Aaliyah Farr is a Leeds Sociology graduate and now works as an Employability Progression Assistant at the Careers Centre.
In this interesting and personal piece, she reflects on how her background contributed to a lack of self-confidence in her time at university and during the graduate job hunt, and what changes she made to overcome this, even after experiencing setbacks.
Growing up in a mixed black British household, I’ve always felt the pressure to work hard. Now, as a graduate in Sociology looking back on why I put so much effort into my academic studies, I’ve realised that my family background has played a significant role in who I am today.
Being exposed to the struggles my mum faced to acquire qualifications, having not gone to university, encouraged me to take advantage of the opportunities offered to me at secondary school. I knew my goal was to complete my A Levels, go to university and engage with opportunities that close members of my family hadn’t had access to.
I began to feel a slight shift in the way I perceived my sense of self and personal identity once I began my undergraduate course at Leeds. Having grown up in a highly multi-cultural town and attended a diverse secondary school, I felt kind of different in my seminars and lectures, and found myself doubting my abilities, questioning if I was good enough.
Though I had got into university through the traditional route of A Levels, thoughts of feeling like a ‘fraud’ and second guessing if I should try to articulate myself more like my peers were definitely prominent.
These feelings were definitely still present when I reached the point of applying for graduate jobs after university. I had achieved a first-class degree, but had moved back home and was working part- time in a retail job I didn’t enjoy. This left me feeling demotivated and as if I had somehow failed.
I can remember going to an interview and assuming that I was the least likely candidate to get the role before the interview had even started, as I was negatively comparing my abilities and sense of self to the other candidates.
Although I managed to get interviews with some competitive organisations, I faced numerous rejections and disappointment. I knew something had to change, and that was the confidence I had within myself.
Instead of undermining my abilities I decided to place more focus on acknowledging my personal strengths, rather than putting energy into negative comparison.
I’ve learnt that comparison can be the enemy of progress when the comparisons you make result in self-belittlement.
Changing the way I viewed the application processes helped develop the sense of resilience I needed to continue my job hunt. I stopped associating rejection with failure and focused on remaining open to the range of other opportunities available.
A common perception when we think about the concept of resilience is the ability to come back stronger after failure. As I’ve come across various challenges after graduating though, I’ve begun to consider resilience as more of a learning process. By this, I mean that I’ve adapted to the challenges I’ve faced and tried to maintain a sense of direction.
There’s also a misconception that in order to have direction you need to have a clear vision of where you want to be. However, I’ve found that having a sense of direction can also apply to the idea of working towards and building upon small steps – ultimately, this helps shape a vision.
By building upon small steps, whether this meant doing more research for a job application or practicing interview techniques, I began to feel more confident in myself and in control over the direction I was heading towards.
I’m not saying that getting knocked down by rejection was easy. But by continuously revisiting and working upon the steps I had set in place for myself, I eventually landed a graduate internship at the University of Leeds.
Reflections and tips:
• Looking back on my experience, I think it’s really important to try and stay positive and to not let a couple of setbacks knock you down. I was lucky enough to have come across this opportunity at the university, but as cliché as it sounds I put in the necessary work in my steps to get there.
• Focus on yourself! It’s easy to get caught in the trap of comparing the stage you’re at with your peers and people you know. But remember, everyone’s timings are different and you are you own person!
• If you have been unsuccessful with applications and interviews, then the role probably wasn’t for you at that time. Remember, there are plenty of opportunities out there, so when you find the right one for you grab it with both hands!
I am now looking forward to gaining valuable experience working within the higher education sector and feel that I will be at an advantage when it comes to applying for progressive roles after the internship!