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Finished studying and still haven’t landed a job? It doesn’t mean you’re failing

PHOTOGRAPHY BY OLIVIA REPACI

WORDS BY SARAH NOONAN

Leave your self-deprecation at the door.

With the closing of one door comes the opening of another, or so we are told. For many of us young, ambitious students, the gruelling hours spent in the library and tedious edits to reference lists have been exhausting, but also weirdly comforting. The study grind is, among other things, a comfortable routine. 

The three-plus years of lectures, tutorials, essays, and exams were a schedule I adapted to with a destination in view at the finish line: a grad job. But as the end of my degree loomed closer, the hustle to lock down a position became far more stressful than I had envisaged it to be.


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For many of us, that long-awaited call of acceptance for a grad position doesn’t come until months, and I mean MONTHS, after finishing our studies. This period of time between completing studies and locking down a job is mentally straining, to say the least. 

But what it took me a long time to recognise is that these chapters aren’t a reflection of our own inadequacy or inability to succeed in our chosen field. Rather, these months can be viewed as a necessary pause; a time for reflection and preparation that will allow us to appropriately transition to a new schedule of adulthood.

While this time in flux can feel deflating and sometimes agonising, it is not the end of our journey to career success. It’s not the start either. But in many ways, it may be an impetus for motivation.

Getting past the relentless rejection that accompanies job hunting

When that acceptance does come – and it will eventually come – it is likely to be the only glimmer of opportunity among a sea of rejection notices. This is something our time at university fails to prepare us for.

When I completed my undergraduate degree, I could confidently say that I applied for over 100 positions in my field of study. Granted, some of these were well out of my reach, but I can confirm that I heard back from roughly eight, only two of which eventuated to low-level job offers. 

While I was still working during this time – in fields I wasn’t dedicated to – it was hard not to ponder my own self-worth in the industry I had chosen to devote four years of study to. A fun little addition that often accompanies persistent rejection is this constant reconsideration of purpose and ambition. 

Questions of my own capabilities, the job security of my field and regular deliberation of alternate avenues were daily thoughts. I mean, to be repeatedly vetoed from the very field of work you spent years training and working towards is incredibly disheartening.

As testing as this period of time was, it eventually led me to my first break. Mentally exhausted from the stress of finishing uni, I threw myself into other work. I found that in doing so, I was too busy to stress about obtaining a grad job, and I allowed my career desires and goals to develop on their own, outside the strain of my own mental instability.

As difficult as it was to not think of the lingering pressure to start work in my chosen field, when I took a step back from the situation I was able to understand exactly what I desired most for my professional development.

Making the most of this halt in your career plan

Look, as I’ve said earlier, this time between finishing studying and locking down a job is bloody frustrating. But this halt in your career journey doesn’t mean you need to pay mind to those feelings of inadequacy (even if they’re building up as quickly as the rejection letters in your inbox). Rather, it may be a signal for change.

While not welcomed, this halt can often be the necessary time to actively plan out the years that lie ahead and to reprioritise your personal goals. When we give ourselves time to recognise our desires, whether that be diving full force into industry work or pursuing further study, we can better prepare ourselves for the next step. When rejection starts to diminish your self-confidence, rather than ruminating on these feelings, replace these negative feedback loops with positive productivity.

A tip that helped me push past this roadblock came from a TEDx Talk with American psychologist, Carol Dweck. In her discussion about establishing a positive mindset, Dweck introduced the ideology of ‘not yet’. This idea encourages a shift in focus from a static mindset – one that affirms our current qualities and talents are unchangeable – to a mindset of growth.

In adopting the ideals surrounding ‘yet’, a new focus on effort, strategy and resilience evolves, motivating us to focus on eventual success. “I don’t have my dream job” and “I don’t have my dream job, yet” emanate two very different attitudes.

In her book, Mindset, Dweck explains that in understanding our own personal strengths, we may refine our scope of capability in the realm of work we desire most. Rather than assuming our current (perhaps stagnant) position in our career journey is indicative of long term failure, we can maximise this time for personal and professional development.

Very few people actually nail down a grad job immediately following the completion of their studies. Particularly in the sphere of creative industries, it can take some real time. Often a change in pace is the necessary pause we need to focus our gaze on the future we desire most. In time, just like the saying goes, a new door will eventually open.

For more advice on graduate jobs in Australia, head here.

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