Unfortunately, you don’t get a manual on how to navigate the treacherous path from university or college life to a job that’s meaningful. This leaves a lot of us (me included) anxious, confused and in need of a healthy dose of guidance as we figure it out. Here are 4 tips I’ve learnt to help minimizing the chaos and find work that works for you.
Budget for experimentation
As a student, you have the gift of time. Yes, it can be tempting to Netflix and Chill and I’m not here to stop the party. But, for most degrees, it’s likely you will have less than twenty contact hours a week and five months of holidays a year. Over the course of a four-year degree that’s about a 1.5 years of free time so use it wisely, be experimental.
Interning helps decipher work you love and you can live without.
During my bachelors degree, I did two internships at the urging of my dad to get some practical experience. For my first I wound up at an advertising agency assisting on a few TV ads while trying to keep my cool when I was asked to do even the smallest of tasks. Feeling a little more daring I completed my second at Samantha Wills a fashion jewelry company where I observed the inner workings of a retail business from sales forecasting, to PR launch events.
Internships taught me how to work and had me try my hand at a range of tasks and figure out which ones I actually enjoyed.
The art of play
Boredom, that creeping feeling of irritation that compels you to fill your time with an activity is a gift. One that has been lost in our time of mass distraction.
It seems we’ve lost the art of play, the art of seizing the day.
Enforcing digital discipline was a sure-fire way to wet my appetite for play.
It was only when my mind stopped grasping for what others were doing and looked for something to do that boredom bore something interesting. I began visiting museums and sketching ideas, enjoying the simple fun of making, just for me.
Sketching re-kindled childhood days in art class where I would lose hours buried in piles of papers and color pastels re-creating a Picasso or Matisse. Without this creative play, it’s unlikely I would have headed down the path of design and ended up at IDEO.
Academia isn't the only way
That fear in your gut that festers throughout your degree about the application of what you are studying to real life is not unjustified. While university is great at teaching critical thinking it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of mapping the future of work and ways to get there.
Critical thinking + in demand skills.
Don’t be afraid to compliment higher education with less traditional modes of learning. Sites like Udemy, Lyndal and Master Class or colleges like General Assembly which started as a co-working space (a.k.a forward thinking) can give you the chance to acquire a practical, in demand skills and fill up your portfolio.
General Assembly was a game changer for me in becoming a Designer Researcher.
While working in market research I collaborated on a project with a User Experience Designer. I was fascinated how insights could be translated into a product and wanted a way to test out if this was a career path I would one I’d enjoy. GA's part time immersive in UXD enabled me to taste test this field and learn the basics before investing in a Masters degree in Design.
Invest in brand you
Don't wait for some brilliant person to pluck you from oblivion and mentor you. Use sites like Medium and LinkedIn to find people whose ideas and way of thinking intrigue you. Make note of how they brand themselves on LinkedIn, skills they have tagged, their tone of voice and places of work. Use this as your checklist for skills to build into your learning.
Showcase your experiments.
Gone are the days where creating a website required coding and graphic design. Sites like SquareSpace make building a clean, professional site simple and fun.
Even if you are at the start of your journey documenting your thinking through a portfolio may be enough to open a conversation as it shows initiative and experimentation.
A friend Micaela Brookman launched her site prior to graduation and treats it as living, evolving artifact. Her curation of work and personal projects has led to some incredible roles in a short time and acts as a canvas for her quirky character which is a plus for employers looking for cultural fit which simply can’t be conveyed through a resume.
Walking the path from WTF to work that feels like play isn't quick but can be so much fun. That is, if you give yourself enough permission to be open to the experience and approach it with an experimental mindset of simply figuring it out along the way.