How to get a job you love straight out of university
For all of you who are still students, I’m here to help.
One year, eight months and 15 days ago, I was an unemployed student. I’d just quit my job at Sports Direct and I knew only one thing about my future career: I’d never work in retail again.
It was the first personal goal I’d ever written down and been serious about.
I haven’t worked in retail since.
Fast forward one year, eight months and 15 days and I’m in a well-paid job doing what I love to do: create digital content. I only graduated last month.
It’s tempting to say I’m one of the lucky ones, but I don’t believe in luck. I’m not employed because of luck.
I’m employed because I worked my ass off for 18 months and made the most of an opportunity when it came.
But a lot of people work hard, get presented opportunites and still struggle to get employed in their field after graduating, which means there’s more to it than that.
So, using everything I’ve learned since December 2014, here is my advice on how to get a job you love straight out of university.
Don’t wait for the job to come to you. Go get it
I can only speak from experience of what I’ve seen around me since the start of third year, but too many students think their dream job is in plain sight.
Quite a few also think their dream job will somehow miraculously fall in to their lap.
That’s wrong. It’s all wrong.
Your dream job isn’t right in front of you. It isn’t posted on Indeed or Monster or Reed or GradTouch or any other listings sites which claim to have the job for you. Stop looking there.
To find your dream job you have to go deeper and be prepared to get your hands dirty. That means researching, making countless notes and lists, then sending emails, tweets and/or messages to the people who will most likely be able to get you the job you’re looking for.
Want to work on film sets? Flick forward to the credits of your favourite movies and make a list of the directors, producers, screenwriters, editors etc. who worked on them.
Once you’ve spent a week or two on the list, research all of the contact information you can find for the people you’ve noted down. Then get in touch with them individually for advice, tips or opportunities. Odds are, 90–95% of them won’t reply, but you only need one response and your foot is in the door.
Love doing graphic design work? Make note of all of the restaurants, bars and small businesses in your area, identify which ones you think need a new logo or brand re-design and then go talk to them. Make yourself known and find out if looking for a graphic designer was on their to-do list. If it was, you’re one step ahead of everyone else.
If it wasn’t, offer your services for free. Even if you really believe they need what you can provide, a lot of small businesses aren’t going to want to pay out for things they don’t see as neccesary.
Build a reputation first, think about money later.
Accept that you might have to work for free, and that it might suck
At least for a little while.
I worked four days and 30 hours a week for seven weeks at a creative agency in Manchester at the start of 2015. I absolutely loved it, and without that internship I wouldn’t have discovered how interesting I find social media or how much I enjoy creating videos. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.
In June, my girlfriend Jen tweeted a fashion company asking to work a few days a week unpaid. They responded, and following a private conversation over Twitter and then email, accepted her with no hesitation. Just the other week, after about a month of working there for free, the company offered her a full-time, salaried position.
Free work pays off, in some form or other, in the long run. You just have to be willing to dedicate that unpaid time and energy in the short term.
Plus, absolutely nothing stands out more on a student/graduate CV than unpaid work.
By the way, there is no better time to do an unpaid internship while you’re getting money from the government and have a big ol’ generous student overdraft. Use it to your advantage.
The best time to start was yesterday
Okay, I know you can’t start yesterday, don’t panic. But the statement stands for the fact the best time to start working towards your goals is right now. Right this second.
Drop whatever you’re doing, and just go do.
See, a lot of people think that being a student is just three (or four) years of getting smashed, taking drugs, sacking off important lectures and scraping by on assignments.
Newsflash: it’s not.
In any walk of life, no matter how old you are, the amount of effort you put in is generally relative to what you receive for your hard work.
So if you’re in first year, great, enjoy your Freshers. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’re likely in a brand new city, surrounded by countless strangers to become friends with and a ridiculous number of first year stuff to get involved in. I get it, I’ve been there, I didn’t want to do a lot of work during that time either.
But second and third year is where you’re presented with a clear opportunity to expand your skill-set. And you’ll never get a better chance than this.
Once you leave the cotton-wool-wrapped confines of student life, you’re on your own. There’s no more student loan, the bank is going to start to ask for that £1500 you owe them, and the easy ride you got while in education will disappear.
I started to move out of that party-party student mindset after I got the unpaid internship I talked about in the last section. Working 30 hours and four days a week (with one of those four being a Sunday) meant I had to limit my nights out. It was frustrating to watch my friends still party around me, but I was thinking in terms of the bigger picture.
I’m an anomaly on the student population landscape though. And it all funnels down to how ambitious you are in where you want to be in three, five or ten years time.
Look at your personal situation, your personal ambition and your personal goals. Then, and only then, can you decide how much energy you want to put in to sticking with the student life, and how much of that lifestyle you’re willing to give up.
But prepare yourself. It’s a big, wide-open world out there and if you’re not ready it’ll slap you hard in the face the day after graduation.
Create opportunity for yourself
You know how I got my job at NCC Group? My godmother Maxine read one of my Chapters and asked her daughter Katy (who works at NCC) if there was an opportunity for me in the Manchester office.
Turns out there was.
There was no specific job available, but there was an opening. That’s all I needed. Three weeks later I had an interview and two weeks after that got offered the job.
Now this is probably me giving too much credit to these Chapters, but I like to think I wouldn’t be sat here with a full-time job if I hadn’t started writing daily. It’s a what if situation, but deciding to write every single day was the result of recognising my place. Recognising that I had very little experience and not a lot of evidence of my skills to present to potential employers or clients.
So I needed something that created opportunity. And with sustained effort opportunity has been created over and over again.
Because if you really, really want to climb the ladder of life, you have to be the one who reaches for that first rung. There’s no reason to do it alone, and you can enlist the help of others, but that help won’t come if you simply sit and stare at the ladder.
And that’s it.
It’s a tough journey, filled with a lot of hard work, persistence and dedication. But if you want to give yourself the best opportunity to find a job you love within weeks or months of graduating, stick close to the advice in this Chapter.