I thought that I ticked all the quintessential boxes when it to grad job applications. Upper middle-class upbringing. Tick. North Shore selective high schooling. Tick. Tick. Dux, state rankings and ATAR over 99. Tick. Commerce degree with distinction WAM from UNSW. Tick. Relevant work experience, a few networking events under my belt and mates in the industry. Tick.
I honestly thought that KPMG, CBA and Unilever would be jostling to have me. But the reality was that only a handful asked for interviews, and a couple progressed to assessment centres. And when I looked at my promissory job spreadsheet called “WERK”, there was only red as the final polite rejection was emailed through.
Disappointed was an understatement and the word gutted landed front of mind. The other feeling I couldn’t help was the profound jealousy that I had towards my classmates and high school friends whose employment pieces were all falling into place. The green-eyed monster was eating away at me and it was impacting my relationships and mental health significantly.
Unexpectedly, as my internship was concluding at a medium-sized not-for-profit, I was offered a full-time role in their marketing team. My major was Business Law, and my internship was in events management, so the job was obtuse to my perceived skillset. And the office was fun but not at all what I imagined my full-time work looking like. I took a punt and said yes. As the work progressed, it became apparent that my UNSW Business School acumen married well with my events experiences so I could stick to budget, meet deadlines, balance stakeholders and get creative. My managers took the time to push and nurture me, and opportunities to progress continued to fortuitously open.
My seemingly unconventional experience got me thinking about the “typical” career path, and beyond lamenting how shitty high school careers advisers are, I realised that the expectation of that a typical path is an unrealistic one. The idea that degrees flow to internships, and internships flow to grad jobs, and grads flow to gainful employment is a pretty anachronistic concept. Turns out, my experience isn’t that unusual. Atypical is the new typical, and you can expect the unexpected when it comes to jobs.
In 2017, The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) published a series of reports under the heading “New Work Order” which use heaps of data to demystify the workforce. The main takeaway is that the workforce is drastically shifting from an efficiency mindset to effectiveness mindset. If that sounds a bit too buzz wordy, read the full report here.
The TD:LR is that having a range of soft skills will make you extremely employable. Skills like problem-solving with quantitative and qualitative analysis; communicating with a range of stakeholders; and delivering complex projects are described as “portable” (transferrable) to heaps of different jobs. Once you overlay hard, technical skills (chemistry, teaching, design, etc) on your portable skills you will open a huge range of potential jobs for yourself. In hindsight, that’s exactly what inadvertently happened to me.
So get your head out of the standardised grad job trajectory. Get creative, get imaginative, and get to know your unique skills. Then think broadly about the workforce – about industries that excite you, and roles that would thrill you. You just have to be patient, do your research and be flexible. The new work order means your dream job might not exist yet, but your skills are valuable and portable.