Explore… there’s more to university and work

scott2 One thing that seems to have been a constant during my life, is that I have not really known what I have wanted to do in my career. My first career aspiration that I can remember was to be a bin man, which over 300 students in my primary school were all made aware of in a school assembly. If you asked my parents, they would tell you that aside from being a bin man, I wanted to be a footballer, a fireman, and also the richest man in the world (whilst not lifting a finger… of course) and I’m sure many other careers.

Still to this day, I haven’t decided what I will do next with my life… and whilst sometimes I freak out about this, I have come to the realisation that it’s completely OK.

In order for this article to make sense, I need to explain my last four years, so bear with me…

Let’s go back to when I decided to go to university… My criteria was simple: a good university lifestyle in a city campus, with a business course that would allow me to do a placement year. After a tour of UK universities, I decided to go to Sheffield Hallam University to study BA Hons International Business (Sandwich Degree). My first year at university was pretty much the same as every single other fresher who has been set free from the shackles of their parents for the first time: going out almost every night, drinking far too much and just doing what every fresher should, whilst going to just enough classes to pass the year.

During second year, it was evident that most of the students, including myself, were starting to put their heads down, which you would expect when it is going to impact your final mark. It was also during second year that I found an organisation called AIESEC. When I first joined AIESEC, I was there to improve my CV and become more employable. I didn’t really understand the organisation but would do what was necessary to get a good job. Not long after I joined, I got the opportunity to lead the Outgoing Volunteering team, where we would send students from Sheffield on six week voluntary exchanges. This was my first real taste of management and something that I thoroughly enjoyed doing and thrived on. While in the role, my team managed to produce some pretty good results in a short period of time, but whilst the results may have been good, I knew that the way I managed and delegated to my team could have been better.

I undertook an industrial placement at one of the big technology firms, working in sales operations. During my time in this role, I got a real insight into how a large MNE operates on a day-to-day basis. There were many learnings I got from working at this company, but two that stand out to me are: 1) have a balance between relationship-oriented and results-oriented leadership. If you can get the best out of your people, the results will come, but when it gets difficult, make sure you can drive results with your team. 2) working in a large company is extremely bureaucratic and complicated. The reason that this is one my biggest learnings, is that it will always make me question what kind of environment I want to work in.

Coming back to university for my final year was extremely difficult; going from a solid routine and being managed, to having zero routine and having to take full control of my studies. In addition, I had become President of AIESEC Sheffield and juggling university with this role was no mean feat. The pressure from both university and from my role was incredibly intense and at times very personally challenging. AIESEC really took over and was never far from my thoughts, throughout the year. Even though it was the toughest and most challenging experience that I have ever been through, I would not swap it for anything. Ultimately, my focus towards AIESEC affected my studies. Going into final year, I was very much on track to get a First Class Honours Degree, which throughout first and second year was very important to me. However as time went by, this came less and less important, and I have now graduated with very respectable Second Class Honours (Upper Division) or a 2:1.

Now I have told you about my last four years, I can start to give you more of an insight into this article…

As I have just mentioned, getting a First Class Honours Degree became less and less important in my life. What had become increasingly important was doing something I enjoyed, that gave me more of a purpose, and gave me actual tangible experience. Most university students would agree with me that university is an overpriced library card with access to a set of slides for each topic – you do the rest and your results are all down to how hard you work. I admit that there are some positives to this – namely independence. But in my opinion, this is not enough and when companies like Ernst & Young are saying that they no longer care what degree you have, due to research stating there is no correlation between having a degree and how you perform on the job, universities need to take a long hard look at what they are offering. If you are going to go to university, get involved in extracurricular activities…

…Whether it is a football team, debate club, AIESEC or any other extracurricular activity that you have on offer, just do it… but please make sure that you are going to get something out of it at the end of the day and that it is going to actually benefit you. These types of activities are the ones that will get you the job when you leave university. Everyone has a degree nowadays – you need to stand out from the crowd.

I challenge you to do something that you would never normally do, completely outside of your comfort zone. Only when you are out of your comfort zone, will you truly develop.

When you graduate…

…do not feel pressured to just get a graduate job. Throughout our whole lives, we are made to believe that the best path for us is to go to university, get a graduate job and then work for the rest of our lives in a big company where you can achieve success.

Throughout your university life, this pressure will build more and more, and my advice would be, if you aren’t sure that’s what you want to do, then do not crack under the pressure. Even if you are sure that’s what you want, you don’t need to go and do it straight away – you are more than likely going to be working into your 70s and will never get freedom like you have after you graduate. Take a little time for yourself and find what it is you’re passionate about and what makes you get up in the morning. If you do this, you will find a career that doesn’t feel like a career, you’ll find a lifestyle.

scott1 If I knew where I would be now and how I felt now, I would possibly think twice about going to university. However, whilst my article may seem as though I really think poorly of going to university, this is not necessarily the case. I met some amazing people during my time there, who I hope will stay in my life for a very long time and I joined an organisation that has changed me for the better. University changes you as a person, I grew up, took more responsibility and became independent. University is where you learn key life skills and this is one of the best outcomes you will get.

So yes, I guess I’m glad I went to university, but if you do not take advantage of extracurricular activities and have fun while you are there, then I think you will have missed out on much better opportunities.

I’m also glad I’m taking time out and not going straight into work. I’m going to enjoy my 3 months in Brazil and 3 months travelling around Southeast Asia. Who knows what I’ll do after that, but at this moment in time, that is not important.

This was originally a Linkedin post on Scott’s profile.

After on-campus volunteering with AIESEC throughout university, Scott completed an AIESEC Global Entrepreneur placement in Brazil. Whether it is Brazil or Southeast Asia, find an opportunity which suits you at http://opportunities.aiesec.org