‘So now you’ve graduated, what next?’

Rose Watson, Careers & Employability Service Manager

So your hands are still tingling from all that graduation ceremony  clapping, you’ve got your official photos looking proud holding your scroll and the slightly less formal one with your hat in the air.  You’re about to sit down with the family for your post-graduation meal, and the killer questions start.

‘So, now you’ve graduated, what next?’

‘What are you going to do?’ or even harder, ‘What are you going to be?

As well-meaning as many of these questioners are, this can all add to the stress of the new graduate looking out with some trepidation on what seems to be a very uncertain future.

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 ‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards’.

For most of us, our career paths only really make sense when we are looking back over the course of our live. Only then can we see where the various twists and turns our career paths have taken us, and how they actually seemed to come together and make sense.

As Steve Jobs once said, ‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.’

But at the beginning, we can’t always see where it will lead. And even those with the best laid plans can find that life just sometimes gets in the way. We may not be able to get a job in our chosen area, redundancies can trip us up, and sometimes we just discover that what we thought we always wanted to do just isn’t what we thought it would be.

The other day I was speaking to Katie, a University of Worcester alumni, who had dreamed and planned to become a teacher ever since she was 5. But she realised from the first day of her placement that classroom teaching just wasn’t going to be for her. So, after a few years of working in learning support and education administration, she is now very happily working as a manager for a virtual school, enabling a positive experience for children in care. She now sees how all her experiences and passion for supporting disadvantaged children can be used in her current role. But she wouldn’t have been able to predict that this would be where she would end up as she graduated all those years ago.

Working out a life strategy

Thinking about our interests and passions, skills and strengths is really important in trying to work out a life strategy.  It is also important to do some research and found out about different jobs and different organisations to think where these may fit best.

However, for many of us it’s not always as simple as just putting the two together and coming up with the perfect fit. Sometimes we’ve just got to get out there and try out different things. And by doing that we can get a better idea of what we really like and are good at – and what we really don’t! We don’t always achieve a perfect fit straight away, sometimes we’ve got to ease ourselves in gently.

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Any work experience is good work experience

Any work experience, even the most mundane or routine, gives us the chance to show to an employer that we have work-related skills such as resilience, customer service and team work. As well as this, it can offer us the chance to discover what our own strengths and interests are. In Careers we often hear students tell us that they want to do a job that involves travel and is not ‘9 to 5’. Then several years later they return to tell us that life in a conference centre or lonely hotel room, with cancelled social events back home, is not quite as appealing as they thought!  And even more surprising is the discovery that something we thought we hated or were no good at can turn out to be quite a strength! Many is the new graduate who discovers an unexpected penchant for spreadsheets once they realised the power of data!

Volunteering can also be a great way of finding out how good you are at working with different types of people, and many graduates spend a year or so working as well as volunteering part-time to find out whether they are really suited to work in certain sectors, such as social care or mental health.

And of course, even when we do find a job that appears to be a perfect fit, this may not last. Maybe after several years we’re bored and want a new challenge, or the job has changed, or we just feel ready for a change.

The philosopher Alain de Botton once said that our possible working selves are like Russian dolls and that there are at least five utterly plausible working selves within each of us. Any of us could most probably be happy in a number of different roles if we had the opportunity!

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We often judge jobs by their beginnings. What our career looks like for the first five years may not be at all what it looks like later. Many of the best jobs don’t have good beginnings at all. So when your well-meaning auntie next asks you about what you are going to ‘be’, try explaining that you are exploring some of your many identities in the course of your life!

Top tips for new graduates:
  • Enjoy this time – it’s is a new beginning! New people, experiences and adventures await you. Try not to think too much about the university life you are leaving behind, and enjoy the opportunities ahead of you.
  • One step at a time – what you are doing now is highly unlikely to be what you will be doing for the rest of your life. Each job you take or experience you have will lead you on the path to the next. Remember, what your career looks like now will not be what it looks like later.
  • Take a positive approach – be kind to yourself, don’t set unrealistic expectations. Stresses and worries are normal but how we respond impacts on our wellbeing. Focus on realistic goals that provide a sense of achievement
  • A marathon not a sprint – you may not step into your ideal job straight away, it takes time to develop skills and experiences. Keep going and learn from everything you do. Be aware of where you are trying to get to and tailor your experiences accordingly.
  • You’re not alone. Keep in touch with friends and the university. But try not to compare yourself to others. We all have our own paths to tread and stories to tell!
Careers & Employability supports University of Worcester current students and graduates.
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