I found myself starting my career once I was already well into my 20’s- Everything the career advisor told me at school, or even uni, was a distant memory- And I don’t think i’m the only one.
With increasing numbers of people going to university and college, graduating with degrees and qualifications at 21 or 22, plus the likelihood of an added travel or work abroad programme afterwards, many people (myself included) find themselves choosing a serious career for the first time in their mid 20’s and beyond… and that can be scary when others around you are already getting promotions and pay rises.
With the entry level job market saturated with candidates, and all those candidates having equivalent (or better) degrees and qualifications where do you begin?
Speaking from experience it is very easy to rush into a career you think you want (or think you SHOULD have) in desperation after returning to the real world from that uni or travel bubble… I also know from experience this is likely to make you miserable.
It is so important to take the time to discover what you are passionate about and research what’s out there to keep those passions alive.
It took me a leap of faith, quitting the first job I ever got (and hated) after many rounds of interviews, to go back to casual work which ended up with me working 2 jobs, 7 days a week for almost a year until I really discovered the industry I wanted to be in and the job I wanted to do on the daily.
I’m certainly not an expert, and I am still refining my own career goals, but I wanted to share some tips which helped me ‘bloom’ and discover the professional path I want to be on.
1. Don’t force yourself to do something just because it’s always what you thought you would do.
When I got back from working in America I started looking at jobs in the fashion industry in merchandising. With the limited research I had done previously on paper it sounded right up my street. I figured I could use my psychology degree to really understand consumers and know which products were needed, in the right areas, at the right time time, for the right people.
I had interviews with a good number of companies including Topshop, Disney and TK Maxx. I eventually took a merchandising position with a well known brand… A few days in I knew it wasn’t for me.
Days turned into weeks and I was miserable. the job was not what I thought it was going to be and the office environment didn’t fit my personality. I considered trying to do the same job elsewhere, but came to the realisation that it was the actual job I wasn’t enjoying, not where I was doing it.
So I quit.
It wasn’t an easy decision, Mark and I had just moved to a new area to accommodate my new job, we had a year’s contact to live in an unfamiliar area away from family and friends, it was hard to ‘give up’ and admit to loved ones it hadn’t all worked out, ever since I was at university and even school I had considered merchandising as a career – And I’d failed. But I hadn’t. Which leads me into my next point…
2. Take time to research what’s out there and the real names for things you love.
When I quit I was now well aware that anything to do with data, spreadsheets and numbers was NOT for me.
I began to write down everything I loved in life… Posting photos, travelling, bright colours, painting, meeting new people, sharing stories, learning from others… I used these to figure out qualities of a job I might like… Design, creativity, communication, social media…
Having these as a guideline made it much easier to navigate job and career websites. I was able to build a clear picture of the type of 9-5 work I might actually have a chance of enjoying.
Before I did this type of research I didn’t really put two and two together that every company’s social media account have a human behind them. A whole new world of possibilities opened up for me in my career search.
3. Make use of all your past experiences.
When you are applying for jobs don’t just highlight your paid work and educational qualifications. Voluntary experience and vocational qualifications can be really Important.
I have received positive feedback a number of times for my wide range of voluntary work and unusual work experience. These days lots of people have degrees and great educational backgrounds, extra curricular activities, cultural experiences and voluntary work can really make you stand out.
Quite often I found if I hadn’t met a checkpoint on a person specification using my paid work I could find something which met the criteria from voluntary experience.
4. Don’t be afraid to work two jobs or take part time / voluntary work for experience.
As as I mentioned above I ended up working 7 days a week for a fairly long period of time.
When I quit my initial job I desperately went into our new local Ask Italian and practically begged for a job, luckily they were hiring. Like I said, Mark and I had moved to a new area, I had worked for Ask in my home town before we left so knew the company, and it was sheer luck there was one in our new town.
I worked at Ask full time for a few months to bring the money in whilst applying for new positions in London. Again I had a few interviews but lost out at the last moment, I had got to the point of applying for literally hundreds of jobs between my shifts at Ask.
I finally managed to get a job in digital engagement! It was even in the charity sector, which is where my experience lies… Great! …. But it was only 2 days a week. Mark was working full time 9-5 at this point, our schedules were opposite, me getting in at 11pm, him leaving at 6am some days we didn’t see each other for days on end, it was tough…
And now here I was taking a part time job which wasn’t enough to pay the bills, I still had to work at Ask, which meant me working 7 days a week.
It was really hard on both of us, but the thing that told me I had made the right decision was the fact I looked forward to Thursday’s and Fridays, going into London and working my ‘professional’ job. On those days I felt like I was escaping the stress and doing something I loved, and which mattered.
As hard as the 7 day weeks were on Mark, my family and friends (I was never free to go home and visit) and myself they were worth it. It really allowed me to get experience and a foot in the door of a career I loved. Don’t be afraid to take a chance on something that isn’t perfect, it could be the start of something great.
5. Make your intentions known.
If you find yourself in a job which has the potential to lead to more then speak up from the start.
I told the charity I ideally was looking for a full time position. They always knew this was the case and eventually made me full time by recruiting me for a second position within the organisation. I now split my time between two roles.
I believe honesty goes a long way, about your past and the future you want to have. Having good open communication with your employer will only help more doors to open for you in the future.
6. Don’t get too disheartened and believe in yourself.
I know how it feels to get rejected from what feels like 107485738 jobs, it makes you feel like crap, and it makes you want to give up.
I promise something will come up. That something might not be perfect right away , but it will be a start on a career path you hopefully are inspired to follow, and might lead into something amazing.
Life works out in a funny way, sometimes you have to go through the rough to get to the smooth. Coming into the real world isn’t fun – especially if like me you have spent amazing years away from home at university, travelling or working abroad, but if you can find a career theme you are truly passionate about the 9-5 isn’t as terrible as it could be, and the only way is up.