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I Am About To Graduate… What’s Next?

Recent graduates open up on mental health and careers expectations after university

By Rory Buccheri

several rows of people wearing white graduation caps seen from above.
Image courtesy of Joshua Hoehne via Unsplash

Finding a job after graduating can feel overwhelming, if not downright terrifying.

Finding a job in this economy (no meme intended) can take an even worse toll on your mental wellbeing. Fears of not landing your ideal job - or any job - are perfectly valid. The good news is that you are not alone. You, and millions of other people graduating across the world, experience very similar feelings.

To highlight the point that this is one of the most stressful changes, the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (Holmes and Rahe, 1967) assigns between 20 and 40 points on the stress scale for change in work circumstances (26), (e.g. looking for a job), change in financial circumstances (38), and coming to the end of your studies (26). The latter is only 13 stress points away from the death of a relative (53), (but strangely, 10 points apart from Christmas).

In short, looking for a job at the end of your studies is no trivial thing, and when you land a position that is less than ideal, it can bring your confidence down.

To get some real life insight into these feelings and experiences I have asked four recent UoA graduates the uncomfortable questions you are all wondering. What if I don’t get the perfect job right after I graduate? How do I keep morale high while working part-time? How can a temp role prepare me for what’s next?

Martin (Politics & IR), Ask and Miles (English with Creative Writing), and Haley (Accountancy and Business) have opened up about their individual journeys of balancing the search for their ideal graduate job while staying financially afloat.

Expectations VS Reality

“My dad always told me that as soon as I got the degree, working in a firm would be the next step.” Haley graduated in Accountancy and Business Management, and wants to work for top-grossing firms such as PWC and EY. She has three dogs, and currently works part-time as a dog-sitter and barista.

“Nobody really sat me down and prepared me for the reality- that is, it’s fine if you don’t get your top position straight out of uni. It will come with time.”

The feeling of elation having concluded your studies is often short-lived. Parents and peers are the main support network, but it’s easy to forget that everyone’s experience is unique.

“I was listening to my dad, who is very supportive”, Haley says, “but in the back of my head I kept thinking…hold on, isn’t the economy in shambles right now? Maybe I am not doing poorly, maybe it’s a hard time for everyone else.”

“Right after graduation there is the excitement of thinking you got the degree and are now qualified to get the job you want relatively quickly”, Martin shares.

Martin graduated in July 2022 in Politics & International Relations, and his top goal coming out of university was to work for an MP, a charity, or a trade union. “I had volunteering experience to make me believe it was possible to get what I wanted at that moment.”

“There is a part of joy when you graduate, but then the other stuff comes up…Council tax, bills, moving, and the stress that entails, and suddenly your time and energy are spent doing whatever can cover the costs of that.”

The hardest part is managing expectations, all while staying positive and persevering.

Martin says, “It is frustrating that it’s been almost nine months since graduating and I still don’t have the job that I want. It’s hard when you interview for a couple of jobs you really want, get your hopes up, and every time you don’t get it and you walk back into work…that’s when it hurts. This is where it’s tough. I walk back into the kitchen for my shift, and the realisation hits me”.

Martin is one of many people who moved out of Aberdeen to relocate to Edinburgh, feeling there are more opportunities outside of the granite city.

“Aberdeen is not the place for me to be right now”, Miles says. “I would be happy to work pretty much anywhere in the arts sector, but sadly Aberdeen is quite dead in that sense.” Miles took a summer job as a bookseller in their home country a few years ago, and since then the passion to keep doing it professionally has only gotten stronger.

“Right now, I want to be a bookseller and, maybe at some point down the line, join the publishing industry.” Miles graduated in English with Creative Writing, a field that is close to their area of interest. “My journey is soon going to take me to Glasgow, where I’m hopeful to find a bookseller job, as there are simply more opportunities.”

Another class of ‘22 English with Creative Writing graduate, Ask has broader plans of working in the arts, doing creative writing and creative work for a living.

“I found my current job about six months after graduating. I was working as a waiter during and after graduation.”

“In December I moved to another higher paid waiting job. It’s nowhere near what I'd actually like to be doing with my life, and the hours are long, but I am currently financially stable and able to both live comfortably and save, which is a massive bonus - one that I hope will give me the flexibility I need to approach career options that actually interest me.”

The prospect of being financially stable is one of the many preoccupations of current and past graduates. It’s good to feel you have your back covered, before plunging into the abyss.

Don’t Stop Believin’

It’s easy to lose sight of your goals while you are in a position you don’t love but pays the bills. And we know the bills are many.

Not doing the exact thing you want will not damage you in the long run. On the other hand, it will make you more competent, more resilient, and overall ready to adapt.

“I have time, alongside my part-time job, to look for the stuff that really interests me.” Haley shares her strategy: “four days a week I work, the other two or three I send CVs, I fill out applications or look for work experience. If something solid comes up, I can smoothly quit my current job and feel like I haven’t broken the bank.”

Working as a waiter, Ask says, “Customers give me good ideas for stories to write.”

“On a more serious note, the job's just made me more competent overall: I am more articulate when speaking and can wrangle annoying groups, I am far more organised and work better under stress.”

Martin echoes this feeling, expressing that there are skills he learned as a kitchen porter that are essential for his dream job.

For example teamwork, “in the kitchen, you have to be attentive to everyone’s needs, and make sure you communicate what you need”, or memory and organisation, “[remembering] where everything goes, and [completing] checklists every day.”

Working under pressure and spending long hours on your feet make for ideal training if you “want to work for a charity, trade union or MSP, which requires long hours standing, lots of remembering, and communicating well with others”.

You can’t always get what you want. Sometimes, you get what you need. But enough with the music references…

Mental Health

All the graduates I’ve spoken to have faced doubt, and challenges in terms of their mental health. For something that is so paramount when it comes to finishing your studies and taking the next step, it’s incredible how infrequently we talk about it in a University setting.

Miles, who didn’t plan to move back home and knew they weren’t going for a post-grad, felt “quite stressed about [finding a job]”.

Not to mention, the entire framework around job-hunting is stressful.

“Beyond the job, the adjustments of graduate life are tough. Especially when moving cities, you need to make friends all over again, adapt to a new place. Sometimes it can feel very isolating”, Martin says.

It’s important to remind yourself you have a support network: family, friends, peers and colleagues. The University is still here to support you after you graduate, although in a smaller proportion than during your studies.

Julia Leng is a Careers Adviser at the University’s Careers and Employability Services. Her top advice is to “not put too much pressure on yourself to find the ‘perfect’ job”.

“The Service is open to you for life as a graduate, so you can continue to speak to an adviser for as long as you need.”

The Service is full of useful resources for graduates, whether you want to improve your CV or do a mock-interview.

We all struggle with intrusive thoughts, and a good share of impostor syndrome. It’s good to be reminded that you are not failing or falling behind. By chasing your dream opportunities while keeping your feet on the ground, you are demonstrating you are ready to take on whatever is next.

Nothing you have learned, both at university and in temp jobs, will be wasted. You are likely to find yourself using that knowledge into your next role, and the next one, and then finally your dream role.

“I know it’s only temporary”, Miles says, “I know before long I will, once again, be a bookseller.”

Don’t lose hope. What’s for you won’t get past you.


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