If you are about to graduate from a tertiary study course, it's a time of mixed emotions and uncertainty.
You have probably been studying, learning and testing yourself continuously, so the concept of stopping this cycle and doing something else is exciting and strange at the same time. You've been so wrapped up in study and getting that qualification, that you may not have taken the time to think; what do I do next?
Is there life after study? Yes, yes there is.
Remind yourself that you are about to secure a valuable qualification; one that is likely to reflect your efforts, your talent, your interests and your follow through. Apart from the skills and knowledge you have acquired, consider all those highly desirable soft skills you have developed - teamwork, organisation, communication, adaptability, leadership, etc.
Take a moment to feel proud of your achievement - think of that first day of your tertiary course and how you probably wondered if you would ever get to the top of that graduation 'mountain', but you did. Celebrate your success in a way that is meaningful to you, and as quietly or as loudly as you want. This is YOUR moment.
Knowledge is power and when we know better, we do better.
So your acquisition of knowledge is assuring you of better opportunities, more interesting work and a stronger impact on your clients, your community or your country. As they say, the world is your oyster (unless, like me, the smell of oysters makes you dry reach.)
"May your dreams reflect your hopes, not your fears." Nelson Mandela
So what can you do to make the most of your well-deserved qualification and leverage yourself into the world of work? Here's some things to consider:
1. Picture yourself in the workplace - what does that look like? A corporate organisation, a small start-up, working from home, a mix of work and more study? It's good to think about how you want your work life to be, so that you can tailor your job search. You may not get that ideal situation in your first graduate role, but at least you are starting to imagine where you want to head TOWARDS.
2. Get clear - REALLY clear - about your skills, achievements and interests. This means getting your CV in order, crafting a LinkedIn profile and perhaps a Public Figure Facebook page, setting up your portfolio, building a personal website to showcase your work, etc. You may not need to do all of these but you need to be present and up to date on the platforms and tools that apply to your line of work. Ignoring ones that are relevant to you put you at risk of being overlooked. There are plenty of professionals who can help you craft these tools, so the expense is worth it (and tax deductible!).
3. Seek advice from people you trust, about organisations or roles that could suit you. Does one of your lecturers know you well? Do they have contacts with external organisations or key people? Who in your family or circle of friends could connect you with someone relevant to your industry for an informational interview? The old adage of 'it's not what you know, but who you know' still applies.
4. Research, research, research. Explore the wealth of information on company websites, Glassdoor.com, LinkedIn forums and groups, blogs on recruitment organisation websites, business networking groups, and any other avenues you can think of. Use "Informational Interviews" to talk to key people in similar jobs, or people in the organisation you want to join; these help you to gain information and explore whether you could be a good fit for that role or organisation. Set up notifications in Seek and TradeMe for roles that look interesting to you, so you can build up a picture of what job demand is like and specific organisations or sectors that are expanding.
5. Reflect on the top 5 soft skills that employers desire in graduates - think about your abilities in these areas and record examples of how you used these skills to achieve results, either in your tertiary study time or in your previous work experience:
6. Be open to opportunities - the traditional view of graduating from tertiary study and getting a full-time job isn't the only model to follow - you could embark on a gap year to give you time to explore options and recharge, you could initiate a social enterprise and use the skills needed to run it to leverage you into a paid role at a later date, you could look at completing a post-graduate course that allows you to really hone in on a specific area or cause that you are passionate about.
7. Get knowledgeable about your finances when you graduate and how best to align these with your plans after graduation. What is your level of debt? What are your priorities for spending over the next few years? What additional expenses will you have after graduation? What kind of lifestyle (flatting, moving back home, going shares in a house purchase) is realistic for you? What insurances should you now take on? Also, you could use the Hays Recruitment salary guide to identify a realistic salary range for your experience and sector - https://www.hays.net.nz/salary-guide/index.htm. Spending some money to seek information from an independent financial advisor might save you thousands of dollars in the long run.
8. Find a mentor - starting off in the world of work is a great time to get professional coaching and address any gaps in your knowledge before they become an impediment. You could find a trusted professional in your sector that you admire and want to emulate, or you could contract a business coach or mentor. It's a great way to establish a habit of continual development and comfort with feedback, rather than getting ingrained in certain ways of working. Many mentors are happy to pass on their knowledge and as such, are likely to do this free of charge.
9. Don't be pressured by others' expectations - securing a role with a prestigious organisation, getting a big salary offer or being headhunted for a role might look great to your friends and family, but be REALLY sure if that is what makes YOU happy. Don't get on the treadmill to partnership or corporate leadership just because of others' expectations. That is the fast train to burnout and unhappiness. If you are clear about your skills and purpose and passion in your line of work, it's important for you to stay true to that.
10. Set up good work habits from the start - it's easy to get excited about your first paid job and the need to impress your managers, clients or sponsors. Don't let this turn you into a people pleaser who can't say 'no' and who never stops working. Establish good time management skills, work-life boundaries, deal-breakers for your reputation, relationships with co-workers and workplace behaviours. Be really clear about making choices that limit regrets and mistakes - play the long game of protecting your reputation and integrity.
"Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets. So, love the people who treat you right, forgive the ones who don’t and believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said it’d be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.” Dr. Seuss
Thanks for reading!
I'm Tracey Beard, the Chief Encouragement Officer at Career Matters. I love helping tertiary students across New Zealand to find careers that match their unique interests, skills and passions. I also help them craft their job search tools and give them insider knowledge of the job market.
You can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on mobile 021-843537.