Throwing backwards whilst running forwards

If someone had told me during my studies that it would take me at least three years to find my first full-time job after graduation, I think I would have laughed, rather than cried – mainly because I wouldn’t have believed them. Although not expressly stated, many of my generation believed that as long as we worked hard at school and at university, we would generally be able to enter the employment market as smoothly as our parents did. If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware that this is not necessarily the case.

When I started my postgraduate international relations study, I quickly started applying for government graduate programs and other public service and non-government organisation positions with the view of having a job lined up within several months of graduating. A global financial crisis and government hiring freezes at state and federal levels in Australia were two factors resulting in this goal being much harder to achieve than anticipated.

Whilst the art of ‘schmoozing’ sounds like fun to very few, actively seeking out contacts to regularly liaise with has become an expected skill for many graduates along with traditional job applications. I encountered one of my first networking contacts, a security analyst, at an end-of-semester party one of my professors threw for our class. We struck up a conversation about Queen Elizabeth’s then-recent visit to Ireland, and ended up chatting about my upcoming study tour in Europe. He then invited me to visit his office at the London Organising Committee for the Olympics Games, where he was consulting. I followed him up, and a few months later, in November 2011, found myself meeting my contact and his colleagues in the security division.

During this time, one particular colleague, needing a couple of females to fill his mixed touch rugby team for a charity competition, asked if could play touch rugby. Raised on a Victorian diet of AFL, I responded with an apologetic no. Reformulating the question, he asked if I would play touch rugby? Unable to come up with a good enough reason why not, I responded with a yes. Luckily I was staying with a friend who played touch rugby for Monash University and who managed to (slowly) teach me the crucial skill of throwing backwards whilst running forwards.

Several days later I was taking part in a tournament with a bunch of very friendly strangers raising funds for a charity supporting returned servicemen and women living with post-traumatic stress disorder. I may well have looked a fool out on that rugby pitch (that may not be the correct term), but that wasn’t the point. In fact I wasn’t the only one, given the captain of our team was described by a colleague as having ‘the agility of a dead parrot’. The point was, I put myself out there. Rather than being remembered as ‘that young woman from Australia’, I was instead remembered as ‘that young woman from Australia who joined in, rounded out the team and allowed us to participate’. Much more memorable.

When a school friend undertaking her PhD mentioned she had a colleague who needed a sessional tutor to assist with a number of undergraduate politics subjects, I didn’t dare to think it would amount to anything. Instead, it was the beginning of a tutoring career involving four subjects and several hundred students over three semesters – not to mention a much-needed dose of confidence in my professional capabilities. No mean feat given I had never seriously considered teaching as a career. Be open to opportunities you may not have considered; you won’t have to do it forever, you will almost certainly learn and gain something from the experience, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

After booking a last-minute trip to Hong Kong this year to visit friends, I followed up a contact of a contact at an Australian Government office in Hong Kong who I had emailed the previous year. Within a few days, we had lined up a meeting in which we discussed Australia’s relationships with Asia-Pacific and potential employment opportunities. I agreed to my contact’s offer to send my CV to a Hong Kong recruitment company with gratitude, not thinking much would come of it. So you can imagine my surprise when the next day, on a shuttle bus in Macau taking advantage of the free wifi, I received an email from one of the recruiters asking if we could meet within my three remaining days in Hong Kong. I quickly set up an appointment for that evening and managed to have a successful and productive meeting, after thanking my lucky stars that I had worn my nicer holiday clothes that day. Networking opportunities can still pop up on holidays, so be prepared!

When it comes to networking, unfortunately it all comes down to you. So take advantage of this and take pride in your own brand of graduate. Have networking cards made with your qualifications and contact details listed; you’ll be able to hand this out to contacts with far more confidence than scribbling your email address onto a bit of paper. Don’t be afraid to politely follow up a contact several times if necessary; whilst you may think you are pestering them, often they might be checking if you are dedicated to getting their attention, and be impressed by your persistence. Your friends and family will have their opinions as to which career path is best to you; whilst they mean well, the ones who know you best don’t necessarily know what is best for you. There is not one best, ultimate version of your CV. Eventually you have to carefully weigh up all the advice you have been given and make your own, informed opinion. You will feel pulled in different directions, and that at times you are throwing backwards whilst running forwards. And out of nowhere, someone may just tell you how much they admire your resilience and determination to make something out of yourself.

This article originally appeared in Young Opportunities Australia.

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