I recently wrote about researching career options and how it pays to be forward-thinking, even as a Fresher. One of the best places to start is at your careers centre. Whether you want to take away company brochures, think about postgraduate career options, speak to an adviser about suitable career routes, or maybe even get some job training while you’re studying, your careers centre can help move you visualise goals, move closer to those goals, and arm you with the right information to get where you want to be.
With this in mind, I recently asked some careers advisers about the ways in which you can make the most of your time at uni and best use the careers advice that’s available to you.
- How proactive are most students in their job/career search and how can they make the most of the services available to them?
“This varies. Some students are very proactive, seeking out opportunities for work experience, extra-curricular activities, volunteering and skills development from week 1. Some of these students have clear career goals but others are just determined to make the most of the wider university experience, which can sometimes help to generate career ideas. However, some students pay little attention to developing their skills and experience outside their degree and then struggle when it comes to writing job applications or demonstrating relevant skills and experience.
“University Careers Services should be a starting point for all students. Most Services will have materials that students can use to get a better sense of what types of work they might be suited to. They will also hold reference material on a wide range of careers, plus information about postgraduate study, making applications, working outside the UK and vacation/gap year opportunities. Careers staff are available to help students to discuss their career plans, help them to generate ideas, review their applications and provide information, advice and guidance. We can also help them through the maze of online resources to work out which websites are useful. Most Services also have a programme of events, talks and fairs which are a great way of finding out about different types of work and employers.”
“It is difficult to give a blanket answer. Many students are excellent and work really hard to make the most of the opportunities open to them. Some, however, will put off thinking about their career until its time to look for a job.
“Students need to find out what their Careers Service has to offer, and make sure they find time in their busy lives to do the things which are going to help them achieve their career goals e.g. attend an employer presentation, skills workshop or careers fair.”
- How early on in a student’s degree would you encourage them to engage in their future career plans? Would your advice change depending on how close to graduation the student is?
“It is never too early to start thinking about your career plans. The earlier you decide on your area of interest the more time you have to research particular occupations, potential employers and importantly develop the skills, knowledge and experience you need to get the job you want. It is particularly important to do this if you are interested in a competitive field such as finance, media, charity or development work.
“Even if you are not sure about your career plans it is important to get experience to put on your CV for later – this might include part time work, volunteering or student societies.
“Our advice may change. For example a student who is very close to graduating can not really gain career related benefits that can come from joining a university society. We would recommend other routes to success such as work experience or skills workshops.”
“As early as possible really, but some people just instinctively know what they want to do whilst others need time to research, test out their ideas through work experience and find out what they enjoy doing and what their strengths are. If you are one of those who likes to keep their options open you won’t want to pin down your ideas too early and will want to spend time exploring until you are really sure. However, to enter some careers you need to demonstrate lots of relevant work experience (eg primary teaching, working in the media or environment) so you need to start early. If you want to have the best chance of securing a ‘graduate level’ job when you leave university you will also have to engage with career planning early. Many of the big graduate recruiters start their recruitment campaigns in the autumn and may have filled all their places for the following year by spring.
“If a student is close to graduation and hasn’t really thought about career plans then a Careers Adviser would work with them to identify their next steps – which might be about researching ideas, taking interim jobs and looking for ways to build up their skills and experience. Most universities continue to offer their service to recent graduates.”
- Do you have any crucial advice that all students should follow to make sure they’re getting the best start to the world of work?
“Use your time at university to try out different things and build up work experience. Keep a record of what you’ve done and reflect on the skills you’ve developed, aspects that you’ve enjoyed and where your strengths are. At York for example, we have a skills development programme called the York Award which is not only valued by employers, but they are also involved in running many of the activities.
“Do your research – understand the job, the company and the sector you’re applying to – its a competitive world out there and this knowledge shows your motivation !
“Find out where your university careers service is (and its website) and use it !”
“Visit your Careers Service as early in your degree as you can to find out more about the great variety of options open to you.”
As you can see, the answers given by Janice and Martine are similar. And rightly so. By forward-thinking and building real interest in your future, it pays to focus your outlook and grow a relevant set of experiences to complement the study skills you’re amassing at uni.
Leaving anything longer than necessary gives you less time to develop. Just because it’s not part of your current study toward your degree, planning for your future is still a crucial element of university life. Leave the future until the future? That’s procrastination.
So, as both Janice and Martine concluded above, visit your Careers Service! Advisers where you study are waiting to help you find success beyond university. Can’t be a bad thing, so take up the offer as soon as you can!