Back in June, my
not-so-little sister graduated from Durham University and embarked on her venture in to the “real world”. When it comes to our education history, Emilie and I differ a lot. I was always distinctively average at everything whereas Em rarely got less than A, was extremely talented at art and had a natural musical ability. The only thing to remind us that we were in fact related, was our mutual lack of ability at just about any sport.
When it came to picking a university, I went vocational, Emilie went academic. I couldn’t run faster away from essay writing and exams whereas Em was just a sucker for punishment…JK…sort of. Not really. I knew I wanted to work in something creative but I also had a bit of a business head on my shoulders so ended up staying in London (epicenter of work experience opportunity…at least at the time) to do a BA in Journalism, Broadcasting and PR at University of the Arts London (London College of Fashion) and Emilie picked a BA in History at Durham (one of the UK’s top-rated academic universities). Told you – chalk and cheese!
My entire 3 years at uni was pretty hands on. Here’s a list of things I learned at university:
- How to blog (at the time a blog was a TOTALLY new concept so this was pretty cool)
- Film videos using ‘proper’ cameras and edit them using Final Cut Pro
- What a PR campaign looked like and how it was used to get the voice of your brand out to the big wide world
- How to seek out inspiration from day-to-day life and use it to fuel your creative work
- Work experience and internships are EVERYTHING
- That to live the student life in London (without having a proper campus set up – we were predominantly based just off Oxford St) was totally bank crippling and most of my spare time was in fact spent working for actual money to be able to afford a few nights out a month…
Yes – totally useful for establishing myself with a career and contacts to get me there but utterly useless for getting a proper university experience.
I asked Emilie for a similar list of what she learned to see how it varied:
- That humans are inherently flawed creatures – in personality and politics
- How to form a rational and persuasive argument, whilst organising your thoughts coherently – yay academic essay writing
- How to sift through large amounts of information and get to the important bits in an efficient manner
- The importance of constantly questioning the world around us, and challenging previously accepted norms and opinions
- How to communicate effectively and creatively
- That nights out at a campus-style collegiate university can be done for way under £10 – #winning
By the time I had finished university, I had completed a lot of work experience and built myself a pretty strong little black book as a result – I knew exactly what I wanted to do (TV production at the time) and knew I’d get a job pretty smoothly. Emilie finished university and, after toiling with what to do for a while, she decided she’d explore a role either in an advertising agency or in the civil service in a marketing capacity. I couldn’t really understand the concept of not knowing for sure what she was going to do from the moment she graduated so probably wasn’t the most useful to her when it came to offering big sister advice. After 5 months of going for interviews at various places, she ended up landing a job at the end of last year. Interestingly, taking a very similar path to the one I took and is now an account executive at a digital communications agency.
Her college at university asked her to write a piece about what life is like after leaving to be published in their magazine and she wrote such a fantastic article that I wanted to share it on here. It helped me understand more about what her experience was like and how it felt but it’s equally useful for anyone with siblings, kids or family members who are in a similar position – about to finish university, have no idea what they want to do etc etc.
Without further ado…let me introduce Emilie Sims’ wonderful article:
“Let me warn you now: graduating is really, really strange.
One minute you’re swaddled in fur (faux, for the concerned vegans amongst you), walking on stage, and shaking the hand of a man who you’re assured is highly important in the academic world. And the next, you’re pyjama-clad, at home, slowly adjusting to a life that doesn’t involve any deadlines or dissertations – or any real responsibilities, in fact.
At this point, the summer awaits; you’ve probably got some fun stuff lined up, and you’re pretty okay with your swanky new life sans academia. ‘I could get used to this’, you say, as the sunlit days pass you by…*cue cute montage of a rolling summer sky*
Before long, however, it’s October, and, by this point, some of your friends (i.e. the four-year-coursers, and the ‘I-chickened-out-and-applied-for-a-Masters’ folk – trust me, there’ll be a lot of them!) are starting uni again, and your token ‘Look at me! I landed a grad scheme’ friend has just started their swish new job in the city (don’t worry, we all have one of those – and boy, do we hate to love them).
For me, it was only at that time that my pyjama days at home suddenly started to feel incredibly unproductive, as opposed to blissful like they were in the summer, back when they were justified in the name of ‘it’s the holidays! I can do what I like!’ FYI I did have a more-than-part-time job at this point (‘OMG Emilie you worked at Wimbledon Tennis Club? I had no idea!’), but, knowing it wasn’t going to be long term, I started to get restless without any concrete plans and it dawned on me that I actually had no idea where the next 12 months of my life would take me (something that is as exciting as it is terrifying).
As it transpired, my post-graduation limbo period actually didn’t end up lasting that long at all; just before Christmas, I was finally contacted by the internal recruiter for a company I started following on LinkedIn, and by the beginning of the New Year, I started a job with them. Cult LDN is a small-but-mighty digital ad agency over in Shoreditch, which, despite being only 4 years old, has already built up an amazing catalogue of clients (Barbour, Rimmel, Sky, Calvin Klein, and The BBC, to name just a few) on which I have pleasure of working. Those of you who know me well will understand that working in an environment with a bunch of brainy creatives suits me down to a tee; there’s only about 30 of us in the office, including two amazing female CEOs, an office dog – oh! – and a ‘treat trolley’ of food, that gets delivered on Wednesdays. I mean, what more could I possibly ask for in a first job?! (Don’t say money, that’s far too practical…)
Now I’ve gotten into the rhythm of long London commutes, long working days, and even longer to-do lists (!), I look back on my post-graduation ‘limbo’ with a certain fondness, forgetting all the existential anxiety that came with it. But I wanted to keep it real for you guys, and share with you some of the realities of post-graduation life that you may well face too. In the meantime, I thought I would part with a few words of wisdom, and some of the many things I’ve learnt since graduation…
Say something along the lines of ‘I’m a lady of leisure’, when people ask ‘what you do’. It’s fun and it confuses people. I learnt the hard way that saying ‘I’m a History Graduate currently on the job hunt’ rouses nothing but feelings of deep sympathy within people. ‘Oh, so what are you going to do with that?’, they would say, in a tone of disbelief, as though I’d just announced I’m applying to the Civil Service with a Beauty Therapy degree from Southampton Solent Uni (I’m sorry So’ton Solent, I randomly picked on you. It was harsh and snobby of me, and I won’t do it again).
Don’t be disheartened by job rejections. Jeez, I had my fair share. That first rejection will hit you like a tonne of bricks, especially when it’s for a job you really wanted. It sucks, but you’ve just got to learn to pick yourself up, learn from it, and move on to the next challenge. Have a little faith in ‘que sera, sera’. Oh, and if you do actually apply for the Civil Service, expect to never hear back – or at least not for a l-o-n-g time (4 months later, I’m still waiting to hear back about my Fast Stream Assessment Day…)
A company should fit you as much as you fit their candidate requirements. Don’t take the first opportunity that comes your way and force yourself into the corporate world if you know it ain’t for you. Equally, don’t lie on your CV and make yourself out to be someone you’re simply not. Last year, I interviewed at Vogue for an advertising position (ha yeah, lol, that happened). Though the interview lasted only a few minutes, I can best describe the lady who interviewed me as a character from a Devil Wears Prada-Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’ hybrid. I am thankful everyday that I didn’t end up working for that heinous beast. It wasn’t ‘me’ there at all, and I’m so glad I didn’t convince myself that it was.
Everyone’s graduation picture is a little bit embarrassing. Or there’ll be something about it that will eternally irritate you – your dodgy choice of shoes, or that annoying strand of hair over your face. But hey, life is hairy and full of dodgy shoes sometimes. Embrace it. One day, you’ll look back on that photo and marvel at how much younger and more attractive you used to be. Meanwhile, your kids will be bullying you for your university haircut.
You’re actually really, really young. Entering the ‘real’ working world shortly after graduating, you slowly realise how much of a baby you are. People will say things like ‘What? You’re only 22?’ and refer to university students as ‘kids’, as you grit your teeth and quietly take offense at their incredible condescension. As an analogy, I guess it’s a bit like how you leave Junior School in year six thinking you’re the shit, and then arrive at Senior School only to find out, rather ironically, just how junior you are. Like that. Hooray for youth.
It’s okay. Everyone jazzes up their college job roles on LinkedIn to sound uber professional. Sadly, the ‘real world’ doesn’t really *get* the college world of Durham (as fabulous as it is), so it’s easier to really go for this one and not hold back. According to LinkedIn, it was ‘during my time as Marketing Officer [at my college shop, which I ended up managing and rebranding] that I truly developed a passion for generating ideas and seeing them come to life in all kinds of creative forms’. Can anyone someone smell that? Yeah. It’s bullshit.
Value the rest of your time at university. Academia aside, it really is true what they say about uni being the best days of our lives. Though I was definitely ready to leave Durham after three years, I still miss it dearly. A) that cathedral view, and B) it’s unlikely I’ll ever get another time in my life when I’ll be around so many of my friends all at once, or be surrounded by such a supportive and open-minded group of equally geeky people. So, please, value the time you have left, folks. Go for that weekend walk around the beautiful university city you’re in, even if you’ve done it a bajillion times before; join that society; go to that party, even though you still have that 2000 word summative to finish the next day. Be smart, and be silly. But most of all enjoy it, because it doesn’t last forever.
That’s quite enough of me now.
Pretty great right?! What advice would you give your graduate self?