What should I do when all my friends have internships or job opportunities? I can’t help but feel very anxious and scared for my future.

A student asked:

I’m in my third year now, and many of my friends have internships or job opportunities. I can’t help but feel very anxious and scared for my future.

I don’t really have very high ambitions. I just hope to secure a job in my field when I graduate. To work on that, I’ve been taking up opportunities that help to boost my resume. But still, I always feel that I’m not good enough and quite lousy compared to other people.

Do you have any advice on what I can do right now? Should I pick up more skills so it helps to increase my chances of employment or something?

I have some advice:

(1) First, please stop looking at peoples’ profiles on LinkedIn. Don’t compare because everyone’s different, and everyone excels in different ways. No matter how good you are, there will always be someone better than you in one way or another. And we always ignore the fact that we are better than those people in other areas.

Also, my friend who works in the financial sector alerted me that recently, a lot of insecure graduates have been lying on their CVs. It’s got so bad that HR had to implement tests to see if people really know how to do the stuff they said on their CVs. So odds are, many of those very impressive LinkedIn profiles are full of rubbish, or at best half-truths. For example, someone boasts on LinkedIn for having two internships that simultaneously last for one month? Probably an exaggeration. So I wouldn’t think too much about that.

(2) While I think it’s ok to still feel lost about what to do, I really hope that you can challenge yourself to aim higher. Just securing a job is a very low bar. Everyone can get a job in a reasonable amount of time regardless of your education qualification (so that really shouldn’t be your worry right now). If you can (and you really should strive for it), I recommend spending the time to understand the kinds of jobs that’s out there. The world now is nothing like what we learnt in kindergarten/primary school, where there’s fireman, policeman, teacher, banker, chef, etc. It’s a lot more nuanced. It will help to find a sector that you find exciting, or fulfilling; or perhaps a particular category of tasks or processes that you think might be fulfilling or satisfying.

Because right now, you are limited by your understanding of what’s out there. That vast unknown is what makes life after graduation seem so scary. And it’s natural to feel that your degree is not enough, or the skills you have are not enough. And for that matter, the opportunities that you are looking at are precisely the same opportunities that everyone around you can picture and that’s why those opportunities are quite competitive and limited. And because so many people are fighting for those same opportunities, there are many other opportunities where no one’s applying for – even in this economic situation we’re in. You might have seen some job listings where you think you’re not cut out for it because you have no idea what it’s about (or they might sound intimidating to you). Then you should read up more to find out what it’s about. Knowledge is power. The more you know, the less intimidated and worried you’ll be. You’ll be surprised to learn how many of these jobs can be done by you if you are willing to learn and read up more.

(3) While it’s good to learn skills, I think what you need is to get your feet wet and try working a job or an internship. Or even if it’s to promote your own freelance business. Just do something to make money. It’ll be a good start. I know people who use “learning skills” as an excuse not to take the plunge into the working world. And I know some people who delay working for years because they don’t feel ready until they’ve taken this and that course. It looks like you’re doing something productive, but it’s actually a form of procrastination from doing the necessary – actually experiencing the working world for yourself.

Between a person with a CV full of certificates (of skills) and a person with only one skill but with some work experience, I’ll take the person with work experience. Learning a skill is one thing. Knowing how to practice it at work is a different thing altogether.

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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