As I sit in a Waterstones café, writing my third cover letter of the day and deciding whether I can justify another £2.60 cappuccino, I wonder how I got here. A star-studded list of GCSE and A Level results, a first class degree, and a series of mildly impressive summer work experience stints seemed a natural trajectory to the green and pleasant land of grad schemes and job interviews, and I assumed that by September everything would have fallen into place. Yet suddenly October is upon us, and I find myself adrift, with a seemingly endless stretch of unemployed days ahead of me, and a rapidly dwindling bank balance.
The privileged vantage point of a university graduate, sitting in Waterstones complaining about cover letters and coffee prices must here be acknowledged, but it should not discount the very important and little-acknowledged fact that for many, the transition from University to the real world is unexpectedly and overwhelmingly challenging. In most cases, it involves readjustment to life at home after three years of jubilant independence, and a soul-destroying job hunt which, coupled with the heavy weight of familial expectation, can cripple self-confidence. More alarmingly, graduating forces you to confront big questions regarding who you are, how you want to spend your life, and where exactly you belong in this world. It can put significant pressure on relationships, not to mention bank accounts, and, as friends embark upon career and property ladders, can be incredibly isolating. The years of student loans, interest-free overdrafts and zero responsibility are officially stuff of the past - it's time to grow up, and for some, this can come as a startling reality-check.
During my many moments of existential crisis over the last few months, I sought advice from some fully-fledged adults at varying stages of their careers. Almost all testify to a similar panic upon graduating, but also acknowledge that things are much harder now than they used to be. Graduates today face an increasingly saturated job market, whose digital focus can leave those of us not familiar with a lexis of SEO, SPM and CPC behind. All, however, had comforting words to say, and valuable pieces of advice to impart, that I continue to find helpful on those long days of CV tweaking and despair. To any fellow unemployees struggling to navigate the challenges of graduate life, I hope these tips may be of some solace. At the very least, they may offer respite from the tedium of applications and cover letters, and a reminder that you are not alone.
1. Enjoy this time
Once you have a job, you'll look back on your days of minimal responsibility and 3pm Netflix binges with wistful nostalgia, and wonder how you could ever complain about having nothing to do. Try, where possible, to enjoy the freedom of unemployed life, and make the most of this unique time.
2. Use your time well
You may not be able to control how long you remain unemployed, but it is entirely up to you how you use that time. When you're not applying for jobs, use your spare time for self-development: go to the gym, take up that instrument you've always wanted to learn, start listening to podcasts, read. If your job hunt feels fruitless, you can harness productivity in other areas of your life, and take back control.
3. Create your own structure
For those of us for whom the last 17 years have been strictly dictated by school timetables and University schedules, the unstructured nature of unemployed graduate life can be overwhelming. If, like me, the prospect of an indefinite number of unregulated days terrifies you, create your own structure. This may mean constructing your own working day and writing applications in a café or local library from 9 to 5. It may just mean making one plan every day, or setting yourself time-restricted goals. Once the novelty has worn off, staying in and watching daytime TV while your friends are out working will inevitably make you feel crap.
4. Seek support
This time is hard. Reach out to friends and family and seek support and advice. If you have friends also struggling to get a job, look after each other and help each other. Talk about how you're finding this process and share tips. If you're the last of your friends to get a job, even more reason to seek support from those around you. This is an incredibly challenging and disorienting time, and it's totally normal to be struggling.
5. Take every opportunity
Clichés aside, when you're unemployed, being a yes person is key. Whatever the event, you never know who you might meet and what you might learn. Networking is a terrible word, but unfortunately in most fields, it really is who you know that matters. This means more than nepotism, and is something that you can foster by going out and meeting people and creating a network. That person you meet at that random talk might know someone who can help you, or might know someone who knows someone who can help you. At the very least, it will expose you to new experiences and ideas, and it beats sitting at home waiting for the opportunities to come to you.
6. All experience is good experience
A crucial step to working out what you want to do is working out what you don't want to do. That might mean trying out a job that you think you won't enjoy, or simply something you've never considered before. Finding out what you don't enjoy is an essential part of narrowing down your field of vision to the thing that's right for you. Equally, your dream job might be one you haven't even heard of yet. Ultimately, a job that on paper sounds perfect might be very different in practice, and vice versa. Take any experience you can get - as the saying goes, don't knock it till you've tried it.