Being a post-secondary student is terrible in many ways, but I think the worst part is stressing about life after graduation — isn’t that what all the painful study sessions and papers have been for? These are the three terrifying, career-related thoughts that run through my mind almost daily. To fight these fears, I’ve also laid out three student career ‘reality checks’ I typically use to calm myself down. Prepare for the darkness, but also a bit of hope? Maybe?
Do I have enough on my résumé?! I need more on my résumé!
Finding relevant work experience that’s flexible with full-time studies is hard, depending on the field you want to go into (if you even know what that is). Students who need a job to keep up with bills might be forced to sacrifice relevant extracurriculars for paying work that’s totally unrelated to their field. Even if they do manage to accumulate some experience through this minefield, it never feels like enough. So, maybe I should take on more to get that extra edge — but will I end up burning out? It kind of feels like I have to risk it, if only to increase my chances of getting a job in my field after graduating.
Sure, I have extracurriculars and volunteering, but I don’t have actual work experience. Sure, I have some relevant work experience, but it’s only one job. And sure, I’ve worked multiple jobs; however, they were all with the same employer. Nothing will ever be enough, and it all feels like an uphill, unwinnable battle.
Chances are, I (and you) have more experience than at least one or two friends or younger family members. At least I’m thinking about work experience, which is honestly more than I can say for some people around my age. If you’re thinking about your future, you’re a step in the right direction. However, there will always be someone who’s done more than me. But I also have some skills and characteristics that may give me the edge over someone else out there — which I should definitely play up.
What if my experience doesn’t matter and I’m a failure who lives on the couch forever?
Assuming I do have enough work experience that’s relevant, there will be no jobs for me. This kind of thinking is especially common among university graduates in non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, who are consistently told the job market is set against them. Why should I be any different? I don’t have any crazy connections in the industry. There will be, like, five jobs that I’d be good for, and they’ll all be taken by people with connections or more experience or better experience. I’ll be stuck without a job, and I won’t be able to afford rent or food or bills. I’ll have to move back in with my mother — I hear it’s really common now — and I’ll live on her couch until the end of time.
There. Are. Jobs. Maybe not as many as in most STEM fields, and maybe they don’t pay as much, but they exist. The idea of non-STEM grads having pitiful employment opportunities is true to an extent, but it’s also been blown out of proportion by high school science teachers and anxious parents. Make no mistake, a lot of new graduates will struggle to find field-related work, but there aren’t enough coffee shops in the world for all of them to be baristas forever.
I’m going to get stuck in an industry I hate right out of school and die miserable…
If I do find a job out of school, it’s going to suck. For those who need a full-time job immediately out of school, the future looks bleak because they don’t have the option to wait for a field-related opportunity. I can see it: I’ll get a degree in a field with few jobs and find a more attainable position in an industry where it’s easier to find work. The pay will be decent, it’ll be full-time, and maybe I’ll even get benefits. I’ll tell myself it’ll only last a few years while I pay down debt and get on my feet financially. I’ll be pretty good at the job and get promoted. Years will pass, and next thing I know everything on my résumé will be in this boring field that was supposed to be a starter job and somehow became my entire career.
My degree will have gone to waste, and I’ll have forgotten what my passions ever were in return for a steady job and financial security. I’ll end up trapped in this sad industry, never able to escape because all my experience will be in that one basket, and then I’ll retire and not have accomplished anything meaningful at all.
I’m still young! (And it’s shocking how many students forget that). Is it possible that I’ll trap myself in a career I don’t like just to pay bills? Yes. Has this happened to people before me? Yes. But that doesn’t mean I have to resign myself to that fate without ever trying. I could also get hit by a bus tomorrow, and people have been hit by buses in the past, but I can’t assume that this is my inevitable future. It’s also possible I’ll stumble into a career I never imagined but love doing. I just have to give myself a chance.
Blythe Hunter is a volunteer with The Career Foundation.