Finding a career: de–mystified

Picture this: It’s a hot day in May and the sun is glistening as you sit down in a leafy pub garden with your friends, drinks and crisps in hand. Just fifteen minutes earlier you had put the pen down in your last exam at uni. You’ve spent five minutes deliberating over the questions, five minutes comparing answers, and it’s only in the last five minutes that you’ve realised none of that matters. It’s over. Revision is over, exams are over, uni is over.

Everyone is in a good mood. Smiles are bountiful as attention begins to divert away from academia and towards who’s buying the next drink. You begin talking to someone from your course, the standard chit-chat, and then it arrives, the question, that notorious assemblage of words which everyone hates to hear yet so many people ask.

“So what’s your plan now?”

The more quick-witted of us would answer ‘keep drinking’. And bravo to anyone who has offered a similarly humorous reply. But in reality we all know what the question means. It’s about jobs – yep jobs. Work. The world of work. The world you’ve known about most of your life. From the day you’re a toddler asking your nursery teacher where your parents are, or the time you start primary school and you’re asked what you want to be (anyone still want to be a spaceman?). It’s a world you’ve always known exists, always known you’d be a part of, but never really understood because without being a part of it how could you?

Internships and work experience schemes are meant to help with that. And they do. They give you a glimpse into the reality of work – the early rises, the commuting, the office environment – but in the end a glimpse is all they offer. They are always short-term and that is an obvious but easily forgotten point. It inevitably affects your psyche.

I am a class of 2016 graduate (I haven’t even had my ceremony yet) and so I can say with assured certainty that leaving education and thinking about the world of work is nerve-racking. It’s a step into an unknown mist. And that is always going to be difficult irrespective of how old or qualified you are.

Some of my friends and fellow graduates know exactly what they want to do (let’s call them the ‘iKnow). Other’s don’t (iDont). But from the many conversations I’ve had over the last few weeks nothing seems to suggest a difference in certainty. Many of the ‘iKnows’ are still embroiled in soul-searching questions. They are realising that starting a job is not the same as starting a career and that’s valuable advice for the iDont’s.

If you’re an iDont then don’t worry if you haven’t figured out what you want to do. That’s not a problem at all and don’t let anyone make you think otherwise. It only becomes a problem when you use it as an excuse to be lazy. When you use it as an excuse to sit at home, watch Netflix and count how many consecutive episodes of Narcos you can watch before you need to go the toilet. And no – watching an hour of Narcos does not count as an hour of learning Spanish.

It’s important to be proactive and demanding of yourself. This can manifest itself in a variety of ways. It’s always important to be active in the job market so look for jobs, go to interviews and if you are offered something then don’t shy from it. It’s unrealistic to expect finding a job which is a 100% fit to your expectations and desires. Write down a list of what you want from a job – an interesting role, a good company culture, a quick commute – and try and find roles which tick as many of the boxes as possible. A 60% fit is worth going for.

Outside the job market, spend time pursuing hobbies and other interests you have. Companies are not just looking for someone with top grades. They are increasingly hiring graduates who have a bit of, as Britain’s favourite Frenchman would say, ‘va-va voom’. They want you to have interests outside the workplace, whether it’s amateur photography, rock-climbing or writing poetry. So make sure you dedicate some time to your passions and interests because they will make you stand-out from other graduates whilst also keeping you happy and motivated.

And finally, be confident and enjoy yourself. Uni is over, yes. But a new, exciting chapter is set to begin which will bring you to new people and new places. The mist will eventually clear. It always does.

I’m a Founding Partner of Bamboo Crowd. I help our clients invest better in people and scale through Engine. I solve recruitment challenges and help our clients source the best talent across operations, business development, programme management, and technology. Ask me about good films, beards and hip hop.