Big Issues

What No One Tells You About Life After Graduation

A degree doesn't equal a career.

The advice often given to young people from politicians, lecturers, and anyone who received a $30,000 inheritance is that if we just “work hard”, everything will fall in to place for the future.

Young people – and basically anyone searching for a new career – know that this simply isn’t the case. This kind of advice is just another way to demonise us and make us seem lazy. In reality, we’re working really hard. We’re navigating the gig economy, we’re working in fields unrelated to our degree, we’re underemployed, we’re competing with more graduates.

Why is no one giving us this advice? Why weren’t we told about the reality of life post-graduation?

A Degree Does Not Equal A Career

We spoke to Sharon, 24, who just graduated with First Class Honors in a Bachelor of Science. She’s unable to find any work in her related field, so she’s had to take a job as technical staff in a lab where her job is to wash glassware. Literally.

“I’m a highly skilled, qualified molecular biologist and I can only find maintenance work,” she told Uni Junkee. “Honestly, it’s depressing. What was any of that degree for? It just feels like wasted time and money.”

I relate to Sharon more than most. I have a lot of experience within the media and communications industry, some of it paid, most of it not. Throughout my degree, I undertook four internships, each stretching for periods of 3-12 months, and finally landed a month-long contract job that paid me for my work. During my final semester, I began to apply for a countless number of entry-level jobs. Out of this mammoth amount of applications, I landed 12 interviews, and was knocked back from every single one.

I even wrote about how disheartening it was, but that I wasn’t losing faith. My outlook has changed.

Every time I was rejected, I was told the same thing: “we went with someone who had a bit more experience”. I have worked within the industry, as well as doing my day job to pay my rent and bills, collectively for over two and a half years. Through these internships and sparse contract jobs — that I seemed to land by nothing more than a mere miracle — I worked in multiple different departments and had been exposed to all facets of the industry.

“I did everything ‘right’… Yet here I am, a wealth of experience, qualifications and knowledge and nothing to show for it.”

I’ve done some savvy social media investigating to discover who has gotten these jobs over me, and their prior experience — for an entry-level role, mind you — had been a minimum of 12 months at a publication. So all you have to do to land your first job in your chosen career is to have already worked in it for a substantial period of time at the same employer. Are our qualifications nothing more than decoration?

Universities Are Failing Us

Neema, 22, graduated over 12 months ago with a Bachelor of Communication and is also yet to find work. “I did everything ‘right’,” she said. “Internships, contract jobs, degrees and qualifications, but I’m still stuck behind the register of a retail counter. Meanwhile my degree is collecting dust on my bedroom floor.” 

Neema says that she feels her university misled her, and that they didn’t do enough to prepare students for the reality of the job market. She says, “They totally lied to us. ‘If you get this mark, you’ll qualify for this job. If you do this extra-curricular, it’ll bolster your resume.’ I did all of these things and more, yet here I am, a wealth of experience, qualifications and knowledge and nothing to show for it. They’re just a business. They don’t care about us.” 

A recent study found that only 13 per cent of young Australians felt “very optimistic” about their future, which is the lowest of all nine countries in the study. The same study found that we have to be a lot more flexible and resilient than ever to compete in the job market.

Changing How We Talk About Degrees

We need to hold our universities to higher standards. We need to question what exactly we’re spending out money on. While there may not be a whole lot we can do on a large scale, we can have meetings with lecturers and question our uni’s decisions on funding for certain subjects over others. We can make an effort for our voice to be heard.

When your parents, or their friends — or even people within your own circle — continue to ask what’s taken you so long to begin your career, don’t just laugh it off. Tell them how difficult it is for our generation. Explain that this is an issue that transcends your choice of degree and grade point average.

It’s really hard, and there are no quick fixes, but continue to raise these issues with people who will listen, and know you’re doing the best you can. And most importantly, know you’re not alone.