In an ideal world, we could all retreat into our safe, comfortable student bubbles for three or four years before bursting back into real life at graduation, brimming with knowledge and inundated with employment prospects. But as we all know deep down (and the media relishes nothing more than telling us) that dream job is unlikely to fall into our laps upon saying goodbye to higher education, and so it’s wise to get productive as soon as possible.
However, I am well aware that there’s little worse than someone coming along and trying to make you feel guilty for not thinking enough about ‘The Future’.
Nobody expects you to go into your degree knowing exactly what you want to do later in life, and if you’re about to go into third year and still don’t have the slightest clue, there’s nothing wrong with that. As idealistic as it may seem in the face of tripled tuition fees, there’s still something to be said for going to university to pursue your passion for a subject, and putting thoughts of terrifying graduate unemployment statistics second. Even those doing degrees which most obviously lend themselves to definite paths – I’m looking at you, lawyers, medics and engineers – may realise that the subject is not for them, and want to look at other options.
But if you do feel like you want to get ahead of the game, here are a few things you might want to think about doing as you move through your university career.
Uploading your CV to websites such as LinkedIn has become an increasingly popular way to network and search for previously elusive jobs and placements. It may not become useful until you properly start your job hunt, but starting early will mean that when you do come use your profile it will have far more content and connections than the tell-tale new user page.
It may seem obvious, but it is easy to neglect during a busy year of studying and socialising – if you have an idea about the sort of area you want to go into, keep up to date with news and developments in that area. Subscribe to a journal, follow informative accounts on twitter, or make a related news site your homepage. This will allow you to see whether your interest in the field is long-term, and also save trying to catch up on three or four years worth of news when the time comes for interviews and applications.
For most careers, nothing is more valuable than gaining some work experience; on average, 36% of graduate jobs are given to those who have had prior experience in their industry.
Over the summer get your CV updated with any work experience or extra-curricular activities you have done so far at university, and draft a basic cover letter which can be personalised to each company.
Make a list of placements with contact details and work your way through the list from the start of autumn through till Christmas. Don’t be afraid to aim high; there is never any harm in asking, and the more applications you send, the more likely you are to get a reply. Apply as early as possible, since if you are too early the worst that will happen is that you will find out when applications do open.
Make sure you are contacting the right person – the editor of a national newspaper is unlikely to respond to your email, so don’t be afraid to call up and ask who the best person to ask about work experience is. Also, never underestimate the power of social networking sites such as twitter to help you make contacts. So many people working in the media have personal profiles now, and a direct message may just yield more results than an impersonal email.
If you are still unsure about what you should even apply for, websites check out sites like the Big Choice for information and tips related to the graduate job market, and can help you get an idea of the sort of jobs your degree might lend itself to.
However there is still no substitute for making a face-to-face meeting with your University’s careers office. They may be a treasure-trove of information, they may be utterly useless – but either way, they can offer the most personalised advice and feedback available, and will be experienced at suggesting jobs for people in exactly the same situation as you. Approach with an open mind, since your dream career path might be one you’ve never even heard of before.
It is likely that your university will be putting on careers fairs, company presentations and industry-specific Q&A panels – go to as many as your time/sanity will allow, because even if only one in five is any good, it could be that one which makes all the difference. Even if you have never done so before, do NOT be afraid to network at these; it’s what people will expect! Aim to leave with one or two email addresses or twitter names, and follow up the exchange with a quick message to thank them for their time. Anything you can do to make even a tenuous connection with someone in your industry can only be a help.
For those looking for careers in areas such as accountancy, banking and business management, some graduate scheme deadlines can close as early as December, so the summer before is ideally the time to get planning. Remember horror stories of how the earliest sent university personal statements were looked at for five minutes, the latest for 30 seconds? You never know when the same will apply with companies, so get these finished and sent ASAP. For those looking for any sort of job, start bookmarking sites which update graduate vacancies and keep an eye on them. You don’t want to miss a life-changing deadline because you delayed the job search till graduation.
But obviously, the most important thing to do in your final year is complete your degree! As bleak as people are making the future out to be, it is still a great accomplishment just to finish university. Try not to panic, because even if it involves a number of setbacks and a few years to get there, with enough determination the right job is out there.