The Post-University Survival Guide

The Post-University Survival Guide

If you’ve finished your final-year university exams, the real world beckons in all its slightly scary glory. But where do you start? What are you forgetting to do? Once you’re out of university, you have a lot of ground to cover to get things moving. From handling HELP debts to finding a job, here’s what you need to do.

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Finishing up university is an amazing feeling, but after that sense of relief fades away, it’s straight back to the grind of moving forward with your life. It might seem as simple as finding a job, but you’re going to run into a lot of roadblocks along the way. You need to get that resume in order, deal with any student debt, whip those finances into shape, and much more.

Get A Job You Actually Want

When you’re fresh out of university, finding the job you want is pretty tough, and chances are that you’ll work a few odd jobs before you land something in the career path you actually want. Either way, the first step is to get that resume in order so you can start the process.

Step One: Whip Your Resume Into Shape


Your resume is one of the toughest things to put together when you’re out of university because you generally don’t have that much relevant experience to put on it. That means you need to tailor your resume more than someone with a lot of experience.

Thankfully, this isn’t as hard as it seems. To bulk up your resume a bit, 99U suggests that you include your personal or school projects when you’re looking for that first job:

Don’t limit yourself to the confines of a traditional resume. Recognise that under “Skills” you can list everything from Photoshop to silk-screening, that studio time can be just as important as past employment, and that unpaid side projects show dedication, initiative and responsibility. If the majority of your experience is personal, studio, or classroom work, add more of a description than you normally would, explaining the kind of timeline you were working with and why you chose the subject matter.

Reader Intending_Acceleration also shares this advice for what exactly is worth including:

I don’t expect you to have much working experience fresh out of school, but if you want a leg up over others, you should have been doing some sort of work — say, running your own student computer repair service, or working for the school or one of the departments in some capacity. University/university staff/faculty make for good references, too.
List your areas of study. List your academic achievements. List your strong skills. Just because you used Photoshop to make some funny meme images doesn’t mean you get to list it on your resume, and I will be pissed if I count on you to have working knowledge of Photoshop. List a few interests/hobbies to help conversation along.

When you’re out of university, you need to pack your resume with everything potentially relevant that you can. Projects are great for this, but so are internships, accomplishments, and volunteer service. In the case of a creative job, you can add a little more impact with a creative resume, but for most jobs the right approach really boils down to keeping your resume in line with your target audience. For example, if you’re writing up a resume for something like a graphic design company or a public relations firm, it’s a good idea to think outside the box a little. If you’re applying for something like an accountant position, it’s best to keep it simple to get past the initial resume scan.

While you’re doing all this, it’s important to keep yourself busy too. As The New York Times points out, you should find a way to continue developing your skills, even if that means working as a waiter while you hunt for the perfect career. Those blank spots on your resume are far more damaging than irrelevant experience.

The truth is that you can clean up your resume in a lot of different ways to improve your chances to get a job, and no “right” way exists for every position. You’ll need to think about where you’re applying for a job, what they want from you in the position, and then tailor your resume to fit those expectations. If you’re having trouble, don’t forget that your school’s career services office is a good starting point for getting help with your resume, figuring out where to apply, and connecting with other alumni. That said, if you need a little help just getting it all in order on your own, we’ve got you covered.

Step Two: Prepare Yourself For Your First Interviews


Let’s be a little blunt here: you’re going to go for a lot of interviews when you first start looking for that career, and you’re going to mess up a little. That’s OK, it happens to everyone, but you can do a few things to prep yourself to increase your chances of getting things right.

For your first set of interviews, you need to concentrate on the basics. That means preparing responses to common interview questions like “Tell me about yourself”, “Why do you want to work for us?” or “Tell me about a problem you’ve solved in the past.” For the most part, you just need to answer honestly with any experience you have. For example, a good response to “Tell me about a problem you’ve solved in the past” might include a solution you’ve come up with a student project, or even a problem you solved at a part-time job that made the company more efficient.

If you’re struggling, Redditor elorenz7 suggests recording a practice interview to boost your confidence:

You may fear that your pauses are too long, but that’s rarely a concern. If you’re prepping for an interview, record yourself and listen. You’ll notice that those pauses aren’t really as long as you think.

As we mentioned above, no employer is going to expect you to have a lot of experience straight out of university. They’re still going to try and figure out how you’ll respond to common situations in the interview. In most cases you can apply your experiences in school or from part-time jobs to most common questions like:

Your university’s career services resource centre is an excellent place to start. Most centres will guide you through mock interviews, and help you come up with solid responses to the most common questions. Iff you need some more advice, we have plenty of tips for everything from reading body language to following up on interviews.

Step Three: Get Your Mind Ready For Your Career


You nailed the resume, you passed the rounds of interviews, and now you’re on your way to your first job. Now what? It’s time to get through those first few stressful months at your new career.

Your first few days on the job are all about familiarising yourself with your new career. This means it’s important to ask questions about what’s expected of you, accept that you’re going to make mistakes, and try your best to fit into the role you’ve been hired for. The best you can really do here is prepare yourself for a lot of hard work, potentially long hours, and a lot mistakes.

Getting organised and accepting your newbie status is a good place to start, as is knowing what is expected of you the first day. Be on time, ready to work, and be ready to make some mistakes along the way. You’ll also want to ask a few questions about wardrobe, equipment, and skills to make sure you’re on the same page as your employer. If you’re switching from pulling all-nighters cramming for tests to suddenly getting up at six in the morning every day it’s also a good idea to reboot your sleep schedule so you’re prepared for your new hours.

Keep Track Of Your HELP Debt

Unless you were very lucky and had rich parents or a massive scholarship, you’ll have accumulated a HELP debt during your studies to help pay for your degree. Once you begin working, you’ll have to start paying that off.

The basics of HELP work like this: once you are earning above a certain amount ($51,309 for the 2013-2014 financial year), you have to repay that debt. The amount you pay is a percentage of your taxable income, ranging between 4 per cent and 8 per cent depending on what you earn.

You need to declare whether you have a HELP debt when you fill out a tax declaration at your new job. If you’re earning above the threshold, your employer should automatically take out additional tax to cover the debt. Make sure you double-check your pay slip; if the amount isn’t taken out, you’ll be up for a nasty amount of money when your tax return is submitted. Also bear in mind that your employer’s estimate will only cover your salary; if you’re earning money in other ways, that’s also going to contribute to your taxable income and hence to your HELP repayments.

Get Your Personal Finances In Order


Once you graduate, your whole financial situation is going to change. That might mean losing out on those little notes with extra cash from your parents, or the sudden realisation that the credit card debt you accrued while studing is a lot bigger than you thought. Now’s a good time to reassess your finances and get everything in order.

Depending on your needs, you have a few really solid options to make money management simple. For basic money management, we recommend using Pocketbook because it shows you how you’re spending your money in a very simple way and alerts you to potential issues. Beyond that, the basics for money management apply: set a budget and stick to it.

Regardless of whether you’re coming into a new job where you’re making more money, or you’re struggling to find work, managing your finances and debts now will make your life in the future a lot easier.

Learn A Few Of Those Skills You’ve Been Putting Off


When you’re in university it’s pretty easy to put off learning a basic set of skills. Perhaps you never bothered to cook anything more complicated than frozen ravioli, or you always made sure to bring your laundry to your parents’ house instead of doing it yourself. With that in mind, here a few life skills that are easy to catch up on and often neglected when in school.