It’s every student’s greatest nightmare but, unfortunately, it’s not that uncommon.
Research shows it is taking 4.7 years on average for graduates to go from full-time study to full-time work, and only 65% of graduates are in full-time jobs four months after graduating (The Foundation of Young Australians, 2015). Currently, 30% of Australia’s young people aged 15 to 24 are either unemployed or underemployed (McPherson, 2017).
For this reason, it’s important that students begin preparing for industry changes before they even graduate, and learn how to develop skills they can use in other industries.
Certain industries have always had a reputation for being difficult to penetrate. For example, GradAustralia’s annual survey of students found that while 22% of law students expected a job after graduation, only 5% of humanities students expected to find a job (2017). That being said, recent and ongoing changes to the workforce have made it even harder to find entry-level jobs.
USQ alumnus Tom, for example, was set on a career in radio, but struggled to find work after he graduated from his Bachelor of Applied Media degree, despite knowing ‘the right people’ and having an extensive portfolio.
‘In my first year, I was sat in a lecture room with 40 other students and our lecturer said, ‘There are 40 of you in this room and statistically only two of you will leave here with jobs in the industry’. Whether or not that was factually correct, we all knew the reality that film, television and radio jobs aren’t in high demand, particularly in Australia.
‘While I knew it wouldn’t be easy, this was almost motivating in a way that you wanted to prove you could beat the odds and be above the other 38. I had this vision of someone tuning into one of my drive-time shifts and thinking, ‘That’s the guy I want to hear talking on my station every afternoon’.
'But the phone call never came.
'The jobs I was applying for; I couldn’t even get in the door for an interview. I kept in contact with my lecturers who sent regular opportunities my way, but that’s as far as they [the jobs] went.
'They say the industry is all about who you know, but I was finding out the hard way that even though I knew the right people, things weren’t just going to fall into my lap.
'It was hard to face friends who were working in television studios and forging forward in their careers while I worked for free, talking to what felt like nobody while working for a community radio station and delivering groceries to pay my bills.'
If you find yourself in a similar situation, as a university graduate, the good news is that it’s not necessarily you that is the problem. Apparently, two thirds of graduating students expect to be searching for a job three months after graduating, while 22% expect to be searching for up to a year (Blau, 2017). It’s not that you don’t have the skills, knowledge and experience to get an entry-level job, it’s just that as the world of work changes rapidly, the goal posts might have shifted.
It’s for this reason that USQ careers and employability expert Michael Healy argues we need to expand the way we think about starting a career in our ‘industry’. For example, many science graduates go on to work in sales in pharma or bio-chemistry companies. Technically, these are not ‘science’ roles per se, but they are still working in the industry. Likewise, most people associate hotel jobs as belonging to the hospitality and tourism industries, but hotels also require finance, HR, marketing, IT, engineering and sales specialist knowledge to be successful.
What this means is that you don’t need to be confined to what you think of as your industry to find work that you are qualified to do, and that aligns with your studies, which opens the door to so many more opportunities!
This is what Tom found, when he began working in a marketing role.
‘I initially took a three-month contract where I work now (a marketing team in the higher education industry) with the intention of using three months’ worth of full-time experience and pay to re-invigorate my hunger for a career in radio. However, I found myself loving the work and environment I was in and jumped at the possibility of a contract extension. Four years later, I’m lucky to have been able to make my job my own.
‘My radio background meant that I could pioneer a podcast project for the team, something that no one else in the team had the skills or knowledge to do. My research and writing skills from my journalism major meant sourcing information and transforming it into content came quickly to me. Even just basic communication skills, an attention to detail when proofing my colleagues’ work and de-escalating confrontational situations (no thanks to some sticky group-work scenarios) were all skills I took for granted, but were essential to my grounding in a new industry.
‘Coming into the team with a fresh perspective actually made me a valuable asset and opened the door to opportunity, rather than hindering my performance. The basic marketing skills still took a lot of fast-paced learning and I am still filling the gaps in my knowledge every day as I work; however, the skills, experience and attitude towards learning developed during my degree made me what I am today, even if that isn’t a radio journalist.’
USQ alumna Hayley has also found success by pursuing a career that isn’t limited to the non-traditional industry pathway. Having studied journalism and English literature at USQ, Hayley is now working in the digital lab of a financial services company, as well as running her own consultancy practice working with teams and business across all types of industries doing what she loves – telling stories through words and pictures.
‘We must stop talking about different industries like they are silos we are funnelling ourselves into, it is restrictive and unnecessary. Most skills can be applied to a broad range of opportunities if you are open to seeing them. Sometimes being the only person in a work environment with your particular mix of skills can be an asset for you – maybe you bring fresh perspective that is highly valued. Maybe you can innovate an old way of doing things that others were unable to see. In the innovation lab where I work, the design team is made up of me, an English Literature major, a psychologist who specialises in behavioural economics, a design anthropologist, and a high school dropout who went on to have several entrepreneurial successes. Your degree is your launch pad, but where it takes you is up to you.
‘I absolutely love what I do. I get to combine all of my skills and passions, not just those that I learnt at university, into a vocation that lets me be the best version of myself every day. My career has been broader, more satisfying and more successful for not having been restricted to a particular industry. I’ve carved a space for myself … what more could I want? I am exactly where I am supposed to be.’
Changing the way you think about industries opens up the doors to so many new opportunities you may never have considered before.
There are many things you can do to prepare yourself to crack into a new market. You may like to consider:
1. Looking at LinkedIn’s Alumni-finder tool
This handy resource will show where graduates of your degree have gone on to work and many will be in adjacent or quite different industries. Use this information to inspire you, reassure you, and give you ideas of new companies and industries where you can start looking for work.
Whether it be utilising your existing networks, building new networks, attending networking functions or online networking such as LinkedIn, connect with others and mention you’re looking for the next opportunity.
3. Upskilling yourself
Whether it be looking into gaining additional formal qualifications, professional development or online courses, taking the time to upskill shows that you have a vested interest in making it in your new chosen industry. For most industries, enterprise skills are more than 50% of the skills requested by employers of young candidates, so it makes sense to do what you can to develop these skills and learn how to demonstrate them during the job application process (The Foundation of Young Australians, 2017).
4. Updating your cover letters and résumé
When it comes to your cover letter and résumé, be upfront and address the fact that you’re changing industries, and why. As long as you have relevant skills, qualifications and experience, can highlight your transferrable skills, and show a genuine passion and interest for the industry you are trying to break into, the fact that you’re changing industries shouldn’t be a big problem.
5. Considering other work options
While you are probably hoping to gain full-time employment, consider whether another work arrangement would be beneficial in the short-term. Have you considered pursuing freelance work, a casual, part-time, temporary or remote position? Apart from financial benefits, these alternative work options can help you develop new skills while you look for a full-time job.
You can find more tips and advice for changing careers in this article.
If you’re struggling to find graduate employment, the main thing is not to give up or become disheartened. Yes, the goal posts may have moved, but the world of work is constantly changing, and you have the ability to adapt and succeed.
Bec Boddington, a USQ careers and employability expert says, ‘Don’t throw in the towel. Think smarter! Explore the hidden job market, try cold calling, write a blog or social content on the industry you are interested in, join a professional association in your desired field, or volunteer! All of these ideas can potentially open career doors for you!’
Did you know that as a USQ alumni you can make a free one-on-one appointment with a Career Development Practitioner to discuss your job applications, career goals and interview skills up to one year after graduation? Get in touch to make an appointment now, and you’ll be one step closer to getting that job.
Blau, A. (2017). What students want from their graduate employment in 2017. Retrieved from https://gradaustralia.com.au/news/what-students-want-from-their-graduate-employment-2017
McPherson, S. (2017) Shifting the paradigm around what it means to learn. The Foundation of Young Australians. Retrieved from https://www.fya.org.au/2017/11/28/shifting-paradigm-around-means-learn/
The Foundation of Young Australians. (2015). How are the young people faring in the transition from school to work? Report card 2015. Retrieved from https://www.fya.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/How-young-people-are-faring-report-card-2015-FINAL.pdf