Have you just finished your exams and not feeling as euphoric as you expected? This was the sentiment expressed by some final year students I interviewed this week who described the experience of completing their exams as an anti-climax. Particularly so for those who hadn’t found a job or even considered how they wanted to use their degree. ‘I still don’t know what I want to do and I’m feeling quite anxious about it…’ was a common theme.
Not having a career aim probably didn’t feel like such an important issue in your first year, with the next 3-4 years of a degree stretched out tantalisingly in front of you. Your approach to choosing a career may have consisted of convincing yourself that, ‘I’ll know when I know…it will just happen…something will turn up.’ These thoughts may have occurred to you if you were struggling to identify a future career path and wanted to put making a career decision to the back of your mind. You may now be considering employment for the first time as up to this point, there was a certain inevitability and expectation that you would go to university.
But now reality has hit, you are about to graduate. You are losing the structure of an academic year, assignments and lectures and will have to become even more independent. If making this transition is unsettling and causing unexpected anxiety, consider the following to adopt a more helpful perspective.
Recognise your achievement
Take some time to reflect on your success. You will shortly be awarded a degree, something which you have worked really hard for and during which, you have developed valuable personal qualities. There may have been challenges and setbacks which have required determination and resilience to overcome – skills that employer’s value. You have been awarded a degree from the University of Warwick, an institution with an international reputation and currently the most targeted university by employers in the UK. Something which, on paper at least, makes you highly employable.
You will develop a new structure
If the lack of lectures and assignments has created a void, you will develop a new working pattern in your career. This may be with a high profile employer where you are on a graduate programme with a work place mentor to guide and coach you. You will develop a new circle of friends, many of whom may also be recent graduates providing mutual support during the early stages of your career. You can also keep in touch with your university peers by registering as an alumni with the University of Warwick. Linked In can also be useful in this respect. Alumni can become useful business contacts in the future as well as providing advice to help you develop your career.
The anticipation of starting your career
It may not feel like it in these uncertain times after your exams but finding that first job will be highly motivating. The opportunity to use the skills developed on your degree and practically apply your subject knowledge in the workplace will be an exciting challenge. Your learning and intellectual curiosity will not just stop after graduation, just used in a different environment and context.
If you are still not convinced however and feeling apprehensive about the impending career decision you feel you have to make, here are some approaches to consider:
- Take control. The variety of choices you have (the majority of graduate employers do not even specify a degree discipline) may feel overwhelming, particularly if you do not event know where to begin. It may be tempting to sit and wait for something to happen. This strategy could prove to be frustrating and ultimately ineffective though. Far better to take the initiative, be proactive and you will start to feel like you have a sense of direction. However small or insignificant that first step feels, it may be the beginning of formulating your plan. So set some realistic and manageable targets – create that Linked In profile, apply for some volunteering, enrol on a short course to develop a new skill, join a temping agency, for example. If nothing else research career options with your degree , do any of them motivate you? Investigate the career destinations of other Warwick graduates from your degree discipline. Reflect on your values and motivations to begin matching yourself to the potential opportunities.
- The first job doesn’t define the rest of your career. Don’t feel under pressure to find that ‘dream’ job immediately.Compromise, be pragmatic and accept that the first step in your career may be an opportunity to learn about yourself and the world of work. Maybe this experience will help you to find that ideal job later in your career as you develop a sense of what really matters to you
- Could a longer term strategy work for you? Ask yourself if you are ready to commit to your career or would a placement help you identify where your motivation and passion really lies? Graduate internships and initiatives such as the GTP and KTP could provide this insight
- Don’t be afraid to take a risk. A creative director in the advertising industry, Paul Arden (no I’ve never heard of him either) once said, ‘better to regret what you have done than what you haven’t.’ If the first graduate job isn’t right for you think about how valuable the experience will be in developing your self-awareness. It will also add to your skill set and provide further evidence of your employability to future employers.
Lots of other finalists are in this position so if you are still finding it difficult to choose and find a career, be kind to yourself. Reflect on what an enjoyable and rewarding experience university has hopefully been. And look forward to the next stage of your career.