As a fourth-year student, probably the most common question I get asked is: “So, what are your plans after you graduate?”. It’s a question that, if you don’t know what your plans are, can be scary to think about and exhausting to try to answer.
Approaching graduation without a clear goal in mind feels overwhelming at times. I have never had a ‘dream career'. My goals and passions seem to change constantly, and there are times when I doubt what my interests are. Over the last few years of school and travel, my career goals have changed from psychologist, journalist, marketer, lawyer, nutritionist, and pretty much everything in-between.
I have always been amazed by those who seem to just know what they want to do. My aunt, for instance, always knew that she wanted to work within advertising. My mum always knew she wanted to work with children. I had classmates in high school that knew they wanted to work in medicine and are now (after six years in university) approaching their medical school graduation. At times, it felt like I was the only person who didn’t know. Though a lucky few find something they’re passionate about and set career-related goals to achieve it, for those who don’t know, it’s not quite that simple.
I really thought that by now, after seven years of working, two years of travelling, and three years of university behind me, I would have a good idea of which career path I wanted to take. I thought I would “find myself” during my gap-year travels or wake up one day having had a career epiphany and suddenly just know what I wanted to do with my life. Only that never really happened.
If anything, my moment of realization came when I began my university journey and discovered just how many students were having the same worries and confusions as I was. Out of the many people I have met in my three years at university, I can think of only a handful who have had clear post-graduation goals. Whether first-year, fifth-year, art students, or engineers, a large number of students and recent graduates seem to feel just as anxious and overwhelmed by the thought of entering the workforce as I do - particularly now.
Statistics released in 2015 by allaboutcareers.com revealed that 44% of undergraduate students don’t know what they want to do when they graduate. While this may seem like a worryingly large number, it also shows just how normal it is to lack concrete career plans. So if you’re feeling stressed and confused about the future, you can find comfort in the knowledge that there are a considerable number of other people who feel the same.
While I am still a member of the 44%, one thing that helped me personally overcome my fears regarding the future was to stop trying (and failing) to decide on one specific career. While having clear goals is impressive, uncertainty is the green light to gain experience and try out what truly interests you! Here are a few small things that have significantly eased my stress and anxiety around career uncertainty while giving me a clearer idea of my goals for the future:
- Speaking with careers advisors: If you’re a student, you’ll likely have access to a host of career resources, whether online or in person. For me, speaking face-to-face (or rather, over Zoom) with a careers advisor was incredibly helpful in getting a firmer grasp on my future career options. Advisors can also look over your resume, cover letter and help you prepare for interviews, so make good use of them!
- Making connections: Learning about what others in my field have done with their degree gave a great insight into my career possibilities and graduate life as an English Major. If you want to get first-hand advice, knowledge, and reassurance, speak to past or recent graduates in your faculty/major.
- Career quizzes: This may seem obvious, but if you’re not sure where to start, where your interests lie, or what exciting career options are available to you – take an online career quiz!
- Write pro’s and con’s lists: This is a great way to compare, contrast, and eliminate or highlight potential careers/pathways based on your personal preferences. For example, writing out my primary career interest helped me understand my options and what interests are most realistic for me to pursue.
- Focus on the present: If you see a part-time internship opportunity that interests you, or a volunteer position you think you would enjoy, then apply, apply, apply! Researching graduate opportunities is great, but applying to (and trying) different roles and interests is one of the best ways to figure out what you do and don’t enjoy. Instead of trying to single out your dream future career, start exploring your interests now.
Though I spent a long time fighting my own uncertainty, I realize now that it’s okay not to know what you want to do with your career. It’s unrealistic for many to have one specific, concrete career goal, especially when there is a seemingly endless number of possible routes to take post-graduation. If you’re unsure about what you want to do after university, use your uncertainty to your advantage. Gain new skills and experience, discover your true interests, and appreciate the many exciting opportunities waiting for you when you graduate. You do not need to take one narrow path. Fact is, a non-linear career path can be advantageous when a prospective employer sees the breadth of skills and experience you've gained. In other words, go ahead, be okay with not knowing. You will figure it out in time, and 'it' might be more than one thing.