As I write what feels like the millionth cover letter for yet another job I’m probably going to get out-qualified for I’m stuck by a thought. I type out the words “After graduating from University a lot of people are left with one question: what now?”. I plan on turning the killer opening line into a statement about how I’m made for the certain type of work I’m applying to but a bigger part of me is laughing at the hard truth that single sentence conveys. It has been almost a year and a half since I walked across the stage, snagged my diploma and kissed post-secondary goodbye, and I’m still asking that question.
This one is for all the twenty somethings out there who grew up with the belief that going to school, studying hard, and getting your degree would give you a clear path in life. Well, it doesn’t. Not for most people at least. While I can count the number of friends I have that are working in their fields right now, it’s much harder to count the ones, like myself, who are not. It’s a reality that can be painful, stressful, and overall very frustrating.
But I think it’s important to acknowledge the positives in life, even when you’re struggling and that’s what this post aims to do. It’s a reflection I needed to make as I continue looking for more meaningful employment. This is a bit of a detour from the usual self-care and lifestyle stuff I post but it’s just another thing that has come up with all the self-reflection I’ve been doing so bear with me.
When I went into University I expected I was going in to learn more about Piaget’s theory and to discuss Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (the two Psychology lessons that stuck with me in high school). I figured I would get a good handle on Freud and Pavlov and a bunch of other psychologists that I had some basic knowledge of from high school. While my classes were not short on these lessons, I eventually learnt that what I thought university is for is not what it’s for at all. Sure, you learn all these things and you try your best to commit it to memory but there is a slim chance anyone in the real world is actually going to ask you to name every stage in Piaget’s development theory, nor are they interested in how well you know Maslow. What they want to know about is what skills you have.
This may leave you worried, thinking you’ve wasted your time when you could have been working or volunteering, gaining the skills you need to succeed but I assure you, you are/were gaining those skills, even if you haven’t recognized it yet.
I was very fortunate enough to have a mandatory credit in my fourth year in a class called “E-Learning”. This course ended up being filled with were a bunch of practical assignments where you were tasked with recognizing your own transferable skills and the end product is a personal website selling yourself as a young professional. In my opinion, it was the most practical class I had in university. It made me reflect on how much work I had been doing as a professional in university and it made me think deeper about the skills I was getting out of my coursework. It also prepared me better for speaking about my skills in interviews which is something I’m truly grateful for.
You may not have thought about this yet but I can almost guarantee that any university/college student, no matter their major, comes out with a load of transferable skills that you can use to sell yourself.
Organization – even if your dorm room was the most chaotic pit, I can bet you had to do a high degree of organization just to manage multiple classes and a crazy amount of due dates, as well as any planned social outings or extracurricular stuff you had going on. Whether you managed it through a planner or an app on your phone, you can sell this skill by talking about how this organization kept you up to date on your work.
Time Management – this one goes hand and hand with organization. Too often post-secondary demands way too much out of students as individuals. You’ve got tests to study for, assignments to do, and way too many hours in lecture to get it all done. Effectively time managing becomes a must do if you are to succeed and your ability to
Multi-tasking – ever sat in the back of a lecture hall and started drafting an assignment for another course? This used to be my typical Wednesday mornings. Being able to get multiple tasks done at once is a skill a lot of different jobs are looking for since they’re expecting you to manage a ranging workload. Just having multiple classes to attend and complete work for ensures a need to multi-task so you’ve probably had lots of practice.
Critical Thinking – sifting through thousands of articles to find the right sources to prove your point is a lot of work. Being able to do so quickly and efficiently is a skills that really demonstrates your ability to critically think. You can pick out the information you need, determine what is missing and ask the right questions to fill in the gaps.
Board Room Skills / Professionalism – this is something I promoted heavily as a TA. If you had any sort of seminars where you were engaged in group discussion this is huge. You’ve shown your ability to effectively communicate thoughts in a group setting. Remember that communication is a two-way (or multi-way) street so you’ve also shown your ability to listen respectively to others and to take in views that conflict with your own.
I could keep going with other skills but I think you probably get the point. Dig a little deeper past your actual coursework and you can use those years you spent in post-secondary as experience if you sell yourself correctly.
Some days I still wonder why the hell I spent $40,000 dollars on a piece of paper that didn’t guarantee me a job. I stare at my minimum wage pay checks and wonder if any of it was worth it? It’s frustrating and infuriating some days, and yes university is not for everyone, but over all I’m happy I went and I can see some of the benefits I got from going. If you’ve graduated, I hope you can look back and feel the same. If you’re still trudging through, I hope this helps you see the light (however dim) at the end of the tunnel.