“You know, it’s like – kindergarten, school, university, black hole.” Kenneth Branagh as Andrew in 'Peter’s Friends'
Results are filling our headlines right now, from Olympics to Leaving Cert and A Levels. Column inches are filled with advice for those who have just received exam results, and are deciding on their next steps after school. But what about people about to be spit out at the other end of the university conveyor belt?
Graduates and soon-to-be graduates are offered very little advice, at a time of their lives that is arguably one of the most difficult transitions they will ever have to make. After a lifetime of schedules and clear goals, suddenly people find themselves having to take complete control of what’s next. While it’s an incredibly exciting time, it’s also confusing and stressful.
If you haven’t already organised a job, an internship, post-graduate studies or a round-the-world gap year, then you’re likely to be anticipating graduated life with a little nervy enthusiasm. So what should you do?
Seriously, chill. When you’re used to the onset of a new academic year every autumn, you can suddenly feel a bit rudderless without it. That lack of direction can translate very quickly into existential panic, but I can promise you one thing: you’ll be fine. I graduated in September 2008, literally days before the news of global recession hit the headlines. It was a ruder awakening than most, but I still managed to find a job and eight years later, I am still happily in gainful employment! My point is: regardless of what post-graduate life throws at you, you’ll be fine… so quit stressing!
Think about who you want to be
A good exercise to do when you’re at a transitional period in your life is to think about how you want to experience the rest of it. What kind of work do you want to do? What kind of lifestyle do you want to have? Where in the world do you want to be? What values do you deem important in yourself, in others, and in companies? What kind of people do you want to meet? When you break down life’s big questions to how you want to spend your day-to-day, it will be easier to decide what’s the next step.
Do a little CV admin
Pull up that soberly-titled file that lists your accomplishments and experience and have a look at it. Really look at it. What unnecessary facts have you included? What potentially interesting tidbits have you left out? Talk to someone else about your experiences thus far, and ask for a little external perspective. Often, it’s easy to overlook merits or achievements because you lived through them. So talk to a friend and let them itemise reasons that you’re great and employable. While you’re at it, spring autumn clean your online profiles, and if you have a website, make sure that baby is up to date!
Can’t find a job? Work for yourself
If you can’t find somebody to pay you (yet) then start working on something that interests you. It’s rare in life that you have time to really invest in a passion project, so think about something that you could achieve, set yourself a plan, impose personal deadlines and get to it. At worst, it will give some shape to your days, and at best, it could open a door to an opportunity that you might never have foreseen.
Get out there!
You don’t need to be working to start networking. Start getting out there and meeting people that you want to know. Volunteer, go to events, talk to strangers, or do whatever it takes to get you a little experience in what you want to do. There really is no professional substitute for a good network, and people that you meet now in passing could become essential to your career later on. Don’t focus too much on meeting the “right” people. Just get out there and talk to whoever is interesting to you, make friends, and let those connections and conversations lead you to the next step.
Prep your professional skills
While the professional world is changing, some staple skills never go out of fashion. Luckily for you, you’ll already have developed a lot of these in university. Being punctual, working collaboratively, communicating your ideas clearly and confidently, independently motivating yourself, and thinking about alternative solutions to common problems are all strengths that you honed in college. Get ready to put these into action and show off what you can do.
Realise that job search has changed
Let’s face it: job search has never been fun. However, you’re coming of age in a time when it’s certainly changing for the better. The evolution of technology means that finding work doesn’t have to be the chore it once was, and data insights are rapidly changing the future of recruitment. You can now explore potential positions globally in seconds, and technological advances enable you to expertly navigate this new reality of job hunting. Most people will change their jobs on average every two years, and should you choose to live and work on the move, you can do that too. Don’t be intimidated by the great array of possibilities. Harness them!