Ah, university graduation! The blissful end to the tumultuous three to four years of study at university.
I remember walking up to the stage during my graduation and looking to the audience to find my family there cheering and whooping me on. I couldn’t help but have a lump in my throat as I reflected on how far I had come. The endless revision notes, the revision sessions with friends, the times my parents brought me food to my desk where I would spend hours just to make sure that I would eat something.
But another reason why I felt a bit emotional was that deep down I was afraid of jumping into the big world. The “student” label had, in fact, become my safety-net. I found comfort in responding to questions regarding my career choices with, “I’m just focusing on my degree for now”, or ” I haven’t really thought about what I want to do just yet”. I was afraid of not knowing what the future held for me; what I was really passionate about or what I wanted to do.
‘The “student” label had, in fact, become my safety-net.’
I’m just speaking for south-Asian teens and twentysomethings here, but how many times have you been asked about your future career plans?
I mean it was at every family gathering, every wedding and sometimes even funerals. We desi folk just love to nose around, rain or shine and compare the life choices of other kids with their own.
But the thing that a lot of people do not realise is that most of the time, people really don’t know what they want to do after they graduate. It often is that reality kicks in when you’re back at home with your parents with nothing to do. Believe me, I was there.
Sometimes the idea of the “ideal career” you have growing up can often alter once you realise that you really aren’t that passionate about that subject anymore. Maybe I don’t want to be a doctor anymore, a dentist, a lawyer or an engineer.
But just because you have nothing lined up post-graduation does not mean that you are a failure. This also doesn’t mean that you are lazy or aren’t driven or motivated. I know this because people who aren’t working straight after graduation have spent months on end finding employment. Some are even willing to take up unpaid internships or volunteer work just to have some experience on their CVs. And there is nothing wrong with that.
I have this running joke with some of my friends that some work experience job opportunities require work experience from you in order to secure them. Applying for jobs can be stressful.
After graduating in a non-vocational uni course such as psychology, sociology, geography, history, IR, politics and others, it can often mean that you’d find yourself frequently overwhelmed with the many career choices that you could pick from. I was definitely overwhelmed and felt down as I was unable to make a decision.
Your career choice may change over time
One thing I need to mention in this post is that people often spend decades in one career sector, but often you would hear about them leaving and changing their occupation to something completely different. I remember one of my primary school teachers leaving the profession to complete an LPC and train to become a lawyer after teaching for just a year. So don’t beat yourself up about it! You may love a job in a field you never thought you’d be interested in.
When I graduated in psychology, I was adamant that I wanted to teach in a primary school. While waiting for my university degree results I had applied to several teacher training schools and had been offered a position in a teacher training course. However, as I volunteered in a local primary school, the passion I had for teaching reduced. I found myself overwhelmed with the prospect of having to teach and childmind 30-odd kids. I did not even want to turn up to the school as I realised it was just not for me.
So then the researching began, again.
What am I passionate about? I like helping others so, what about becoming a therapist? What about becoming a nurse? (You can imagine the desperation).
In the end, I ended up studying for a master’s degree in neuroscience as I enjoyed learning about it as an optional module at university. But even after completing that I still did not enjoy the career prospects.
“Oh my goodness. What do I do now?” I would often ask myself when I would think about my tuition fee loans and having to answer to people prying about my career choices.
I mean you get the gist by now. I was really confused. But eventually, I went back into teaching and found that I enjoyed teaching older students. So my experiences, often similar to others’, was very much like trial and error.
And that is where I am today. I mean this journey all took around 3-4 years in total. This isn’t the case for some people. I know people who graduated in my academic year who had a vision of what they wanted to do, and they love what they are currently working as.
But for most of us, the feelings of uncertainty were normal.
Feeling better? Here are a few parting tips.
- Apply Apply Apply! Don’t give up applying for jobs. Sometimes the odds may feel like they are against you but eventually, people do land job offers. I know it can be really disheartening when you don’t get the job offer. But keep your chin up and keep applying. Just make sure you are fully prepared for selection tests and the interview process. Which goes on to advice number 2.
- Don’t be afraid of the application process that companies use to sift through applicants. There are tonnes of websites online that can help train you to improve your scores so that you are ready to apply to various grad schemes online (JobTestPrep). Also, many student forums such as The Student Room often have other applicants who discuss tips and tricks for the application process.
- Search around for internships, work experience or volunteer work. I often hear people that shun working for free. However, at the end of the day, if you are unsure about what you want to work as, any form of experience is priceless. For example, those wanting experience in the healthcare sector, many hospitals, hospices and care homes often need volunteers to help out. Gaining experience (free or unpaid) can indeed develop your skills and help you make a decision.
- Set up informative interviews. If you know someone who is working in a sector that you find interesting, there is no harm in sending them an email or giving them a phone call in order to discuss their job role. I really struggle with networking and approaching strangers but with websites such as LinkedIn, it is much easier to connect with people and find out more about their careers, what they love, or what they find challenging working in a particular field. As the name suggests, informative interviews can really give you an insight into a career that no website or job description will give you. You can talk to people at the forefront of industries to judge whether a particular career will really suit you or not.
- Keep up the momentum. Once you finish off with university, going from a full timetable, to no timetable at all can be really difficult. The massive shift can be quite hard to deal with so to beat that, it is really good to have a little side job that can keep you going financially but also give you something to look forward to. There is no shame in working in retail or working as a subject tutor (Scoodle is a great platform to use to become a tutor) on the side while you make your mind up about your career.
Enjoy the time you have as you are navigating through this period in your life. You’ll often look back and find that you were glad that you took your time to find the career for you.
Happy Graduating! Here’s a throwback to my graduation:
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Inspirational paragraph time (yay!) If you came and told me, say around 5 years ago, that I'll be graduating from Queen Mary. I would have laughed and given you my signature face of disgust 😂 The last few years of university have been tough, but I pushed through each year with the support of my loved ones who have reminded me that I'm capable of more than I think. Sometimes the greatest enemy we have to defeat in order to achieve our goal is ourselves, our doubts and fears. If you're going through a rough period in your life I leave you with this quote by Henry Ford that a professor said today which really touched me. "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." Your mentality to anything in life will determine the outcome! Keep taking risks, feel the fear and do it anyway as it will always get easier! #QMUL #qmulgrad #Qmulclassof2016 #london #qmulgrad2016 #graduate
I really hope this hoped helped you in some way! If you are a new graduate comment below if you have any questions or queries. Or if you have landed your dream job and have other tips and advice for new graduated then I would love to hear from you.
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