When I went to university the last thing on my mind was life after it or my career. I had primarily gone as it seemed the natural progression from school. But I actually had no idea what I was working towards, and I spent the majority of the three years searching for direction and an end goal.
At 17 years old as we sit in our Sixth Form block it is extremely difficult to know for sure what we want to with the rest of our lives, which is no small decision when we will potentially spend the following 3 or 4 years and thousands of pounds preparing to do it.
My mind changed every other day, but finally I made a decision and applied to do teacher training to become a primary school teacher. However, after attending the interviews and receiving offers, I still wasn’t 100% sure that this was right for me. So, knowing I had the option to do a PGCE after my degree, I took a year out and reapplied.
After an unexpected gap year, I went to UWE Bristol (best decision EVER) to do English, Media and Cultural Studies. I had three incredible years; made friends for life, had SO much fun, but also learnt a lot, not just in the classroom but outside it as well. However, it was only in my third year that I decided I wanted to pursue journalism.
Despite deciding this, actually achieving it was much harder than I thought. So here are a few things I wish I had considered before I graduated into post education life.
1. It’s never too soon to start building up experience and preparing for your career. Don’t put it off because you think it is too far away – it will come round far quicker than you could imagine!
2. Working during your teen years is incredibly important because skills are interchangeable. You can take skills that you learnt during part time work and incorporate them into your career, whether the jobs appear relevant or not. I got my first job when I was 13 and the last thing on my mind was whether it would help towards a career – all that was on my mind was the money and how I would spend it. I worked in a pet food shop, a crèche, was a barmaid and waitress, obviously none of which relate to journalism, but in retrospect each gave me skills that could be used within my roles later in life. If you can get a job that relates to your career great, but whatever the role there will be something to add to your CV.
3. Build up as much work experience as you can. Even a degree is no longer enough, you now need to prove you have experience in your industry. So whether it is a week, two weeks or a month placement, take advantage of work experience everywhere and anywhere you can. However, be aware of those wanting as much as they can without giving anything in return. Not all experience is worth your time – for me, a glossy magazine that I once thought would be my dream place to work, for several reasons, turned out to be one of my more disappointing placements.
4. Save as much money as you can! The day I went into my overdraft I saw it as £1000 in my bank account when, in actual fact, with each swipe of my debit card I was getting further and further into debt. When university finishes and you step into the real world you will need as much as you can to support you whilst you find work.
5. Research the companies that you want to work for and the people who already work there. What is their background and how did they get into this role? With the use of social media these answers are simply a click away.
6. Use social media to get connected! Linkedin and Twitter are particularly good places to connect with the companies that you would like to work for and those that are in the jobs you would like. Thanks to following several journalists from LOOK magazine on Twitter, I saw a last minute tweet requesting someone for work experience, which I quickly replied to and got!
7. It is very important to take the time to work out how you can get from where you are right now, to where you want to be. Look at all your options and work out what, if any, further education you need to do. This could be a degree, a degree followed by a masters or an online learning course. Make sure you know your options, and don’t rush into a decision. You will continue to grow through learning throughout your career, so just know where you want to start.
8. Expect the unexpected. I like to believe that everything happens for a reason, so if your career starts taking you in an unexpected direction, go with it. I was so focused on being a journalist at a magazine or newspaper that I didn’t open my eyes to other areas of writing. That was until I got an internship at Visit London, which showed me there were others ways I could write, that would perhaps be even better than I had imagined.
9. Don’t regret anything! After one company closed down and two made me redundant I began to wish I had done a more specialist degree. Perhaps English, Media and Cultural Studies was too broad. Maybe I should have done teacher training; at least I would be a teacher by now. But we can’t know what would have happened if we had taken a different path, so what is the point of regretting it? I could have been a terrible teacher and hated it.
10. Have a back-up plan! As our careers don’t always go to plan, have a back-up and think outside the box. If you are dead set on one thing and it doesn’t work out, how long do you wait? Think about how what you want to do, coupled with what you love, can be incorporated into your career in perhaps a slightly different way to how you first imagined it.
If you are determined, you can be whatever you want to be. But the most important thing to remember is that life may not take you in the direction you expected it to. Just ensure that, whether you are in the career you planned or something completely different, you are working somewhere that makes you happy, because ultimately that is all that really matters.