Dear Captain Awkward,
I moved to the UK for uni a year ago with plans to get a job at the same time, since that was what I’d always done before. At first I decided to wait until second semester in order to settle in, since I had student loans and a scholarship to lower tuition a little. I ended up dealing with mental health problems and focusing on those instead. (Look! You don’t have to recommend therapy!)
Now that I have things more under control, I’ve sort of started looking again, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to put real energy into it. There has been one job of the few I’ve applied to that I’ve been interested in, and I didn’t hear back. I know I don’t actually want the type of job I expect to get as a student, and that if I’m super-cheap I can survive on my loans, but at the same time I feel a lot of pressure to get a job. The two big reasons are 1) I am very aware of how much I have out in student loans overall, and 2) I really want to stay in the UK (this city is the first place where I’ve both felt like my own person and felt like I can be somewhat sociable and meet people which has resulted in actual friends) after I graduate and the recent awful changes to visas have made me feel like I need to be amazing while I’m here in order to even have a chance to stay.
I’m really not sure what to do since I can’t shake this feeling that I should have a job because that’s the grown-up thing to do and I will end up miserable in my home country if I don’t make employers love me now.
All the best,
I think it would be good to have a job. Look for something part-time in retail, tutoring, or light office work and don’t worry about it lining up with your passions.
Think of it this way:
- It will take the pressure off you financially.
- It will get you to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise know.
- It will help you establish a work history in the UK, could be important later on when you’re looking for different work.
- You’ll pick up a skill you maybe don’t have that you can spin later when you’re trying to get something more career-focused.
I keep getting letters from young grads that are concerned their university majors aren’t getting them the kinds of jobs they want after graduation.
Truth: The economy is TERRIBLE and in another time it would not have been so difficult, for real. Also student loans are crushing us and you’re totally correct to be concerned!
Another Truth: No shit, Sherlock! Even in 1996 when I graduated and the economy was booming, my college field of study didn’t get me a job, but my resume from all of my waitressing and office work jobs and running student groups & all the skills I picked up from them – everything from being able to take notes in meetings, write letters, handle filing/faxing/copier/tech/light web design/Photoshop/MS Office/budgeting/scheduling/publicity, when combined with a degree, helped me get entry-level jobs and stay employed while I worked my way up into more intellectually challenging stuff.
Most adult work is one long group project, and has more resembled the time our singing group had a four-hour meeting to decide whether to wear black jeans or black pants to an upcoming concert than the time I wrote a paper about first-person accounts by British women during the Raj and the pressure they felt to perform some ideal of Britishness even in private because: servants.
The things I learned from “the type of job I might expect to get as a student” made me immediately useful to employers while I mounted the learning curve of understanding their business. The education that taught me how to write and analyze and predict and communicate came in handy once I’d leveled up a bit. Starting out it also helped immensely to have people who could say “She is a good worker who learns fast and is reliable,” which put me ahead of people who had only a shiny degree and no work experience. I didn’t know this would be true at the time, it wasn’t part of a grand strategy, it was part of being a financial aid-dependent kid from a family where at certain times both of my brothers AND my mom were in university at the same time as me. Working was not optional.
HOWEVER, believe me, I was just as much of an entitled little shit who believed I was destined for Greater Things as my more privileged peers at G’town at the time, and I suffered and groaned through these jobs with poor grace. I would have loved to do something “more interesting” than slinging breakfast orders or collating spreadsheets with my time. So if having a job is going to sap your energy and make it more difficult for you to complete your studies, and you don’t really need it, then fuck it! If you can find something interesting and related to your field of study to do that will help you make connections and develop your passions without it necessarily having to be paid, go and do that thing! Conserve your energy, continue healing, throw yourself into school and friends, enjoy the hell out of this time. Do it 100% without guilt. Struggle doesn’t give you some kind of moral high ground, and if you don’t have to struggle, then don’t because you think you have to go through BOOTSTRAPS UNIVERSITY to earn your HARD KNOCKS certificate. Maybe your lack of motivation is your gut saying “Slow down” and you should listen to it.
But I’d also suggest that you (and every undergraduate student) think about how to make yourself more employable when you graduate. For example:
- How are you documenting and packaging the work that you do in classes and outside of class that could translate to an outside audience down the road? Is there a way that your undergrad work could become part of a portfolio? (Think: Blogging, reels, clips, apps, websites, papers, articles, conference presentations, research).
- What concrete skills are you learning? Such as:
- Leading a team – setting an agenda, leading a team, contributing to a group project, collaboration.
- Budgeting, scheduling, planning.
- Presentation skills – both written presentation of ideas and the ability to speak to a group.
- Computer skills – You don’t have to be a programmer or a computer sciences major to pick up office, basic HTML, Photoshop, some tech support/helpdesk skills, web content management on the fly.
This stuff isn’t always obvious in the syllabi of your courses but it IS stuff that students are doing all the time and could package pretty successfully for job-hunting if they knew how. Much of selling yourself for a job involves successfully making an argument that your skills translate to what the company needs. Maybe your schoolwork doesn’t always translate directly to a resume, but you would be able to say “In my biology class I led a small team of student researchers to do x, y, and z” in a cover letter and make an argument that you know how to do that work.
I teach at an art school, and if people think that going to film school is a fluffy pursuit, jump the fuck back. At the end of ONE SEMESTER of the most basic class, my students can:
- Lead and work in teams of people they didn’t choose to work with and keep things cordial and professional.
- Generate ideas on tight deadlines and then test those ideas through implementation.
- Polish, revise, and present those ideas verbally, in writing, and in images to get a greenlight to proceed.
- Budget time and money and handle complex logistics.
- Work safely with very expensive and delicate equipment that requires some technical expertise and knowledge of physics & chemistry.
- Persuade strangers into doing insane and inconvenient favors in the name of cinema.
- Recruit outside talent from the larger community, such as professional actors.
- Edit video, record sound, author DVDs and present finished work, again, under tight deadlines.
- Receive criticism of the finished work, revise the work, and go and do it all again 2 more times.
- Hopefully transcend all the logistical concerns to make something beautiful and meaningful in a fragile, difficult, collaborative medium.
Someone who makes it through that class successfully can do FUCKING ANYTHING they want in any kind of entry level job in any industry if they can confidently make the links between what the job requires and what they already know how to do. So what do you know how to do? What do you want to know how to do? Make sure you get some of that knowledge out of your studies by any means necessary.
- You don’t have to get a job!
- It might be a good idea for many reasons, even if it doesn’t immediately seem connected to the career you want.
- Start looking at your courses in terms of what they teach you to do in addition to what they teach you to read and think about. Chances are that you’re smarter at work stuff than you think, but figure this out while you have some time to fill in the gaps.
- Self-care is an important life skill, so keep doing that and pace yourself.
Good luck, Anya! And struggling recent grads everywhere. I want so much for things to get better and for you to unleash your awesome educations and potential on the earth. We need you.