As a recent graduate I can honestly say that I spent my third year at uni with such a state of career-based panic bubbling below the surface that it tainted what should have been my last year of non 9-5 freedom.
I fretted and I applied and I bent the ears of my university’s careers advisors, and despite still enjoying the ‘ol student lifestyle, the career fear was always there. But the truth is, although I wish I calmed the hell down, worrying relentlessly and pestering companies for work experience throughout my 3 years at uni was honestly what I think secured me my graduate job.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that all students should go around with a CV sandwich board slung around their necks and their homepage constantly set to Milkround, but being aware of the importance of making yourself employable can help you avoid that dole queue when you finally enter that ‘real world’ everyone bangs on about.
Maybe I just absorbed too much of that doom and gloom that hangs around us poor degree aspiring types like a bad smell. Perhaps the fear of the dole and days spent watching Jeremy Kyle (please no) just put the fear of God into me more than any other student and that was what led me to ensure my CV was as healthy as could be.
Whatever it was that motivated me to knuckle down and build up a CV that caught the right attention, it’s helped me hop onto the career ladder and appreciate the value of a degree, because, no matter what anyone tells you, getting a degree in these tough times is rarely useless.
The truth is that the people who go straight into graduate jobs usually have incredibly comprehensive CVs. We’re not just talking about a 2.1 and a Saturday job here, but industrial placements, voluntary work and serious involvement in uni societies and sport. It seems quite obvious that building up a wealth of skills through extra activities will make you look the biz doesn’t it? The reality is though that while some students are spending their summers interning and their Sunday afternoons organising the football squad, plenty still rest on their laurels until it suddenly hits them that they have a degree and little else to show for 3 years.
I think that many of my peers thought that a 2.1/1st degree from a top university would be enough but when thousands of graduates are pouring out of uni with the same credentials in hand, going that extra mile is necessary to help you stand out above the noise. If you can do a placement year, do it, not only are you likely to get hired with the company, but 12 months spent in the industry demonstrates your academic knowledge alongside practical work-place skills. Wouldn’t it be nice to be offered a graduate job on a sandwich year and enjoy your final year of uni with a shiny job offer in hand? Even if your course doesn’t explicitly state a placement year is an option, often if you sort a scheme out yourself they will be fully willing to accommodate. I know this is the case at The University of Sheffield. Demonstrating motivation, commitment and a dedicated approach to your future goes a long way to getting your CV to the top of the pile.
Use your skills to your advantage
If you get a placement, use that time to learn skills that wouldn’t usually be part of your course. Industry standard computer software is a great example of something you can become proficient in through a work placement and in many cases you can even use your creations to form a portfolio. It’s always important to make sure you get something out of your placement or work experience (especially if it’s unpaid, Intern Aware gives more information on this).
Showing what you can do demonstrates passion and initiative so if you’re a writer/journalist, set up a blog, approach your student newspaper or persuade a website to publish your work. Equally if you’ve always dreamed of working in design or photography, create a portfolio to show employers. Heard of that graduate who used his last £500 to promote himself on a bill board? Using your creative talents to create an unusual CV, such as an infographic, makes a refreshing change from all the standard CVs recruiters are likely to receive. If you’re bilingual, embrace your languages for their ability to really make you unique. A job requesting specific language abilities will instantly attract much less competition, and bi/multi linguals are especially desired by global companies for their communicative abilities. If you’re an overseas student looking to study in the UK, there’s numerous English language courses that you can take before applying to university to get to an acceptable academic standard. Similarly, UK students can often opt to take a beginners language course, either as a module option or an additional short course.
There are jobs out there for talented graduates, it’s just a matter of persevering and doing as much as you can to avoid the ‘student layabout’ stereotype. So, do yourself a favour before you graduate, grasp work experience, become a society president, ambassador or anything else that sounds suitable fancy, and if all else fails, remember that a few months spent watching daytime TV isn’t all that bad...