.
So I took the time out completely, and thankfully was in a financial position to do so, because I don’t like to borrow money and would never live on handouts. And it was right at the beginning of February, when the money was almost gone, that I landed my current job – a job that’s far better than the others I’d considered, and has opened up so many opportunities for me to do what I want to do. In fact, looking back I think the jobs that fell through happened for a reason, because had they not I’d still be looking to move on, because I’d have wanted more than they offered.
Now, I’ve been working that job for close to 6 months, and I love it. In that time, I’ve also built up freelance work, spent a lot of time networking, and most recently set up this website – something I’ve wanted to do for so long! But, that’s taken the entire year, and there have been so many times I’ve wanted to take the easy road out, give in, and settle for something I truly didn’t want. And that’s difficult, to actually want to carry on when nothing seems to be moving.
I think there’s so much more universities can do to prepare us for stepping out into the world and putting everything we’ve studied to use. Because it’s not all rainbows and sunshine and money rolling in – you’ve got to start from scratch, and no one’s got your back. It’s harsh, but it’s true. So many of my friends either carried on in education because they didn’t feel ready to leave, or settled in jobs they didn’t really want because it was easier now. But if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that now isn’t forever, and a year of (metaphorical) blood, sweat and tears for the rest of your life is a small price to pay.
I feel like this has been such a downer post, but I think its so important, especially if you’re leaving university now, that you really are prepared. So, more than anything else, planning ahead during your time at university and really tailoring how you’re spending your time to what you want to do in the future is key. Because, in all honesty, the degree itself really is meaningless if you can’t show your worth outside of the classroom. I wouldn’t have got to where I am now, 12 months on, without having spent those 3 years getting involved with societies, actively seeking freelance work, and taking up every networking opportunity on offer. Everyone comes away with the same degree, but every experience is different – and that’s what counts.
And if you are graduating now – congrats!