In September 2013 I graduated with an MA in English after four years at university. Although I had some part time and summer jobs up until this point, I was suddenly hit with the daunting prospect of having to find my first, real, full time, adult job. I was, in a word, overwhelmed. I have never been particularly good at, shall we say, “blowing my own trumpet.” I know I had a lot to offer in both skills and experience, but knowing it myself and being able to convince employers of my potential value to their company are two incredibly different things.
If you are one of the lucky (and rare) people who knew what they wanted to do for years, worked towards that goal, and knew which opportunities to apply for, then this venture is not as intimidating as it is for those who make it up as we go along. I chose to study English not only because it was my favourite subject in school but also precisely because it leaves your future options open. After finishing my A levels I hadn’t set my sights on a particular career path and I wasn’t ready to nail my employment colours to any specific mast just yet.
It was not the subject I studied that guided me towards a particular job sector, it was my volunteering. Don’t get me wrong, studying English has given me a strong set of skills–creativity, imagination, analytical skills, teamwork skills, initiative, originality, editorial skills, the ability to communicate my ideas succinctly and effectively–but it was my extracurricular activities that helped me understand what my strengths were and what types of work played on these strengths. These experiences guided me towards the event management profession.
Allow me to fast forward 3 months to finding out I was being offered a job as an International Event Coordinator. I am skipping out some vital steps here–the CV writing (or resume for our friends across the pond), the trawling the internet in search of perfect job, the heartache at being rejected, the nerves of interviews and the waiting–but everything happened very quickly. I got a call on Thursday morning offering me the job which I accepted immediately. I told my family. I scoured spareroom.com for somewhere to live. I repacked my life into the boxes I’d only unpacked three months previously. I got in the car, moved into my new home the following Sunday and began my new job on the Monday morning.
Starting your first “proper” job is not dissimilar from your first day at secondary school. You go from being the oldest, biggest and boldest, thinking you know everything and that you basically own the place – to being the newbie, the youngest, the one who gets lost, doesn’t know anyone and stands awkwardly until someone takes pity on you and helps you find where you’re meant to be.
You go from the top of the food chain to an invisible amoeba at the bottom in one swift move. Maybe I’m being melodramatic. It’s just until this point, the educational system had seemed to me like one huge game of snakes and ladders. You claw your way up rung by rung through exams and coursework to graduation ceremonies where you celebrate your success to suddenly be swallowed by the snake of moving to the next level, finding yourself right back where you started with a new ladder to climb. Nevertheless we put our foot on the first rung once again. Starting a new job is just a continuation of this board game of life.
Everyone was very welcoming and helpful. I had two weeks of induction period where I was given time to ask stupid questions, find my way around, meet everyone, and get to grips with what was expected of me. I spent many more weeks explaining I was new to the team and apologising to customers on the phone for not knowing the answers. I learned how to get the printer to staple booklets, how to transfer calls, and what time to go to the canteen for lunch in order to beat the rush–all very important ropes to learn that but nobody includes in your induction pack. Although beginning the climb on this particular life ladder is made significantly sweeter by the arrival of a monthly pay cheque.
Slowly and surely I became part of the furniture. I stopped having to apologise because I actually knew the answers. I was not only following processes but I was making recommendations on how to streamline them. Now, 18 months in, I passed my annual appraisal with flying colours, I’m leading on my own projects and holding my own in a very busy and dynamic department. I know I will not be in this role or even this company forever but for now I am contented in knowing that I’m making good progress on this particular ladder even if I know there will inevitably be more snake falls in my future.
For those approaching the end of your time at school or university who are going to be taking the plunge into the job market here are my top tips for getting and starting your first job:
- Never underestimate the value of volunteering. The skills and experience you gain from this is just as valid as when you have been paid to do it, the fact you’ve done it for free just proves you are an extra awesome human. If you’ve not done any – its never too late to start!
- Share your CV before sending it out. I know this can be difficult as sharing the piece of paper that is meant to best “sell” you to future employers is a daunting task but getting a different perspective on it can help you hone it and really make you stand out from the crowd.
- Don’t be too narrow in what you apply for. This is your first job, it won’t tie you to that exact job for the rest of your life. Especially if you’re not 100% sure what you want to do in life, keep an open mind when job hunting. You might be pleasantly surprised what takes your fancy.
- Be productive with your time. Its easy to procrastinate in the days spent job hunting. Its unrealistic to think you will be firing off applications 24/7 so try to spend you additional free time productively. Progress a hobby, do some volunteering, write a blog. Whatever it may be it can give you more things to add to your CV or to talk about in an interview to show you’ve not just sat at home watching Game of Thrones.
- When you start your job ask as many questions as possible. Don’t suffer in silence! If you don’t where the toilets are – ask! If you don’t know how to answer an email – ask! If you don’t know why they use a particular process – ask! Just making it up rather than checking is not brave it just wastes time and makes you worry unnecessarily.it will also lead to mistakes that could have easily been avoided.
- You’ve earned that pay cheque – enjoy it! There will be time to save and be frugal with your earnings but your first pay cheque is not that time. Go shopping, book a holiday, have a blowout party with friends. After all the educational ladders you’ve successfully climbed to get to this point you deserve to celebrate being a fully functional, employed, adult human. Go you!
Well done to all of you that are on the home stretch towards graduation and good luck with whatever career path you choose.
I’d love to hear about any of your experiences in getting your first job, or any advice you have for those beginning the hunt, or your thoughts if you still have this ahead of you!