If you search ‘post graduate’ into your search engine, the first result that comes up before you’ve even finished ends with ‘jobs’.
The jobs, everybody wants to talk about. Your mum wants to know what you’re doing. Your dad. Your milkman. Your nan’s best mate. Your lecturers. Everybody talks about jobs. Who has bagged one, who hasn’t, and even how hard it is. But nobody is talking about the effects that job hunting has or the post graduate blues – forgive me for using that terrible phrasing, it’s even more agitating in its accuracy.
There hasn’t been a single official study into how young people find their mental wellbeing after finishing university. This is scary. It feels as though university for many, myself included, acted as an incubator. We learned, I guess, but for three years it was a safe place where our alarm clocks for lectures suggested we were doing something and turning up proved it. Complaining about assignments was done almost adoringly, as though the security of being a student was an exchange. There was security in the routine and the fact that when you finished work, you received feedback and with that came validation.
Then suddenly you’re alone.
At university every day there’s something that should be getting done; a mix of writing, reading, partying and general adult-ing. Everybody talks about the day where you wake up and your dissertation is handed in, exam books closed, assignments finished, and you have nothing to do. The novelty wears off as quickly as when you discovered the batteries from the TV remote didn’t fit in your new toy on Christmas day. I instantly felt guilty for moving back home, as though I’d taken one step forward and two steps back. Many, like I, have found myself trapped in a seemingly endless limbo of scrolling through Indeed’s recommended jobs and Facebook profiles of those who I envy. It’s an unhealthy habit, where I’m aware that I often wallow in self-pity and then end up angry with myself, to then have my first fears of not being good enough seemingly confirmed in receiving few replies to applications.
University doesn’t come with a job guarantee. In the UK, near 50% of people complete higher education – per head that’s more than Germany, Austria, Norway, Switzerland or Spain. I feel as though the post-grad job hunt has become more of a raffle; we’re all spinning around, bumping into each other and hoping that somebody picks us out. That’s the most nail-biting thing of all. The loss of control when somebody else is making the decision about your future.
In 2015 there was a record number of students earning first class degrees, with 22%. The papers put it down to it being ‘too easy’ and claimed that the system was ‘no longer fit for purpose’. But was it ever considered that perhaps students are becoming conscious of a looming fate? The pressure in the final year especially felt as though I’d been transported into a TV talent show where everybody is my competitor. I’ve danced around in unpaid internships, smiled as a volunteer, sang aloud on social media about my achievements. Essentially it’s this strange, paranoia fuelled exploitation. We’re walking, talking advertisements of ourselves, who ironically can’t blag an interview audition as our CVs are lost in an electronic sea.
You have to wonder why so many young people, in the UK particularly, are falling head over heels to get themselves into debt for the sake of higher education. When I think about it myself, I know it’s that hallucination of a dream job at the end. I was once empowered by my education; and the feeling was indescribably good. There was an exhilarating excitement where university was like a constant pep rally teaching me to jump around and be ‘innovative’ and a ‘team player’ and ‘creative in my problem solving’.
So how do I solve this one, when it feels like I just striked myself out? Last year it was reported that about one-in-five graduates were in low or medium skilled jobs on average across the whole of the working population. The reasoning behind it was that there are simply too many graduates, and not enough ‘quality jobs’. When universities talk about their employment rates at open days, they fail to mention that the figure isn’t exclusive to industry specific jobs. But, any job at all is an achievement and worth having. I’d be lying if I said at the moment that I wasn’t just desperate for a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I force myself to shower, dress and go for walks. I tell myself either to eat or to stop eating and to go out and try to socialise. Anything to keep my mind occupied. A job in hospitality or retail allows that daily, and I feel like that sort of role would help with finding my confidence and maintaining my work ethic.
Recently I’ve found myself having trust issues with agencies and jumping when the phone rings. I hold my breath when I get an email and bite my fingernails out of unease when reading job profiles from wanting to be that person. All of the personality tests and cover letters and ranking the best scenario and the worst, all of the CV tweaking and the adding education and experience segment by segment and the character profile, it’s draining. It’s mundane. It’s dehumanising. And I’m exhausted of it. It was last reported that 40% of grads are found to still be job hunting six months after graduating, so there’s that to look forward to. Not just being out of work, but the having to find the money to live in the meantime.
But ultimately I know that I am more than my A Level results at a community college and my LinkedIn skills. Some may argue that graduates feeling the blues is a reaction to being slapped in the face by reality. I say that’s unfair. We’ve locked horns with reality. So when I’m trying to decide what’s better – a straight up rejection email or to be ignored, I keep telling myself this: the moment I fully stop believing in myself, is the moment I lose. But nothing has to be instantaneous. Maybe it pays to take a breather.
Words by Tanyel Gumushan