Some students go AWOL from the careers service throughout their studies only to return in their final year, experiencing minor panic, wondering how on earth to navigate the choppy waters of graduate job seeking. At this stage, there is still plenty we can do – and say – to offer practical help and constructive advice; on how to research your options, tailor your applications, build your profile and network.
But what happens when weeks, months, perhaps even a year or two, pass by and you're still (just about) nursing aspirations of graduate-level employment while facing the reality of short term, temporary or stop gap roles? What do we say to graduates who've bought into the notion of early career planning, and can not only recite '101 tips for graduates' but also probably add a few of their own? Quite simply – stick with it. This may not be quite the invitation to career success you're hoping for, but it's probably the best advice you'll get. It's natural you feel propelled to 'do something'; pro-activity makes us feel that we're exercising control in an uncertain world, but the chances are you're already doing enough.
The graduate job market is not as buoyant as we'd like but it's better than you fear – be prepared to play the waiting game. If you've exploited all avenues and still find yourself in application – or worse, rejection – hell, then it may be time dig deep, find that resolve and just keep going. Developing resilience in difficult times will not only help you ride the wave of despair but also equip you with the very attributes that employers seek from today's graduates. Resilience, tenacity, determination. The resilience to bounce back from a failed deal, the tenacity to keep working long hours, and the determination to master new skills. Harness those strengths now, and the benefits will come later.
Building resilience is a personal journey; how you react to disappointments and setbacks is determined by a confluence of factors – some within your control, others less so. It may require a change in mindset or perspective, but with a little encouragement and a few practical tips, you could be well on the way.
• Set yourself some clear, manageable goals. It's important to have a sense of direction. This helps you manage the bumps along the way. There may be skills gaps you could fill – perhaps a basic web-editing or HTML course.
• Be realistic and keep a sense of perspective. Some graduates succeed after 10 applications, some after 200. Don't calibrate your efforts or success by what others are doing.
• Seek out opportunities and new experiences. Don't become consumed by your job search; invest in yourself as an individual, not just a job seeker. Why not volunteer in your community, join a campaign group or develop a new interest. By all means stick to your game plan, but allow room for flexibility.
• Try to avoid dwelling on circumstances you can't change. While it's tempting to replay events and visualise different outcomes, it is energy wasted, not renewed.
• Cultivate your relationships. A strong social network (on and offline) provides a good source of support and advice. It's easy to become immersed in your own reality, but a fresh perspective often helps.
• And finally, stay positive. In a competitive job market, potential employers will find reasons to reject, not select. Turning that application into an interview and that interview into a job offer is hard enough – don't sabotage your own chances.
The world of 'positive psychology' has built a common language around resilience, and for those of you who like a theory, this may be a good place to start. If you don't, no problem – I've given you the abridged version. I don't think there are any searing insights and in many ways, that is the point. I want to hand control back to you. Remember: resilience is the ability to fall down seven times, get up eight.
Helen Stringer is careers services manager at the University of Warwick's Student Careers & Skills