Some of you know exactly what you want to do – for others, life after uni is a blank sheet. But for all of you there’s no denying that contemplating that jump out of the cosy bubble of education and into work is both exciting and somewhat scary. But there are a number of things you can do to find the job you want.
Fear usually stems from two sources. First: you have no idea what you want to do, everyone else does and if you don’t sort yourself out you’ll be living at home with your parents and working in the supermarket… Second: you do know what you want to do but there’s so much competition you’re considering poisoning the uni’s beer supply to kill off your rivals.
But: the majority of you will find satisfactory work. It’s not like the good old days when your degree was expected to earn you an extra £2,000 for every year of your life. But it will provide you with a good basis on which to build a satisfactory career.
Academically, the pressure is likely to be on in your last year and job hunting might seem like a tall order on top of everything else. "Your top priority is your degree, as you only get one go at it," says Alison Bailey-Calcutt, careers adviser at Salford University. "However, I would suggest it is possible to set aside a small amount of time to meet some goals." She says that over a period of a few weeks, students should aim to update their CV, have a go at completing a practice application form, do some research or attend a fair or an employer presentation. "It’s small things on a regular basis. It is important to prioritise and to set realistic achievable goals. You don’t have to spend six hours a week in the careers service."
Navin Patel, 21, graduated this year in project management for construction at University College London. He knows what he should have done in his final year. "I just didn’t make enough use of my time. I’ve yet to visit my careers office and wish I’d done it earlier," he says.
DON’T: Think further education is an easy option.
A postgrad course is not a default option for delaying entry into the real world. Course fees (c. £3,000) and living costs (c. £7,000) mean it is an expensive decision that must be weighed carefully.
According to surveys, about 25 per cent of you are considering postgraduate education. A postgrad degree can break you into your chosen career, or may be a prerequisite, but only if it’s the right one. In the words of one MA student: "I thought my masters would give me a chance find out what I wanted to do. It did, but the problem was it had nothing to do with my course. Halfway through I couldn’t wait to get finished. Worst of all to get into my chosen career I need another masters in that area, which I can’t possibly afford. I wish I’d thought about it properly."
Remember that many graduate employers do not give priority to applicants with higher degrees nor pay salary premiums unless the qualification is directly relevant for a specialist role.
DO: Consider the options.
More of you than ever before are deferring your career choices until after graduation because of time pressures – but make sure it’s a conscious decision rather than something that just happens. Remember that you won’t have access to careers services or lecturers, or might be away travelling during crucial application deadlines.
You’ll also need to convince employers that the reasons why you deferred were good ones. "Employers are a lot more flexible now and increasing numbers are starting to recruit all year round," says Katrina Gray, careers adviser at the University of Edinburgh. But make it a decision that you have control of, she advises. "You don’t want to be forced into a gap year just because you’ve missed all the deadlines."
DON’T: Run with the herd.
At the start of your last year, the temptation is to fall in with the herd and run around in a blind panic mailing CVs out right, left, and centre to the same industries that your housemates are applying to. About 0 per cent of you will achieve success applying for jobs this way.
"There is a lot of peer pressure to go for the same very visible employers. There are a number of big employers who spend a lot of time promoting themselves on campus but that doesn’t mean that they have to be the ones that you will go for automatically," says Katrina at Edinburgh.
If you don’t really want the job the chances are that the employer will realise that and you’ll have wasted your time and their’s. Common employer complaints are: "didn’t understand the demands of the job "or "didn’t know what he really wanted to do".
DO: Your research.
The first thing to research is yourself. Spend some time getting an idea of what you are about.
As well as helping you get that job, good research will ensure that you don’t make a big mistake. For example, what do you really know about the career you think you’d enjoy? Sam, 24 who graduated from Swansea Uni with a 2:1 in English tried his dream job – journalism – for a week and really hated it. "I love creative writing but actually found little in journalism is actually about that. I spent my week’s trying to talk to people who didn’t want to talk to me and writing things to the editor’s precise specification." He’s now found his niche in teaching, something he’d never expected.
Research will also get you into unadvertised jobs. Jaime Robinson, 25 is going into her final year of BA history and the history of art at Canterbury, Kent. She wants to work in a gallery and has been emailing people who work in the sector to ask for advice on finding a job. "A lot of the start level jobs in the arts aren’t advertised," she says. "Contacting people has been really useful to both build networks and to get a clearer idea of how I should target my job hunt."
"If you’ve got to swallow a frog, don’t spend a lot of time looking at it," is the advice from Brian Tracy, author of Eat that Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating. With such a vast range of choices and the possibility of rejection by employers, the temptation to delay action is difficult to resist. But as with everything in life the more you do it.
Anup Panchal, who graduated in biology from Royal Holloway earlier this year, wishes he’d made a start. "My exams are over now and I’m panicking a little bit. I should have planned ahead. I still don’t have more than a vague idea of what I want to do," he says. His advice? "Use your careers service and get at least a rough idea of what you’d like to do."
Do: Learn How to Make Decisions.
There is a simple process you can follow to make career decisions, says Alison at Salford University. Start with thinking about yourself, your values and what you do and don’t like doing. Then review your skills and consider how they fit with certain industries. She suggests the Windmills Programme’s virtual career coach www.windmillsprogramme.com.
The second step when you’ve whittled down the area is to research and draw together information on the industry and individual companies. Look at their culture and how they represent themselves online.
Many careers services can put you in touch with alumni who are working and can give you an honest opinion on what the sector is like. However, Alison advises that you don’t get too focused on job titles at the start of the decision making process.
Zalihe Baransel graduated this year from London Met with a joint degree in music and media management/peace and conflict studies. She’d put off her job hunt because it seemed too daunting. "I’ve realised now it doesn’t mean you have to search for just one job, you’ve just got to get started. I wish I had!"
Essential deadlines for your first term:
Find your careers service! If you are in your second or final year, now is the time to start taking advantage of some of the facilities on offer.
Check out the careers fairs: fresher or finalist careers fairs are a great way to find a bit more about what jobs are on offer. See www.careersfairs.org for details of some events near you and check www.realworldmagazine.com for up-to-date lists. Keep your eyes peeled at your careers service for employer presentations. October and November are when companies like to come in and talk to students about what they do.
Keep your eye on this:
– Many investment banks, management consultancies and advertising agencies close their deadlines this term.
– Law interviews for training contracts with big firms will begin so you’d better get applying. Second-year law students should also start applying for summer placements.
– People interested in teaching should start looking at when they have to apply. If you want to work in a primary school you’ll need apply by the end of December in your final year.
- Work Experience for Christmas: Some management and professional services firms offer work placements in the festive season – it’s also a good time to try even just a week of the job you fancy. You should also start looking for work experience for next summer if that’s what you are planning.
– Publishing – some, such as Penguin and Macmillan, run very competitive graduate training schemes and closing dates can be early this term.
– Postgraduate study: Depending on your chosen institutions, start applying for postgraduate courses. You should also start applying for grants. The Arts and Humanities Research Board, for example, has a May closing date but the application form comes out in December. If you are thinking of doing a postgrad in business or finance be aware that many of the business schools look for early applications. Also be aware that some competitive postgrad courses such Cardiff’s journalism diplomas close in February, so you might want to start considering your application.
First closing date for Civil Service ‘fast-stream’ online appointments is November 30.
Some overseas teaching programmes such as JET programme (teach English in Japan) take applications.
Budding entrepreneurs can also start looking around. There are a number of grant schemes, loans and advice on offer for graduate entrepreneurs. Start by checking www.starttalkingideas.org or www.shell-livewire.org
The milkround begins – this is where employers interview applicants on campus. Check with you careers service to see which employers do this.