Grads find coping strategies for stress of unemployment

For four years, Michelle Yan handled her stress like most university students did. She sat through classes, listening to professors. She handed in her assignments on time; and she spent long, sleepless nights in her apartment. She was an average student.

Yan always thought that the stress would fade away. But as she walked down the red carpet at her convocation, she was more stressed-out than ever.

“I always assumed my life would get easier after I graduated,” Yan said. “I did what I was supposed to. I went to school. I got my degree in honors mathematics. I did what was expected of me.”

She never imagined that her stress had only just begun. In 2016, Yan faced a challenging job market. According to a 2015 survey by the Council of Ontario Universities, the average employment rate for university undergraduates six month out of school was 87.6 per cent. Despite this seemingly high rate, many recent graduates face difficultly finding work, and more specifically, work related to their field of study.

After countless job interviews, Yan felt stuck.

“I was applying to every related job listing I could find online and when I did score an interview, I never heard anything more than, ‘We’ll be in touch,’” Yan said.

It wasn’t until she decided to try something new, did she feel any sort of relief.

“The moment I walked out of my first yoga class,” Yan said, “you know the saying? You have the weight of the world on your shoulders? It felt like the opposite of that.”

Jillian Szeto’s post-graduate job search mirrored Yan’s, but her fix differed.

“I didn’t want to settle,” Szeto said. “I didn’t want to sit around and wait for a job. I wanted to do something productive with my time.”

Szeto, a graduate of the life science bachelor program at Queen’s University, decided to seek further education to make her appear more desirable to future employers.

“I realized my degree wasn’t enough, not when there are so many graduates looking for work,” Szeto said. “I spent weeks looking at job postings and realized what I didn’t want to do. … I then decided to go to college.”

Szeto is now attending Seneca College and is enrolled in the Bioinformatics Graduate Certificate program. She recognized that her time at university didn’t provide her with the hands-on experience she needed.

Unlike Szeto, Cameron Taylor didn’t want to go back to school. Taylor graduated from the University of Toronto, and like Yan, experienced job-related anxiety.

“I would scroll through postings online for hours a day,” Taylor said. “It was so frustrating to not get anywhere. I kept thinking, ‘What’s wrong with me?’”

Taylor tried to address her stress much the way Yan did.

“I tried taking my mind off (the job hunt),” Taylor said. “I went out with friends. I tried exercise. I even saw a doctor.”

Taylor didn’t find relief until a friend suggested an alternative to the traditional job hunt.

“I was explaining my situation to a friend (who) suggested contacting a headhunter,” Taylor said.

The Robert Half company advertises itself as a staffing agency, and Cameron Taylor found a temporary solution by applying there.

“It’s definitely not ideal. I would have liked (to find a job) myself, but I don’t have any regrets,” Taylor said.

Michelle Yan has just passed the six-month average time frame for grads finding work that university survey assessed back in 2015; but she’s not as worried. She said the yoga has helped, even if it’s not a magic fix.

“I’m still applying to jobs,” Yan said. “The process hasn’t become any easier, (but) I guess I’m just better prepared to handle it now.”