Spring is here, marking the last term of university for many. I can recall the uncertainty of this time during my undergraduate degree and perhaps you can too. Or, maybe you’re currently at that stage, wondering what happens once graduation day is over. Either way, I hope you find the following advice interesting and helpful. Read on for words of wisdom from people working in a range of roles and sectors. Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts with me for this post.
“I wish I’d known that there isn’t a rush to start new projects before leaving university and finding a job. You can still have independent projects and do your own thing in the world of work (or self-employment) post graduation. I’d also add that young people asking for advice and mentorship is rarely refused, at least in the startup world. Learn from as many people as possible!”
2. Vicky Clayton, Behavioural Economist, Simetrica
“I wish I’d thought about what I consciously wanted to hold on to from my student identity and what I’d have liked to let go of. Like in any transition, it’s an opportunity to make these choices consciously. I think this choice is particularly important in who you hang out with as ‘like begets like’, and also what you do in your free time. At university, there are clear opportunities to get involved but moving back home or to a new city as a working graduate requires crafting those opportunities for yourself quite carefully.”
3. Pathik Pathak, Director of the Social Impact Lab, University of Southampton
“I wish I’d known that managing fear would determine my career. Too often fear masquerades as practicality – that inner voice insisting ‘I can’t do that, it’s not practical’. If you can manage your fear, you can take the risks you need to in those first few years which will sow the seeds of a career of value.
“The most important thing I learned in my first few years of work was to show up. It isn’t enough to excel at your job (though you should always strive to do that). There’s a sizeable dividend to being consistently seen at your place of work. I don’t mean just turning up, but showing up: inviting people to lunches and coffees and cultivating your own networks from day one.”
4. Anna Darling, Senior Officer – Communications and Partnerships, Future First
“I wish I’d known not to do a Master’s straight away and just for the sake of it. Take a break from the books, get a job, test the waters and find your specialist interests. You may miss studying and want to go back to it and you can’t do two!
“In my first few years of work, the most important thing I learned was that spelling and grammar count. Proofread and then proofread again. Ask a colleague to read it a third time. You can lose trust and respect very quickly if you’re lazy with your writing.”
5. Katie Faulkner, Associate Lecturer, The Courtauld Institute of Art
“The main thing I wish I had known when I finished my undergraduate degree is that no one goes straight into their dream job, but you will learn a lot anyway. I also wish I had taken more advantage of my university careers advice service before and just after graduating.
“The most important thing I have learned in my first few years of work after finishing my PhD has been how to deal with setbacks and rejection. As someone who was quite a high achiever, this is still something I struggle with. I think having another project to focus on, not having all your eggs in one basket and building up a supportive peer network can all help when dealing with the first couple of knocks and bruises to your professional confidence.”
6. Peter Bailey, Technology and Process Lead, Circle Health
“I wish I’d known to enjoy the ride a bit more. I think it’s important to plan for the future and to have goals, but not to worry so much when it doesn’t go exactly as planned. Friends and family are a great network to lean on for support in those times of uncertainty.
“One of the most important things I’ve learned is the value of becoming a “safe pair of hands”. You may not always agree with tasks set by your managers, but, ultimately, it’s good to be known as a person that always delivers. Have an inquisitive mindset from the start, challenge assumptions and make sure you understand the full scope of the request. Being reliable may mean that you get assigned difficult projects, but they will offer the most room for improvement and give you the most credibility when done well.”
7. Tasha Unwin, Community Manager, Worthwhile
“I wish I’d realised that you can shape your career more than you think. This doesn’t mean that you can force the organisation you work for to give you exactly what you want in a role. It also doesn’t mean that you can find your dream job if only you try hard enough. Still, I’ve most enjoyed the roles and situations that I deliberately chose because they lined up with what I want, what I enjoy and what I know I’m good at. Carefully thinking about what that looks like for you and working towards that can really pay off.”
8. Sarah Hewett, Finance Analyst, AbCam, and Social Enterprise enthusiast
“Try not to take it so personally when stuff goes wrong; don’t underestimate how much you can get done in a day; and tell people when you can’t get things done, without stressing about it. […] I feel like I should say something more profound… How about ‘you can change your career or job if you don’t like it’? You’re not tied to anything forever.”
Read more in my interview with Sarah.
If that’s not enough for you, I also recommend Brainpickings’ round-up of commencement addresses, which are full of valuable guidance.