#370: Unmotivated to apply for jobs.

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,

Dear Anya:

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.

98 thoughts on “#370: Unmotivated to apply for jobs.

  1. I’m a recent grad struggling with a few similar issues so thanks for this! I know my classes/life experience help me learn things other than what we studied but sometimes it’s hard to know how to package them in such a way as to make me seem desirable to employers. Knowing I’m not alone makes me more confident in asking for advice from those who’ve been there.

    1. I sometimes write resumes for people (for money) and what it often turns into is “You do SO already have that skill in the job description, you just didn’t know how to say that you did.”

      1. I do the same thing for people leaving academia after PhDs, and I have the same conversation all the time.

  2. Since the season is nearly upon us, can I suggest a Christmas temp job? I realise that these are mainly retail-orientated and might not be LW’s bag, but with a short-term contract you get a bit of extra money without the long-term commitment. It would at least get you into the workplace and perhaps give you the motivation to go after jobs you really want, or may help you decide that you don’t really need a job after all and can feel more relaxed about that having given it a try.

    Volunteering is another option; it won’t give you cash but it will give you experience and something great to add to your CV. I can recommend http://www.do-it.org.uk/ for volunteering opportunities up and down the country. Apart from that I echo the Captain’s advice and wish you well in the future, Anya!

  3. Oh LW, I feel you and I feel the job-hunting fatigue so much. I just started a post-grad course in the UK, and I’m currently in the middle of a dual-hunt for relevant work experience AND paid part-time work. The cover-letter/tailored CV/possible interview/rejection/repeat cycle is exhausting both physically and emotionally. I definitely also have moments of “Fuck it, I’m lucky enough to be in a financial situation where I don’t actually NEED a job to live day-to-day” but I’ve also been working some kind of part-time retail/office gig since I was 15, so the idea of making an active decision not to work fills me with guilt.

    The Captain’s advise re: the pros and cons of getting a job are bang on. I would like to add a few more practical tips that might make the job hunt a bit easier.

    Firstly, most universities offer free careers advice and CV consultation, for everything from your IMPORTANT FUTURE CAREER to getting a restaurant job. Returning to uni after two years in the “real world” made me realise that is is an AMAZING service. That shit can cost £50-70 pounds for an hour consultation outside uni. USE THIS FACILITY. I go to my career office all the time! They’re probably sick of looking at me, but I don’t care, their time is covered in my fees! They have helped me fine-tune my CV, they’ve given me advice on specific cover letters and they’ve talked me through interview techniques. Use this facility while you can. It is invaluable.

    Secondly, I’ve made some rules for myself to stop me getting bogged down with job-hunt fatigue. It sounds like you’re in the same boat as me; you would like a job, but it’s not immediately urgent and you would rather not be cleaning toilets since you don’t absolutely have to. This is a luxurious position to be in! It means you can take your time. This means you only have to apply for places you might actually want to work, with a nice atmosphere or some relevance to your field or fun perks or whatever you value from a workplace!

    I would strongly advice creating a list or some sort of system for keeping tracking of opportunities that spark your interest. I have a large sheet on my wall where I write out job opportunities I’m interested in, with the company name, position title, contact person and most importantly, THE DEADLINE. This way, I can stagger my cover-letter writing time. Instead of thinking “I must write seven cover-letters this weekend, ugh!” I can space them out, write four or five over the course of a week and give myself nights off from the tiring task of talking about how great I am in various permutations. Feeling organised and breaking things into manageable chunks = super helpful. Before this system, I felt like I was aimlessly swirling around in a pool of amorphous JOBS and opportunities were slipping through my fingers because I couldn’t keep track of them

    And thirdly (this comes back to using your university for all it’s worth again!) universities hire people! Lots of people! Unis like hiring their students for everything from library work to event co-ordination to tutoring to office assistant-ing. This might be something to ask about at the Careers Office, they can definitely point you in the right direction. It’s also great to get involved in volunteer work at your uni, particularly if you feel like your CV might be a bit lacking. Even if it’s not paid, you will make useful contacts, it will look excellent on your CV, it will hopefully fun and being the useful student who helps out at in an admin office once a week or works department events from time-to-time can often leads directly to paid work.

    Best of luck whatever you decide to do. Even the best managed job hunt can be exhausting and overwhelming in the current economic shit-storm, so take your time and be good to yourself. I hope everything works out for you!

    1. I was going to suggest looking for a job on campus, as well. The thing I wish I’d known when I was in school is that all of those hella interesting jobs in dream fields that are impossible to get even once you have a relevant degree… are actually much more accessible to you as a student before you have the fancy degree!

      Do you want to do international conflict management work? That’s, like, insanely hard to find a paid full-time job in right out of school. But while IN school, it’s likely that (at least at large universities) there is a professor working in that field who needs a research assistant or a university-affiliated center dedicated to that work that wants a part-time student employee. Are you studying classics? That’s not a field that’s particularly easy to break into out in the real world, but it does lend itself to a ton of university-affiliated part-time positions (campus museums, libraries, professors, etc.). Not to mention: whatever your field, one of the best ways to find a position out of school is to have relationships with the people AT school who are already in that field and will know a ton of people doing non-academic work in the same area.

      And campus jobs are additionally awesome because a) they’re designed for student schedules (they’re more likely to understand when it’s exam time and you need to cut back, they’re less likely to fire you if you’re going to be away for the summer, etc.), they’re conveniently located on the campus where you’re already spending a lot of time, and they deal with a lot of pesky ex-pat issues with working overseas (I don’t know about the UK specifically, but in the U.S. foreign students can basically only work on campus if they’re on a standard student visa).

    2. Just to add – spending more time networking might also get you closer to where you want to be. Conferences, seminar series and evening talks in your field will attract a range of people, and if you get chatting to some of them in the coffee break, you might just get wind of a great internship, or a piece of research they really need doing but haven’t found the right person for just yet.

      Read the papers of people who work in the agencies you want to work for, go up to them at these events, tell them how helpful you found their work, and they will eventually ask you about your own interests. (Even talking about an essay you did which is relevant to their field can get them interested.) Ask questions in plenary and then go and talk to the organisers when they have a free moment or two. Bump into the same people at a few of these events and ask them how their specific work is going. Dress and act like you already work in that field, and people will be surprised and impressed when you say ‘actually at the moment I’m just studying x, but I very much hope I’ll be able to continue working on y in the near future’.

      All this can really make a huge difference, as a lot of amazing entry level opportunities are short term contracts which don’t get formally advertised (in my field, anyway). Sometimes your academic supervisors will have budget to take one or two people to a key networking conference, so if you’ve had lots of interesting conversations with said supervisor they may suggest bringing you along.

    3. Start of this comment reminded me of the horrible cycle I used to be in trying to get off the sickness benefit where trying to find a job would make me relapse from the stress. HORRIBLE.

      Also, being able to take your time is amazing. My mother decided to go back to work when we were all basically in high school – so yeah, she was not exactly a spring chicken – and it took her a year to find the right job. After a while she took on another one and did them both for some months/years, now she’s only at the second one. Her job security is pretty good.

    4. Chiming in to echo the “look for a job on campus” thing! I worked in various parts of my university’s library system all four years and it was really interesting, plus it gave me work experience and references. Research scientists always need undergrads (in the US, anyhow) to help with some of the scut work, the various admin offices need people to do the filing, and the libraries need people to do shelving. Some campuses hire current students to lead tours for prospective students and their families.

      Does the UK have some equivalent of work-study? At most US universities, it comes as part of the financial aid package, and someone with substantial student loans would definitely be eligible. (Basically, the place that hires you doesn’t have to pay you directly; your pay comes through the financial aid office.) If so, the office that coordinates that may be able to help you find something.

      Best of luck!

      1. I was depressed in university which meant I was majorly job-hunting-fatigued and also unmotivated to go to class. I got a job taking notes for a student in my class through our accessibility centre. Now, there won’t necessarily be a student in your class who needs this service but if you see this option I recommend jumping on it. This job helped keep me going to class and also I do take good notes, so it made me feel good about myself. I didn’t get a tonne of money because it didn’t take that many hours, but I also couldn’t have handled more at the time anyway.
        An option worth considering anyway.
        Also I recommend this blog: http://www.askamanager.org/
        It’s about the American job market/workplace/work culture, but there still are tips in there (searchable by tags) on writing cover letters and other skills that could be useful in the UK.

  4. Awesome advice. Excel is vital in many settings (esp. research and project management), and I’m always surprised how many talented people desperate for entry level jobs can’t use it.

    I’m veering towards the second part of the Captain’s answer, as it’s so precious to have a little time with your head free to think and develop interests.

    It might be good to divide up term time and holiday time, and swap round – so if you want free headspace and lots of interests while studying, plan for an intensive month’s work in the summer that will earn you some cash. Or if you do paid work in termtime, spend the next few months networking to set up a fantastic unpaid placement in the summer that will give you good experience and insights.

  5. Tangentially related–pare that resume down. I just got a 5-page resume from an applicant for a bachelor’s level job working with kids in the mental health field. It included many short-term jobs and high school achievements. I’ll interview him, because I’m desperate, but I don’t need to know about the summer he spent painting houses or that he went to Model UN in 2003.

    1. This so much. Also, tailor your resume to the job you’re applying for. I work for a catering company and when I receive resumes for a cook position that has little to no cooking experience, I get really frustrated. Show me you are at least a LITTLE qualified for the position.

    2. If she’s in the UK, they’re probably looking for CVs, which are a lot longer and include every job you’ve had; often they include hobbies as well. So it can get really long with not very much experience. (Just as an fyi.)

      1. Ohhhhhhh! This explains so much to me! I’m in New Zealand and we do CVs too but when I’ve hunted out CV writing advice occasionally I find stuff for resumes that says “CUT OUT EVERYTHING” and then I get confused. (Though 5 pages still seems fairly long to me for that sort of job.)

        1. The “resume” v “curriculum vitae” dilemma is a minefield. Sometimes they come with totally different expectations, and sometimes they are used interchangeably. It depends on the context. Some jobs I’ve gone for will only accept 1 or two pages, some want a more detailed description. I’ve worked abroad a lot – and managing cultural expectations is important (i.e. in some countries a photo is expected, others it makes you look unprofessional and naïve). Try to understand the context of where you are applying – you can check out templates on university websites or local recruiters, also as you network, you can ask people about CV expectations.

        2. CV’s are used in the US in academia and certain other fields where info that doesn’t fit on a resume is particularly relevant to hiring (publishing history, say). Outside of academia, for most jobs that don’t require the intervention of headhunting firms, it’s a one- to two-page resume (but one page is better) and a cover letter–the cover letter should show that you’ve researched the job and make it explicit that you know what it is you’re applying to do.

          1. Commenter from the UK here – keep it to no more than 2 pages, which is standard in any job; if you feel like you have too much stuff, cut it down and keep only what’s relevant to what you’re applying for. Good luck!

      2. Actually for most jobs in the UK (where I’m from) CVs should not be more than 2 pages and do not have to contain every job you’ve ever had (although a line summarizing periods of non-relevant work can be helpful in establishing timeline). The only exceptions are certain professional sectors, such as in academia, where longer CVs are expected. I wonder if the term CV is used to mean something specifically different from a resume in the states? Here they are pretty much interchangeable and the length/level of detail required is determined by the job ad/industry standards rather than which word is used.

      3. Outside of academia (and maybe some other specific fields that I am not aware of), this is really not the case. My CV straight out of uni was one page, and it’s only now that I’ve got 4-5 years of work to list that I’m on two. When I was looking through applications for an entry level job here they were 1-2 pages at most, and generally the shorter ones were better.

      4. Hi TR, I know you’ve had half a dozen comments to this effect, but this isn’t correct. What we refer to as a CV in the UK shouldn’t be longer than 2 pages, and should be targeted towards the employer. It’s only academic CVs which list everything ever (and even then, only academic everything-ever.)

        (I’m a UK university careers adviser!)

  6. This is law-focused, but Harvard’s Office of Public Interest Advising has a GREAT website with a lot of job search tips. The thing they advise you to do, though, before you do anything else, is a self-assessment: http://www.law.harvard.edu/current/careers/opia/toolkit/self-assessment/self-assessment.html

    That can easily be adapted for other fields.

    I will add to the Captain’s advice to be on the lookout for transferable skills in everything you do: sometimes, things that don’t work out well for us are valuable sources of insight and even some skills. For example, I had an absolutely AWFUL job for two years (the worst two years of my life) at a big law firm in New York. So awful I still have flashbacks 12 years later. But while it felt miserable while I was there, and I felt like I was working on a lot of administrative tasks and not getting to do “real” law, once I got some distance from that job, I realized that the administrative tasks were teaching me something, namely, how to manage a massive litigation with a warehouse full of files and about 50 paralegals and clerks. Few lawyers get that kind of experience, so even though I was so stressed out I was sobbing in my office every day and my alcohol consumption crossed from “party!” to “you are a drunk, lady,” I was able to pull the valuable parts out of it.

    I also learned what *didn’t* work for me: a job where I was so stressed out I was sobbing in my office every day and drinking many, many drinks at night. I don’t recommend that.

  7. Oh, man, I’m going to write out a longer comment later when I’m less tired because we’re SO in the same boat, but really quickly: in addition to the Captain’s always-awesome advice, office temping might be attractive to you. It’s often not consistent (if you’re very lucky, an assignment might be up to 3 months-, MAYBE 6 months-long; often it’ll be just one or two days at a time) so I don’t know if that’ll help with your visa requirements, but often it pays well, looks pretty good on a resume, and best of all, there’s tons of free time. The most common assignment is basic reception; that means announcing visitors and answering phones, but since most business is done by email these days, often the phone rings just once an hour and you’re allowed to do whatever you want as long as you’re sitting at your desk and looking pleasant. On days when I’m working, I can do my homework, apply to jobs, study for the GRE, volunteer, play solitaire, or watch Netflix, and still get paid $14.50 per hour. The downside is you’re sitting in a windowless room by yourself for 8 hours a day and don’t have control over when you eat and drink. More substantial assignments might include filing, copying, making reservations, word processing, etc, which will increase your hourly rate. You can work for multiple staffing agencies to increase your odds of steady employment, and better staffing agencies also try to help you find temp-to-perm assignments. Just a thought.

  8. I know tons of Americans and new visa restrictions make it almost impossible to get a job in the UK right now. Look for international companies who understand your qualifications.

    Also, are you religious by any chance? The American Church in London is full of Americans who work in the kind of companies that would hire you.

    1. It might be harder as a graduate. I found it difficult (for me impossible actually – but others might have more luck) to relocate internationally in my first year out of university without ending up doing non-graduate work. So I tried to pick work in my home country that would make it easier long term, learnt languages and made careful choices, and then every time I changed jobs I applied again. (It’s just as hard to get into America as the UK!).

      Once I moved out of the ‘graduate unknown’ category into ‘skilled in a shortage area’ visas and relocation moved from impossible to easy(-ish). It may not apply for you, LW, but I just wanted to offer some reassurance that it is worth persisting.

  9. Maybe I’m just crazy, but…..I have at many points in my life found my menial jobs to be incredibly good for my mental health. My high school job, which involved doing everything no one else in a restaurant wanted to do gave me a safe place to go full of people who I had no problem getting along with. It was a whole little haven of support! Separate from my high-pressure school and any need to keep up with it, I could just joke around, dish out food scrub things, and this doing my job thing somehow made people like me, and I didn’t have to worry about what more I could do. It was menial, my job was concrete open and shut, I knew when I was finished with each task, and it balanced out things like writing papers that I could always edit just a little bit more.

    The same was true of most of my university jobs, they were work, but they were also places where I didn’t have to deal with the pressure of school, and where I liked people. I’m not saying it wasn’t often a drag, or that I loved lifting and organizing heavy boxes for a pittance, or that every day I wouldn’t rather have stayed home and get paid than go to work and get paid. But the truth is that it was better for me emotionally to go than it would have been for me to stay home.

    Now that’s not the case for everyone! Sometimes you really do need to not work to make enough time to get through the everything else you need to do, and that is fine too. It’s not a magic cure. But I think jobs can be good for you, mentally, not just resume fillers. And I think it’s easier in some ways to make a menial job good for you, if you don’t have a terrible supervisor, because you can find little silly ways of making it more fun. Rubber band war in the filing room, squirt bottle fight when cleaning.

    1. Oh my god, I agree with this 100%. The job I’m currently doing is “menial” and often dirty and gross and physically strenuous, doesn’t pay well, has zero social cachet, and didn’t require me to have my fancy B.A. to get hired. In fact, it doesn’t even really require a high-school degree. It’s also the only job I’ve ever had for more than about three months that makes me feel less crazy, rather than more. I could’ve written this:

      “[. . .] gave me a safe place to go full of people who I had no problem getting along with. It was a whole little haven of support! [. . .] I could just joke around, dish out food scrub things, and this doing my job thing somehow made people like me, and I didn’t have to worry about what more I could do. It was menial, my job was concrete open and shut, I knew when I was finished with each task, and it balanced out things like writing papers that I could always edit just a little bit more.”

      (Especially “this doing my job thing somehow made people like me”! Dude! It is amazing to me that at this job, all I have to do to feel interpersonally okay is… my work. That’s it. Nowhere else in my life is that simple. People appreciate that I show up on time every day and do my part to help the shift run smoothly. It’s so uncomplicated and comforting.)

      I love those things about this job. And other people don’t often acknowledge that there are actually PERKS to doing this sort of work, that it’s not always oh-grit-your-teeth-and-do-this-dumb-job-because-you-need-the-money/work-history. So thanks for this comment. 🙂

    2. I would like to second this: I work a menial job on campus. The work is not hard and I’m surrounded by people I enjoy being around. I have big problems with depression if I dont get out of the house, and there have been lots of times where I’m feeling down and work makes me feel competent and like I belong in a group of generally cool people.

      That being said I’ve also had terrible jobs with people who are mean and make me feel stupid, so definitely find a place with a good attitude and don’t be afraid to leave a job if its bad for you mentally.

    3. This is so true! Possibly my favorite job ever was part-time in the university dining hall, making/serving fast food, washing dishes and scraping food waste for just above minimum wage. I knew what we had to do and why, and I was good at it. (No one can make a sandwich faster than I can! I won that race every time.) My coworkers were awesome and we had the best camaraderie. During the dinner rush we’d poll the customers with the ‘question of the day’ like, “What’s your favorite color?” or “what’s your favorite Disney movie?” and take bets on the winners. During slow times we’d play 6 Degrees of Freedom and another similar movie game. Once we realized we could get away with a lot, we’d pick a customer at random and refuse to give them their sandwich until they answered a riddle. At the end of the night we could take home all the leftovers we could carry. Good times.

      1. Ooooh, I love that polling! I wish I’d heard that idea before I started my actually professional job, that would be so much fun! We did have questions we answered all day (my two favorites were what sort of animal we would be if we could choose were animal-ness and what superpowers we would pick) but we never got customers involved!

    4. YES! Anything that lets my hands work while my mind does its own thing is a huge break for me from the kind of work that I normally do, and love, but which is mentally and emotionally taxing in very specific ways.

      I recommend menial or manual jobs highly, especially if you’re already in school or some other kind of highly mentally taxing pursuit and just need something to take mental/physical/financial pressure off.

      And I’ve met some of the best people in those jobs, too.

    5. Yes, this! What’s also wonderful is the confidence boost that comes from accomplishing something and getting paid for it.

  10. Also, getting a job is good because it gives you greater versatility in the world and your life than just studying. The career you think you want in college very frequently turns out to be something you don’t enjoy doing that much once you get up to the point of being paid to do it all the time, and the skills you develop at work-that-is-not-school will give you flexibility and fall-back positions if this happens. When I decided academia was not for me, I parlayed my work tutoring high school into a full time private-school gig, then when I realized, some years later, that I was done with all institutionally housed forms of teaching, I opened my own business, drawing on the years I’d spent working retail, which I’d done both in the year between college and grad school, to pay the rent and put food on the table while I was getting my applications done, and then during grad school, to keep myself in yarn when my stipend didn’t stretch that far. Now I use a lot of my mad research and teaching skillz in my full-time work as a bookseller and boss-lady, so it all works out.

    1. I wrote it in 1993 on a Brother Word Processor and any surviving copy is somewhere in my parents’ house in Massachusetts, but it was a good paper (I think) and really interesting to write.

      I found a whole bunch of published diaries and letters from wives of officials and soldiers and found that a common thing was “trouble with servants” and got fascinated with the way that it meant that they were always performing, even in the most intimate spaces of their homes, and the ways they were also totally dependent on people that they understood nothing about. MacMillan might give you a good basic starting point, I think I read her and then trolled her index.

  11. After I graduated I couldn’t find a career type job so I took a bunch of part-time jobs while I looked. I ended up finding a job as an event host in a bookstore and it was awesome and perfect for me (even though it had nothing to do with my career type job that I now have.) But it was easy and I was good at it; I was surrounded by interesting and intelligent people and I got to meet all kinds of authors,

    And it was the best antidote to the “nobody wants to hire me!!!!!!!” angst of job hunting, because it was goal orientated and I could accomplish things and then get praised for accomplishing them. So maybe keep an eye out for a job that’ll be particularly attractive to you – working at a zoo or in a museum or a job where it’s very easy to reach goals and you’ll find immense satisfaction in that – but don’t stress too much about finding any job. Aim for a part time job that’s not going to add to your stress but will (most of the time) be an escape from everything else, even if it’s not a traditional escape.

  12. So I’m currently studying extramurally and working in a job that is in my field of study and totally amazingly satisfying and I love it. You know what it took to make that happen?

    A natural fucking disaster.

    The first time I tried the workforce thing I worked in a supermarket. That was my first job, helping out in the bakery department, and then the service deli which also occasionally meant covering the seafood department, and sometimes in the chilled foods and once in produce. Then my second job was making sandwiches at a cafe. Then my third job was Subway. My field of study back then was Classical Studies. Now, it’s Social Policy and Māori Studies. On the surface of it, those jobs seem like they were completely pointless, but they weren’t – at the supermarket and Subway I had to deal with customers. At the cafe I was responsible for the sandwiches, which meant I had to keep track of inventory because if something ran out, ohhhhh fuck that wasn’t good, suddenly we can’t sell our sandwiches. (I also had to train someone to do that job, which was another handy thing to learn to do – coincidentally she now works for the same organisation as I do though in a different area.) And working Christmas Eve in a supermarket bakery? That is quite the learning experience. Apparently there are people who wait until Christmas is SIX HOURS AWAY to buy a Christmas cake. It’s not like these things have a short shelf life! And they will get pissed off if it turns out that, oops, you’ve sold out of Christmas cakes because everyone fucking wants one.

    So, yes, I definitely agree that those low end jobs can be really useful, and it is HARD to find a job you can do while you study that is directly applicable to the career you hope to have.

    One thing that might be good to do to make your CV awesome is to try to find more detailed articles etc about jazzing it up – not the standard ones that have the plainfacts advice about how to format it and shit, but tips to make it stand out. Also, ask your teachers, if they were in charge of hiring at a company in the field you want to work in/they teach in, what would they look for in a CV? (If you have any contacts that actually are responsible for hiring, in any field, ask them too, because theory and practice are different.) Figure out what your strengths are and how to highlight them. Pick out anything you can use as an example from your schooling or any previous jobs you’ve had. Figure out what your flaws are and how you can work on them or reframe them so they don’t sound so terrible. This doesn’t necessarily mean working, either – if you think over everyone’s advice and decide that actually, you don’t want to get a job right now, you can do this on your own time.

    When I leave this job (again) and finish my schooling I’m going to be in a tough place because I can’t actually use those first three jobs as any kind of reference. I actually had a nervous breakdown when I was still working at the supermarket and then kept moving on, re-burning out, and moving again. Those bridges are thoroughly burned. So in effect I have to spin my schooling and the job I have now in a really great way to make up for the enormous blank spot where other people were Doing Things. It’s nerve-wracking and sort of terrifying and I can definitely empathise with you, LW, but it can be done. One thing you get when you have to struggle through shit is life experience and that can really never be over-valued.

    1. Chris, as someone who hires people and who also gives references when former employees move on to new jobs, I would advise you not to treat those jobs as a blank spot if that experience is relevant to the job you’re looking for. Spin them the way you need to so you can explain the things you just said here about what you gained from them; if asked, be honest, positive, and brief about why you left those jobs (but don’t volunteer! your potential employer is going to be assuming that those were the kinds of jobs that ran their course anyway), and then use your current work and school contacts for references. Checking references is a pain so it comes late in the process: this means employers generally don’t check references unless they have other evidence that they’d like to hire you. Most of the time they’re looking for someone who can tell them that their positive impression of you in the interview will be sustained over time in the workplace–and they want to talk to someone whose experience of you is fresh.

      1. Yeah last time I actually applied for a job (the one I have now I literally turned up to volunteer and got handed a contract, they were sort of desperately short-handed) I mentioned my previous jobs etc, they knew I was coming off a sickness benefit for mental health reasons and were cool with that, and then they actually checked with those jobs and went “yeah, actually, we’re changing our minds now, sorry.” I will have the advantage later that I’m making a lot of new contacts now at my job and school which will be more relevant references, and the organisation I work for has a MASSIVELY good reputation, especially in this city but also across the country and internationally.

        Some of that time was *actually* a blank space though – I think there was about four years off and on when I did nothing at all, maybe longer.

  13. LW, I’m not sure if you are at uni for post-grad or undergrad work but I think, as a note of caution, it is worthwhile being aware that the UK uni system is in general really, really badly set up to support students who wish to work while they study. You may be lucky and be at a uni that has its act together in this regard but if you are not you do need to be aware that the statistics suggest that UK undergraduates who take a job while they study generally end up with a degree classification one grade lower than they would have done if they hadn’t had a job (i.e., your first becomes a 2(i), your 2(i) becomes a 2(ii) etc.). I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t get a job, but you should take a proper look at the actual number of hours per week your needs to put in to your studies in order to do well and then make sure the job you get isn’t going to interfere with that. You may want to look at jobs you can do in the Easter or Summer holidays rather than part time work you can do during term time. These are often jobs which are more varied than the standard shelf-stacking/bar work you can manage during term time and you may find there is something that interests you more available at those times. Similarly doing a job for a few concentrated weeks, rather than long term may seem less daunting and help you get over that hump. If you are doing post-grad work then look hard to see what kind of tutoring or demonstrating work your department has to offer – this is easier in the sciences than in the arts – but there is often something going.

    1. Hi – I’m not sure where you got that statistic from, but the majority of my friends who went to uni here in the UK worked alongside their course and did absolutely fine, so please don’t unnecessarily spook the LW!

      1. I’ll admit I no longer recall where I picked up the statistic, but when I was acting as personal tutor to undergraduates there were 10-20% each year that I felt were under-performing academically compared to their apparent ability and where I had concerns that a factor in their poor performance appeared to be lack of time and/or energy to devote to their studies – this included in some cases skipping lectures, tutorials and lab sessions – because of outside commitments to work. Most unis do not have good systems in place for part time study and make the assumption that full time study involves an investment of 30-40 hours a week, made up of face-to-face time, coursework and independent reading. While that leaves time for work in evenings and weekends a student who, say, puts in three evenings of bar work and a full weekend of work in a supermarket every week is unlikely to be leaving themselves enough time and energy to apply their full ability to their studies. A student who’s working a couple of evening in a bar and leaving their weekend free, or working one day at the weekend but leaving their evenings free I would be less concerned about. But the practice of a lot of Americans I know who hold down a couple of jobs while also studying at uni would be very unwise in most UK universities. Like I say, the LW should first check out how much time her studies require and then budget time for working accordingly. Similarly if she’s cruising for a first she can afford to take more time out of study for earning money, on the other hand if she’s anywhere near the dreaded 2(i)/2(ii) borderline then she needs to invest all the time she needs to keeping above that boundary if at all possible.

        1. I agree that having to work outside can affect people’s studies, and it’s counter-productive to be working to put yourself through school if you’re not succeeding at school! You have your whole life to work, and a short, beautiful, limited time to be a student so if you can enjoy it to the fullest than do so.

          Speaking from being in the USA: Grades matter if you’re going to graduate school. They matter for certain scholarships and grant opportunities and internships while you are in school. GPA might matter to you psychologically and might be motivating. But if you’re going straight from university to the work force and staying there, grades mostly don’t matter as long as they are above a certain threshhold and you’re graduating on time and keeping up with your classes. The difference between a “B” average and an “A” average is completely marginal. Many programs and classes grade on a curve, so unless you’re really outside the curve you’re not getting an “A” anyway.

          College throws a lot of challenges at people, and time management and prioritization is part of that cluster of challenges. It’s more than okay if some of your learning is “How do I do this stuff at a ‘pretty good/good enough’ level so that I can be excellent at the stuff I really care about?” I’m all for excellence, but “Good enough, done by the deadline” is a good skill to pick up in life, in work, in study.

          1. I’m never quite sure how GPA maps onto the UK system (in theory it should be straightforward but I think there are enough oddities in both systems to make it difficult). As a general rule (and unfair as it often is) a lot employers assume a student with a 2(ii) or a third is lazy and/or stupid where a student with a 2(i) or better will be intelligent and at least moderately hard working – this is employers recruiting straight from the new graduate pool – the further from graduation you are, the less important your degree will be. Those are, of course, sweeping generalisations (e.g., a significant number of employers are dubious about the benefits of university at all) and where, exactly, those classification boundaries lie and how they are calculated will vary from university to university. However if the LW is hoping to rapidly get some kind of work in the UK, which fits within the ever-shifting immigration rules, following graduation then I’d say a priority would be getting at least a 2(i). LW needs to know the expectations and rules of her university and then budget her time accordingly.

    2. Spot on. And to add to the UK specific advice, check your university’s/funding body’s regulations and find out whether or not there are restrictions on the number of hours you are allowed to undertake employed work. I know that at Oxford and Cambridge they restrict undergraduates to 8 hours per week during term time to make sure students can keep up with the intensive study required, and AHRC (one of the main UK govt funding bodies) PhD funding comes with hourly restrictions on paid work for similar reasons, so make sure you won’t get into trouble or compromise any grants.

      I second Purple Cat’s advice about summer jobs often being a better option than working through term in the UK especially as the semester system is different. Lots of shops and bars take on temps over the Christmas break, and there are often interesting summer jobs and internships aimed at undergraduates thinking about X career, which are advertised through uni careers departments. If you do want term time work and think working on campus would suit you then that’s usually done through the Students Union.

      1. Yep to this.

        My undergrad course in Sheffield limited me to 15 hrs a week tops of paid work during term-time. I found a sweet, sweet job working 7 hours a week in the HR dept of my Students’ Union. By the end of my two years I was thoroughly sick of filing and shredding and envelope stuffing but I got paid ~£7/h, which is way above the minimum wage. My dept also paid me for doing things like tour guiding for UCAS Open Days once or twice a term. It all helped, and they were understanding about exams and essays etc and it was nice to do something with small, achievable goals. In terms of jobs related to the field I thought I wanted to go into, I saved those for my summer holidays. You get time devoted entirely to the thing you want to do, without stressing over uni work.

        In terms of shaking the feeling like you need a job in order to make future employers love you and because it’s the grown-up thing to do, well yes, maybe it is those things. BUT if you can’t find the energy because ‘blergh’ maybe it is as the Captain (?) said it’s a sign you still need to take it easy. You said you have ‘things *MORE* under control’. That maybe doesn’t mean it’s going to be unicorns and rainbows and glitter in the motivational department. So maybe just focusing on the jobs you really want will help? With maybe a side order of hunting for a very part-time typical student job to help with the funds?

    3. Seconding this. We don’t quite have the cultural idea of working to “put yourself through university” so much here (which is not to say people don’t do it) – partly because if you qualify for student loans, they’re a good deal with low interest and which you don’t have to pay back unless your income is above a set minimum. It depends what university you’re at and whether they follow a three term or two semester structure, but I know that some places – Oxford and Cambridge come to mind – explicitly warn against students having jobs during term time (though holiday work is another matter). But then, the Oxford and Cambridge terms specifically are only 8 weeks long, so there’s an expectation that you should be really concentrating on your studies throughout that period.

    4. It also might depend on the program; certainly if you are doing a science or engineering undergrad degree, you should go through at least one semester without working to see how you do, and should probably stick to only working during the summer. Depending on the specifics, the extra money from working is a terrible trade-off when compared with the cost of repeating a failed class.

    5. I agree, with the reservations that have been pointed out below. Your priority as a student needs to be getting the best degree you can do. If working is good for your mental health or stress levels, or just downright necessary, do it. But don’t feel you have to do so

    6. I’m a UK careers adviser, and it really, really depends on the institution. I work at a widening participation university (ie. one with a big commitment to social mobility and a lot of first-generation students – this is all UK jargon, I don’t know what the US jargon equivalent is!) and we expect our students to have part-time jobs and a lot of our work in the careers service is about helping UK, EU and international students get part-time jobs.

      Not least because, as the Captain says, those kind of part-time jobs make a huge difference to your employment outcomes after uni. If you’re coming from a less-privileged background, then the work experience you get from your part-time job is even more important to show employers what you can do.

  14. Hiya, I’m a US immigrant to the UK so I thought I’d chime in on the second part of LW’s post, the part about wanting to stay in the UK:

    I’m sorry, it’s most likely not going to work out.

    They did away with the Post-Study Work visa last year which was similar to a Tier 1 (highly skilled migrant) visa in that you could apply for any job and stay for two years after graduating without having to qualify for all of the points needed to get a Tier 1. They also closed the Tier 1 visa, the one where you prove you have Mad Skills, Yo through a combination of being well-educated, young, and having pulled down a large salary. It’s not available for you.

    That leaves the Tier 2 visa (which is *not* a “path to settlement”), where a specific company sponsors you after first proving that no-one in the UK or the EU has the qualifications they need to fill the position. Given that your qualifications will be that of every other graduate from your program (plus or minus your work experience) you can see why I’m less than optimistic about your chances.

    There is a third option, switching to a spouse/civil partner/unmarried partner visa. I emphatically *do* *not* recommend taking this route unless you genuinely feel you have met and established a long-term, committed relationship with a person with whom you wish to spend the rest of your life. Most UK uni courses last 3 years and it sounds like you’re in the second year so unless you are already living with someone in a state akin to marriage (and have physical proof documenting the relationship such as bills/bank statements/council tax addressed to each of you at the same residence) you won’t meet the two years’ cohabitation requirements before your current visa expires. If you do marry/enter a civil partnership with a British citizen, you will need a combined income of £18,600 (plus, of course, the visa fees) to qualify. Again, this option is only if you genuinely feel yourself ready to make a life-time commitment to another person and not something to do with a willing friend so that you can stay. Apart from the challenges of marriage, there would still be years and years of hoops to jump through and uncertainty about your future.

    That’s the bad news; there is good news! You are a rock star. You moved to a foreign country where everything is slightly different and you are thriving! That is no small achievement. A lot of people can’t handle the relentless of dealing with things that Aren’t What You’re Used To. It’s not easy. It’s like being a kindergartener again and having to learn everything about the world around you all over and adult brains aren’t as resilient as those of a 5yo. This plus the normal challenges of moving away from home, meeting all new people and, of course, acquiring a Uni education. These things that you’re learning, not just formally but about yourself and the world around you? They don’t leave you if you leave where you learned them. They’re part of you and you take them with you where-ever you go. Maybe you move back to where you came from and realize that the change was you, not the scenery. You’re your own person there, sociable and witty, too. Maybe you move to an entirely different place – you’re from a small town? You move to a big city. You’re from the east coast? You move to the west. You’re not looking for a good-enough job in the place where you are, you’re looking for your dream job and your next adventure.

    Given the current political climate, it’s probably not going to be in the UK but that’s okay because the awesome you discovered is you. Enjoy the time you have here, mourn this dream when you’re ready, and let yourself dream other dreams.

    Good luck!

    PS – remember your visa says how many hours/week you can work. Do not go over this number of hours. This is not how many hours you can get paid for, it’s how many hours you can work.

    1. The LW doesn’t say she’s from the US, so the visa requirements might be totally different, and you also have no idea what field she’s in. I’m letting this through with trepidation and a SHAKER OF SALT.

      1. LW said she needs a visa to stay therefore she’s non-EU and these rules apply to all immigrants. There is a Tier 5 visa “temporary worker” visa which includes athletes, actors, musicians, entertainers, religious or charity workers, and “youth mobility” workers (for certain commonwealth countries) but these are all temporary visas, usually around 6 months.

        From UKBA (United Kingdom Border Agency)’s website:

        tier 1: there is a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur program with 1000 spaces open a year for “exceptional talent”:
        The limit of 1,000 places is divided equally between participating institutions, (these must be highly trusted sponsors under Tier 4, or A rated Tier 2 and 5 sponsors if a Tier 2 and 5 sponsor licence is held) up to a maximum of 10 endorsements per institution, to qualify institutions must confirm that: they wish to take part; and that they have established processes and competence for identifying, nurturing and developing entrepreneurs among their undergraduate and postgraduate population.
        The other Tier 1 categories are either closed or require liquid assets that someone on student loans and scholarships is unlikely to have or be of “exceptional talent” beyond that of a recent graduate and, again, all tier 1 categories are capped at 1000/year.

        Tier 2: You can apply if you are Assigned a certificate of sponsorship, because:

        * the job has an annual salary of £150,000 or more;
        * the job is on the shortage occupation list;
        * your sponsor has completed a resident labour market test (or an exemption applies); or
        * you want to extend your stay and continue working in the same job for the same employer

        There are a few “other categories” such as those for bringing over one’s domestic servants (again for up to 6 months).

        And here’s the information for Partners and Families.

        I know that you don’t know me from anyone and I don’t blame you for not trusting my information. I am in no way a legal professional or advocate, but I do have specific knowledge about the Tier 4 system and UK immigration in general.

    2. I know, I’ve been following it, and doing as much as I can in terms of writing to politicians and pestering everyone I know to do the same. Most of the people I know (EU or British, obviously) have had no idea that this was going on before I told them.

      I’ve been trying to get myself as many options for after I graduate as possible. I have dual US/Aus citizenship, so I have the possibility of applying for the Youth Mobility Scheme, which, while I know I’ll have to go home for a bit to sort things out and doesn’t apply towards more permanent arrangements, gives me a couple years to meet more people and work more. I’ve also started talking to my academic adviser about potentially applying to grad school sooner rather than later. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do because I love school way too much, and right now I have easy contact with people who have gone through it in the same field.

      1. Have you considered Australia at all, since you have the dual citizenship? As an American now living in Melbourne, hopefully permanently, it’s pretty great–and also similarly different to the US as the UK is.

        1. While I think at the moment it’s hard to be confident in any economy for more than a couple of months, Australia’s employment market is pretty good for job hunters, relative to a lot of countries.

          1. I’ve found this to be pretty true, too. I really struggled to find work in the US, and while it hasn’t been quite as easy as getting the first job I’ve applied for here, it’s been much easier overall. To other youngish Americans who want a taste of life outside the US, I would definitely reccomend looking at Australia. A work and holiday visa is reasonably inexpensive, lets you stay here for a year, and gives you (almost) full work rights. Since apparently the UK is a lot harder than I realized to get any long-term stay in, it’s a nice other option for someone who wants it.

            Damn, though, I didn’t realize they were so tight on their immigration policy right now!

        2. Living in Australia has always been something I wanted to do, since my mum always missed it terribly and we would have moved when I was a teenager if money had been better. I’m trying to stay in the UK right now since a few of my options are dependent on me being in my 20s, and because I’ve built up a social circle I’m not ready to leave yet. But for the past year I’ve been saying, “I’m going to Australia whenever the UK kicks me out.”

          1. It’s pretty sweet, plus you don’t have to deal with all these young migrant things (I hear you on the age-specific visas–I was on one until two weeks ago!). Good luck with the UK business, I do hope it turns out how you want it even though it looks like they’re even harder to deal with than Australia is for visas.

      2. The really dumb part about the current immigration rules is that they rely on keeping out Brits who are currently abroad and forcing out Brits who are currently there to get the “net migration” numbers down. That’s how anti-immigration the current government is.

        And if you can do the working holiday thing for a few years, Scotland might succeed in devolving and will be able to actively court migrants again.

    3. I’m going to second this information, whole-heartedly. I’ve been in the LW’s position — finding myself in the UK, finally feeling vibrant, attractive (srsly: more men like me in the UK, it’s a sad fact), happy. But I wasn’t able to get a visa (I have a British parent, but don’t qualify for citizenship — huge disappointment, trust me), and wasn’t willing to find a fake relationship to stay (as a friend of mine successfully did). I even met with an immigration lawyer to go over my options. No go. So I know how much the prospect of leaving sucks.

      But in addition the Captain’s wonderful advice, I would advise you discuss this very topic with your therapist, and work on solutions for the worst case scenario. Tying our happiness and sense of well-being to a geographic location that we have no guarantee of living in long term is dangerous. While I’m fairly happy now, I still have some grief about not being able to live in the UK permanently. I still hold hope for the long term, but have to function in my every day life in the U.S., whether I like it or not.

      So work on a happiness plan for the worst case scenario of returning home. What is it that you’ve found and are doing in the UK that you could replicate at home? What can you do after you graduate to put you on a path to going back? (if you get high enough in your chosen career path, you may be able to satisfy those visa requirements, or find a company willing to support your visa as a transfer; ie a company or organization with a UK branch who can justify your visa) Also, consider looking for FT jobs/visa in EU countries whose requirements are not as stringent as the UK. If you are able to become an EU citizen down the line, you’d be able to move the UK eventually.

      Oh, additional tidbit, in case no one else mentioned it: one very cool part time job you could look into, especially if you are in London, is being a tour guide. A friend of mine did this whilst attending King’s College — she led walking tours through London. It was flexible hours and paid decently (considering).

      1. Just a quick note seconding the suggestion of other EU countries. I currently live in Amsterdam, a very internationally-oriented city which happily welcomes foreigners with open arms – so, although I’m an EU citizen and hopped over here with no bureaucratic obstacles whatsoever, I know plenty of Americans and Canadians who faced only a few additional hoops to jump through to get in. You’d have to actually apply and qualify for Dutch citizenship to actually use that route to get back into the UK, but I just thought I’d point out that, if you’re not keen on going home, there’s a whole world out there to explore.

    4. >>That leaves the Tier 2 visa (which is *not* a “path to settlement”), where a specific company sponsors you after first proving that no-one in the UK or the EU has the qualifications they need to fill the position. Given that your qualifications will be that of every other graduate from your program (plus or minus your work experience) you can see why I’m less than optimistic about your chances.

      This isn’t quite correct, as I understand it – the new Tier 2 for people who’ve studied in the UK doesn’t have the “prove nobody in the EU can do it” restriction. You have to be sponsored by a company or organisation which is registered with UKBA, and it has to be a graduate job and the salary has to be over £20k, but there isn’t any “nobody else can do it” requirement.

      The £20k bit is adjustable for the sector, although really sectors that pay less than £20k for a graduate job probably don’t recruit graduates straight out of university.

      I’m a UK careers adviser, so I’ve been looking up this recently to do information sessions for international students. Not a visa specialist so happy to be corrected, but as far as I’m aware the Tier 2 for graduates, whilst not nearly as good as the old Tier 4 PSW, is slightly better than the usual Tier 2 route.

      1. From the official guidance there’s this:

        Click to access tier2-guidance.pdf

        Post-study Work
        86.You will be awarded 30 points if you have a Certificate of Sponsorship and are are applying to switch into Tier 2 (General) and you have or had last been granted leave to enter or remain under one of the following:
        • Tier 1: Post Study category; or
        • Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland Scheme; or
        • International Graduate Scheme (or its predecessor, the Science and Engineering
        Graduate Scheme).
        Your sponsor will only be exempt from undertaking a resident labour market test if you
        have current leave in one of the above categories on the date of your application. If you
        do not have current leave on the date your application is submitted your sponsor will have
        to meet the appropriate resident labour market test requirements.

        All three of those visas, PSW, Fresh Talent, and IGS are closed. As an aside, PSW was a tier 1, not a tier 4. The only Tier 2s listed are General, Intra-Company Transfer (which has a recent graduate component, but it’s for someone hired by a company in a foreign country who is coming to the UK for a training period), Minister, and Sportsperson.

        Can you link me to what you’re looking at?

  15. You know what’s less stressful than a real job and still gives you ridiculous amounts of relevant skills? Running a society. Societies are also good for your mental health (unless rooms full of people make you panic), since instead of moping you have to go walrus-polishing or whatever or everyone will be disappointed, and then you have fun (and a shiny walrus). And even if all you do is look after the walrus polish or sit at a meeting occasionally, it is instant CV polish!

    Since you’re in the UK, you have an academic supervisor, who you could hit up for CV advice. Also hit them up for those sweet mitigating circumstances forms if you haven’t already, because being able to redo exams at a less stressful time has been a lifesaver for so many people I know.

    Of course, if you do decide to work, there are lots of places that are used to students and their studenty hours, if you find places where they already take on a whole bunch you might have more success fitting it around your degree.

  16. I’d absolutely second all the advice about going to your uni Careers Service. Those people are GREAT and will be able to give you really useful advice. Additionally, lots of universities now have specific work programmes – I work for a UK university and our students can do work placements as part of their (non-vocational) degrees, they can work as paid mentors in schools, do paid internships within the university, etc.

    However, I’d definitely agree that if you don’t financially HAVE to work it’s important to avoid burnout. Our undergraduates are expected to work the equivalent of 40 hours a week on their studies – this works out less per week if you factor in study done during the holidays, but it does still mean that a degree is intended to be the equivalent of a full-time job. I have lots of students who’ve successfully balanced work and study, but it can be difficult, and you certainly shouldn’t feel guity about not having a job if you can afford not to.

    The current visa situation is hideous, but remember that even if you have to return to your home country after your studies that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck there forever. You can still apply for jobs in the UK when you’re back home, and the fact that you’re still keen even though you’re out of the country will show you’re committed. Lots of employers now will do Skype interviews for at least the first round.

    Finally, do make sure you talk to the international office in your university and make sure none of the work you do invalidates your visa. Again, you obviously know this, but it’s very apparent from where I’m sitting that this is becoming ever more crucial.

  17. LW, Can I make a couple of suggestions for things that might be useful to you?

    First is volunteering. Check out do-it.org.uk – it’s a job ad site just for volunteer vacancies in the UK. In my area there’s been voluntary positions with the wildlife trust, archaeological dig sites, mentoring, as well as your standard charity shop jobs. If you don’t specifically need the money, volunteering looks GREAT on your CV, and depending on what you’re studying you might find some volunteer work that matches up with your desired future career. It can also be very rewarding.

    if you’re open to a range of menial work, can I recommend signing up with a temp agency, if there’s one in your area that’ll accept students? It cuts out the motivation-to-look-for-work thing, because they text you when they have something they think you’ll want. It makes working around school schedules easier, because you tell them your available hours and say yes/no to the jobs they offer based on whether you’re available. The work isn’t guaranteed or regular, but you can take 1-2 day jobs, weekend work etc term time and then hop into month-long temp contracts during the holidays.

    1. I was just about to suggest volunteering! In my experience, it tends to be more rewarding than the job you got because you needed a job, as you get to do something you’re really into with a ton of people who are also really into it. It can also be easier to tailor it to the hours you want to/can work which is going to be vital if your degree becomes a huge time-suck, as they tend to do.

      Temp agencies are also great – a lot of my student friends have had great success with catering agencies because they can do a day when they have a light week and earn some extra cash without committing themselves to working when they need to be focusing on their degree.

    2. I was just about to chime in on this! The odds that you could find something matching your skill set/more related to what you’re aiming to do long-term may be a little higher than if you’re applying for part-time paid work, and even if you do end up doing standard entry-level office work or similar, you’ll maybe have the warm fuzzies of knowing you’re doing it in service of a cause you care about, and you’ll be making connections to people who are in a field you’re interested in. Which is useful a) for the potential reference/bullet point on your resume later and b) for leads later on. You can keep your ear to the ground and learn about new opportunities in the organization or related ones.

      And, in case I’m sounding a little too cynical, it’s a lovely way to just make new friends and help you feel a little bit more like a part of your community. For all that my use of “warm fuzzies” may sound a bit disparaging, seriously, do not underestimate the effect on one’s mood of knowing one’s doing something: a Jewish GLBT social group I’m involved with does a lot with an org aimed at supporting area sex workers (passing out safe sex kits, screenings, counseling and support groups, etc). Living in a state with a pretty atrocious record on a lot of the race, class, and gender issues involved in the sex trade, it’s a huge morale booster for me to be able to do something practical. And when I was underemployed, unable to afford much in the way of going out with my friends or to meet new people, and too depressed to be very motivated to do that even if I could afford it, it was great way to get out of myself for awhile and feel connected to the world, as I said earlier.

      Plus we had wine at everything we did, that was great too.

  18. Thank you Captain Awkward and everyone else for your advice.

    My reason for not wanting café/fast food work is because I worked in a bagel shop over my gap year and ended up with my back in horrible pain every night. So I keep telling myself “no, don’t apply for those jobs,” but jerkbrain keeps going “you awful person, you’d already have a job by now if you applied for more café/fast food jobs.”

    I’m studying music so there aren’t a ton of jobs for that. I signed up to volunteer at a one-day music festival, and I’m thinking I should look for more things like that. I’ve also ended up helping a friend with band promotion so hopefully with more of these I could look for work in concert management and promotion.

    1. Yeah, don’t hurt yourself!

      So, you study music. Composition? Performance? Do you want to be a teacher?

      The band promotion stuff is a GREAT idea. As a performer, you are going to be a small business owner of You, Inc. – so will have to do freelancing, social media, promotions, accounting, budgeting, logistics. planning, etc. Maybe keep doing that, pick up some skills in photography and graphic design, and come out with a list of promotions you’ve done and sample work.

      Maybe one more step toward employment is talking to musicians who do what you do but are a few years ahead of where you are – what skills do they need to do their jobs? What do they wish they’d done when they were your age?

      Maybe start interviewing your musician heroes for the school or local publications and build up some clips that way?

      Lots of ways to skin this cat. Don’t hurt yourself and wear yourself down if you’re not up to physical labor right now.

    2. Definitely don’t do anything that could hurt you!

      But yes, please do check out co-it.org.uk for more volunteer stuff, and try temp agencies if/when you feel you need money – maximum flexibility, and you just say no to any work offered that you can’t/won’t do for any reason.

      If you’re studying music then volunteering could definitely be good. Even if you don’t find a job, you could offer to play music for free at local care homes, or if you don’t play yourself you could start an organisation/club/thing at your uni and organise volunteer opportunities for student musicians.

    3. Does your uni have a music library? Mine did. I worked there for a year and a half. It was awesome. Some of it was just regular reshelving blah, but I also was one of the ones who would put new materials into the system — which meant I got to see all the new CDs before anyone else had a chance to check them out.

      And yeah, don’t look for jobs that actually physically hurt you. Finding enough time for coursework can be tricky enough without having to deal with that.

    4. Would you be interested in teaching music? My baby sister does this and gets paid £15 an hour for really not very much work. I also tutored last year (www.tutorhunt.com is pretty great) which is, again, good money for not too much effort. And hugely rewarding, as well as relevant if you do want to go into teaching. Even if you don’t, you’ve picked up people skills, planning skills….

    5. Would running music sessions for young people in the context of a school or a community project or something be an idea? We run those kind of projects through our community engagement and volunteering team that sits in our careers department. Something like that could be brill, and would also make you very valuable to people in the music sector after you graduate.

    6. I went to a music-heavy college, so I have watched some friends climb the music ladder. It is a tough one, but it can be done! There have been some really good suggestions already. I’d add:

      Seconding the Captain on this one– if you like to write, is there a local or school paper that might be interested in the occasional article on the local music scene, or local artists? When you’re in an arts-related field, being able to communicate about your work to the public is a good skill. Someday there may be grant applications or websites or performance programs or even just inquisitive parents…

      Does your university run any music camps? It’s likely the wrong time of year for this, but I suggest it because it’s a short-term commitment way to find out whether you’d be interested in teaching or working with various age groups, without having to organize and plan it all yourself. If you aren’t interested in teaching, sometimes they need players to sit in the band/orchestra and play along, or people to help with administration. Seasonal festivals are also something to look into.

      Do any local music venues need someone to sell tickets or usher or help out backstage? Knowing how a theater works is really useful. Sort of like how every actor should work tech at least once, as a musician understanding how sound systems and lighting work is a good plan, as is knowing what goes on behind the scenes to make a show happen. Plus with ushering, a lot of times you get to see the show for free. Or sometimes it’s a volunteer/free show arrangement, which can still be a pretty good deal.

      In the end, though, I’d say go for whatever will meet your needs now, whatever you decide those are (and not being in physical pain, by the way, is a perfectly valid need). Many of my music friends worked at coffee shops or miscellaneous university jobs, and they were none the worse for wear. I think you’re doing great. Wishing you lots of luck!

  19. Oh, I feel you. Number one most important thing is that if you think adding a job to your schedule right now would be bad for your mental health, don’t do it.

    However, if you think you can handle it, it is an excellent idea in this economy. I finished up uni this year and spent the past few months looking at jobs and thinking “Oh, christ, I wish I had got some admin experience at some point”. So I’d recommend looking at picking up maybe just one day a week of office work. A good place to look might be charityjobs or the third sector, as due to lack of funding lots of charities and NGOs hire people for really low hours and are lovely environments to work in, and doing something for a worthwhile organisation will make you feel really good about yourself.

    Volunteering or having a part time job will be incredibly valuable on your CV, even if it isn’t related to your field, I absolutely promise you. Looking proactive and dedicated is really important and will set you apart from other candidates. I’ve just been offered a job in a homelessness shelter, which I have no experience of, but having a work history of volunteering in a couple of schools, with a political campaign, with a feminist group – all of which are barely relevant – made me look like someone who tries hard and puts a lot of effort into self-improvement, and ultimately that’s what employers want from you. So find something you’d enjoy and would make you feel good, even if it’s not directly related to your field.

  20. Other people have already said sensible & practical things about seeking work, and I don’t have anything to add in that area. However I thought this point was interesting, and didn’t seem to have been addressed:

    “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.”

    SUPER BIG DISCLAIMER I am not a lawyer, or anything like it. I’m a New Zealander who has been living in London for the last five years on an Ancestry visa who is currently trying to obtain Leave to Remain. So take everything I say with a grain of salt, because obviously I don’t know your specifics, but I have spent a lot of the last five years with people for whom ‘what visa are you on’ is about the third thing you ask a new acquaintance, and have spent the last year dealing with the nightmare that is the UK Border agency.

    Are you talking about Work Sponsorship? I know a few people who have been sponsored by their work, but they’re all working full time and were employed at those companies for 12-18 months before asking for sponsorship. If you’re not going to apply for Sponsorship, but try and transition your Student visa into Highly Skilled Migrant or just plain old Settlement then you need to find out if employment is considered relevant, or if it depends on the sector you’re working in. I recommend, as strongly as possible, that you start researching this now. The UKBA website is (to me) torturously difficult to navigate and understand, and made me delay sorting out an extension to my visa because I literally did not know what I needed to do. Their general enquiries line is not helpful because they aren’t allowed to anything that can be construed as specific advice (or that’s how it seems to me, I may have just been asking the wrong questions). BUT, you lucky dog, you’re at uni, and I’m sure there’s a strong international student presence on your campus which means there should be an international students services centre or similar. So talk to them, and they can either navigate the bureaucratic nightmare for you or give you advice on how best to steer yourself.

    Also worth keeping in mind is that changing from one visa to another will probably have to return to your home country for a short stay until your new application is processed and then re-enter the UK on your new visa. So in the back of your mind, you need to start adding up how much this will cost you and start squirreling cash away.

    I cannot even stress how horrible and panic-inducing the UKBA website is. I mean, I know I’ve already mentioned it, I just wanted to make the point again. I’m in the process of trying to get my passports back from them (which they’ve had FIVE MONTHS NOW) without withdrawing my application for settlement, and it has driven me to frustrated tears each time I’ve emailed/phoned/looked at the website.

    TL;DR? Hie thee to student services and find out exactly what you need to do to remain in the country. Sooner, rather than later, because the wheels of the Home Office grind oh so slow.

    1. The good news is that LW can switch from a Tier 4 (student) to a Tier 2 (highly skilled worker) visa or other such visa without leaving the country, as long as she does so before her current leave expires.

  21. Ugh, I’m sorry LW. What I also meant to say, and should have said first, is hey, I love the UK too! I too was not happy back home, and coming to London gave me the space to realise that what I was Not Happy with was myself, and I have made amazing and positive changes to said self and now, in my late 20s and five years here, am pretty happy with who I am, and I really hope that you’re having a similar experience. I really hope thngs work out for you, job or no.

  22. As someone who suffered through a long string of disappointing jobs in college here are two words that I did not properly understand the importance of while I was in college.
    Unpaid internship.
    If you don’t really NEED the money an internship can get you experience in a field you are interested in, look great on a resume, and definitely help get your foot in the door with that company after college.
    Also I had that same sort of ‘crummy job fatigue’ in college, after that string of disappointing jobs, I took a semester off, and then started looking for work in a place I really thought I would LOVE. I ended up at a great little bakery for the next two years. Totally worth the waiting it out a couple months.
    You don’t need to push yourself into a terrible work opportunity. Just make sure you have something to fit on your resume that fills in that gap and you’ll do fine. Even if it is just volunteer work, or something low-key at your university.

    1. My internship was honestly a godsend. (Also, it was paid, which was VERY exciting.) It got me contacts and experience in the field, and made my resume impressive enough that my grad school overlooked my less-stellar GPA on the strength of the recommendations I received. It’s a lot harder to get that kind of experience as an entry-level worker.

  23. Hmm, as someone who has a job that pays the bills but doesn’t fulfill my ~destiny~, that last part is superb advice. I have no idea how to package my skills. I have a degree, I did so much work in art school to become an illustrator, and I have a lot of skills I learned in and outside of class that could be applied to many jobs, but my school gave me no real advice on how to write a resume, or a cover letter, or give an interview, or even to apply to jobs. (Man, my school sucks. That’s sort of the whole point of college.) Sure we had one tiny course on being a professional artist, but on the first day when we watched a movie about some dude surviving for days alone on a mountain, I knew I wasn’t going to learn much. In fact it was geared at getting gallery work (barely), and didn’t teach me anything about trying to get illustrative work (a WHOOOOOOLE different field). We didn’t even have a career services department until after I graduated. So I’m definitely going to look into how I can best package my abilities, of which I’m sure there are many, so I can start applying to the jobs that really interest me. Ha, I thought it was just that I didn’t have any “real” skills” that could be brought into the workplace. Thanks, Cap!

  24. Class of ’08 here, I want to chime in with some experience being a young person looking for work in the recession. First, you should talk to someone your university’s career advising office. When I was in college I thought I was too passionate and special (or something, this was also before the economy tanked) to need mundane things like resume help. Spoiler alert: no one is so special they should turn down help getting good things in their life, like job hunting skills and opportunities to do internships etc. I’ve used my university’s career office as an alum and they have been incredibly helpful.

    Second, I would caution against doing things you hate but think you have to do to get a job you imagine you’ll love. Of course you’ll have to start low on the ladder and do plenty of grunt work, but be careful of mistaking hating your job with just paying your dues. Your boss probably does a lot of the same things you do, but with more responsibility. If you absolutely hate it now, having more responsibility for it is not going to make it more fun, and an opportunity is really not an opportunity if it’s for something you don’t want in the first place. Look for work that you at least won’t mind doing, as a good indicator that the opportunities it will lead to will be ones you’re excited about.

    And good luck!

    1. I can’t lie, I kind of love that guy. Stringer Bell was pretty great at running a criminal conspiracy, right? If not for poverty and institutionalized racism he’d have been in the fortune 500.

  25. Hmmm…. My university experience is different… while most people had jobs during the summer, very few did during the school year, and those who did try to work at the same time as taking courses invariably found their coursework suffering and their marks slipping. This was a fairly intense program, so I’m sure it just depends. But most of us had little time for anything but coursework and it was enough of a struggle to keep up even without competing priorities.

    In any case, do take stock of your school-related workload (including how it will change over the course of the semester) and be realistic about how much time is needed to do it well. It would be a waste to manage to get into the program you want only to find you can’t get the most out of it because you’re overextended.

    That said, owing money is kind of shitty so if you can realistically reduce your dependence on loans without hurting your academics, than I can totally see the benefit of that…

    If it’s more work experience you’re looking for, broaden your net to include volunteer work, getting involved in managing clubs, and unpaid internships. Many of those will also get you great experiences and skills. (with the same caveat about not spreading yourself too thin)

  26. LW, I was a serious music student until I switched to a different field. Based on my and my friends’ experience, I would say that if you can at all afford to not work, now is a prime time to focus on perfecting your musical skills and experiencing the business side of the craft.

    You might spend a few more hours practicing your primary instrument/vocal part, and learn another instrument (or take voice lessons). You might want to gain experience in concert management and promotion like you mentioned. In my city, there are several organizations who do arts outreach to kids, and they are always looking for teachers and other volunteers.

    Good luck!

  27. >>>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.

    Ahhh, Captain, THANK YOU for this! I’m a university careers adviser in the UK, and this is something we work really hard to get over to students. I talked to a graduate at a graduation ceremony this summer who told me that she’d got a full-time admin job but it “didn’t count” because it wasn’t related to her degree. She was over the moon when I told her that that was perfectly normal, and she was doing well.

    I’m not blaming students for this at all: it’s a huge part of how higher education is marketed to them (go to uni and you’ll get a great job straight away!) and it’s also part of how the league tables for universities work and is strongly encouraged by the government. So it’s no surprise that graduates feel that if they haven’t got a “graduate” job within 12 months of leaving they’ve failed. Or they think it’s a betrayal of their generation, and a sign that there are too many graduates now and that they shouldn’t have done a degree. It’s a revelation to many of them to hear people who are ten, fifteen or even thirty years older say, “Actually, it took a few years to get to a really good place. But that time wasn’t completely wasted…”

    Some really great advice here – I am tweeting it on our university careers account!

  28. Hi! I could have written this letter: like the letter writer, I am a non-EU student on a Tier 4 visa, currently in my second year of a three year degree in a fairly reputable UK university. I’ve been looking for a term-time job, both to make my CV more palatable to future employers, and to help ease the strain on family who are helping me with my (very high!!) international fees.

    I’ve applied to lots of places. I don’t care what sort of work I do, so long as it’s not more than 15 hours a week, tops, because I do want to get the best marks I can (I’m thinking of going onto postgraduate study). I’ve applied to cafés, bars, the mail service, supermarkets, student union jobs, clothing retailers, what have you, with very little luck. I’m pretty sure this is because I have no relevant experience: I come from a country where most teenagers don’t work, and so at 18 I had never had a job. I feel this puts me at a huge disadvantage compared to my UK classmates, on top of English not being my first language (which employers hiring for costumer-facing roles might not be too keen on? I don’t know, I’m guessing). I’ve been called for interviews/trials only twice, and been unsuccessful.

    I’ve been volunteering since last Easter at a charity shop, to get more experience: I love the work there, I think I’m good at it. I just wish it was paid. The manager is happy to give me a good reference, but I don’t know that it has helped so far. I also work very casually with the International centre at my uni. We help with recreational and academic activities and get paid very well for the type of work it is, but it’s only a few hours a TERM and doesn’t feel serious enough. I’ve also reevaluated my job-less life and thought of how I could reformulate things I’ve done and present them as experience: that time I sold candy at school for fundraising, that time I helped a family member with administrative stuff at his job, etc. But it’s still not enough?

    I’m happy to work at anything, menial or not! I am enthusiastic and I feel like if given the chance to learn I would really be great at any job. I just…how do I get people to hire me?

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