student life

10 things I’d like to tell my 18 year-old self about careers

Written by Harriet Clifford

The education system is fairly straight forward. You are ushered through each school or university year as though you are on a conveyor belt, not really having to think about where you’ll end up next. So, when you’re spat out at the end of it all, it can feel a little bewildering. You’re faced with the pressure of moving on to ‘bigger and better things’ and coming to terms with making your own decisions. I’ve come up with some things that I wish I could go back and tell myself before university, which might just have helped ease the bewilderment slightly.

Careers don’t have to be linear.
Your first job out of university might not be your forever job. You might do a bit of this, try a bit of that and just generally find your feet as a ‘real adult’. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not exactly where you thought you might be straight away; it’s okay to do different things and see what works for you.

Job-hunting is draining, demoralising and feels like a full-time job.
If you’re searching for a new job, be prepared to pour your heart and soul into many a cover letter and not to hear so much as a peep back. It feels terrible, but remember that you actually only need one person to invite you for an interview and offer you a job for your whole working life to change. If you’re job-hunting whilst working full-time, you’ll probably feel as though it’s a side-hustle in its own right. If only it made you some extra cash.

Don’t panic if you don’t feel as though you are using your degree at work.
You may not be using the specific content of your degree at work, but you’ll undoubtedly be using skills that you developed whilst at university. You probably changed more as a person than you realise. This doesn’t mean that everything you learnt on your course goes to waste – you just might not need to know how to analyse a poem on a day to day basis.

Having a degree does not equal ‘dream job’.
I think before university I just assumed that having a degree (albeit in English Literature) would be my one-way ticket to a great job. Turns out a lot of other people have bought the same ticket. There are so many other important aspects of who you are that will determine whether you’re employable or not. Make sure you are investing time in working on your transferable skills. But also remember that it’s not about the quantity of the internships, summer jobs and volunteering on your CV, it’s the quality.

A ‘dream job’ might not actually exist.
Don’t stress about finding that one job that is perfect for you. There will probably be a whole range of jobs that you would thrive in, within a variety of different career paths. If you agonise over finding ‘the one’, you’ll only end up feeling disappointed, dissatisfied and frustrated. Again, you can put your feelers out and have a go at something without knowing whether it’s going to be your career for the rest of your life.

All jobs have bad bits, however dreamy they may be.
Even if you are lucky enough to find your dream job, or at least a job that seems to be reasonably fulfilling, there are times when you are going to be bored, stressed or under-stimulated. If you’re expecting to feel amazing in a job all the time, you’re never going to feel settled. It’s okay if parts of your job are not quite right, just as long as the positives outweigh the negatives in the long-term. 

Working 9-5 isn’t the only way to make a living.
The gig economy is on the rise. Gone are the days where the norm is to work 9-5, Monday to Friday. Of course, there are benefits to this, and lots of great jobs still involve this kind of lifestyle, but don’t think that your career hasn’t started or that you don’t have a ‘proper’ job if your work doesn’t fit within these boundaries. There are so many ways to make money now, so don’t rule out opportunities or ideas just because they don’t involve turning up at the office every day.

Having a side-hustle can do wonders for your self-confidence.
Having your thing on the side doesn’t mean you’re a workaholic, it just means you’ve found something that works for you and gives you a little bit of extra money each week. It gives you independence and satisfaction, especially if your 9-5 isn’t quite cutting it. But then again, don’t feel as though you have to have a side-hustle to get ahead of the game. Maybe you work long enough hours already, or your salary is pretty decent, thank you very much. There’s no right or wrong way to work.

Impostor syndrome is real.
You will probably always feel as though you shouldn’t be doing the job you’re doing. Whether you’re working in a shop or managing a project, your brain will undoubtedly find a way to tell you that you can’t do it. Ignore these thoughts. You’ve been hired, or you’ve worked your own way into this position for a reason.

Prioritise what makes you feel good.
Whether you hate your job, love your job, or don’t have a job, work out the parts of what you do that you value the most. Maybe it is being creative, having a good work-life balance, getting on with your colleagues, or having flexible working hours. Once you’ve worked out your priorities, it will help you know what to look for in the future and what to watch out for in your current position. If the scales tip too far in the opposite direction, maybe it’s time to move on.