One year on: 5 things I wish I'd known when I graduated

Charlie Benson
Content Marketing Executive

I graduated from the University of York in 2016 with a degree in English Literature. Since then, as you'd expect, a lot of things have changed. 

By the time graduation day rolled round, I was excited to leave uni. I don't remember feeling especially sad about it - for the time being, at least, I was relieved to be done with essay-writing and eager to start working. 

Since then, I've worked at as Features Editor and then moved on to the role I'm in now as a Content Marketing Executive at GradTouch. 

It's now been a year since I handed in my dissertation and finished my degree, so, here's what the world of work, Manchester and being a 'real adult' has taught me since then





1. Working at a start-up is amazing. 

You could be forgiven, having been to a few careers fairs and talks, for thinking there's a clear path we're all meant to follow after uni. We all flock to London en masse and try to get a graduate scheme or job at a big name company. I did neither of those things - instead choosing to work at a start-up in Manchester directly after leaving York. I knew this was the plan by the time I graduated as I had already applied for the role, but I didn't know just how much I would enjoy it. 

London is great - there are so many opportunities there - and there's a lot to be said for the structured training and progression that come with a graduate scheme. But there is so much going on outside the capital too, and less than 20% of UK grads end up working for a well-known graduate employer. 

I've had more responsibility working at a start-up than I could imagine having elsewhere, which has allowed me to experience and have an impact on multiple areas of the business. Start-ups also tend to come with the benefit of having a great culture - we wear what we like, have unlimited holiday and flexible working hours, as well as regularly going out together and contributing our songs to a shared office playlist each week. So, think before you apply and don't limit your options. The people you work with and the environment you work in are just as important as the work you're actually doing there. 



2. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there, be awkward, or fail. 

When I was at uni I hated public speaking - even being asked to comment on a book we were reading in a seminar made me nervous. But having attended a couple of conferences and events as a graduate, I began to really envy those people who can walk onto a stage and command a room, whilst also projecting their own personality and sense of self. Being able to speak confidently to others, whether it's in a meeting, presentation, or on the phone is an essential skill.

I remember when I first started my job and had to send my first inter-office email to someone on the Tech team to ask them to help me sync up another of my email accounts. I spent a good five minutes carefully selecting every word of a two-line email and unnecessarily agonising over how it came across. Really caring about your work and wanting to make a first impression is a good sign, it shows you care, but I now spend a lot less time worrying about small things like that. 

When you get your first office job, don't be afraid to ask questions and take opportunities - don't waste time holding yourself back. 



3. Getting on with it and actually doing things is the best way to figure out what you want to do career-wise. 

"What do you want to do?" "Where do you see yourself in five years?" "What's your career plan, or next move?" - are all questions you'll be asked, and ask yourself, in the run-up to graduation day. But they're near-impossible to answer. At most, you probably have a summer internship's worth of extended work experience - it's likely you really can't say, with certainty, where you'll want to be in five years' time.

When I left uni, I was a Features Editor - now I'm a Content Marketing Executive. I did not know what a Content Marketing Executive was when I left uni - so it certainly wouldn't have featured in my answers to any of those questions. 

Some graduates take time out to travel or work part-time and figure things out after uni, but for me, the best way I've worked out more about my professional values and what I want from a job and career has just been by doing it. 

If I could go back and give myself some professional advice on graduation day, it would be to spend less time asking myself big questions about who I want to be by the time I'm 40. It's good to have goals and an idea of where the career path you're on might take you, but I get to do so many things at work now that I didn't expect or have experience doing before and I'm excited for future opportunities that will arise now I've thrown myself into work. Once you get into an office environment and are working full-time, you'll very quickly and naturally start figuring out what you enjoy, what you're good at and what your values are. 



4. But don't get so hung up on the future that you don't pay enough attention to what you have now. 

It's easy to see life as a series of milestones and boxes to be ticked. You work hard to get good GCSEs and then good A-Levels so you can get into a good uni. From there, it's all about making sure you come out with the grade you want, balanced with work experience, societies and a social life in the hope you can secure a job you'll enjoy come graduation day. Then it becomes about your Master's, that next promotion at work, or thinking about buying a house and ticking the next set of graduate boxes now that you're out of education. 

I am a big believer in ambition; in pushing yourself and creating opportunities for yourself in order to achieve your full potential, because those are things that are important to me. But it's hard to comprehend, when you're stood there on graduation day surrounded by your best uni friends, just how much things will change and just how difficult it will be to keep in touch with them. 

If I could go back a year, I'd make more time to keep up with the people who really matter to me, regardless of distance. It's easier to maintain a friendship than reconnect. Though, the latter is certainly 100% possible. 

It is also much easier, with cheap society membership and a group of society friends with the same interests as you, to pursue your hobbies at uni. So, if you're soon to graduate and it's feasible, I'd definitely recommend making an effort to keep up with the things you enjoy that aren't working or sleeping. 



5. Uni is not the best three years of your life. 

Uni is a bubble of stress, new experiences, nights out and hangovers, until one day your time is up and you have the rest of your life laid out in front of you. I don't get to go out three times a week on weeknights any more, but I have really enjoyed graduate life, the new friends I've made and all the exciting things I've been able to do at work so far. 

Uni being over also really doesn't mean your education is over. This is something I didn't fully comprehend on graduation day, as, at the time, landing the graduate job was an end goal not a beginning. But now, the most important thing to me in my job is the skills I'm developing and new experiences I'm accumulating. Don't stop taking on new opportunities to learn just because your formal education is over - if you are completely comfortable in a role, you've probably stopped learning, and then it's time to see what you can do to step up your game there. 

Most importantly, in the time right after graduation, missing uni, struggling with the transition to graduate life and the "what next?" question are inevitable. But so far, my experience has been that things get better. Your graduate story might be, or turn out to be, completely different to mine - and they are all worth sharing