History in the Making

Post-Grad Life- One to Five Years On

Life after university (college if you are one of my lovely American readers) is an impossible and confusing maze to navigate, as the Baby Boomers (BB) and Gen X-ers faced an entirely different world. Way back when, when tenacity, a willingness to work, and common sense were enough to get you a job (a diploma or a degree was helpful but not necessary). Now, a Bachelor’s degree is essentially the new high school diploma but a Masters’ degree leads to over-education, and it leads to ridiculous competition for the few jobs available due to BB working later and later in life. Despite a proliferation of blogs and social media, we really only see the “success” stories- the bloggers that somehow make $400,000/year and the Instagrammers pulling in $3,000+ per post. Today’s post is a realistic look at what post-graduate life looks like for the average millenial (aka, moi).

Post grad lessons, five years on

This is a typical exchange that I’ve had probably close to a hundred times now:
Baby Boomer: What are you doing now?
An Historian: I work at a university in administrative work!
Baby Boomer: Do you really love it, though? What is your passion?
An Historian: My passion is paying my student loans and slowly building work experience in the hopes that I will eventually be a sufficient adult….

I don’t know what it is with Baby Boomers, but they are obsessed with you finding your inner passion and being in love with what you are doing. Me personally, as long as I have solid and kind people for co-workers and I feel like I’m making a difference, I’m happy working in most settings. I like to think that I’m not unrealistic about what types and levels of jobs I am qualified for, and I don’t believe that I am a special snowflake who should be able to work from home and travel the world while my company provides gluten-free food that hasn’t seen moonlight and organic coffee shakes. (I don’t know if these things exist, but the world moves fast….)

For background, I completed two undergraduate degrees in History (and associated areas) here in Winnipeg, and then I completed my Master of Arts in Early Irish History at University College Dublin. I have no loans from my undergraduate studies but I do from my graduate work! I am lucky to have supportive (but entirely grounded and realistic) parents.

Year One, Post Grad

Upon arriving back home in August 2013, I applied for upwards of 85 jobs. EIGHTY FIVE. Eighty five basic administrative jobs, such as receptionists, file clerks, and assistants. I heard nothing and in the meantime I went back to working at the bookstore that I worked at during my undergrad. I felt downtrodden and quite frankly worthless- society keeps telling us that more education is always better, but I couldn’t get a response for jobs that only required a high school diploma? I kept plugging away at the bookstore not believing that I would hear anything else. At the end of October I heard back from one of the jobs I had applied to in August, and they asked for an interview. I was a little excited but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I had my interview in mid-November (I thought it went well), but didn’t hear in the time frame I was given. I didn’t put much more thought into it. However, in mid December 2013, I was offered the job! I started working at the university in January 2014. It was an entry-level position but I had some wonderful co-workers, and a supportive supervisor and director. The rest of the first year saw me plugging away! My biggest relief was a steady and decent paycheque for when my student loan repayments started again.
Year One, Post-Grad Lessons
Lessons Learned:
1) My administrative experience from previous jobs was irrelevant, unfortunately. You are pretty much starting from scratch when you graduate.
2) Anything more than a standard four year Bachelor, and people will assume that you are over-educated and that you will leave immediately to go back to academics.
3) Sometimes hiring processes are slow, and you have to be patient. I thought that the university hiring system took forever, but now that I see it from the other side, I recognise that each member of the hiring committee has to read applications, interviews have to fit everyone’s schedules, justifications and paperwork need to be written and completed, and HR has to do their thing!
4) Remember to give yourself a little time to just enjoy life. It is incredibly easy to stay down on yourself but that won’t help you get a job, or even just stay even keel. Enjoy the little things.

Year Two, Post Grad

By now, I was feeling bored in my job but I continued to push on and challenge myself to improve and streamline what I could, and to continue to learn. I re-developed reports, I learned other systems, I even taught myself basic HTML. I lost out on a higher job to a co-worker and I took it very hard- I was again reminded that my admin experience prior to working at the university was still considered outdated (what made me think that even more time passing would make it relevant again I do not know) and that my education wouldn’t be a deciding factor, either. However, I buckled down and pushed myself to do more in my position, including developing a training manual for my position and still trying to do as much to help those around me as I could. It was an important lesson to learn, because it changed the way I described my own experience and skills and it highlighted what is important to employers. Closer to the end of my second year, I was lucky enough to get a higher position for a maternity leave in a related department, and I was so happy to have stuck through the tough times in my first position. My MA actually played a large part in my getting the position, and I cannot be more grateful for someone taking a chance on me.

Year Two, Post Grad Lessons.jpg
Lessons Learned: 
1) Always challenge yourself in your job. Realistically, you have to push yourself- no one else will do it for you.
2) When you lose a promotion/job at work, sometimes you might not ever know why. You have to get over it.
3) Nothing will replace sheer amount of work experience. You might be a genius (which I am not), but at a point, employers just want a proven track record.
4) Get to know your co-workers. It will help you in numerous ways- work can be more pleasant, you will have more support, and you won’t feel alone!

Year Three Post Grad

I was still in the second department that I moved to at the university, and moved to a third position. I “celebrated” (that’s in quotations because I just ate two cupcakes at lunch that day…) three full years at the university, and I felt confident that I wherever I move I will have a resume full of quantitative skills and experience that will not hinder me in a job search. I have worked directly with students, I have worked with faculty, and I have worked with upper level university administration- I understand how to handle myself differently in each of those situations. I know that I will most likely be at home for a while in order to save as much money as possible, and that I am incredibly lucky to have supportive parents who do know that I am working hard and are able to help me.
Year Three, Post-Grad Life
Lessons Learned:
1) You will slowly become the person who is depended on. This is an excellent sign, it shows that you are trusted! However, make sure that you don’t end up overworking as a result of it.
2) Continually update your resume. Keep your resume up to date- even if you aren’t applying to other jobs, having a record of exactly all you have done in your position is valuable.
3) Criticism is useful. If no one ever tells you what you are doing wrong, you can’t fix it. Think of it as actively bettering yourself.
4) The way you look at work is important! No matter the level of formality, be clean, unwrinkled, and put together. You never know who will stop by!

Year Four and Five, Post Grad

I’ve now moved on to another department at the university, and I am loving it! I went through an incredibly difficult break up and a very rough period in my last job, and I had a lot of weeks and months where getting out of bed felt like climbing a mountain when I didn’t have legs to get me there. I took a chance and applied to a new department, and the change of scenery has done wonders for me; although the work and volume can be challenging, I’ve really come to learn that supportive co-workers can really make or break a position, and I am lucky to have an incredibly supportive team around me. I am hoping to move to the UK in the next 3-4 years, so I am working as hard as I can to pay off loans and save as much as humanely possible, as well as continue to build different skills. (Hello, database work!)

Years Four and Five post grad lessons

1) Recognise when you need a change. If you are truly unhappy, if you are being bullied at work, if you feel like you are in a bad situation at work, start looking elsewhere. You can’t keep waiting for someone else to change, sometimes you have to make the change yourself!
2) You might end up somewhere unexpected. I never thought I would be working in the office that I am, largely in database work, but it is fantastic experience and I’m really enjoying the job. Don’t write things off, and don’t make assumptions, because you just might end up there.
3) Nothing is below you. Don’t be too arrogant to help someone in lower position, don’t think that you are too important to do a task, don’t assume that you are better than those around you. We all have different experiences in life, and we all come with different talents.
4) Be willing to speak up. Make respectful suggestions at work- especially when you are new to a position, you may spot things that people who have been in the role for years might not. Take some time to think on it, and make a few thoughtful recommendations.

Personal and career growth is slow; it won’t happen overnight. Take solace in the fact that we are all in this together, and that we are doing this without any sort of guidebook. We are the first generation to be worse-off than our parents, and we need to be realistic about our achievements. Be patient and celebrate the small- the small is just as important! And don’t feel like you have to pretend that everything is the greatest that it is has ever been- I can guarantee you that 90% of millenials are going through the exact same situation.

Fellow Millenials- what lessons have you learned so far? And what questions are stuck on your mind? Leave a comment below, or share on Twitter with #MillenialLife! Also, please leave your blog posts below about life as a millenial!

Until tomorrow,
The Historian
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26 thoughts on “Post-Grad Life- One to Five Years On”

  • I can totally relate to all of this. I am definitely far more qualified for my job than I need to be, but my passion for what I’ve studied definitely helped me. Also, the get to know your co-workers thing is a great tip too. Since starting at the zoo, I’ve basically tried to “get my fingers in as many pies” if that makes sense. I’ve got a second job from working there, I’ve asked to be on the volunteer waiting list, and I’ve been offered to shadow for my dream job in the hope that it may lead me to that place in the future. I’m still definitely right at the start of all of this though but I can definitely relate to some of it!

  • Wow, this post is seriously amazing! My blog is centered solely around post-grad life and experiences, that this post just sparked so much inspiration for my future posts, and thought process in general!

  • Girl, did I write this?!? This sounds SO MUCH like my life and struggles after college it isn’t even funny! I graduated with my BA in elementary education when teachers allocations were being lost left and right. Yay! Go me! I couldn’t get a damn job at a GROCERY STORE! It was for the exact reason you mentioned-they knew I’d leave the second I got a teaching job. It took me three years to finally get a teaching job. I don’t have my Masters, but don’t even get me started on how I feel about that. Though, for a time, teachers with Masters couldn’t get jobs, because districts didn’t want to pay them what their salary is. Craziness! Gah! I’m struggling just to barely make my crazy student loan bill each month. Sucks.

    • I’m pretty sure *I* wrote this! 😉 I graduated with my bachelors and went straight on to my masters, which left me graduating at the height of the recession AND “over educated.” I couldn’t even get many retail jobs! Getting my foot in the door in my industry took over a year of waiting it out (working at a coffee shop to make ends meet) and just steadily applying for jobs.

    • I’m lucky that I’m Canadian, and my bills are manage-able (though not a walk in the park, by any stretch). I remember the absolute panic knowing that I was 4 months from my student loans going into repayment and knowing that my entire paycheque would be dedicated to them. I don’t even understand how US student loans work, how is it possible to pay it back?!? Thanks, older generations…

      • Yeah, it’s bad. ESPECIALLY if you’re a moron and take out private student loans. My loans are $412 a month and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it, but pay it. It’s more than my half of the rent.

  • Really helpful!! But here’s what I have always found tricky- I have so much retail experience compared to what I am currently in school for (Museum Studies). So, how do I know what retail experience to transfer over to a museum-relevant CV? And do I transfer the whole experience or just the skills? And that would then I feel create a whole other type of resumee… you see where I’m going with this I hope.

    • I do know where you are going!! I would personally pull out individual skills and tailor it to the position you are applying for! Highering committees aren’t great at considering possibilities and what you could be- I think you need to tell them exactly what you can do in THAT specific position

    • YAy for Museum Studies. I work at a museum in the Education Department and I would say all your customer service skills are relevant! The museum I am in is what I would call medium sized, about 9 full time and 4 part-time and we are always helping each other out. From using a POS machine at the gift shop, explaining hours and events going on, answering emails, phone calls, inventory of gift shop, placing orders at staples or other office supply stores. If you speak another language other than English, even just conversational French or something else is a huge asset. The biggest advice I’d give is volunteer! And I know school/work/social life makes it hard for volunteering but it’s a huge leg up in hiring! Also, you don’t always need to be there to volunteer. We had a lady take home a lot of our craft stuff and cut and prep at home. (you could do that while watching TV or quizzing yourself with q-cards) or computer stuff you could do at home.

      • I don’t think I would be interested in volunteering in a retail setting (I worked many years in retail and don’t love it, haha)- is there a way to volunteer on the museum/history side of things??

        • I wasn’t recommending volunteering in retail but museums or historic sites. They are always looking for volunteers as non-profits. In regards to Meryn’s original comment, if Meryn or whoever is looking to volunteer to add to a resume then pick something that is project based. Instead of saying you’ve volunteered x amount of hours over y period you’ll end up with ‘I completed this project of inputting 250 objects into collections database using PastPerfect (a common museum database)’. That demonstrates a skill you have and a completion project. Which is also vey helpful to the museum you’re volunteering at. Maybe a research based project or volunteering for special events or drop in programs. Hope that clarifies my previous comment.

          • I worded it poorly- I meant I wouldn’t be interested in volunteering in a retail capacity at a museum (which a lot of what I see offered). I would love to volunteer for a project, I think it would be a perfect fit! Now to find one in Winnipeg that isn’t during business hours haha

            • oh gotcha! so at the museum I work at we do have volunteers at the front desk/retail but usually they have other projects they are working on when people aren’t in. so it’s a good balance depending on what the project is what how you work in that type of environmentk. We also have volunteers come in on weekends (we’re not open evenings-unless special events). I would look into what sort of research project you could do on your own time at home. Depending on what material you’d use it could be taken home or it might already be accessible online. That way you could do it remotely. And at least where I am we’re understanding that most people have 9-5 jobs so if someone wants to volunteer for us, we’re accommodating for a first meeting after hours to get that person set up.
              Don’t be afraid to ask for options.

              • Oooo, I am going to get in touch with a few local museums, too!! I saw someone recommend somewhere on Reddit to reach out to museums and projects in other cities, to see if they have online work. I have so much more hope now!!

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