You don't have to have it all figured out

26 October 2023
Finding your way after university
Starting out in your career can often come with pressure to have everything neatly planned and figured out. However, in a world where professional success is more like a winding path than a straight road, it's essential to remember that not having it all sorted out is perfectly normal.

When we speak to alumni who work as career counsellors, recruiters or learning and development managers about how we can best support early career graduates to find their feet in any industry, one message consistently comes up:

You're not alone if you don't have it all figured out.

Starting out in your career can be an uphill battle, so it’s helpful to know the people across the table know that too—and they’re not judging you for it. In fact, they want you to know that having a perfect transition to your professional life is pretty rare.

Samantha Berry (B Teach, ‘99, M Teach ‘00) is a Learning and Development Manager at Herbert Smith Freehills, who has spent the last 10 years in the early career space.

Here are three things she says you don’t need to have sorted out just yet:

1. You don’t have to have a professional job right now

If you have strict dichotomy in your head between professional work and non-professional work then you might feel upset if you’re still on the ‘wrong’ side of that line post-graduation.

But’s it’s nowhere near as big a deal as you think.

“Actually, lots of people are in this situation, even if you don’t hear about it,” confirms Samantha. She says comparison to friends is one of the easiest traps to fall into: “You start to worry that you’re behind and you’ll never catch up.”

Instead, it can be helpful to be kind to yourself and recognise that starting your career is hard. “It’s common to have a few non-professional jobs after you graduate while you’re still building your networks. Just stay engaged and remember that your first job is just a way to get started.”

2. You don’t have to know what you want to do

If you find yourself feeling unsure about your future career path, you’re far from alone. In fact, it’s one of the most common career concerns amongst new graduates. Whether you just went with the flow into an area you don’t have strong feelings for, or you’ve been shocked to discover you don’t enjoy the career you thought you would, don’t panic. You’re just in career transition territory and it’s a place you’ll likely come back to again and again throughout your working life. Think of this as practice that can help you long-term.

“You don’t want to be reactive, and just jump into something new because that could repeat the issue,” says Samantha. Instead, dive into some career research or career due diligence. “You can do some information interviews or shadowing with people you know to find out more about potential new areas.”

That might mean asking them about their role and the industry prospects.

“I’m a big advocate for the design thinking approach to careers,” says Samantha. “That means using your experience to refine what you're looking for. Each job is like a stepping stone where you are testing where you go next. To do this, you’re going to be trying to find opportunities that allow you to analyse if it’s a path worth exploring further.”

3. You don’t need to love the job you have now if it’s helping you in some way

This one might sound deflating. After all, the last thing anyone wants is a job they dislike. But somewhere between a job that’s totally working out and one that is not working out at all is the more nuanced: working out enough. And it’s middle ground that can be valuable for a limited period, says Samantha.

“All jobs carry good points and bad points. You might not love all the day-to-day tasks but feel very supported by your team. Or perhaps the industry isn’t where you ultimately want to be. But if it’s giving you the key skills you need to go where you want to go, then it can be worth staying. Especially, if you are early in your career where the acceleration in your skills is so great.

You can still be working towards—and interviewing for—new jobs but you’ll be maximising what you can offer to your next employer.”

About Samantha Berry

Samantha Berry is a dedicated Learning & Career Development Manager with a profound commitment to empowering individuals to achieve fulfilling careers. With a background in career development, learning program management, team leadership, and process improvement, she has made her mark across various industries, including human resources, education, and strategic change projects in professional services organisations. Samantha's career journey includes roles at Ernst and Young, Mercer, Suncorp, Directioneering, UNSW, UTS, PwC and most recently Herbert Smith Freehills.