There’s one great, big mahoosive irony I’ve found about graduate life. It’s this: you’ve just accomplished one of your biggest and most-difficult-to-achieve milestones of securing yourself a kickass degree. A ridiculous amount of stress has gone into this accolade. Sleepless nights, library cry sessions, working day, night and weekends towards your goal, all whilst, in third year, working out what the hell you want to do with your life and trying desperately to get on the career ladder by applying for any and every job. It really is a momentous achievement – and something that should fill us with pride and happiness upon graduating. However, graduate and get yourself a job, and I don’t think I’m speaking for just myself here when I say that your confidence in yourself, your abilities and your position in the workplace is pretty non-existent.
When writing this blog, I like to use it as a space to bring attention to things I feel are happening to myself and people around me, but that no one is wanting to speak up and admit. But I also want to make sure my own experiences that I’m drawing on are founded beliefs among others to ensure I’m trying to address things that really do need changing. And I’m not alone in this belief about graduates hugely lacking confidence when they enter the world of work. An article by the Yorkshire Post states that research by KPMG found that a lack of self belief could just be the biggest factor stopping young women achieving their potential. And reading that very quote, I gotta tell ya, I feel SEEN. And I’m sure you might just feel seen, too.
So why is it that after achieving a defining life milestone, smashing that degree out the park and setting yourself up as an attractive candidate to employers, we’re left feeling like we can’t achieve our dreams?! As a nervous, eager to please graduate, my instant thought is to blame myself and my lack of self belief. If only I was more of a confident, assured person who didn’t overthink at least 45 times a day and lead myself down the black hole of a worry spiral at least once a week, I’d be marching my way through the doors of my dream career instantly without a care in the world. But before we blame ourselves, let’s just halt a second. Because we aren’t to blame.
Instead, I’m going to take a swipe at two majorly elusive, lofty concepts: society and increasingly so as a symptom of society’s structure, employers. And there are 5 main things masking themselves as positive opportunities for young people trying to make it in the employment world that are actually hugely detrimental to our happiness, confidence and self belief as we graduate into the big, terrifying abyss:
1. I blame work experience and internships
As the intern, you’re desperate. Desperate to make a lasting impression, desperate for recognition, desperate for a gold-dust chance to expose yourself to some contacts and new experiences. And almost always, you get nada coins in return. Working for free and desperately slogging away in the hope it might just pay off later down the career line can be a really disheartening experience. Before I carry on to diss – I’ve learnt SO much from so many of my work experience and internships and I’m very grateful for them. That said, you’re constantly eager to please and constantly nervous about being found out as the imposter who isn’t quite worth of having the privileged position of working for free at your dream company. It’s a confidence-draining bubble, and the culture of having to rack up as many impressive internships as possible before you’re apparently attractive to any employer is detrimental to our self belief.
2. I blame fixed-term contracts
Ah, those biatches. The you’re-never-quite-safe-and-secure-here confidence killer. Understanding your position isn’t permanent is a sure-fire way to induce work anxiety, making you always eager to impress in the hope your employer might just extend that contract into… yet another fixed term position. And then if you do get asked to stay on, the anxiety doubles as you next attempt to prove you’re good enough for, just one day, that permanent role.
3. I blame ‘traditional’, non-vocational university courses
I went to a Russell Group. I studied English Literature & Creative Writing. So some might even say the Creative Writing element of my degree wasn’t ‘traditional’, but the English definitely was. And I learned absolutely NO practical skills to help me in the world of work. Any work experience or opportunities within societies that I got at university prepared me more for the world of work than my course ever could. Hilarious, because you’d think £9k a year would have done so. And even more hilarious, because ‘vocational’ courses are looked down upon, as more unattractive for employers than studying Philosophy or even, for goodness sake, Geology. Both are examples of very, very good degrees, but it shouldn’t mean that vocational courses such as Journalism or Fashion are seen as lesser. If anything, you’ll be coming out with job-ready abilities if you do a more unorthodox degree. Come out with a stellar, well-respected degree, and the likelihood is you’ll be more unprepared for the world of work.
4. I blame the hustle mentality
I blame this like I’m above it, but I’m a cog in the hustle mentality machine myself. I detest it, yet I willingly submit myself to its turning wheels. Round and round I go, like an exercising hamster, exercising my hustle muscles by working full-time, blogging and freelancing. I take on everything and anything I can, because there’s always someone doing more and there’s never enough you can do to please a competitive employer. Most jobs ask for so many years experience, and when you’re a graduate, you feel you’ve got to work double time to stand a chance against anyone older than you.
5. I blame society’s generalised, derogatory opinion of graduates
I heard on BBC News a couple of months ago that some scary percentage of employers (I think it was like 60%) believe graduates aren’t equipped with the skills they need for the role they enter the workplace in. They believe graduates are lazy, lacking capabilities and not up to scratch. Now, this angered me beyond belief. If said graduates had done a traditional degree, of course we don’t have the abilities for the workplace unless we proactively worked our absolute arses off and never had any rest during studying because we got a ton of work experience to try to understand the confusing world of work. And I’d like to see said higher-uppers when they were in their first roles. Entering the world of work for the first time is a scary place, and the whole point of working is to develop more skills and progress. We’ve all got to start somewhere, and knocking our confidence before we even begin is a sure-fire way to stop us wanting to even try and achieve our dreams.
Being a graduate is hard. Being a graduate does knock your confidence. Being a graduate is believing you’re not in a position in the workplace to fully assert your own views, make executive decisions on your own work without asking every higher-upper for advice and settling for lower salaries and responsibilities than you deserve because you’re just grateful to be in employment. Being a graduate is having that little niggling voice inside that says “you can do this” but the other voice, much louder, that tells you to shut up. It’s something I’m really working on, and I know a lot of my friends feel the same. So to end, I thought I’d leave below some lil things I really try to work on to remind myself I am kind of capable, when I’m feeling at my least confident:
1. I keep my LinkedIn updated and record the skills I’ve learnt with each opportunity, to remind myself I can *actually* do things!
2. I force myself out of my comfort zone and into the terrifying waters of unfamiliar and ensure I jump at every chance to learn something new and build my abilities up
3. I *hate* to do this – but I force myself to ask for more when I think it’s needed; whether that’s salary-related, or opportunities-related. It’s the most terrifying thing to do, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get – and asking for what you need not only earns you respect from others, but also might just help you out financially or CV-y (a word).
It’s time us grads got cut some slack.