Final Year

8 top tips to help graduates gain employment after university

For many students, leaving university can be a very difficult time. After spending the best part of 15 years in education, moving into the working world can be a daunting experience but it doesn’t need to be…

“Preparation and forward planning is essential for any student who wants to make the best start to their graduate career,” explains Crystal Evans from graduate recruitment scheme GO Wales.

work (photo by will_hybrid)

work (photo by will_hybrid)

And I’ve got eight tips from GO Wales on getting into the world of work. Crystal says that by implementing a few simple essentials it will, “put you in a much better position when confronting the competitive job market after graduation”.

I’ve added my own comments below each tip to help you even further along the way.

Eight top tips to help secure employment after university

1. Get out there

Work experience is crucial when applying for jobs because it shows a non-academic interest in your industry sector. Being in the working environment that you strive to succeed in allows you to see what it’s really like. Many graduate jobs go to those who have completed relevant sector specific work experience.

[Martin’s note: You can even ‘get out there’ as you stay on campus… Jobs are often available within uni or your students’ union that can get you useful experience.]

2. Know what you’re doing

Taking an active interest in your career sector will help you stand out as knowledgeable and enthusiastic at the interview stage. Graduate jobs go beyond the skills you learn at university, so a thorough understanding of your industry will help you come across as keen, as well as dedicated.

[Martin’s note: To show your growing understanding, get blogging about the industry and build a portfolio of content that you can refer to at any time with ease. When you know your stuff, it’s valuable to show what you know!]

3. Keep your CV fresh

Your CV is like the window display inside a shop – it brings people in. A good CV must look professional and needs to be well tailored to the job that you’re applying for. Make sure your CV is up-to-date, demonstrates the skills and experience you can bring to a company, is accurate and spell checked.

[Martin’s note: Use LinkedIn so you can keep a living CV online. When you need to update, just add the new information. That way, you’re visible and you don’t have to start each CV from scratch. Job applications need tailoring, but that doesn’t mean you have to write a new CV every time. Also, LinkedIn lets you connect and network, as well as give and receive recommendations. Bonus!]

4. Go and get involved

Taking part in extracurricular activities will help you stand out from the rest. Participating in clubs, socials and sports at university will build your confidence and teach you team building skills that will ultimately impress an employer.

[Martin’s note: Just don’t get involved in too many societies and clubs. Aim for a managable amount that you can do really well, rather than loads of different activities that you hardly engage with.]

5. Network with others

Social networking sites present excellent opportunities for securing a graduate job; enabling you to communicate directly with people who work in the industries you’re interested in.  Following the appropriate professionals on social media sites like Twitter and Linkedin will help you to network in your industry; talk to professionals via social networks and don’t be afraid to seek advice from them.

[Martin’s note: Online networking is a big deal right now, and it’s easier than ever. Also, take your social shine to the next level and meet up with your online contacts. Attend seminars, conferences, and tweetups (put simply, meet with people you follow on Twitter!). Join industry groups online and check out what events they’re holding near you. Face to face encounters can be more memorable and more rewarding than online alone.]

6. Fail to prepare: prepare to fail

Turning up to an interview unprepared will waste all the work you’ve put in to getting to that stage.  Research the company beforehand to demonstrate that you have a clear understanding of what they do. Make sure you look professional and remain confident throughout.

[Martin’s note: Even after you have prepared, don’t be scared of failure. Every interview is an experience. You may have prepared extensively and still get thrown a curveball when you’re there. Far from knocking your confidence, let each failure boost you up for success further down the line. See the next tip for more on this…]

7. Don’t give up

Finding the perfect job takes time and a lot of effort. The graduate job market is very competitive and only 50 per cent of students find work in their preferred industry straight after university. Staying positive and realising that every failure has taught you something new will help you progress.  Finding relevant part-time work or volunteering will keep your industry knowledge up-to-date and you will also learn new skills along the way.

[Martin’s note: It’s also important to start early. Build up your strengths (both new and old) and tailor yourself as soon as you can. Don’t wait until you graduate!]

8. Use your resources

GO Wales works to help students and graduates secure work placements and quality work experience opportunities. Work Placements not only give you the chance to develop your knowledge and skills in a real work environment; you will also be paid a minimum of £250 per week. 65 per cent of their graduates secure long-term employment as a result of work placement schemes.

[Martin’s note: While GO Wales is aimed at students in Wales or graduates who are looking to develop their career in Wales, don’t stop if you’re not in that neck of the woods. Seek out other services either in your area or nationally. A good place to start is with your own uni careers services. Don’t be shy; they exist for you to make the most of them.]

Now go back to the first point. Time to get out there and be awesome!

Looking Beyond Employability

I found this tucked away near the end of an article in the Independent on Sunday:

“Students should learn not how to win arguments but how to ask subversive questions of authority, assess evidence and find the truth. They should discover how to critique the paradigms within which others expect us to live.”

That may sound trouble-making. Revolutionary, even. But that would be missing the point.

The important thing to think of here is ‘critical thinking’. About having access to and understanding of the tools that will enable you to do things. What you subsequently decide to do is then up to you.

photo by Dr.Fitz

“I’ve been looking everywhere to find employability skills…” (photo by Dr.Fitz)

So how can you be expected to ‘find the truth’? What if it’s not that simple?

Good questions. Things are never that simple. But neither question should stop you seeking out truth and question what is in front of you.

Critical thinking and employability skills bear many similarities. Engineering consultancy, Atkins, has called for universities to help students develop their employability skills:

“When considering whether to go to university, students would be wise to research where skills shortages lie in the marketplace and do a degree which is more likely to lead to a job offer.”

This view may help students and employers service needs right now, but it doesn’t cover possible future needs. Many jobs will be available in a decade or two that aren’t currently in existence. The skills shortage in that respect is a complete unknown.

To really achieve at employability, you need to look past employability in isolation. So how can you move forward without feeling completely in the dark?

A joint NUS and CBI guide to employability skills has been released to help with that. “Working Towards Your Future” is a short guide for students to get an idea of the general qualities employers are looking for in a graduate.

Aaron Porter, NUS president, said:

“A greater understanding of employability will enable today’s students to develop themselves, make a contribution and fulfil their potential tomorrow.”

You aren’t treading along an educational production line. You are participating in higher education. While you should expect your university to have the right types of access and tools in place for you to succeed, you should also feel a personal responsibility by acting with your own future in mind.

That doesn’t mean you’re only at university to enhance your career. Perhaps, like myself, you went into higher education because you wanted to find out more about a subject. An inquisitive mind is all it takes and you can be hooked.

Higher education can lead to a successful future and it can open many doors, but the fact it can lead to those things does not make it the reason behind higher education. Think of your life as a journey of lifelong learning and your skillset can be used beyond the ’employability’ tag.

Nevertheless, it would be daft to ignore students who attend university in the hope of brighter career prospects. Employability skills shouldn’t be an afterthought, but an integral part of your overall learning. By truly furthering your thoughts, considering other views, researching complex situations, opening up your mind, and imagining possibilities while you study, your employability should improve hugely. No matter how you define ’employability’.

While none of this happens automatically, university is one place where a lot of this is at hand to reach out and grab. So when something isn’t working out satisfactorily, or even if it’s just slightly out of your reach, don’t just sit back and grumble. Ask questions, assess evidence, and find the truth!

20/20 – Day 15: 20 considerations for the future before you leave university

It’s impossible to plan the future perfectly.  No matter. The more you do to provide for your future, the greater scope you’ll have with each new day.

Whether you’re still in your first year or you’re soon to graduate, start thinking about a life after your degree.  Nobody knows where you’re headed, no even yourself, but there’s plenty you can do to help the process.  Get the dice working in your favour.

  1. Why did you choose to study your subject? If you were asked this question, would you have a reasonable answer ready?
  2. Is your degree relevant to the field you want to go into? If not, pay attention to what you can bring to a job or career and what experience you have gained from your study.  Many core qualities and skills can be developed from a university education, so be prepared to explain and sell yourself over these transferable skills, no matter what your degree is.
  3. Work experience. Whether paid, voluntary or otherwise, any stints working are good to show off. Not so much a paper round when you were younger, but anything more substantial than that could play a part in strengthening your case.  Bar work, SU work, shop work, office work, placements, charity work, student work…jobs may not be directly relevant to those you apply for in the future, but many of the roles will have given you transferable skills.
  4. Societies/activities to mention, or join.  Playing a role within a club or society brings many transferable skills.  I don’t advise joining a vast number of clubs and societies for the sake of it.  Join one or two societies that you have most interest in so you develop contacts, experience, confidence, and much more.
  5. Professional associations.  Most associations have cheap membership options for students.  This is a great opportunity to find valuable information and join with people who already work in the areas of work you’re interested in.
  6. Create a great CV.  Don’t rush a document off a couple days before you need one, spend some quality time crafting something good now.  Check my series of posts on Employment Nirvanafor more information.

    You can't control the future, but it still depends on your help.

    You can’t control the future, but it does need your help.

  7. Tweak your CV and update it if you already have one.  Perhaps you made a pretty good CV in the past.  If so, keep going!  Make sure it’s kept relevant to your needs, as well as adding your experience and achievements as you go along.  Don’t leave it to chance.
  8. Look at jobs currently on offer for ideas. You may not be applying right now, but do you know what type of jobs are available?  If you don’t take a look, you won’t know how feasible your plans really are.
  9. Look at jobs currently on offer to see what they’re looking for.  Another benefit of browsing jobs you’re not about to apply for is so that you know what skills and qualities employers are looking for.  If you see a common trait that you haven’t yet mastered or experienced yet, you’ve got time to bring things up to speed.
  10. Check graduate schemes as soon as you can.  There’s no point in waiting.  The jobs won’t wait…
  11. If you know what your dream job/career is, pursue it NOW! Don’t wait, get involved.  Just because you’re not getting paid to learn about your chosen line of work doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother putting the effort in.  The moment you start chasing for leads and opportunities is the moment you step closer to what you want.
  12. Go to careers office and use them.
  13. Check careers & graduate sites for information, help and leads.
  14. Consider transferable skills in everything you do.  A small feat for you may be just what an employer wants.  Don’t overlook your talents!
  15. Clean up your online profiles.  And if you don’t want to remove the gory details, at least protect yourself by updating your privacy settings so you’re…well, private.
  16. Clean up your offline profiles. You don’t live in an online-only world, unless you believe we’re all in the Matrix or something.  Real-world issues need just as much consideration as those online.
  17. What do you *want* to do when it’s all over? Ask yourself this question and give a genuine answer.  Don’t kid yourself with ideas of what you’ll probably end up doing and what would roughly satisfy you.  Be bold by deciding what you’d choose if you had every option freely available to you.
  18. How will you achieve this? You’ve been bold in your answer to the above question.  Now have a plan to make this happen, no matter how outlandish it seems.
  19. Personality. What would you change and what would you keep the same?
  20. What do you seek beyond career, money and fame? We all crave different things in life.  Those cravings change as we change.  Before you graduate, what matters to you beyond money and the usual ‘big dreams’?
Title image: original by tiffa130 (cc)  /  Bottom image: quinn.anya (cc)