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The Career Series1: Going back in time as a new grad

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

Imagine applying to tons & tons of roles and getting multiple rejections. It becomes extremely tiring and demotivating regardless of where you are at in your career and it is never a fun process to go through. Today, I will share some general career tips for new grads & university students, but these are also applicable at any stage of your career. Hope you find them useful.

Let's throwback to my 3rd and 4th year of university when I was very full of hope and believed in conquering the whole wide world. You know, a girl with goals; like, by 30, I will have built a mansion (laughing in inflation and exaggerated house prices in Toronto), $millions in my bank account, and so on. At the same time, as an accounting major, I was super determined to get an internship/summer job in an Accounting firm or in the Energy sector. Our mentors and advisors at school had us believe this was the best way to make it in the Accounting profession. Living in Alberta, Canada back then, the Energy (Oil & Gas) sector was another industry Accounting majors were advised to also pursue (as it was booming) and this made me so linear focused in my job search; it was either I got into the Energy sector /an Accounting firm or I had failed in life!! This leads to the first tip!

Be Flexible: It is so important to drive your career with an open mind. There is no one way to achieve goals and there are different parts to success. If you guessed right, I did NOT get interviews with those Accounting firms. I also did not get anything in the Energy industry at the time. I must have sent over 300 applications and got rejected even before they hit any of the employer's server lol. This went till after university until I decided to accept my own journey. An Accounting firm was not in God's plan for me. Of course, I had to re-strategize and look for work in other industries to kick-off my career and complete my internships /co-op programs (co-op in Canadian universities allows you to gain meaningful work experience as part of your degree). While I didn't realize it at the time, working in different industries/roles provided me with valuable life & career experiences and gives me a healthy-rounded point of view.

Take "Small" or Other Roles: This is really crucial in the beginning of one’s career vs. after gaining some experience. For me, I got to do some interesting work outside of accounting. I did one internship in policy making, another summer job within a small community where I got to attend their events while working in a research lab that serves them. It is great to have your eyes on the bigger firms and companies; however, that's not all there is; you will be shocked what you can learn and achieve elsewhere.

After school, I also did some "boring" work like marking high-school exams, scanning documents and so on. Aside from the chance to leave home and make some money, it helped me to stay motivated as whatever I was doing at that time was NOT my destination.

Focus on your Focus: Something I am generally good at is how to focus on what I want to achieve. I remember feeling less-than when I saw how "quickly" some of my peers were moving and wondered what I was missing. Notwithstanding, I kept reminding myself that my journey is unique to me and it helped me stay determined and push. With time, those peers became motivation to me like "they did it, I can too".

I also believe in the power of positive manifestation and being intentional. Let me share a story with you. A few months after undergrad, I got a contract role in the Records Management department of a company which required me to convert documents from their physical forms to electronic documents. I accepted it happily because for me, it was a foot in the door. I walked in and noticed that the team I was joining shared the same floor as the Finance department. I laughed and said to myself "Abi, you are not here by mistake".

Whatever your hands find to do, do it well: I scanned those documents with all my might haha and was very organized too. Aside from that, I was very professional and diligent, letting it be known that I have an accounting degree, was looking for a new role after my contract was up and very willing to learn. What I was doing here was networking internally, finding connections with the finance team and subtly setting a tone that I was who they wanted. Guess who got an offer without an interview once a position opened? I was shooting my shots and it scored lol. You never know what could lead to something else.

Networking: This can be so intimidating and I personally find those formal networking events very awkward, but I wish I had done more. It will favor you to make friends with people who are a few years ahead of you in university, ask them questions about their experience, ask what they love, what they hate, how they got in, what you could do better, who they look up to at work, who they can’t stand & why, and so on. These could be valuable information that may help you, and since it is a conversation with a friend, you will (hopefully) get some truth. You do not need to be connected to a Partner or Director or Manager to get your foot in the door. Start with your peers or those 1 or 2 levels ahead of you - those classmates of yours may become some of your strongest networks throughout your career. Those group projects? do them very well! This is where you start building your professional brand.

Talk to your Friends & Acquaintances: I can’t tell you how many doors open to people because they opened their mouths - closed mouths don't get fed. If you are looking for a new role, let your friends and family know. They may not be able to help you, but they may know someone who could.

Take Feedback: Rejection letters and/or emails are not encouraging at all especially when you get them often. One thing I learned earlier in my career is the power of constructive feedback. You can ask a friend in your industry to help you review your resume / cover letter, maybe there is something you need to re-word or maybe there is something you are missing. After an unsuccessful interview, I encourage you to ask the HR manager for feedback and do not take it personally if they don't give any (some companies do not allow). However, when you get feedback, take it as constructive criticism, and implement advice that would help you.

Have Fun, Relax: If I could go back to my university days, I wouldn't put so much undue pressure on myself. I stressed myself out instead of taking time out to travel and build on life experiences like my classmates did. While I love travelling, I just assumed that my chance to succeed would be much slimmer if I didn't get any summer internships or a job right after university. Currently laughing in long-hours and 3-4weeks vacation haha. Please this life is only one, take that vacation and see the world!

Take Breaks: I truly believe that the energy we put into something could affect its outcome. I will definitely be dragging the ears of my younger self for this one. Naturally, when I really want something or focused on a project, I sometimes forget to chill but not relaxing may lead to stress and reduce ability to refresh and stay positive. So, I learned to take breaks when I felt exhausted or discouraged. Imagine applying to roles on days you feel defeated, what is the use? Take breaks, take 2 days off, take a week, take 2 weeks (if you must), renew your energy, and get back to it. At the end, you must keep going.

The God factor or how some will say, "what will be will be" may also play a factor. I genuinely believe we all have our own unique paths and it would be helpful to keep an open mind, and trust the process. There is faith that if you keep pushing, things fall in pleasant places at the right time.

I hope you find these useful! Be sure to leave a comment if you have other tips for university students / new grads. Also, be free to ask any questions you have in the comment box or via email.

In my next post I will be sharing useful tips for people who have 2-5 years of experience, those with a little bit more direction.

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