“I’m graduating but what do I do if I don’t know what to do?”
“I’m a student who is a few weeks away from graduating — but I don’t want to do X job that I’ve studied for. Help!”
Don’t worry. I felt this too.
2019 was the final year of my BA at Manchester school of Architecture. I was faced with the liberating giddiness of near-graduation; and the crippling fate of what was to come after. Luckily, I navigated my way towards a path I enjoy. You can too.
Let me tell you right now: there ARE other options! And they may not be as far from your degree as you think!
It took me a year afterward to realise that I had finally found my calling. But this wasn’t something that came to me in the months following the sunny ceremony of July. As I desperately sent CV after CV, (and received rejection after rejection), my faith as a to-be architect slowly declined.
I mention this to tell you that there will not be a quick-fix solution to what you are looking for. Many of you likely have experienced this in the year and a half following Covid. But there are ways to traverse the murkiness of job-hunting in unknown fields.
It is nearly two years since I’ve graduated and I’ve been lucky enough to chart my route with success. Here are my tips for you.
Dabble in anything and everything
You already have a plethora of skills under your belt through university. Build on these or branch out (I’d suggest the latter, but that’s just me).
UX/UI, illustration, writing, public speaking — whatever floats your boat, try it all. You don’t have to advertise it — but you can keep it on the side. You can even start a social media account for it (more on that below). Personally, I’ve found this has helped keep me accountable (so long as I don’t focus on how many likes I’m getting…)
If you’re not already, I’d highly recommend learning coding. A highly necessary skill in today’s economy — and you don’t have to look far (or pay much) to learn it. Check out Ali Abdaals post on coding to learn more.
You can also try Toastmasters, a non-profit dedicated to improving public speaking and leadership skills. I joined as a fresh graduate and have only improved since (in fact, I got my first job because of the skills I gained from here!).
Apply to anything and everything
When applying for jobs, apply to anything and everything that is creative. My first internship was at a creative agency. I was doing set design for events and it was such a memorable experience. Getting any kind of experience is great and learning to work in the real world is important.
Side note: Still apply to jobs in your field. I wouldn’t have gotten into Graphic Design if I hadn’t applied to architecture jobs. I firmly believe you should try something fully before giving it up.
Avoid the pennies (Fiverr, Upwork, 99Designs etc)
If you are from any decent university, you will AVOID these sites like the plague. With all due respect to designers who work (and maybe even are able to earn a living from them), from my experience, these are NOT sites to work for.
I did a bunch of underpaid work on Upwork during my job-hunt (it literally gave me pennies into my account).
If you have to do underpaid/no paid work (which…is highly likely when you’re starting out I’m afraid), I’d recommend you do it within your community, preferably with organisations you can trace on social media. The problem with websites like the above is the client can be anonymous. It can feel like you’re working into the void. I did a book cover for a client through Upwork, supposedly to sell on Amazon — I have never ever found it online (or even the client).
Contribute instead to your local community (charities, voluntary organisations etc), and you’ll find a more beneficial impact in networking and giving back to the community.
Speaking of which — open your mouth and speak (scary, I know)
Firstly: It’s a mistake to just sit in your room, sending out CVs and gaining new skills thinking it will work — most people are doing that anyway!
In order to stand out: NETWORK! Post-graduation can get super lonely (lockdown or not), so get yourself a community of people. If not in real life, you can find these through social media (Linkedin, Instagram, YouTube, Discord, Twitch etc). Make sure to reach out to people and take part in organisations where you can. The accountability of a group gives you the necessary push to make work (and saves you from post-grad blues!).
Get your socials on point (starting with LinkedIn)
Not only should you MAKE your LinkedIn profile but POST your work (consistently if you can! At least once or twice a month to get engagement). This is key to getting out there and noticed. People who are relevant to your field will see your work (a likelier chance of getting opportunities!).
Cool tip: create posts where you can tag companies or people (either companies/softwares you have used in creating the post, or who have inspired you). You can also tag your school, as well as use relevant hashtags, all of which give you more reach!
Then, focus on other social media
Keeping a consistent presence on the web is always a good idea — it allows you to build a community, and feel you are positively contributing to the world (even if it is just your mum who follows in the beginning). These are tough to get started with (particularly with more established platforms like IG, or YT), but don’t focus on the engagement — just focus on getting out the content.
Choose a couple of platforms to post consistently on (in addition to the above, you have Tiktok, Medium, Anchor and Substack), and DON’T focus on anything outside of this. As I get older, I realise how many social media sites I’m not in touch with and it’s getting ridiculously overwhelming.
Cut out the noise and focus on what’s necessary.
Find problems and turn them into projects
The best way to learn is through projects and the best way to make projects is to solve problems. I noticed that students were not getting enough design education in school (this stemmed from my own education that I received). After graduating from university, I thought ‘Why not make online courses to teach kids this stuff?’. Covid was the perfect environment to realise this ambition. I now teach Design Thinking and Creativity to youth from the ages of 6 to 16.
I found a problem, and I used the skills I had to solve it. How can your life experience (and especially your degree), solve problems in your lives, or those around you? Can you offer services to someone? Teach students certain skills? Start a social media page?
The more you do, the more you can do.
This sounds kind of cliche and may not work for some. But I have found that the more I fill my time, the more I can get done. Think of it as a drawer: if I only have a few things inside, inevitably they will move around because they have too much space. On the other hand, if the drawer is filled with items (all organised in their own spots), the items are less likely to move around because there’s no extra room.
In the same way, the more I fill my schedule with stuff to do, the less time I have to procrastinate. An example could be: I work on my portfolio and CV for 2 hours, film and edit a Youtube video for a few hours, do some community work for a couple of hours, and then personal time for the rest of the day.
Your tasks are elastic: they fit into the time you allocate them. More tasks equal less time to do them. Of course, watch out for the danger of doing too much and burning out….but that’s for another post :)
And for the super cliche, final tip…patience
The process is so much slower than we want it to be. And whilst you’ll never ‘get there’, one day you can look back and think: ‘Woah, I’ve finally gotten to where I wanted to be. And I’ll only keep going.’
Have these tips been useful for you? What other tips can you suggest to fresh job hunters?