The bittersweet truth about life after graduation

YOU’VE earned a degree, now what? Marcella Purnama discusses the harsh realities of applying for jobs after university. 

Photo: Katrina Blasingame via Flickr

YOU’VE earned a degree, now what? Realistically, you would expect to go into a job and have your company invest in you and teach you cool stuff. Besides, that’s what workplace training is all about, right?

The reality is, most internship positions now require you to have experience. I wish someone has told me that before I started my degree.

I wish someone had told me you need to have at least three different internships under your belt after graduation, or five, or that you need to be active in your own process of learning, that the competition is too hard or that a degree doesn’t promise you a job.

I wish someone had mentioned that as a student, your responsibility is not (only) towards your studies, it’s not (only) about making friends, joining clubs or devoting yourself to a character development. Your responsibility is (mostly) to get lots of experience.

We international student graduates have a lot of expectations. After spending AU$100,000 on  a three-year degree, we expect to get a decent job and a decent salary. We expect to, at least, be able to feed ourselves and put a roof above our heads.

In the book Why good people can’t get jobs, author Peter Capelli argues there’s something wrong with the hiring process.

He says: “With an abundance of workers to choose from, employers are demanding more of job candidates than ever before.

“They want prospective employers to be able to fill a role right away, without any training or ramp-up time.”

Companies have vacancies but they are not geting filled because they are waiting for the right piece of puzzle. They are not investing in training, afraid that after becoming butterflies, their employees will fly off to the park next door.

I think this is why good people can’t get jobs. Unless, you’re in the top 10 per cent of your year with at least 10 different internships after three years of university, you’re not even eligible to compete.

Another solution? A Masters degree, which would buy you extra time, but not experience. It would equip you with another shiny certificate, but not employment.

But is it too late for us graduates to equip ourselves with more experience? It’s a lose-lose situation. The companies looking for interns want students. Employers looking for people to hire want experienced graduates with at least three years of experience. Even those who already have two or three internships aren’t good enough.

Want another solution? Become an entrepreneur. But where’s the market? And the expertise?

Take heart, my fellow graduates. Take heart. The storm’s a coming.

I have seen friends graduate with double degrees or even masters and still not be able to secure a job after graduation. Some wait for a year, another two. Then comes the cycle where you squeal in both delight and horror when your friend gets the job you want. And scream like someone has won lottery after you land an interview.

But instead of looking at job hunting as a competition, a friend, colleague and recent graduate gave me a different analogy. He says finding jobs is more like the courting period of a relationship. There are a lot of trial and errors to getting to know each other before actually getting to the dating (or employment) stage. It’s not all about the company, it’s about you too.

Finding the right person to date is hard. So is finding the right employer. But you’ll find one sooner or later.

Take heart. If you relentlessly try again and again and commit yourself to personal growth, there will be a company insane enough to hire you. Your starting place will be different to your friends’s, but you’ll start somewhere, and you will succeed.

Don’t lose your child-like faith and believe in Dr. Seuss, who wrote:

Today is your day.
You’re off to great places!
You’re off and away!

…And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

…Your mountain is waiting.
So… Get on your way!”

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