If being asked “what are you going to do after you graduate?” makes you want to bite your nails, you’re not alone. Every student and new graduate goes through ups and downs — juggling doubts, taking detours, soul-searching — to figure out what they’re going to do in life.
It’s all part of the adventure of self-discovery: stressful at times, but also full of exciting new possibilities. We spoke to Arts Alumni to find out how they navigated their career paths and what tips they have for current students and recent graduates. Here are their top 10 tips and resources.
1. Follow your heart, fill your niche
Yes, yes, we’ve all heard it before, from Cinderella and Ariel and all those doe-eyed Disney princesses who live happily ever after. In the interest of societal or family expectations, finances and realistic goals, following your dreams is easier said than done.
But we’ll risk cliché to tell you again: your heart is a powerful compass. Choose a career path that motivates you.
“What are you good at? How can I be of value to this world? How do I balance those two things with what I enjoy doing, and what I am passionate about? Once you nail those questions down, a career naturally ensues from the choices to follow.”
“The best professional advice I was given is find your niche,” says Faisal Paktian (BA ’17). “Hundreds of people graduate from every program every year. They all look for the same jobs with the same qualifications. What sets you apart immediately after graduation is not how much you market yourself, but how you market yourself. What is it about you specifically that would benefit the place you want to work in? Everyone brings their own unique addition to a workplace.”
“I believe the biggest challenge throughout anyone’s life in launching a career is defining yourself,” says Marc Goffaux (BA ‘17). “What are you good at? How can I be of value to this world? How do I balance those two things with what I enjoy doing, and what I am passionate about? Once you nail those questions down, a career naturally ensues from the choices to follow.”
2. Talk to people
Talking = networking. It’s not just about dressing up in your best suit to impress at fancy job fairs — it’s about having genuine human conversations with just about anyone. It could be former classmates or alumni who share your interests, your professors (who are always willing to help!), or that coworker you like to grab coffee with. Getting to know people, sharing thoughts and asking questions can lead to all sorts of unexpected ideas and opportunities.
“A lot of my previous jobs were actually not posted online — they were through word-of-mouth, through my network.”
“I always hesitate to use the term ‘networking’ even though that’s what it is — because it’s not necessarily attending a formal networking event or speaker series — a lot of it is just building relationships with people around you and talking to those people about what you want to do,” says Taryn Hardes (BA ‘11), Content Strategist.
“Networking is not overrated,” says Victoria Lansdown (BA ’17), “in addition to learning about potential openings that may not be available on [job] sites, networking also allows you the opportunity to learn from someone in a similar field, who has learned some valuable insight into how to prepare for a successful journey in such a role.”
“A lot of my previous jobs were actually not posted online — they were through word-of-mouth, through my network,” says Carmen Lee (BA ’01), Marketing Lead at Deloitte Consulting. “That’s where the hidden opportunities are.”
3. Get outside your comfort zone
In today’s world, getting a job isn’t just about your degree, it’s also about expanding your perspectives and skillsets. If you’re still a student, venture beyond your comfort zone with Go Global or the Office of Regional and International Community Engagement while you’re at UBC. After graduating, challenge yourself to read, travel, and master new skills. It might even inspire you to change your path.
“ It was very satisfying to see that with hard work and dedication I was able to do a good job despite my lack of formal training.”
“COVID-19 was keeping everyone at home and I had no idea what career path to try next. Luckily, I had a close friend who knew I had a degree in writing and told me to try freelancing,” says Victoria Fraser (BFA ‘18). Jumping headfirst into a career as a self-employed freelance writer, Victoria reflects, “I decided to give it a try… So here I am now. Successfully doing what I love.”
After graduating, Jan Jettel (BA ’05) took a chance and moved to Seoul to work for The Korea Times — before he was even fully fluent in the language! “I had no background in journalism and wasn’t sure if I’d be up to the task; it was very satisfying to see that with hard work and dedication I was able to do a good job despite my lack of formal training. That’s probably true for most entry-level jobs.”
Don’t have any job experience to put on your resume? Try volunteering with an event or organization in your chosen field. It’s the best way to start testing different career paths and building your professional skills and network.
“Developing my resume while still at school made the transition outside of it a little easier.”
“Volunteering helped set me up for my career,” says Jessica Hope-Ross (BA ’08), Specialist, Casino Marketing Communications at BCLC. She asked herself, how do you show your experience when you’re really just getting started? “That’s where extracurriculars and volunteering played a major role. I leveraged that work on my resume and in interviews to prove that I was fit for the role.”
“I volunteered and worked part-time with non-profits while doing my degree. I wrote for newspapers, went on the radio, and helped facilitate community events,” says Megan Dias (MA ’17), Program Coordinator at Ryerson University. “Developing my resume while still at school made the transition outside of it a little easier.”
5. Focus on what you can control
When lockdowns began in 2020, Judith McLean (BSW’86; MSW’89) lost both of her jobs that relied on in-person training. Having gone through a stressful season of job hunting in the pandemic, she has plenty of advice for students. “Keep it all in perspective,” she says. “[Have] patience for oneself and don’t expect everything to happen immediately.”
Judith emphasizes focusing on what you can control and doing something you can get passionate about. She shares that the easiest way to feel like we’re “involved in something more meaningful” than ourselves is by volunteering.
“One of the most difficult things after graduation is maintaining a community of support. Work hard to maintain your relationships, meet new people, and keep educating yourself!”
6. Create your own job
If there’s a change you want to see in the world and you have a brilliant idea, hop on the DIY-entrepreneur train. UBC Arts grads have created companies, non-profits and artistic projects based on a need they saw.
“I never thought I would launch my own company
when I was at UBC.”
“I was really lucky to be able to grow up [in Toronto] in my cultural language and my cultural community. Coming to Vancouver by myself, I realized in my first year that was definitely lacking for me,” says Yulanda Lui (BA ‘17), co-founder of Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice. Yarrow connects volunteer youth with Chinese seniors in need of language services and case management. “I created Yarrow because I wanted that connection to my cultural community and to be involved in Chinatown.”
When Vera Sudakova (BA’20, English Language & Literature) graduated in May 2020, all her plans crumbled due to the global pandemic. Stuck at home, she did what we all did: watched Netflix. On Dragons’ Den, she discovered an app that connects businesses with apprentices willing to work for free and immediately signed up to start gaining experience. “Over the summer, I wrote blogs and audited Google ads for a breast cancer charity, helped a Spanish language school in the U.S. launch a new online course, and wrote articles about real estate for a finance firm.” At the end of her apprenticeships, Vera was offered two positions.
“It’s quite an unusual way to find your first job, but then again, we were in a very unusual year.”
7. Be open to change
Sometimes your career doesn’t go exactly the way you first imagined. But that isn’t always a bad thing! Shifting gears can help you gain new skills, find a better fit and recognize your strengths and limitations.
“Try everything, try all the things and figure out what you really like... Because to be honest, you truly can do anything.”
“I had originally intended on becoming a speech-language pathologist, but as I explored that career further, I realized it didn’t fit my personality,” says Caleb Lee (BA ‘06), currently a sessional lecturer at UBC. “Possessing the necessary education to move laterally or vertically in my field was a challenge, but perhaps the larger, more overarching challenge was developing the courage I needed to look into myself.”
“Your first job is unlikely to be your last job, so take each opportunity as a learning experience and a stepping stone on your journey,” says Lilian Chau (BA ‘00), Community Investment Portfolio Manager at Vancity. “Even though it might not be your dream job, see what is there that may help you grow into your next job. Always find an opportunity that scares you a little, this means you will likely learn something and actually be engaged.”
8. Make use of campus job resources
UBC offers programs and resources to support you in building your career. As a student, the Centre for Student Involvement & Careers can help you in a variety of ways. Attend a workshop with a Career Peer Coach to gain skills you can apply to your career exploration and job search. As an alum, you have exclusive access to a vast array of services and supports through the alumni UBC Career Development program. Students and alumni can explore job opportunities and employer events by visiting Your Next Step and CareersOnline.
Hugh Knapp (BA ‘18), a sociology graduate now working as a design researcher at IBM. “A paper that you wrote could go into a portfolio; it does not need to be strictly visual. The portfolio helps in job interviews as they give you the opportunity to drive discussion and tell stories about your experiences and capabilities in a really engaging way.”
9. Be patient and ask the right questions
Few people become CEOs and superstars overnight — so don’t be distraught if you don’t land your dream job right away. It takes time to build your profile and gain recognition in your professional community.
“Be willing to persevere, because there are going to be a lot of really tough years where it doesn’t seem like you’re ever going to get anywhere. But as long as you stick to it, you’ll eventually get there.”
Reflecting on the challenges he’s faced in his career, Spencer Lindsay (BA’11, First Nations & Indigenous Studies) admits it was sometimes because he was attracted to the job title. “I didn’t ask enough questions about, ‘What does the work entail? Who will I be working with?’” Working with the right people can ultimately be more important than the ideal job.
“You really have to interview the people that you’re working for,” says Spencer. “It’s hard, especially as a young person not to just think, ‘Wow, they’re actually taking a chance on me, I should take it.’ I’ve learned through my career that it’s as much about where I want to be, and who I’m working with, than trying to fit the mold.”
“My main piece of advice is about taking care of yourself during the job-hunting process,” says Megan Dias (MA ’17). “It took me six months after finishing my degree to find a full-time job in my field… try to remember that it’s okay, and it’s normal, and it’s nothing about you. And make sure you have support, reach out to your community, and let people know what you’re going through.”
10. Leverage your Arts degree
You have the power to become a career chameleon. Arts graduates are equipped with a broad range of transferable skills like cultural and historic awareness, teamwork and project management, communication, creative problem solving, research, and analysis. You are uniquely suited not only to one specific job, but a variety of possible careers.
“There is no such thing as ‘arriving’ or being successful ‘after’ you land that dream job, secure the next promotion, or earn yet another piece of paper. It’s a journey, and the reward is in becoming more of your authentic self.”
“What can’t you do with an Arts degree?” says Jianna Faner. “It’s a far better question than ‘What can you do with it?’ because the answer to the latter question can be very long. Arts degree holders, and their skills, are so varied and versatile, but what makes them stand out is their ability to think critically about human issues and problems.”
“Employers today are hungry for grads who demonstrate strong writing and research skills,” says Will Kruger, who studied History but is now working as a business consultant for renewable energy. “Our modern-day focus on STEM courses has resulted in a significant shortage of applicants who bring the required level of writing and critical thinking skills needed in today’s fast-paced, competitive and interactive business environment.”
“Treat your job search and career as ‘a journey,’” says Rosalyn C. RainDancer (BA ’06), Founder & CEO of The Conscious CEO Experience. “There is no such thing as ‘arriving’ or being successful ‘after’ you land that dream job, secure the next promotion, or earn yet another piece of paper. It’s a journey, and the reward is in becoming more of your authentic self. Trust yourself and have fun!”
Need more career advice? Check out our diverse database of Arts alumni profiles featuring grads with various Arts degrees working in all kinds of sectors.