I had all sorts of dreams when I was younger – I was variously going to be a baker, an interior designer, a ballet dancer, an architect or an astronaut… but it never really occurred to me that I’d end up in the third sector. Perhaps that’s because it’s just so diverse and not a ‘conventional’ career path that a six-year old can wrap her head around. Or perhaps it’s because the ‘astronaut’ dream won out for a while and I went off to study physics at university, spending my time applying to internships at the European Space Agency rather than delving into the world of student volunteering.
When it came to graduation, the majority of my friends and family were heading off into law, teaching, medicine or consultancy, with a few going into research or further study. So when I tentatively suggested that I wanted to work for a charity, the responses were somewhat bemused: ‘can you get a paid job in the charity sector?’ was probably my favourite. Yes, charities have employees.
After a year of travelling and trying out a couple of different job roles – from accountancy to strategy work – I applied to the Worthwhile graduate scheme and took up a position as Communications Officer for Student Minds. I’d volunteered with the charity during my final year at university, running a blog and helping with various events and fundraisers, and I knew that I really wanted to work in mental health, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. And it’s exceeded my expectations in so many ways – over the past year, the charity has grown from a network of eating disorder peer support groups to the UK’s leading student mental health charity, with a team of three full-time staff members and a network of over 2,500 volunteers in 40 universities across the UK. As part of my job I’ve run training, spoken at conferences and helped coordinate campaigns and awareness days, alongside managing all of our national communications.
One of the highlights this year has been working on the Student Minds ‘Look After Your Mate’ campaign, seeing it through from the initial design stages to the campaign launch last month. The ‘Look After Your Mate’ campaign aims to equip students with the skills and confidence to support their friends and it has been inspiring to hear so many students sharing their stories and taking up the campaign on their campuses. This week we’ll be running our first ‘Look After Your Mate’ workshop in Oxford, covering practical tips for supporting a friend and sharing ways to kick-start further action, and we’re excited to take the workshop to universities across the UK over the next couple of months.
Being part of the Worthwhile graduate scheme, I’ve also had training in finances, project management, governance, process thinking, branding, communications and lots more – it’s all about equipping young people to have the skills to go out and do what they’re passionate about, and to me that’s so important. I love being surrounded by people who are doing the things they really care about and feel incredibly lucky to have a job that I really love.
So if you’re graduating this summer, or if you’re just starting to think about where you’re headed in terms of your career, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Try reaching out to those who work in organisations you admire to seek advice, and take time to think about what you’re passionate about, what your hobbies and skills are and what makes you happy. Whilst applying for jobs can seem scary, remember that it’s part of the bigger picture of figuring out what you want to do – so don’t forget to enjoy the journey along the way!