How to Choose Your Path After Graduation?
You’ve graduated from university. Now, what's next?
If you are anxious about choosing a career path or your mind goes blank when asked, 'What do I want to do next?', you are not the only one. You may feel more pressure if some of your peers have a job lined up or are going through interviews and recruitment processes.
It is also quite common to wonder what you should do next, especially since the idea of a career path is changing, and it is no longer starting a corporate role and climbing the ladder. Now, you can become self-employed, have a side hustle while working or return to school.
When I faced that crossroad some years ago — close to a decade ago, to be more precise — I wasn't even sure what I wanted to do with my degree. So I thought about doing a master's programme right away, but it didn't feel like the right timing for me.
Instead, I worked as a communications and public affairs specialist for some years before understanding what I was passionate about and what was missing in my career path. Now, I am on the entrepreneurial journey, building my own agency.
So, while I can keep going on and on about my particular experience, I want to share the advice that experts and career advisors shared with us about choosing a path that feels right for you.
Should you do a postgraduate right after uni?
It is natural to keep studying and gain further education when you have worked towards academic qualifications for a long time.
There is also data on how higher education levels correlate to higher earnings. People with master's and PhD graduates earn more on average than those with only an undergraduate degree. However, this is not 100% guaranteed, and there are earning inequalities depending on gender and background.
LMF Network's founder, Sonya Barlow, recently shared in the LMF Podcast her experience with students who asked her if they should do a master's programme, and her answer was… 'No'.
“I’m not saying don’t do a master’s eventually. I’m saying don’t do a master’s for the sake of doing it because you don’t know what else to do…do a master’s if you need to stay in the country longer to find a job…people that need sponsorship or visas that’s a good route to level up whilst you’re still on the hunt. Do a master if you are super secure in what you want to do…and specialise in.”
In that way, Marketer Clo Tommo agrees as her advice is to:
“Start working! I found that my MA was more useful to study when I had a wider context and experience of the working world.”
Dr Carolina Are, Phd, blogger and pole dance instructor, also shares that "it's better to go off and work and make up your mind about what you like and don't like in the real world instead of going straight to Academia."
On the other hand, studying for a postgraduate degree right after university has some pros. As a younger person, you have more energy and probably more motivation — and discipline — for academic life.
After several years in the workforce, returning to school was challenging. I was no longer used to reading and writing in an academic way, and I was too used to the fast-paced environment of the corporate world.
Hristina Stefanova, Senior Marketing Manager at ITSL Group says that if “you don’t go for a Master’s Degree right after your undergraduate studies, you will not be inclined to do it later on. I spent just one year working before pursuing an MSc in Marketing Management. It was already difficult to go back to studying and to student life in general.”
Stefanova also points out that education can give you advantages such as discipline, networking opportunities and resilience-building.
“In a nutshell, my opinion is that any undergraduate student should pursue further qualifications before deep-diving into the world of working adults”, she adds.
So, is it better to get to work right away?
“It depends on the graduate’s personality and how they want to develop their career”, says Professor Nigel Adams, Director of the Enterprise & Innovation Unit (BEIU) at the University of Buckingham.
Many factors will influence the career decisions we make. While some can afford to take months or even a gap year to decide, others might need to start working right away to support themselves — and even help their families. Furthermore, if you are an international student, you might need to get a sponsored role to stay in the country you studied.
Understanding and being realistic about your situation will help you narrow your choices and focus more on achieving your goals. The good thing is that no job is a waste of time. You will gain experience, develop your skills and become more comfortable in work settings.
Lauren Wakeling, UK Country Manager at CoursesOnline, shares that “unless you want to go into a highly technical or specialised subject such as medicine or engineering, you’re best served by getting a job after graduation.
Work experience and the skills that can only be learned in such an environment are what employers tend to want, and you can always supplement your learning at a later date via training courses which cover all sorts of hard and soft skills.”
Also, a thing to consider is that the job you take after graduation is only your first — or one of the first — choice you make. The average person tends to change careers 5–7 times during their working life; contrary to old-school ways of thinking, no one expects you to stick to your decision until you retire.
Starting a business, yes or no?
For Bethan Vincent, Managing Partner at Open Velocity, starting a business is a powerful route for graduates. They share their experience after graduating in 2013 from the University of York with a degree in History.
“During my final year, I attended the university’s enterprise programme, and upon graduation, I won some funding to set up a business over the Summer. Ultimately that venture failed, but 10 years on, I’m running a thriving business and using all those lessons learned to build something for myself. Even if I ultimately hadn’t ended up running a business, that decision to try out entrepreneurship accelerated my career, and I reached the level of Marketing Director before I was 30.”
It is true. Entrepreneurship provides you with a broad set of soft and hard skills that can be transferred to any role or industry, such as creative thinking, teamwork, communication, negotiation and problem-solving. So, even if you decide that being an entrepreneur is not for you, you have developed skills that you can use to apply for a job.
Professor Adams also explains that choosing this path depends on the graduate.
“Some of my entrepreneurial graduates who have been on our BSc Business Enterprise Venture Creation Programme (VCP) decide that they have ‘had enough of academic work’. It is better for them to either continue with their business or work for another business so they can get more business experience.
Others feel that they want to gain more academic knowledge, by studying for a higher qualification, before starting their own business. Such a qualification would provide some ‘insurance’, which should help them get a job if their business idea does not work.”
However, entrepreneurship is hard, and I know other founders and business owners will agree — LMF's founder included. It can be taxing on your pocket and on your mental health. Starting a business comes with risks and no guarantees. Although around 80% of small businesses survive the first year, only about half survive the five-year mark.
That being said, being an entrepreneur is a rewarding experience. Being able to build something you feel passionate about, having autonomy and flexibility, and choosing what comes next can't be compared.
If you want to know more about entrepreneurship, we can help! Eleonora Papini, LMF's Mentoring Programme Manager, designed and delivered a Masterclass on Entrepreneurship vs Employment. So, do check it out!
So there you have it. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to life after graduation, as every one of us will have different journeys.
We know many choices can make you freeze and afraid of making mistakes, so take a deep breath and stop for a moment. First, there are no wrong answers, and career paths are neither linear nor lasting and final.
That being said, here are a few extra actions you can take to choose your next steps:
* Do some research.
If you don't have a clear picture of what you can do with your degree, you can read about different job profiles and career options. Explore sectors and industries to understand where it feels a better fit. That way, you have an idea of what those paths involve and how you can break into them.
* Go out of your comfort zone and talk to people.
Connect and network with people inside and outside your university. For example, search for alumni or professionals in the fields or industries you are interested in on LinkedIn or join a community like LMF Network.
Write a list of what activities you enjoy and which ones you don't. Think about your strengths and weaknesses and the skills you have from your educational and personal background. Also, reflect on your motivations and priorities: salary, flexibility, career growth or work/life balance.
*Mentoring can be a powerful tool.
If you feel lost and want more support, consider getting a mentor to guide you during the after-uni transition. At LMF Network, we have a mentoring programme that connects you with brilliant mentors, provides you with resources and masterclasses, and builds your confidence. You can express your interest here: https://forms.gle/x2Lxryx23QsrQtY18
Finally…remember that all experiences are stepping stones, and no path is forever. So, are you feeling more confident about easing yourself into the world after uni?
How can LMFNetwork support you in all things ED&I?
LMFnetwork is a talent network and inclusion consultancy bridging career gaps and redefining inclusive working cultures. Work with us on all things talent attraction, retention and development. Our offerings include a mentorship programme, a jobs board, a careers podcast and ED&I strategic workshops.
@LMFnetwork — Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | Youtube | Sonya Barlow
Written by Alejandra (Alex) Chávez Menéndez.
Alex is the Communications Manager for LMF Network.
Outside of her time with LMFnetwork, she is a Public Affairs Consultant with 8+ years of experience and the founder of Point A. Alex is passionate about helping entrepreneurs, small businesses, and changemakers tell their stories and share what they believe in. She has a master’s in Public Administration and Management from University College London (UCL).