My name is Kayleigh, I studied English as an undergraduate at the University of Exeter’s Penryn campus, and I had no idea what I was going to do when I graduated – at all.
I moved to Cornwall on a whim, having never gone farther West than Somerset and having never been to the campus here, so it was a big risk for me and incredibly overwhelming at first. I knew no-one and found it really daunting moving to a place I had never been to, but once I settled in and started my course, I knew I was in the right place. I loved the scenery I was surrounded by and spending hours reading in the library; although, it wasn’t all wonderful all the time – exam season was harder than I could have imagined, I completed half my degree during the pandemic and dealt with some very tricky housing situations. Because of this, I dedicated all the time I had left to focusing on studying, so when it came to the question that I was constantly asked – “so, what are you going to do next?” – I realised I didn’t actually have an answer.
“The thought of no longer being a student after three years of being one absolutely terrified me… When I actually did graduate, I initially found the ‘what now?’ very hard.”
The thought of no longer being a student after three years of being one absolutely terrified me. I felt like I was being thrust into the big wide world with no idea of what I was supposed to be doing, and the time in my final year went by so quickly, which didn’t help. The one thing I found solace in was talking to my best friend about it constantly, as we both felt the same way and found comfort in not knowing where we were going, but also proud that we could finish our degrees, as that is an achievement in itself.
When I actually did graduate, I initially found the ‘what now?’ very hard. I had wanted to do a Master’s in Edinburgh originally and then eventually move onto a career in the publishing sector but couldn’t cover the funds myself for either of these plans, and so I knew I had to find a full-time job in the meantime. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and so my job search was very broad. I did some freelance writing here and there and worked in my local bookshop whilst I was looking and researching what kind of things I could do with my degree. Handshake was my best friend at this time – I found it to be so much more useful than Indeed or other job search websites for a recent graduate like me. I spent a lot of time looking at role specifications and thinking about how my experience could apply to what they were looking for. Often, the applications I put the most time into were the ones that led to interviews.
“Handshake was my best friend at this time – I found it to be so much more useful than Indeed or other job search websites for a recent graduate like me.”
I found my current role as a GBP Employer Engagement Administrator on Handshake. A GBP is a Graduate Business Partnership, which is a two-year maximum role that is just for recent graduates. It is a springboard for the first step in your career journey, allowing you to gain skills and experience that you can take into your career as you progress. I really liked that it was such a varied role, involving events planning, creative social media work and placement processing, all of which could give me valuable transferable skills. I applied and thankfully got an interview (which I thought went terribly), but I had a phone call the same day offering me the job. After a long series of rejections, it really did feel like a relief, knowing I had the stability and opportunity of starting to learn all over again – much like starting a degree!
“A GBP is a springboard for the first step in your career journey, allowing you to gain skills and experience that you can take into your career as you progress… I absolutely love my GBP role.”
I absolutely love my GBP role – I get to be involved in some brilliant projects that I take the lead on, as well as trying new things that may be challenging, but that is what makes my work exciting and engaging. I have worked on several successful social media campaigns, including The Placement Diaries 2023 and the Christmas Campaign, and am currently working on some really exciting summer projects that I can’t wait to launch on our socials! It’s also really nice to get the team involved and work collaboratively on different campaigns. I have just been through my first busy events season, and it was a totally new experience for me that I learnt so much from. I have never planned events before, but going through the process and training has taught me that it’s okay to not have all the skills and experience, you can learn as you go along, and no question is a stupid question either; everyone will want to help you learn and enable you to be part of the team.
“…this job has given me the opportunity to save up for this career move whilst also being financially stable, which is hugely important after graduating and a big worry for a lot of graduates.”
Being in this role has made me realise that it was okay for me to not have it all figured out after I graduated (I wish I could go back and say this to past me!) You are allowed to not have your five-year plan all laid out and you can still land into something that is so valuable and wonderful that you had never even considered, as was the case for me. I didn’t even know GBP roles existed, and yet it has been the best way to start my career. I am still hoping to do my Master’s degree at some stage, but this job has given me the opportunity to save up for this career move whilst also being financially stable, which is hugely important after graduating and a big worry for a lot of graduates.
My main piece of advice to those Graduating this summer would be that you should try your hardest amidst all the exams and assessments stresses to soak up the last of being a student as much as you can. Embrace how stressful it is, because after you graduate, you will weirdly miss being up until 5am trying to start and finish 4 assessments in one night (something that I actually did as a student – oops).
“Use the Career Zone – they are invaluable and helped me to figure out what I wanted to do vs. what I actually could do… The team can help you assess your options, and make a plan going forward which is so beneficial if, like me, you have no idea where you want to go or what you can do with your degree.”
Another thing I would say is don’t panic if you don’t have it all sorted out, because even at the last minute, there is always someone you can talk to. Use the Career Zone – they are invaluable and helped me to figure out what I wanted to do vs. what I actually could do, because you might not go straight into your dream career straight after graduating from university – and that is okay! The team can help you assess your options, and make a plan going forward which is so beneficial if, like me, you have no idea where you want to go or what you can do with your degree. Don’t compare yourself to others either, because everyone moves at their own pace and chances are they’re comparing themselves to everyone else too.
Lastly, congratulate yourself on finishing University and completing a whole degree! Graduating is such an achievement, so allow yourself time to reflect on all of your successes and accomplishments and give yourself a rest and recovery period if you can. You deserve a break after all of your hard work, and make sure you remind yourself that it will figure itself out and you will get to where you need to be, one way or another.