This post was written by a member of the Debut Contributor Network. The post-graduate job hunt is a challenging time for everyone looking for their first opportunity, but Sarah Wilson has the answers.
Leaving uni is no walk in the park. After the excitement of graduation and those congratulatory pats on the back have begun to subside, the realisation that you finally have to face the real world can be a tough one. Particularly if you don’t have a job waiting for you when your final year ends, it’s easy to feel nervous – especially if you’re surrounded by people who’ve already moved on.
Whilst there’s no shame in taking time out to relax and consider your options, it’s crucial, if you’re serious about eventually finding work, to keep up some kind of routine when you look. Falling into random sleeping patterns and filling out applications at the very last minute might not just affect your chances as an applicant, but your mental health too. Over the last couple of months, I’ve learned a few key things (and made more than a few mistakes) while trying to work out my next step, but probably the most important of all to remember is:
Don’t freak out
The sudden change from the certainty of an academic year to uncharted time stretching out ahead can make people do lots of silly things. The most common is to rush haphazardly into the first grad job that comes your way, regardless of whether you’re interested in it or not.
Do not fall into this trap. Whilst it’s great to get part or full time temporary work to earn cash, rushing straight into a professional career just because you got scared of waiting too long is something you’ll only come to regret. You already made the decision to take some time out so take it – remember that (in most cases) the professional world doesn’t run on an academic timetable!
Plan your time
On job applications, I once heard some very good advice: treat it like a job in itself. In other words, if you’re not working during the day, set aside concrete hours in which to do your applications. If you are working, try committing to one or two hours either side of work to do them. I’ve found that it helps to leave the house and set up shop in a library or coffee shop – both to minimize distractions and to increase your sense of it as work. That way, your down time at the end of the day can be properly enjoyed.
Strike the right balance
Job applications, especially for competitive roles, can be incredibly lengthy and you need to be realistic about how much you can get done in a day. You’ll naturally be slow when you first start off, but the beauty of being able to recycle parts of one application for another will speed things up gradually.
On that point – remember to always save copies of the answers you’re giving in an online application. I’ve more than once made the mistake of simply sending answers off without thinking then coming to a new application and kicking myself for not saving my previous responses. Without saving them you also run the risk of the internet cutting out and having to start all over again. Once you get into the swing of things, set yourself realistic goals for each day – and self impose your own deadlines.
Without a real structure to your day, it’s easy to slip into unhealthy habits – I certainly did for a while. But eating properly and getting regular exercise is crucial for staving off post-graduate blues. Not only are both great for keeping your mood up, but going for a run or to the gym can be excellent for clearing your head before embarking on another application or interview.
Take a break
Remember that it’s fine to have off-days or days when you just don’t want to face another blank “personal statement” box staring out at you from the screen. After all the stress of finals you definitely deserve a break. If all you’re thinking about is the next step, you won’t enjoy any of the time you’re having off, and it will take a toll on your mental health. Take time to socialise and catch up with friends; if you’ve moved back home temporarily it can offer a chance to reconnect with people you haven’t seen in a long time.
Have faith in yourself
This un-anchored period of time can be scary, disconcerting and stressful – but there’s plenty of others in the same boat. Don’t worry if things don’t magically fall into place straight away – they very rarely do. Just look after yourself and have faith that eventually you’ll find success, whether small or large, and I promise you’ll be okay – take it from me, a fellow confused and undecided graduate.