Started from the bottom now we're...still here? The truth about graduating

by - Tuesday, September 02, 2014

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If University has taught me anything, it's that being a statistic sucks. Having worked my rear end off over the past three years, I graduated this July with a first class degree in Journalism and a fairly competent of portfolio work, and was about to enter my first (really exciting) job in Pastoral Education. I felt like a unique, talented individual with a lot to offer, teetering on the edge of big and exciting things, and was so excited about joining the work force that I even started a 'work wardrobe' Pinterest board so I could look sassy fab at my first, proper adult job. Yep, I was definitely ready.

When the funding for my perfect job fell through, I didn't panic. This unexpected frontier was still exciting, liberating even, and I relished a few weeks of planning out my future career goals, taking a well needed holiday and catching up with my main man Jeremy Kyle on the sofa. I felt I had earned that break, and I enjoyed it. 

But as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, I realised that my various freelance jobs and projects, ticking over nicely as they were, were not covering my rent or my need for human interaction. As I watched my fellow students begin their careers and gush smugly on Facebook about their bulging pay packets, I realised that this 'growing up' lark meant looking for something additional that was more stable. However, it's not always as simple as having a first class degree and some great experience. With a report from The Independent stating that around one-third of last years Graduates have found themselves either unemployed or in 'non-professional' jobs completely unrelated to their degree', I had hoped that I'd be able to defy the statistic, but unfortunately, not through lack of trying, something just hadn't transpired for me. I learnt the lesson that academic success just isn't enough; it's as much about being talented as it is knowing what you really want to do, being willing to adapt and to an extent, to compromise on your goals in order to play the long game. With that in mind, here are my top truths and tips on how to cope with life as an unemployed, new graduate in search of that killer job:

It's not always you; it could be them
You can have the firstiest first in the world and it doesn't necessarily mean you walk straight into employment. So many factors can come into play, despite all of those 'equal opportunities' disclaimers - your age, your lack of practical experience, your over ambitiousness... whilst you should always take constructive criticism on board, never apologise for who you are and what you want to achieve. You can often get away with massaging the truth on an application, there is absolutely no point lying about your abilities because you'll either a)get found out or b)secure the job with your lies but then fast become desperately unhappy. Consider the job search like dating: you have to impress them, sure, but they also have to be right for you. Always know your worth, and stick to your guns if you feel like you're being taken advantage of.

Staying in bed achieves nothing
I will admit that the job search has at times been highly depressing and has rendered me incapable of leaving my bedroom a good few times over the past two months, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to try and treat each day with some sort of 'normal' routine. Ditch the pyjamas, get up on time, eat a healthy breakfast and then make a to-do list for the day. Whether that involves applying for work, updating your cv or managing your household chores/blog, routine will help you feel more in charge and help you avoid that sinking 'Groundhog Day' feeling that so often creeps in when you're unemployed.  

Get online
Not only will starting a blog or online portfolio keep you busy, but it's the best way to display your vital skills in a crowded job market, and show potential employers that you've been keeping yourself active post-uni. A bonus nugget of info for you too - if you're seeking employment in the media world and are on Jobseekers allowance, blogging can count towards your Jobseekers activity log. Make sure your online CV is as up-to-date as it could possibly be and use sites like LinkedIn or Twitter's hashtag function to network and search for likely opportunities.

Make time for the little people
When that desperate feeling takes over, it can be tempting to run off ten personality-less applications a day with little regard, but when it comes to job seeking, you definitely need quality and quantity. Take serious time to apply for everything, even the ones you consider 'beneath you'. Money is money  and that job in Tesco might not be your dream job forever, but if it pays the bills whilst you figure everything out, it's probably worth making sure you haven't used the cover letter that repeatedly mentions your love of ASDA. Involve three categries into your search: jobs that will make money for now, jobs you really want and are definitely qualified for, and jobs that are maybe a little beyond your experience but you have enthusiasm for. Keep applying for any even mix of all three and something should come up. 

Be willing to self create 
If the hunt isn't going as well as you'd like, don't be afraid to use your degree skills to self create. Offer to tutor other students, start a blog, find a website or magazine to write for, launch a small business... this unemployed time is your perfect window to better yourself in ways you didn't have time for at uni. It doesn't all have to be work related either - make time to exercise, clear out your closet and eBay unwanted items, join a local library and learn more about your intended career field... the possibilities are endless.  

Stay off social media
Social Media is fab for keeping in touch with new opportunities, but it can be disheartening to see your old coursemate bragging about her latest pay day buy if you're struggling to afford anything other than super noodles. Try not to compare yourself to others - sure, your coursemates may well have found jobs straight away and good for them, but they might not necessarily be content in the long run if they simply jumped at the first thing offered to them. Take the time to think about what you really want and be gracious. You have the rest of your life to work, and whilst it can seem like life is going on without you, this transition period won't last forever.  Never compare your cctv footage to somebody else's highlights reel. 

Location, Location, Location
No, not the show you've developed a new found love of now you're spending all your time in front of the TV. Being flexible on location can make a huge difference to the job search, especially if, like me, you currently live somewhere where opportunities in your chosen career field are sparse. Commuting or relocating can be a big upheaval, for sure, but by looking to the nearest big city you can almost guarantee bigger and better opportunities that will benefit your career long term. Plus you know, big cities = much cooler places to shop and eat on your lunch break.

Don't be ashamed of help
If you're anything like me, you'll be fiercely stubborn and independent, hating the idea of having to accept anybody's else's help. Stubborn doesn't pay the bills. If a family member or friend is willing to help you out with your shopping from time to time, say yes. If going to the job centre to sign on each week means not having to worry about next months rent, do it. Nothing lasts forever, even unemployment, so there is no shame in accepting the odd hand out as long as it is for the right reason (benefit cheating is so not chic). 

Be kind to yourself
Graduating into unemployment can leave you feeling like a failure. It can feel like you've set your sights too high and need to reassess everything you once loved, or worse, like you simply don't have the energy to do anything anyway. Be kind to yourself. The cycle of hunting for a job and being too scared to check your balance can be incredibly isolating, but making the effort to see friends and family can be the difference between a healthy challenge and severe mental exhaustion and depression. This may not be the time to be reckless with money, but that doesn't mean you have to deprive yourself entirely of the basic human needs for interaction by having the odd (budget) charity shop raid or adding that cheeky cheer-up bar of chocolate in at the till. And lets face it; a coffee morning with your old coursemates will almost certainly expose others who are in entirely the same situation as you, leaving you feeling much better about your lot.

Return to education...but only for the right reasons
I've left this one till last, but it's well worth considering if you feel like you've got unfinished business with your education. For lots of students, the temptation to return to University for postgraduate study stems from a place of being too scared to enter the real world, but if you're one of those young people who feels like further study will help advance your career, or you're genuinely passionate about an academic area, then going back to Uni is a sensible option. Plenty of Universities offer funding to their graduates to help with studies, in return for the acceptance that you will have to work A LOT harder than you did as an Undergrad. Take some time to consider your interests, chat to an old lecturer and think carefully before jumping in at the deep end. 

Are you a graduate currently seeking employment? Best of luck and let me know how you're getting on with your search! 

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