Some tips to new Agriculture Graduates on the job market
Yesterday evening, I opened my Facebook page and could not miss the status updates of my friends of the Faculty of Agriculture who passed their final year exams and are going to graduate soon...
Status updates on Facebook
My first reaction was happiness for them, since I still remember being in the same situation last year, and the feeling of completing your undergraduate degree is simply awesome! :)
Some of these new graduates may have already secured a job, while others are getting started with the job hunting process. At this point, these youths are very motivated, have a vision (maybe not so clear, but they have one) and want to change the world or the system.
I am sure many of them are thinking "I am going to start a business in Agriculture", or "I am going to work in a lab/quality department of an organisation", or even "I am going to work as a research scientist or extension officer". These ideas come into mind because these are what we are expected to do after an undergraduate degree in Agriculture or related fields.
But the truth is that very few will get the job they expected or wanted.
I am not an expert in career guidance or something, but in this blog post, I want to highlight my experience (and some of my friends) as a graduate in Agriculture..
On completion of our final year, the first reaction of all of us would be to write a nice motivation letter and send it along with our CVs to potential employers (which I also did by the way). The real problem lies after this step..
No vacancy Board
In Mauritius, it is a fact that we rarely find vacancies posted in the Agricultural sector compared to other sectors (I am not saying that other sectors are better either). But despite this, we send our CV to some organisations and companies and expect to get an interview. If you are lucky enough, you will surely get an interview, but most of the time, you receive a letter saying there is no vacancy at the moment.
Others employed first
Another thing that happens all the time is that you will see that the people who were not really serious in their studies (you know the type :p), will get a job before you! And sometimes this job is the one you wanted to get. Another factor you should not forget that there are past graduates who are still looking for jobs and they many have more experience than you and hence, more chance of securing a job than you.
As a fresh graduate, please do not expect to get a salary above Rs15k. In most cases, the companies take you on probation (3-6months) and during that period, the basic salary ranges between Rs10-12k. And compared to what you are supposed to get, you will see that your salary is very low, considering that many agriculture related jobs involve working in the field or deal with farmers.
Treatment from external bodies
After a BSc, we usually think that we know or have achieved a lot, but this is not what the people on the job market think. From personal experience, I can say that they believe that "these people have no experience and they definitely do not know anything about agriculture". To a certain extent, they are right, because it is true that we do not have that much of work experience as the 6 weeks' training is not enough for us to get the skills that are required. Critics are hard to digest, but we have to acknowledge the truth and work on improving our skills.
Whether we want it or not, we do get confused because at this point in our lives, we know that whatever decision we take will have an impact on our future. And the biggest confusion is about knowing what we really want to do in life.. Have we chosen the right course? At this stage, the situation varies for different people. Some know exactly what they want and go for it, while others are hesitating to take the next step or are in the dark: They do not know what to do next...
These are typical situations that will discourage you. But remember that this is not the end. There are things that can be done to keep you motivated in this process..
Writing Cover Letters and CVs
The first step in securing a job is to have a good cover letter and CV. Despite the fact that all of us have learnt how to write these in the Communication Skills module, we fail to write good ones. Some tips on how to apply for an opportunity can be read HERE.
Some important points to remember is that in your CV and cover letter, you have to write about yourself and what sets you out of the crowd, because like you, others have gone to the same university and have same degree. What is the extra thing that you have that will make employers select you? If you don't know about this "extra thing" that makes you unique, then it's high time you start exploring and know yourself, your strengths, weaknesses, vision etc.
Leadership and volunteering
Personally, I have got to know what my strengths, weaknesses and what I want to do in life through my leadership experience. Many people want to know how to develop their leadership skills and the best way to do that is by volunteering. Working on projects, organising events, working in a team, leading teams, attending conferences, trainings and engage in team building activities.. Today I can say that 75% of the skills I have are from volunteering and engaging in leadership activities. Apart from a degree, many employers look for these qualities in potential candidates and having been exposed to such experiences is already an extra point for you. If you have not yet been engaged in extra curricular activities, it is still not late. There are regional youth clubs, JCI, rotary clubs etc, which you can join and contribute in your free time. I chose AIESEC during my final year at UoM, and it was one of the best decisions I took that has had a huge impact on the decision I took after graduation.
The thing that we should avoid to do before getting a job is to remain at home and watch TV or do nothing, because in doing so, we are not developing any of our skills and it brings depression when we are not getting a reply for job interviews. Many organisations are not ready to hire new graduates, but they often accept to offer internship opportunities. In order to get some work experience, one can apply for an internship in an organisation (public/private) or an NGO, and keep applying for jobs until you get what you are looking for.
Many of us want to be an entrepreneur and set up our business. While I am not the right person to advise on entrepreneurship, I have realised that there is scope in entrepreneurship, but it takes some time (years most probably) to establish a business and it all starts with a good idea. Know exactly what you want to do. Start by identifying a gap in the system and your business should be able to bridge that gap. Don't get into a business which is common. Be as innovative as you can. If you are going into production, make sure that you have done a good research on the whole value-chain, and have the required skills, workers and access to inputs, land, finance, and market. Seek advice from experts and other stakeholders in the field and write a business plan. Then whatever happens, never give up, just keep going! :)
Know your subject and be up to date
What I have observed is that while being at the University, we limit our knowledge to what is happening in Mauritius only. As a graduate, you need to know your subject well and to build the knowledge obtained at University, and the best way to do that is to read articles, news, research papers that are accessible online. On this blog itself, there are links on the sidebar on the right, where news from local, regional and international sources can be accessed.
Networking and use of social media
Today, we are lucky to be connected to the world through social media. Do not use Facebook just for networking with friends, to chat or share links. You can very well use your Facebook profile professionally. But then, be careful of what type of information is on this profile. Pictures of you partying or something would not help contributing to your professional image. Create a profile on LinkedIn and build it in such a way that it reflects your personality. When sending your CV to the HR Manager of a company, very often it goes in their drawer and they never have time to have a look at it. Having a professional profile online gives you more chance to be visible to potential employers and many companies are now recruiting after consulting the social media profiles of the candidates. Also, networking with people in the same sector as you is important. You never know when there is an opportunity and you may get to know about it through them. Attend events related to your field to build your network and you can network virtually as well on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogger etc.).
As I mentioned, confusion is inevitable after graduation. You are not sure about where you are heading or what you want to do. This is where the role of mentorship is crucial. A mentor can be a lecturer, someone you have worked with during your work-based placement or anyone who is there to advise or guide you. For me, mentorship has been very important and I'm lucky I've got mentors who have been sharing their experience and guiding me. If you trust someone like this, do not hesitate to request for mentorship or just approach them for advice. As far as I know, they will not refuse to support you.
The right attitude
What is important is to have the right attitude: to never give up and try all that you can while you are getting the opportunity. In any field of study you are, getting a job (and one that you love) is not an easy task. Know what you want and do your best to get it! :)
I'll end this post with a positive note: Almost all my classmates who graduated last year are now employed. It is true that most of us did not get what we wanted, but the good side of it is that we are not unemployed and are learning and improving our skills through what we have and are making the most of it.
Believe in yourself and keep going! :)
YPARD Web4Knowledge Intern