Want a job in business? Making the most of your university days can help you get ahead
How do you get a job in business? Well, we could say it depends on the business.
But there are core skills that all businesses look for, and your time at university - whether you’re studying at undergrad or postgrad level - is the perfect time to learn and develop those.
Central to that learning is your course. At a good business school you’ll be getting your hands dirty with real-world business challenges - both in the lecture theatre and potentially in the workplace itself. But your wider university life will also teach you lots about business and the careers available.
Of course, going to university isn’t the only way to get started in business. But if it’s your chosen route, you’ll find a business degree presents some unique opportunities to get your foot on the ladder.
Making the most of your course
A good business programme will cover things like finance, management theory and marketing. Some courses are accredited by professional bodies, which means they're recognised by the industry as giving grads relevant business skills – always useful.
A solid degree will also show you what all the theory means in the real world. BangHyun Son studied MSc Business with Marketing at Warwick Business School (WBS). During his course, he would regularly work on the challenges faced by real-world businesses, to see how they might be solved in real life.
“I once designed a marketing mix strategy for a camera brand. During that time I had the chance to apply the academic theories that I learnt from marketing-related modules to a real-world case,” he says. “This is a great way to develop analytical skills.”
You’ll probably find this kind of real-world exposure is offered by your university in other ways, too. At WBS, for example, employer events, careers fairs, skills sessions and networking opportunities are typically organised for students throughout the year. These are particularly common in the autumn term, when many corporate employers are recruiting for the following summer’s intake.
“Students will generally see employers from a wide range of different sectors attending these events,” says Hilary Riseley, undergraduate careers manager at WBS. “This allows them to explore a number of different areas and opportunities which are available for them to apply to.”
Build your extra-curricular experience
A business qualification alone won't necessarily be enough to get you hired, though. The extra things you do at uni count too, so throw yourself at student life.
Employers love to meet candidates who played sports, joined societies, volunteered, played in bands...it all shows that you're interested in the world and the people in it, and helps build confidence and communication skills.
“We advise students to get involved in a wide variety of different opportunities during the course of their study; anything that will help them to enhance their employability,” says Hilary
“Any experiences, which will essentially improve your ‘soft skills’ - such as team work, communication, organisation, leadership and problem-solving - are great to include on a CV. These are skills many employers are looking for.”
Get out in the workplace
Nothing will teach you more about business than actually doing it, which is where work experience, internships and summer placements come in. It looks sweet on a CV, too, so don't skip it.
Alejandra Yanes completed an investment banking internship during her BSc International Management course at WBS. She’s now working as a global investment banking analyst at RBC Capital Markets.
“I would definitely recommend gaining an internship during your studies,” she says. “It is not only a fantastic opportunity to increase your knowledge and skills, but is also a way of networking with incredible professionals who can guide you in your career path.”
A good way to land a placement is to talk to any employers who come in to speak to you at uni and ask about opportunities, or for some tips. Don't worry, they'll be expecting this, and it shows initiative.
Use your university’s careers support
Of course, it's all well and good having the skills, the experience and the idea for an app that will make Mark Zuckerberg weep bitter tears of sadness, but if you can't get in front of employers, it's all a bit wasted. Happily, unis are increasingly experienced at advising students on their next steps, so see what's on offer.
You should expect your university to be able to help you with choosing a career path, as well as providing support in researching your preferred companies and making a good application.
“You should also get help preparing for interviews and assessment centres,” says Davina Noonan, careers coach at WBS. “We run a series of workshops called Careers Step by Step which covers everything from deciding what job you want to do all the way through to assessment centres and final interviews.”
And don’t leave all this until your last few weeks at university. Employers are now starting to tap in to students at a very early stage during their degree course, explains Hilary.
“Spring weeks and insight programmes are becoming increasingly popular,” she says. “These are typically open to students in the first year of their course if they are studying a three-year undergraduate programme, or second year if they are studying a four-year programme.
“These sorts of opportunities can act as a great springboard to being offered a placement or internship with a company for the following year.
“Additionally, they can simply provide the student with some exposure to a certain company or industry type, which can allow them to determine if that is the right type of workplace or environment for them.”
Get to work
We'll let the employers have the last word. What do they look for?
“We have had great results with graduates who have had varied experiences gained during degree modules, which are then transferable to a real business environment,” says Emma Bailey, head of operations at retail consultancy firm Summit.
All the little things that matter during your degree - attention to detail, appropriate research and considered responses – count for a lot at interview, and at work.
But ultimately it's not just about the qualifications: getting a job in business is also about you. “We always look for the same things in students,” says Emma. “Enthusiasm, attitude and the ability to articulate themselves well.”