Entering the real world as a graduate - Employee or Entrepreneur? - Part 1: Tips for job searching

It’s been three months since I graduated from university. I had spent the previous 17 years in education and 1 year in industry seemingly preparing for this moment. However the last thing I felt was prepared, I was thrust into the ‘real world’, excited, thrilled to have been set free from essays, lectures and late nights. Naturally there were times where I missed the consistency that education had provided, only time will tell if I end up back there. Nevertheless, it’s already been a rollercoaster ride, and I wanted to share my experience and point of view to help future graduates when approaching the question of whether to become an employee, or entrepreneur.

For part 1 I wanted to start with a list of tips for graduates who are contemplating this question or just graduates in general or just some general life tips, because who doesn’t love a good list anyway:

1. Don’t panic

Even before graduation, the weight of the debt I had accumulated during university was beginning to press down on me, making me feel like I needed to find a source of income immediately. This was primarily because I hadn’t realised that during my degree, interest was already building up on my student loan. My advice here is don’t panic, and remember if you’re based in the UK, you won’t pay a penny of your loan back until you’re earning over £21k/year. This means debt collectors won’t be dropping through your ceiling or following you home at night demanding payment. Once you are earning over £21k/yr you will only pay back 9% of your income over this amount, so you can just think about this like another tax on your income. For example, if you are earning £25k/yr you will pay back 9% of £4k, so £360/yr or £30/month, in other words, a negligible amount from your salary.

Many people leave university having realised that their degree wasn’t for them, or it may not be obvious how the skills they have acquired will ever land them a job. If this sounds like you it’s important to remember that completing a degree builds a vast array of skills outside of academic ability. It demonstrates to an employer that you are a committed individual who has taken time and effort to improve themselves through education, that you are committed and resilient. In addition to these qualities you will have also built up skills in communication, organisation and problem solving, referred to as ‘transferable skills’. These can be easy to overlook and seem less tangible but you should apply these when deciding your next move into a job search or further study.

2. Prepare

2.1 Before university - The best way to prepare for finding a job is to apply for a degree which involves an industrial placement year, for me this was the most valuable part of my degree and gave me the insight, connections and experience I needed to begin applying for jobs after graduation. It also meant I already had a job offer in reserve before entering my final year.

2.2 During your degree - If your course doesn’t offer a placement year, find jobs that you can do over the summer holidays, or volunteer to build up your work experience before the end of your degree.

2.3 Before graduation - Before graduating I began researching job opportunities online, through sites like Indeed, Jobsite and Reed. I would highly recommend this as it gives you time to consider your options, make mistakes and learn how to approach the job market before graduation. I attended a course about about interviews and spoke to careers advice mentors at my university. This preparation meant that on graduation day I had already received a job offer. But again remember tip #1 - Don’t panic if you’re still searching. Online searching was my chosen method of job searching, however if you have built up a network of contacts (e.g. through LinkedIn) through your degree (if you’re still studying start doing this by attending networking events in the city where you study - checkout Meetup for this) - which can include lecturers, work colleagues and your university peers, approach them for advice or contacts in your chosen industry.

3. Avoid making split-second decisions

This is probably the most important tip of all. Many of the mistakes I made during my job search were from making quick decisions. When communicating with prospective employers it’s important to keep your cool, job searching can be long and stressful, so if you suddenly get an offer it’s only natural to take it and disregard any other existing job applications you have in progress, read the job contract carefully, research the company thoroughly, ask as many questions of the employer as necessary to help you build up a picture of life at the company - How long is the commute? Do they offer a pension plan? What are the core values of the company? How do they ensure equal opportunities for their workforce?

I want to emphasise this point as it resulted in a lot of stress for me in my job search. Companies may pressurise you into accepting the job offer once you have it, buy yourself some time, where possible tell the company you need time to decide, sleep on it. I say this because I reached a stage where I was due to start a job on Monday (new laptop ordered and temporary accommodation provided by the company ..eek) and on the Friday before I decided I didn’t want the job (I’ll explain why later), so I spent the weekend desperately trying to get in contact with the recruitment agent (who were off for the weekend) and eventually the Co-founder of the company to let them know I wouldn’t be coming. This was incredibly stressful, so if you take anything away from this article, take your time and mull over your decisions before you agree to anything you’re not sure 100% about.

4. You are allowed to change your mind

In terms of the decision to become an employee or entrepreneur, or even choosing a suitable company to work for, remember that you are allowed to change your mind once you start, but remember tip #3, avoid making split-second decisions, once you start a job or a business you will be anxious, change in general can make anyone anxious and therefore it’s important to think rationally and give yourself time when starting out on a new journey.

If you’re an employee you may start your new job and immediately think it’s not for you, you will be confronted with new people, new challenges and new worries, but give it your best effort and you will reap the rewards, and if you feel that the job is not for you, it’s not the end of the world. Think carefully about what you want from your job and how a change in job or career area will benefit you, to help you with this, you can refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Decide what is important to you and how your new job can help you achieve your goals.

If you’re an entrepreneur, remember that building a successful business takes a lot of time and hard work, so don’t be discouraged if your first few months don’t immediately elevate you to Zuckerberg levels of success.

5. Stay positive!

Whatever your situation, remember that you are your best asset, and you have the potential to do great things. Make your passions clear to potential employers, and be patient, job searching can take time, but it’s worth it to find a fit that’s right for you. If you are having trouble finding a job or making decisions about your future, seek advice from your lecturers, mentors and peers, there are also many government services like Citizens advice who offer independent advice.

My decision of whether to become and employee or entrepreneur started during my placement year at university, where I took part in an event which lead to the formation of a new business, however by the time I graduated a year later we still hadn’t made any sales, and as I write this article we still haven’t made any sales. This demonstrates how difficult starting a business can be, especially in the industry we chose to go into.

I therefore began a job search so that I could improve my career prospects and generate some income while still working on my own business outside of working hours. I began to realise that being an employee wasn’t going to allow for enough flexibility in my schedule to allow me to focus on my business and my employment work at the same time. My main concern was that if my current business suddenly required me to work on it full time, I would have to quit my current job which would impact my relationship with the company if I decided I wanted to work there in the future. I would also be tied down to a notice period. This led me to the decision to become a freelancer, self-employed and carry out regular projects for clients.

For those of you who are interested in starting your own freelancing business, part 2 of this series coming soon will cover advice and tips about starting out and hopefully help you to avoid some of the mistakes I made.

If you’ve enjoyed this article I’d love to hear your experiences, comment below whether you‘re still at school, in university, have just graduated or something completely different. Please share this with anyone you think may find it useful!