When you graduate, you open a door. That door leads into a grey room and when you are inside that grey room, there is no turning back. This isn't adulthood, this is that limbolic period in between. You cannot see the walls past the hazy weariness inside your brain and you cannot make out the exit.
At this stage, forget nepotism, you're in that room on your own. Your uncle's best friend's brother-in-law is not going to get you a job at the Guardian, so extinguish that dream right away. After all, no one is going to hand you a golden ticket for sitting on your arse and feeling sorry for yourself. This is lesson 1.
At the beginning of 2012, my new year's resolution was to get a "proper" job (having graduated in 2011). Before then, I'd been making coffee in a local cafe, sleeping all the time and driving my boyfriend up the wall. For some reason, I expected greatness to fall into my lap. I felt like I deserved it, like I was entitled to it, so I just sat on my haunches and sulked. In that time, I achieved absolutely nothing.
But let me tell you this: the difference between proactive and inactive was genuinely gob-smacking. I went to one interview during the whole of 2011. In the first three months of 2012, I went to about seven or eight and I was offered three jobs - all because I tried.
Here's what I learnt...
When Pride Cometh, There Cometh Shame
Whether you like it or not, companies always prefer to take on a candidate that is already working. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you've got a degree. So do 300,000 new graduates a year. Whilst working a job you hate can be pretty soul destroying, it also shows potential employers that you are a hard working, employable chap pre-equipped with key skills.
Hand your CV in everywhere, without prejudice. The likelihood of getting a career in the 6 months after graduation is slim, so make some dough in the meantime and give yourself a purpose. Starbucks. McDonalds. The local corner shop. Give yourself a reason to get out of bed.
Whilst intellectually stagnating, working in a coffee shop taught me important lessons in patience, customer service and how to have a laugh with old people. As futile as those qualities seem, they transfer into confidence, determination and innovation. By that I mean, being stuck in a conversation with an inappropriate middle-aged man called Denis who did nothing but stare at my tits taught me a thing or two about how to handle myself and this came across in an interview situation. Not to mention the fact that I was living independently - something that employers really value.
Hang on, companies also want you to have experience in your industry, right? And how are you supposed to work for free if you've got a full time job? That's when it's time to...
Yeah I know, it's one of those bone-crunchingly zeitgeist words that sends shudders up the spine, but it is essential. Post-graduation, I spent a lot of time applying for paid internships. Trouble is, they are highly over-subscribed, time consuming and therefore extremely difficult to achieve.
Instead, get in touch with old tutors, compile a list of important people and their email addresses, keep an eye out for industry events, contact your local careers center and BE PROACTIVE.
Don't be scared to ask people for advice. Picking up the phone and talking to someone is ludicrously effective. Since the invention of email, phone calls are a rare phenomena. Consequently, when someone hears your voice, they remember you.
You'll be amazed to find that most people are extremely generous and happy to help a fledgling. Especially if you show the incentive and the dedication to try. I called and emailed the editor of every local newspaper and magazine in my area. This only led to one face-to-face meeting and a handful of unpaid publications but the information the editor gave me was invaluable. I didn't get a job out of it, or a lead, but that's not what I was looking for. Guidance and support are extremely important when you're unemployed. He boosted my confidence and told me to keep going. He read my portfolio and told me how to improve it. He just took an interest.
After months of rejection, this kind of support is integral to your state of mind. People, especially professional people, really admire hard work. More often than not, they'll give you a nudge in the right direction or, they will simply freshen your resolve. This is fundamental to your progression. Giving up is easily done when you have no one to tell you that it's all worth it.
Love it or loathe it, the internet is incredibly important. It is especially important where your career is concerned. If you imagine an endless plain of possibility that will respond generously to the amount of love you show it, then you're half way to understanding the potential of the internet. I spent years dragging my technophobic heels and longingly thumbing the pages of E.M Forster because I didn't think the internet had any artistic merit. Evidently, I didn't understand it at all.
And yet there is SO MUCH you can do online to improve your CV, get yourself established and share your work. Plus, you don't even have to leave the house! If you're glued into the post-grad blues and haven't changed out of your PJs in days then you have no excuse. The internet is right there, waiting to be harvested. Yes, Reddit is interesting. Yes, there is a new TED talk. Yes, Miley Cyrus has had a dramatic new hair cut and Justin Bieber has been caught smoking weed but STOP PROCRASTINATING!
Make Sure You Have (and Maintain):
A Blog. Write about what interests you, write about your opinions, upload your work. If you want a job in advertising, set up a blog about advertising. If you want to work in graphic design, write about graphic design. If you want to be an astronaut, write about space exploration. NEVER rant about personal problems, post pictures of you in or out of an outfit, troll other bloggers, share Lolcats or emotional glitter gifs that say things like 'I'm Not Okay.' If you feel the need to do the aforementioned then set up two blogs. One for purely professional reasons and one for fun. Professional blogs act like an online portfolio that employers can access instantly. Trust me, they will really, really appreciate it.
A Twitter Account. This might seem like a no-brainer but I've met so many students who didn't know what a hashtag was for. Set up an account and follow industry leaders, careers advisers, authors, journalists, Arts organisations, academics, events organisers, media outlets, thought leaders, public figures, successful people etc. The opportunity to create a list that details the everyday comings and goings of the people you want to work with is invaluable. So use it.
A Linkedin profile. Linkedin is a strange platform that is strictly professional and quite circle jerky. However, these days, it's the front page of employment. If you're not on Linkedin potential employers will assume that you don't know the first thing about modern businesses or online communication. It is wanky, but get on board.
Sex Up Your CV
Every company will receive thousands and thousands of CVs daily. Don't think for a second that your content alone will seize their attention. You need to make it look pretty. Like really, really pretty.
I spent months using the same CV template I'd had since I was 16. It was the same CV template that got me a job at Claire's Accessories e.g. not good enough.
Thanks to the wonders of technology, you cannot get away with a basic Word-processed document anymore. You're going for a creative role, this is your only chance to show them how creative you are! Send your CV tied to a helium balloon in a box that floats out when opened (I've read of someone doing this and needless to say, they got the job). If you don't have a firm grasp of Photoshop (like I don't) then it is totally worth paying a designer to go to town on your impressive achievements. After I had my CV redesigned, the number of interviews I got increased tenfold. Therefore, using this as an effective study, go forth and create. Raid the crafts box if needs be, just do something memorable. It's a competition, after all.
Cover Your Ass
Yes, a cover letter is necessary. No, you cannot send a template to every employer. Yes, you need to write a unique one for each. Yes, this is a massive chore. Yes, you should get over it.
You're Worth Everything When You Realize That You're Worth Nothing
Working for free. It's detestable and yet absolutely essential. It's very difficult to achieve post grad work experience because most people tick this box during the summer months of their degree. Instead, offer your skill for free.
Whilst I was working full time at the coffee shop, I wrote for anyone who would have me. Local record labels, local magazines, local papers, local businesses. After I listed these bad boys on my CV (without disclosing that I'd not been paid) and had them presented in a leather-bound folder, it was a lot easier to get paid freelance work.
Get Paid Freelance Work
Join freelance forums, read Freelance Advisor, blag to anyone offering you potential work. Yeah, sure, you know exactly what you're doing (now go and find out what you're doing). That's how I got my first freelance job, I just made it all up. I made up my hourly rate, I made up my confidence and I made up my professional hand shake. It worked like a dream.
You'll find that in a lot of business, no one really knows what they're doing. 75% of people seem to function adequately by nodding and shaking hands. They find out the facts later. If you can save face, you'll go far as a freelancer. Naturally, add all of this published work to your portfolio and take it to every single interview you go to. Print off webpages that feature your work, make a collage, a pop-up book or a hologram. Just make sure your effort and skill is memorable.
Listen to My Dad
I talked to my dad a lot when I was looking for work. Every time, he imparted three single words of integral advice that genuinely strengthened my will:
Dedication - Never lose sight of what it is you love doing and your right to do it. In this economy and under this government it's shamefully easy to lose faith in that.
Resilience - Accept rejection. It's going to happen a lot. Quickly acquire a thick skin and don't allow the lack of an interview (let alone a response) to hurt you in a personal way or goad you into giving up.
Optimism - Repeat after me: I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job. I will get a job....
Most importantly, remember...
You don't need a career to be successful. Success is subjective, pursue happiness.
Follow Emily Buchanan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/_emilybuchanan