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Top tips to beat the post-university slump

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The high from finishing university only lasts so long.

A month ago I emerged blinking into the sunlight from my last ever university exam. It was not only the culmination of my degree, but the end of 19 years in full-time education; I was ecstatic. My friends and I headed straight to the student bar, relief turned to excitement as we discussed the future over beers – what would we do next? Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we felt ready to enter the big, wide world of work. 

For myself and many other students across the UK, that celebratory mood is beginning to fade as reality kicks in and we realise that, yes, the job market really is as competitive as our lecturers warned. The hangover has cleared, the hunt for the perfect graduation outfit is on, and our thoughts are turning to life after we’ve thrown the mortarboards up into the air. Suddenly we are facing rejection after rejection (that is if we get any response at all), which is enough to make even the most optimistic person feel dispirited, not to mention doubt whether our degree (and accompanying debt) was worth it.

We are in limbo; desperately trying to get our foot on the first rung of the career ladder. I feel a bit like I’m drifting with no real purpose except trawling through job sites and LinkedIn – my heart misses a beat every time my phone buzzes with an incoming email, hoping that it’s a reply to one of my many job applications, only to find that it’s another one from Transport for London. 

Rejection is part of growing up, it’s meant to make you hungrier, thicker-skinned, and sweeten the sense of achievement when you finally get somewhere, but it’s hard not to feel inadequate. From the age of five, it is instilled in us to constantly hit certain targets, like a hamster in a wheel rolling through a system entirely focused on results. So when you leave that regimented world the sense of freedom is quickly replaced with boredom, confusion, and anxiety – particularly when the last of your student loan trickles out of your account and you wonder how on earth you’re going to pay next month’s rent. Not to mention the council tax you are no longer exempt from. 

A lot has been written about the mental health of students during their time at university. A recent survey by the Higher Education Policy Unit and the Higher Education Academy found that student well-being has declined, with just 14 per cent saying they felt satisfied with their lives. But what about after leaving university? This is the time when support services aren’t as easy to access, when the lack of routine can throw you off balance, when your friends go off in different directions, when adulthood is knocking at your door and the future can seem overwhelming. 

It’s not all bad; some of my friends have walked straight into jobs, usually, they are the ones who worked part-time during university and now their employers are offering them full-time work. But they are a minority – most of my friends are struggling. One of my most hard-working friends applied to 24 jobs in the three weeks since finishing her studies and has yet to get any response. Others have agreed to do unpaid work in the hope that it will eventually lead to a paid position further down the line, juggling that with a weekend job.

These are a few tips to beat that post-university slump: 

1. Keep in contact

Keep in contact with your friends and meet regularly for a drink just to catch up and find out how they’re doing – it’s much better when you know that you aren’t the only one struggling to find a job. If you have friends who already have jobs then they could help by giving you advice/contacts/recommending you to their employer. One thing that doesn’t help is comparing yourself to others who are doing well; just stop doing it. 

2. It’s not always best to leave university behind

Most universities put a lot of effort into helping their graduates find work, for example, my university holds events like a final year jobs fair and a graduate boot camp. Find out what your university is offering by contacting their student services. I also get regular emails from my university with potential job opportunities (so it’s a good idea to keep checking your university email), and did you know that students can access their university services for 3 years after graduation? I didn’t. 

3. Network

Go to networking events/talks/conferences – here’s that oft-repeated phrase again: you never know who you’ll meet. Building contacts and developing relationships is vital, as most of the time it’s a case of who you know (as opposed to what you know) that’ll potentially get your foot in the door. Yes, it means putting yourself out there, but sometimes all it takes is a smile and a handshake to strike up a conversation that could lead to a job opportunity further down the line.

4. Be bold

If you’ve done internships and work experience during university then send an email to the person who is most likely to remember you and ask if they have any job opportunities going. Usually, they’ll refer you to their organisation’s career page, but they might have a database that they can add you too, or if you’re lucky they might be looking to hire someone and then you can swoop in with your up-to-date CV and brilliant cover letter.

5. Embrace your situation

Finally, and I know this is easier to say than do, but CHILL OUT. You’ve just finished university, you will be working for the rest of your life! So at least try to enjoy this limbo period for a little bit, instead of constantly refreshing LinkedIn. Why not take up a hobby? Or read those books you’ve never had the time to get stuck into? Go on holiday (*checks bank account*, ahem), or maybe just explore your city? 

Whatever happens (and, again, this is easier to say than do, especially when it feels like you are constantly getting knocked down, but…) try to stay positive. Practically everyone who went to university has experienced this too, so try not to lose your motivation – something could be just around the corner. 

Words by Jessie Williams.

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