When I graduated, it seemed like everyone was excited but me.
Yes, I was happy to be finished with assignments and tests, but as my pre-graduation job searching continued to yield no results, I began to dread the idea of having no response to the question: “So you’ve graduated… what’s next?” No matter how friendly and well-intentioned the question was, it resounded in my head as a stressful, judgemental, “What’s next?!”
What I’ve come to realize is that looking for work is a perfectly valid next step after graduation, and it’s okay if that process takes a while. Along the way, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks for making the most of what I like to call funemployment: purpose-driven, goal-oriented free time.
Make Job-Hunting Your Job
Surprise! You actually have a job now: it’s sales and marketing, and the product is you. As a salesperson, you’re going to need to set some goals for yourself.
If you had a job, you’d be in work mode for most of the day, so try to replicate that schedule. If the thought of eight hours of job applications makes you want to crawl under your covers and watch Netflix forever, start out smaller. Spend one hour each day on job searches, cover letter and resume writing, skill building, and branding. That’s half of a typical workday, and you’ll be better for it.
Once you’ve given yourself time, you can start to be purposeful with it. Set some goals: how many jobs will you apply to in a week? Which application deadlines are approaching, and how are you going to manage them? What skills keep coming up in job descriptions, and how can you build them?
I’m a visual person and I love lists. If you’re like me, keep a calendar to track your job-hunting progress. You can write out weekly and daily goals and check them off as you go – it will help you stay afloat in a sea of application deadlines. Sparkly star stickers are optional, but encouraged.
Find your best environment
You’ve been a student almost your entire life. After hundreds of assignments and study sessions, you know what you need to do to achieve your best results. Did you write all your assignments at home, or did you live at the library during exam season? Did you have a favourite study playlist, or did you work better in silence? Think back to your favourite ways of tackling schoolwork and modify them to your new career as a job hunter.
For me, this meant getting out of the house. I’m someone who’s very attuned to my environment, and I focus best in spaces that I’ve designated for work. That way, I can work distraction-free during the day, and switch off my ‘work mode’ when I come home. If you’re like me, settle in at a coffee shop, library, or any public space with free internet, and get down to business.
Take a break
When you’re worried about what comes next, it’s easy to let job-hunting take over your entire life. Especially if you spend a lot of free time on your computer anyway, it can be so tempting to just check out one more job page. I like to combat this problem by designating some internet-free time: when I wake up in the morning, I try not to check emails or job boards until I’ve gone to the gym and had breakfast.
Remember: job-hunting is your new career. If you put in a solid effort during your workday, it’s okay to kick back and enjoy some down time. While it’s important to devote enough time to your career prospects, be cautious of burning yourself out with too much of a good thing.
Love where you are
After what seemed like hundreds of awkward “What’s next?” conversations, I realized something important: my loved ones weren’t asking me these questions to punish me. They were seeing a silver lining for me that I was missing through my fog of stress and anxiety. They were asking because they were excited for me, and assumed that I felt the same way.
You’re on the verge of starting your first big career, and soon you might be paying your dues as a young professional and wishing for the free time you have now. Learn to embrace the freedom. Doodle in the blank margins of your schedule with activities that you love. Do things because you want to do them, not because you’re being graded. Activities and interests will help you become a more well-rounded person, making you more employable in the long run.