A woman sitting in front of a laptop with a notebook in front of her

Life After Graduation: A Survivor's Guide

A young writer from the UK shares her tips to survive the "mad rush for employment"

Mental health and wellbeing
By VoiceBox ·

Rhian

A writer from the UK

Life after Graduation: A Survivor's Guide

So, you’re looking down the barrel of the next phase of life. The family has been asking you for the last 6 months what you want to do with your life, and you’re (honestly) not too certain - other than make a lot of money. Or - if you should go on a gap year - the FOMO has had enough time to sink in, and one goal is probably to go live in Europe somewhere.

Reed, Indeed and Linkedin start to become more than just job vacancy platforms - you’re looking for a purpose in life; you start thinking ‘hey, London would be cool to live and work in’. If you’ve studied for the last 3 or 4 years in London, you start thinking ‘hey, Wales sounds nice’.

You’ve also probably seen the 40k-starting-salary graduate programmes. If you, like me, went bright-eyed bushy-tailed into a few of these, you’ll know precisely how intensely soul-sapping these can be. Spending a full day on an application process is already a massive task, but juggling dissertations, coursework, and family expectations alongside it makes this a high-stress affair.

Even worse, you’ve re-inputted your entire CV into two different online forms, written a killer cover letter - and you just got accepted to an ‘automatic interview’. Questions pop up on-screen, and you need to record your answer in one take. (Also, the audacity of it being called an interview - let’s call a spade a spade and acknowledge these as pre-recorded videos; interviews allow for, ya’know, dialogue).

Anyway, you throw your clothes off the bed, make sure the background of your webcam is blurred (the White & Case employee that’s reviewing these vids does not need to see your questionable anime figurines), and scramble to find clothing that’s not for a) virtual lectures or b) a night out. 

A few days later, you get an email while you’re brushing your teeth. Congratulations! You almost swallow your toothbrush.

So, you’ve beaten off most of the other thousands of applicants - and you’ve made it to a (virtual) assessment centre. Finally, a chance to show off in front of real-life recruiters. You’ve prepped the suit, the hair, and answered every interview question imaginable, stunningly, in the shower every morning. Give an example of a time you showed initiative? Completed it, mate. 

In the buildup, the nerves start to hit. It’s alright - all the articles you’ve read told you it’s normal to feel anxious. But what if I screw up? What if my phone goes off? What if my wifi cuts out? What if-

You press the button to join the call, and send a little prayer up to whoever might be listening. 

A few days later, you receive an automatic email. Dear [applicant], thank you for your interest in [company], but…

It sucks. I know, trust me. I kept a spreadsheet of my job applications after graduating in 2021. It’s… ugly. Initially, it’s full of all the ideal roles; the dream jobs on killer salaries. Marketing manager programme; Deloitte communications executive. I can see the little red ‘x’ next to each application starting to erode that graduate optimism: a momentary lapse of self-esteem allows a handful of ‘junior customer service’ roles to sneak in.

Well, eventually I found something. It was in sales, in a field I’d already worked part-time in whilst studying. Pretty far from the lofty heights of £30k/year Marketing SEO & PPC Graduate Programme with BT.

But, that’s life - unless you’re incredibly lucky, you don’t start right at the top. From the moment you graduate, it’s a battle - to find your own interests; your own niche; to excel in whatever role you make for yourself. Nobody ever - ever - finds that right out of the gate. 

The pressure from your parents - or even worse, yourself - can feel mind-melting at times. Particularly as deadlines draw ever closer, the fear of failure can feel like car batteries attached to your brain. So, here are two key philosophies that helped me.

1. There is no deadline to success.

Sure, your coursework has a deadline. However, It’s easy to mistake these university deadlines for career deadlines: ‘oh god’ you might one day think ‘it’s been three months since I’ve graduated, and I still haven’t found anything’. Or even worse, you might have set yourself other lofty goals such as ‘buy a house by the time I’m 25’.

Don’t get me wrong, goals are incredibly important. But, if you’re 3 months into a gruelling job hunt, stressed out by the seemingly inevitable failure and your parent’s quiet grumblings - then keeping unreachable goals is a recipe for a heaping plate of self-hatred (see tip 2). In a time of mental crisis, you need to adjust your goals to what is manageable day-to-day. Something like ‘complete 3 job applications every day’, or ‘spend 45 minutes researching for an upcoming interview’ are healthier goals.

2. Don’t let the b*stards get you down.

Let me put my English Lit grad hat on for a minute, and make this clear: employment is a utilization of a large portion of your time. Even fulfilling, well-paid employment uses up the limited number of hours of your life, in exchange for your boss making more money than you.

I’m not about to say ‘money can’t buy happiness’ - because poverty sure does cause a whole lot of unhappiness - but knowing your worth is the key to getting out of the graduate ditch (relatively) unharmed. The Goldman Sachs boss is exploiting his staff just as much as the Wetherspoons manager. Despite what your anxiety - and recruiters - may claim, there is no shame in taking up a ‘less desirable’ role, just to pay rent for the time being. 

3. Bonus tip!

In the mad rush for employment - make sure to keep in touch with your mates. They can be great sources of support as you go through the gruelling job search process!

Hopefully, these helped calm any anxiety you may be feeling at the moment. If you’ve any further questions, you’re welcome to reach out on my Twitter.

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