For many young graduates, the hardest part of university is figuring out what happens next. It’s time to get a job, but that hardly clarifies things. What do you even want to do? Are you applying for positions in your field? What’s the plan?

Perhaps there was a time long ago when a young graduate would stride confidently out into the world, flash their degree and delicately bat away job offers. We’ll never know for sure, but we did ask people who graduated from university into employment what they learned from their first forays into the working world. 

Cameron, 27, Vancouver

Trying to find my first ‘real’ job out of business school was tough. I applied a lot, with minimal results. What ended up working better was just trying to meet with anyone to have an open ended conversation about my career, and talk to them about theirs. We'd either find there was nothing there and I'd move on, or there was something to connect over, and it might spark a second conversation or a referral. Eventually I got connected through my neighbor to a friend who was now a project manager and we had a great conversation. She got me started with the company she worked for (a boutique technology consulting firm), and I got hired as a Technical Business Analyst. 

My first impressions of the place came from the interview process. There was the introductory coffee, the follow up coffee with HR, the introductory meeting to the team/supervisor, the take-home business case interview, the “fit interview’ with rotating groups of 2-3 employees, the final interview with the president and then finally the offer letter. All this for an entry level job that was essentially tech support for a web platform, aka helping your mom use a website.

Adjusting to work was tough at times. I had an issue with taking things really personally. If I got a terse email, I would assume it was because they were mad at me. I would look for meaning in diction and punctuation, like it was a long-distance girlfriend texting me. It took me a year to learn that you could just ask for help, and that you won’t get fired for explaining why a deliverable was going to be delayed.

I wish I had realized earlier that if something is happening to you for the first time, it’s the 9000th time it has happened to anyone else. You don’t need to read all your emails out loud to your coworkers.

My degree prepared me in a couple ways. The biggest was just knowing how to present myself as a professional, which was a struggle at 21 because you always feel like two boys in a trench coat going to a stock market. Beware the company that claims to be a “family”. Maybe people have wised up to this by now, but that’s a cute code word for high expectations, low pay, some snacks and a branded jacket. 

Hannah, 26, Montreal

I went to LaSalle College for a Fashion Design diploma. By the end of my degree, I felt confident I wanted to be an assistant designer. I knew I didn't want to start my own brand—way too much spotlight for an introvert like me. I met a local designer, applied and started working with them while keeping a retail job on the side to make ends meet. But after a few months, I felt myself drifting away from the industry and realizing that this wasn't what I wanted to do as a career. It was terrifying. 

I began weaving in January 2016, shortly after abandoning the idea of being in the fashion industry. I had learned a fair amount about textiles in school but never really thought anything of it. Weaving felt right; I felt truly at peace when I was creating something. I opened my Etsy store the following spring.

To support myself while running my business, Framed Fibres, I got another part time gig at a grocery store down the street from my place. I didn't think anything of it, just a cashier job to pay the bills. It sounds strange to say, but it changed my life. I feel like I am part of my neighbourhood; having regular customers who know me by name, connecting with coworkers of all ages and backgrounds. 

I realized there was a certain clientele that really brought me joy: the elderly. I feel like the elderly population is often overlooked and undervalued. Sure, we all love our grandparents, and we like seeing them once a week, maybe a couple times a month? But how much positive social interaction do they get? How often are they feeling fulfilled in life? I began seeking out more meaningful moments with elderly customers. Now, I’m headed back to school in the fall to get a Personal Support Worker certificate and looking towards a fulfilling career as a caregiver.

Who knew that picking up a second job at the grocery store would lead me to completely rethink what I want to do with my life? When people tell you, "Chances are you'll change your career 11 times," they’re not wrong. Every single job you have will teach you something. Stay open to the lessons and the information you may not be expecting. 

Martina, 29, Vancouver

I was 18 when I moved from Vancouver to New York to go to theater school. It was the first time I was hearing real-time criticism about my acting, and I was constantly comparing myself to every single one of my peers in the most unhealthy, green-eyed-monster type of way. Truthfully, this is stuff I still work on today. 

I learned pretty much in my first year out of college that my quivering ego did not have the resiliency for the life of an auditioning actor. Not that I was giving up on acting, but I wanted to be in control. I wanted to produce. 

A connection through my longtime babysitting gig lead me to a docu-drama company, where I started off as an intern and eventually was hired. All in all, I hated it. I hated sitting in a desk for eight hours. I hated the content. I hated the office politics. But I ended up staying there for about two years, because I so desperately wanted to live in New York, and was shackled to this job by my visa. But I was floundering. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. 

Things got pretty bad before I realized I needed to make a change. This shift in thinking started when I began to open up to my family and friends about how lost I was feeling. My mom, especially, was key. She asked me who I thought I was disappointing. My friends? My family? She assured me no one was going to judge me; they wanted me to be successful and happy, and they had no expectations for how I was going to achieve that. It's not shameful to admit the way you mapped out your route might not be the direction you want to take. I accepted what had taken forever to sink in: I could have a creative, fulfilling life outside New York. I moved back to Vancouver. 

For all the good and the bad, I’m thankful for my experience at theatre school because I think I came out with a smarter, keener, kinder eye to look upon the world around me. With that clear eyesight I sprouted other interests that eventually lead me to a career in film and television on the writing/producing/directing side of things.

The trick I learned is to let critical thinking inform my future decisions in a kind, not cruel, way. Now when I make a mistake or fail, I try to ignore the voice making blanket statements and instead zero in on a specific thing that lead to the "mistake" being made. Giving myself compliments is probably the best gift I've started giving to myself in recent years. 


Legal Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only. It is not to be relied upon as financial, tax or investment advice or guarantees about the future, nor should it be considered a recommendation to buy or sell. Information contained in this article, including information relating to interest rates, market conditions, tax rules, and other investment factors are subject to change without notice and The Bank of Nova Scotia is not responsible to update this information. All third party sources are believed to be accurate and reliable as of the date of publication and The Bank of Nova Scotia does not guarantee its accuracy or reliability. Readers should consult their own professional advisor for specific financial, investment and/or tax advice tailored to their needs to ensure that individual circumstances are considered properly and action is taken based on the latest available information.