An uncertain future – finishing your degree and not sure what to do?

If you are approaching the end of your degree and you don’t have a clear idea about your future career, then here are a few words of advice and reassurance.

You are not alone.

Your friends may all be sorted with jobs or be going on to postgrad courses, but it is very common for graduates to take quite a while to establish themselves. Even when the economic climate is not as tough as it is at the moment, a significant proportion of graduates find themselves unemployed or under-employed in non-graduate level jobs. Quite a few of those who do get graduate jobs will end up feeling dissatisfied with their career choice and may seek to change their career.

Research on people who graduated in previous recessions shows that they often have a lot more difficulty at the start of their careers, but that they catch up eventually if they take the right approach.

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Resist the ‘lazy’ options.

Many graduates slip into postgraduate study almost by default. Doing a masters can be a great idea if you are passionate about the subject or you know that it will definitely open access to particular career areas. However, if you undertake further study as a delaying tactic, you could be sending a message to future employers that you lack motivation to work.

Similarly, just carrying on with the same job you have had through your studies can be a bit of a trap. Unless you are taking on new responsibilities, you might be better off trying to find something different. Varied experience will give you opportunities to develop a range of different skills.

It’s very easy to take a less than ideal job as a temporary measure and then find that you are still doing the same thing two years later. Keep reviewing your development. If you are not expanding your skills, move on. Changing jobs more frequently is one way in which those who have graduated in previous recessions have caught up more quickly.

This principle applies particularly to job hunting. Any method which seems to make things very easy is probably not that effective. Good job hunting requires persistence, adaptability and creativity.

Don’t worry about false starts.

Changing career direction is increasingly common for graduates in their first few years of working. It is even possible much later on in your career. If you’re not sure what to do with your life right now, don’t hang around waiting for a magic answer. Be ready to seize whatever opportunities come your way, even if they are not your first choice of career direction.

Whatever you do, put effort into it. Show initiative. Show an interest in the work. Look for ways in which you can add value to the organisation you are working for. Make suggestions. Volunteer for extra responsibility. Even if you decide to change direction at some point, you will have learnt a lot of valuable skills and will have gained some concrete achievements to put on your CV.

Treat everything you do as a learning experience.

People who eventually end up with successful and satisfying careers tend to be quite optimistic. That doesn’t mean that they assume everything will go smoothly. Instead, they take the attitude that whatever happens — even if things go wrong — it’s an opportunity to learn.

If you don’t get the job or the promotion you want, work out what went wrong and do something different next time. If you’re unhappy in your work, figure out what would make you happier and try to move in that direction. Whatever you do, ask yourself the question ‘What have I learnt from this that might be useful in the future?’

If you treat your work in this way, you will be more curious. You will ask more questions, meet more people and uncover more opportunities.

Not everyone has to have a ‘plan’.

Many successful people didn’t have a clue at the start of their careers where they would end up. Real careers are a mixture of luck and effort. Taking the right attitude can increase the likelihood that you notice the lucky breaks when they arrive.

Keep an eye on our events calendar and blog posts for more advice for finalists graduating this summer.

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