9 Tips to Prepare for Jobs and Careers Long Before You Graduate

It’s never too early to think about what you’re going to do when you graduate.

Everything is a preparation. You’re not meant to wait until you finish your degree before preparing for the future. Make your time count.

You may not even be at uni yet. No matter. The longer you give yourself, the more chance you have to jump in and get comfortable.

Cat Ready (photo by kissro)

It’s all about preparation. Get ready to pounce… (photo by kissro) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Here are 9 things you can do early on in anticipation of what’s ahead of you when you leave university. Why wait?

1. Get involved in relevant professional associations and groups

This is easier than ever. With an Internet connection and a bit of time to search, almost everything is at your fingertips. This is a recent development and worth pursuing.

For the most important associations, do consider paying for student or basic membership. It’s worth the cost if you get some kind of recognition and if membership gives you various other benefits that you can tap into. Do your research and see what’s on offer. You may be pleasantly surprised.

2. Join LinkedIn groups, subscribe to blogs, and follow Twitter users in your field

Another recent development and easy to implement. Spend just a few minutes each week following a few key accounts and you’ll build up a great source of content in no time at all. You can then reach out, comment, and even offer advice as you go along.

As a recent Jisc article mentions, “The recruiters are there. The employers are there. So why aren’t the students?” There’s a lot going on!

3. Write, record, and video stuff

Most of us consume content, but how often do you produce it? You can make an impression even if you make something about your search from nothing. You can still impress when you publish basic information for absolute beginners. You’re making the effort and making it public. That speaks volumes.

People will value your content. We all have to begin from somewhere, so don’t worry that you’re being too simple. Your information may be exactly what someone else is looking for.

4. Show up where you’d like to show up

The more you get involved, the more you will be seen. And as your exposure increases, you’ll be offered other opportunities to increase your exposure yet more. It’s like a snowball effect.

Seek out free events, find cheap student tickets (or free press tickets if you are writing prolifically enough now!), and find what your university and local area have on offer as far ahead as possible.

5. Tap into alumni

Speak to your alumni office to find out what they have to offer. Some universities provide a lot of help and contact after you graduate, including professional development and networking opportunities.

6. Your careers service is your friend

Many students are using careers services earlier on in their degree. Gone are the days where you don’t bother thinking about it until just before final exams. Whether or not you know what jobs and careers you’re interested in, you’ll find a wealth of information and advice on offer to you. Use it!

7. Speak with your tutors (if applicable)

This works best when you want to remain involved in a field directly related to your degree subject or if they can impart specialist information. If so, your lecturers and other uni staff are a great potential source of leads and contacts. They’re a great place source for quality leads that they themselves endorse and rely upon. For that reason, plan ahead with questions and requests that aren’t easily available elsewhere. Make the contact count.

8. Keep an ear to the ground

Read the latest news in your line of work and look out for where people get their trade information from. Over time, you’ll build up loads of valuable resources that require very little effort keeping on top of. Imagine having to start from scratch only after you’ve graduated. Save yourself time and give yourself the upper hand with everything at your fingertips as early as possible.

9. Find direct links to businesses you’re interested in

By building up connections not just with people, but with companies, there is a much greater chance that you’ll be known as a matter of course. Picture making a name for yourself while you’re still at university. Forget waiting, interact with companies and individuals you love right now.

Find ways to offer value and impart your knowledge to those who would appreciate it. A small gesture that takes five minutes of your time may prove more useful than desperately seeking an internship post. You can’t compare them like for like, but the small gesture is something you can do right now. Make contact and provide value when you see the opportunity.

A few minutes out of every day is all it takes to make a huge difference. Schedule it into your day. Commit to quarter of an hour to do one small thing, write a short piece, or make contact with someone. Whatever you do, don’t expect a miracle in isolation. Keep preparing so you don’t have to play catch-up later.

A few minutes. No big deal. Preparation is best when it’s spaced out, regular, calm. Make a start today.

Why right now is a great time to be heard on LinkedIn

Now that LinkedIn isn’t taking Twitter feed updates any more, it’s a great time to get involved.

You might be thinking, how does a loss of service improve things for me?

Because update feeds on LinkedIn (mine at least) comprised mostly of Twitter updates. Updates I’d usually seen on Twitter anyway!

After the announcement that Twitter updates won’t get posted to LinkedIn (but LinkedIn updates can still be posted to Twitter), your home feed looks different. Gone are the Tweets and back are the links, conversations, and connection updates.

In short, everyone’s home feed is quieter. It’s easier to find out what else is happening.

But it may not be quiet for long. A post on Just Professionals agrees that the Twitter switch-off is a good thing and says:

“Conversation on LinkedIn is already recovering – you may note that people are beginning to use their home feed again.”

Now is the best chance to start adding to the discussion and adding conversation and content that’s relevant to the future you want. Be professional as early as possible. There’s no need to wait until you’re looking for a job; do it now. Do it always!

This approach will get you noticed right now and help people see that you’re engaged in professional matters. When you finally do need to find work, you’ll have a great head start and a developing network to boot.

Make the most of your £9,000 year at university

I’ve argued before that fees themselves don’t act as a deterrent to university, since higher education is seen by many as the only feasible route to career success. There is much more to higher education, but it’s hard to deny that a large number of people take the HE path in the hope of improving future prospects.

The Independent asked students and graduates if they would have paid £9k per year. That question isn’t so important right now, but some of the answers given are definitely worth exploring.

photo by mattwi1s0n
£9k fees? What say you? – photo by mattwi1s0n

Nottingham graduate Luke Martin puts the student experience into perspective:

“The ‘university life’ is a deeply individual one and it’s a shame to imagine it simply as a (very expensive) commodity, when for most it’s an all encompassing and enjoyable lived experience.”

You have a wealth of opportunity at university. It’s easy to imagine that a degree is the most important end product of your study. In reality, many other actions over the years can surpass that seemingly crucial grade.

Qualifications are certainly important, but they’re no replacement for other achievement and personal experience.

Luke Martin adds, “I suspect that I took a lot out of it that can’t be measured in pounds”. While you can’t put a monetary value on everything you do, you should attempt to translate as many of your actions into meaningful examples that others can understand.

Build upon your long-term plan. How far have you looking into the future? You don’t know what’s awaiting you around the corner, but that’s not an excuse to abandon forward planning.

It’s all too easy to see graduation as a million miles away. Even if you think it’s approaching fast, it’s just as easy to think the job search starts when you’ve finished studying. But it doesn’t.

Your search has already started. If you’re at uni to improve your prospects, every minute is potential time to be winning. Some ideas that are quick to start, quick to implement, but require a long time to make a mark:

  • Start a blog: Blogs almost never achieve overnight success. Three posts do not make a must-read blog. A consistent effort, however, can yield results. There is no sure-fire way of reaching a huge audience and/or huge respect, but you’re guaranteed not to reach it if you don’t try at all.
  • Build online network profiles aimed at your chosen career/job route: Twitter, LinkedIn, and the like aren’t overnight success stories (unless you’re Charlie Sheen). Thankfully, you only need short, committed bursts of activity to make a difference over time. But do commit to it, otherwise you’re profile risks going stale.
  • Get working on a career RIGHT NOW: Ask yourself, “What can I do straight away to move closer to a role in X industry?” If you had a free reign to work on whatever project you wanted, what would you choose? If you aren’t already doing that now, what’s stopping you? Take your unexecuted ideas and start bringing them to life.
  • Volunteer: There are plenty opportunities to volunteer. It doesn’t have to be charity work and it needn’t be in a formal job situation. Giving up your time to support a cause and to enhance your own experience will look great ongoing. However, there’s no point in volunteering simply to look good on paper. It doesn’t work. Your aim is to provide value and enthusiasm. You may even build some amazing contacts, memories and future opportunities in the process.
  • Seek out a mentor: We learn from the actions of others from birth. You may already know someone who you respect and could learn a lot from. If you do, why not tell them how you feel they could help you with a bit of guidance. They will likely feel flattered and be delighted to spend some time with you. And the worst they can do is say no!
    If you don’t know anyone personally, Forbes has an 8-step plan to find a mentor and a slideshow with the steps too.

After you graduate, your overall experience is worth more than just the degree. One graduate suggests: “We’re left in a world where a degree is just an expensive, bog-standard qualification.”

While I don’t agree in such harsh tones, it’s true that a degree, in isolation, is no longer enough to secure the employment of your choosing. You must put the legwork in to use your degree and the skills you developed, because the piece of paper isn’t going to make a big noise on your behalf.

An increasing number of graduates find it insanely difficult to secure suitable employment. However, it is no reason to wash your hands of higher education. In a world of ‘quick fixes’ and ‘instant access‘, you’ve still got to play the slow game for some things, frustrating as that may be.

I’ll leave the last words to KCL graduate, Daniel Smith. No matter what the cost, we’re all different and it’s in your own interests to make your experience worthwhile, amazing, and relevant to who you want to be:

“Each student will have a different experience to the next and just because everyone has a degree does not mean there is an equal starting point when looking to start a career after university. In a fundamental sense though, a degree is worth any amount of money, if it’s something you’ve always wanted to aspire to.”

Living the present, loving the future

Higher Education should never be viewed as an extension of childhood.  Clearly, uni students want to be adult and make the most of the independent lifestyle available to them, but there are areas that are often ignored early on:

  • Searching for passions
  • Planning for a career
  • Making focused extra-curricular choices
  • Giving determined thought to the future
  • Seeing the bigger picture (thinking about your life as a whole, not complaining about a single ‘dumb lecture’)

Just before Christmas, surveyed students and graduates about their career decisions and when (or if) they had made solid choices.  A third hadn’t made a firm choice.  They also found that the majority of those who had decided upon a career direction had done so at the end of their time at uni or after they had graduated.

Photo by Alberto+Cerriteno

Photo by Alberto+Cerriteno

While this may be the norm, it’s not always sensible to be like everyone else.  As a child, my friends and I would badger parents for popular expensive presents for Christmas (an equivalent of a Nintendo Wii, perhaps).  “All my friends are getting one,” we’d shout.  If we were lucky, it would work and we’d get what we wanted.  Funnily enough, we regularly believed what we were trying to persuade our parents.

Now, when we’re badgered about the future and making plans for the life ahead of us, it’s not unusual to use the same tactics we used as children (and believe it just as much).  “Nobody else is obsessing that much!” we argue.  “None of us have plans; it’s not like that nowadays,” we point out.  We continue, “There’s plenty time to do that.  I’ve only just started this degree…what’s the point in getting ahead of myself when I’ll probably change my mind later anyway!?”

First, it’s not obsessing.  Second, we all have plans, but it takes guts to plan ahead with gusto.  Third, who cares if you change your mind later?  You’ll learn a lot on the way, so it won’t be for nothing.

I would never suggest that students aren’t thinking about the future at all.  Concern for the future is more important than ever to a lot of you.  However, the Milkround survey begins to show that commitment comes near the end of a degree.  In an economic downturn, competition is going to be increasingly fierce, so it will pay to begin your work toward the future as soon as possible.

Even if you don’t move toward securing a particular job and you don’t care for related work experience over the summer break, you can certainly get involved within the niche you want to be in by writing a blog, reading up on the hot topics and current events in that field, and making yourself known one way or another to the people that matter.  What you do is up to you, but it’s a wise move to do something!  Bit by bit or all out, it’s up to you…but make a start now.

Still uncertain?

“But the economic situation gets in the way.  I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone several years down the line!  Surely it’ll be better to wait and see what happens?”

That’s not the point.  The more focused you are, the more clearly you should spot the best routes, notice gaps in the market, and build up your own portfolio to boost your brand.  With that focus, even someone without visible passions or career goals can begin to find what switches them on.

“You can say that, but I don’t know have a clue what I want to do.  I’m not interested in anything.”

I’ve heard this a number of times.  Ask yourself why you are at university.  Consider what you’re studying and what gets you going each day.  Even if you only live for drunken nights out and holidays, you could move toward some sort of hospitality rep career.  If you spend all your waking hours gaming or building social networks, check how you could use that in a vocational sense.  Some people get paid to play games all day, while some of the biggest names of the moment are those who know exactly how to build social networks.

If you don’t notice any career route from the ideas you already have, it doesn’t mean you’re out of options.  There are loads of possibilities out there you won’t know about to even consider.  Speak to careers advisers, read about employment in a sector you have a hobby with (whether it’s a sport, a type of product, or even a way of life), and give some detailed thought on where you want to be in the future.  I doubt you’d choose ‘unemployed’ as your career choice, so what would you be happy doing?

“There are too many people chasing after the career I want.  What the point in trying?”

Don’t put yourself down.  The whole point of considering your career as soon as you can is to be in with the best chance of getting where you want to be.  When you’re armed with all the information you need to build an impressive portfolio, speak to the right people, and start working toward that career right now, you suddenly improve your chances of success by a huge amount.

It all boils down to this:

Get started today!

Photo by Vermin Inc

Photo by Vermin Inc