When you’ve finally finished university, and all the hard work and celebrations are behind you, you might be left wondering: what comes next? What should I do with my life? What job should I do after university? Fear not – many people before you have been in the exact same position, and it’s quite normal to feel a sense of uncertainty at this stage in your life.
From the moment we are born, we are instructed to follow a very clear bullet-pointed list as we grow and progress: nursery, primary school, secondary school, college, then university. However, we are then thrust into the adult working world rather than being guided into the next stage of life.
Add to this the huge student finance debts, the lack of working experience and the fact that you might be moving back in with your parents, it’s no surprise that many people have no idea what to do after university.
Our award-winning coach, Kim Morgan, is here with some top tips to help you navigate this confusing time in life and work out what to do after university. She mentors one young woman who is struggling to clarify her career prospects and work out what to do with her life after university. If you’re in a similar boat, hopefully her advice can help you too…
The fear of finishing university with no job prospects
Jenna* was halfway through her final year at university and was feeling anxious that, when she finished, she wouldn’t get a job in the current climate. Her parents had paid for her to have coaching sessions. She didn’t seem terribly enthusiastic about being coached but had agreed to give it a try.
‘This final year at uni has been rubbish because of the pandemic and I’m worried about my future. I don’t know if I will get a job and I’ve got a big student loan to pay back. I did a languages degree and recently read that people who do languages are the least likely to get jobs using their degree. While I don’t know if that’s true, I’m not sure what I want to do anyway,’ she said.
I asked Jenna why she chose to study languages. ‘I was good at them,’ she replied. I asked how much it mattered to her if she didn’t use languages in her work. ‘Not at all,’ she said. I asked Jenna a number of other questions about what she enjoyed and she gave me one-word answers. I thought that if this is how Jenna presents herself at interviews, she won’t get very far. It felt a bit like pulling teeth.
However, as a coach, I know that direct questions can sometimes feel too confrontational. People can feel safer and you can get more meaningful answers if you avoid direction questions. I asked her to draw me a picture of what her life is like now, and another of what she wants her life to be like. Jenna was so engrossed that she asked if she could finish the picture at home and bring it back to the next session.
Picture your dream life after university
Jenna was animated as she talked about the drawings of her life now and the life she would like. While drawing, she realised that she wants a job (ideally in a start-up) where she can use her creativity and have freedom to generate ideas. ‘So, what do you need to do to achieve this?’ I asked. Jenna replied with a shrug and ‘I don’t know’. I realised that we were back where we started with monosyllabic answers.
Sometimes, a coach needs to ‘hold up the mirror’ to clients and tell them what they observe about them. I told Jenna that I noticed that when asked a question, she gives a one-word answer and shuts down. I compared this with the enthusiasm she showed when she was thinking out loud for herself. Jenna was upset and asked: ‘What’s your point?’ ‘My point is that what happens in interviews is that you are asked direct questions! I am wondering how prospective employers will get to see the best of you. ’
Jenna admitted that she had received this feedback before. ‘I have realised that I really want to work in a creative industry and I am prepared to do what I need to do to get it.’ ‘What do you need to do?’ I asked. We both burst out laughing and I apologised for asking another direct question. ‘What would someone else do?’ I asked. Jenna laughed and replied: ‘Easy. They would get some interview skills training!’
Find your passions to discover what job to do after university
I worked with Jenna for several more coaching sessions. I supported her interview skills training by doing mock interviews and practice presentations. We worked on her confidence and self-belief. I learned that she was the youngest of five children in a noisy household where they used to play lots of games and do quizzes.
Jenna had grownup thinking that she was not quick-thinking because her older brothers were loud and competitive and knew more than she did. ‘I lost my voice and my confidence when I was put on the spot. If I look back now, I realise that, of course, I wasn’t as quick or knowledgeable as they were because I was only young. But it’s time that I started to own my voice and my opinions.’
What should I do with my life? Coaching exercises:
Are you battling to find your way and unsure of where to go? Try these tools and coaching exercises to work out what to do with your life after university, and beyond…
Create a map of your life
Take a large sheet of paper and divide it into three sections. The left-hand side of the map represents the land you are living in now. The right-hand side of the map represents the land you’d like to live in. Between these two lands is a river that you have to cross.
- Without thinking about it too hard, draw the land you are living in now. What is in it? Use symbols, drawings or words to describe your current landscape.
- Move over to your ideal landscape – the place you’d like to be in. Fill this with words, symbols and images to represent all you’d like to have in your life.
- Turn to the gap between the two lands. What is stopping you from getting from where you are to where you want to be? Use words, pictures and symbols to represent the obstacles you have to overcome.
- Draw a bridge that will get you across the gap. What is it made up of and who is there to help you cross it?
- When you’ve done your map, write down what your first three steps are going to be and when you’ll take them.
Write your own job reference
Complete the following reference for yourself, with as much kindness as if you were writing a reference for a dear friend in whom you believe:
- Greatest personal qualities
- Greatest professional qualities
- What words do others use to describe you?
- You can have total confidence in yourself because…
- During the last two years, you have managed to…
Find a fulfilling job after university
Draw three large overlapping circles on a piece of paper. Use coloured pens and sticky notes to bring this exercise alive. Write one of these questions in each circle:
- What gives me meaning?
- What gives me pleasure?
- Finally, what are my strengths?
Put as many answers to these questions in each of the circles. You can keep coming back to the questions. It is interesting to see the things that overlap in all three areas. You may want to use these as a checklist for when you are considering applying for jobs or embarking on a career change.