7 ways to worry less about what comes after university

UAlberta experts offers career coaching advice that’ll help ease stress for students about to graduate.


“What’s next?”

That is a question most students nearing graduation are asking themselves, according to University of Alberta research.

Depending on where students are with managing their studies—sleeping and eating well, maintaining routine—the new concern about finding work, and possibly new living arrangements, can make an anxiety-ridden situation worse, said Blessie Mathew, acting director and manager of the U of A’s Career Centre.


Graduating students facing mental wellness risks

The good news is that there is a positive correlation between your mental well-being and career approach, she added.

“How you feel about your own self-efficacy and worth in the market—effectively, your mental well-being—can have a significant impact on how you go out and present yourself.”

In other words, feeling upbeat, positive and confident about what’s next can influence your ability to make the most of opportunities.

“The way a career often unfolds is rooted in happenstance rather than planning,” added Mathew. “How well you are situated to deal with chance events can come down to how resilient you are.”

The opposite can be true, too. When students don’t understand the value of their undergraduate degree, or assume they should continue without examining career options, they may go on in the academic world and end up with an even bigger career challenge, said Mathew.

“In some cases, students can effectively educate themselves out of the market. In those cases, the Career Centre can help them make their advanced degree​ attractive to employers. But better planning earlier may help them to avoid this,” she said.

Part of student fear about the future is rooted in the unknown, added Justin Pritchard, a U of A career coach.

“The Career Centre has many resources available to students to help them, including career coaching. People don’t realize how career management development can help with anxiety.”

“Knowledge is really the key to boosting resiliency at this important life transition,” agreed Mathew. “Students who make new connections by participating in the Career Centre’s job shadowing or internship and work experience opportunities gain a lot of confidence. Just talking to people working in their field helps remove obstacles they thought were insurmountable.”

Visit the Career Centre for more information, and check out these top tips from the experts.

Consider next steps.

“The process of sitting down and talking about what obstacles you face and what decisions you need to make can dismantle fears,” said Pritchard. So whether you see a career coach or not, it helps to figure out and tackle the next couple of steps one at a time. For example, learn to write a resume, practise a job interview or do a skills inventory to build your vocabulary about the things you’re good at.

Shift your mindset.

“There is a big emphasis in our culture on action and accomplishment, but it’s important to realize that no one thing—whether that be an action or accomplishment—will guarantee you success,” said Pritchard. “We try to encourage students that there is no right or wrong way to life. It’s a journey and it’s important to let it unfold naturally.”

Organize your career search.

“Usually when I meet with students, I assess their preparation into the work-search process, and get them to document and organize their activities, even into one Word file,” said Pritchard. This simple act of putting all your activities in one place helps to tame the chaos you may be feeling, he added.

Be mindful.

It’s very challenging for students to land a job if they have a proclivity toward negativity, said Pritchard. “Mindfulness is at its core aiming to notice and witness negative thoughts, such as thinking you won’t get a job without work experience. When you observe such thoughts with non-judgment, you disconnect from them and they lose potency.”

Look for guided mindful meditations on YouTube to get started and aim for 10 minutes every day, or join the U of A’s Mindfulness Meditation Student Group, started by Pritchard when he was a student. “The benefits of practising with others help you to build a discipline.”

Get a support system.

Find someone like a friend or family member you can talk to about your anxieties. “It’s always good to share your thoughts and feelings with people who can listen to you openly and nonjudgmentally,” said Pritchard. “It’s also good to get advice when necessary, and many times, getting an objective point of view is useful, whether that be from a good friend, coach, adviser or working professional.”

Take a break.

Pritchard said his younger brother was exhausted after finishing a degree in drama. Rather than jumping into the job market, he got a part-time job in a retail store he loved. “This gave him the chance to think about what kind of career he really wanted—and the energy he needed to move forward.” Give yourself permission to rest, added Prichard. “Our culture conditions us to think about action and accomplishment. Well, everything works in opposites, and we need to give ourselves time for rest, which allows for important, revitalizing reflection.

Build a work search framework.

Pritchard encourages students to Google “work search framework” to better understand how such a visual framework can help focus direction. “So many people we work with are deeply intellectual but need a framework to orient themselves within the career researching process. Finding one that resonates is a great way to help you transition from academia to industry,” he said. “Part of work searching is about taking all the research processes you’ve learned in university and applying them to life.”