Graduating from university is a huge achievement and a culmination of over seven years of hard work in GCSEs, A-Levels (or equivalent) and independent studying. However, for many graduates the feeling of accomplishment can sometimes be diminished by a great uncertainty that comes from two simple words – “what next?”
Despite career advice throughout education, it is difficult as a teenager or young adult to truly understand the options available to you. In my own experience within an all-female grammar school, I remember a few career talks for encouraging girls to enter STEM careers (which were never going to be an option for me), or entrepreneurship – but for those of us who did not have a specific interest in these areas, finding a route to pursue was a little more complicated. In the years between GCSEs and finally attending university, I rotated between a few careers that I wanted to pursue- a journalist, a teacher, a volcanologist (this one was very short-lived!), a lawyer, a social worker and a lecturer.
This lack of direction, combined with pressure to find a good graduate job after leaving university, can leave many graduates feeling increasingly anxious and uncertain about just what to do next.
So, what practical steps can you take to find a career path, and how can you go about this?
Get Experience – Any Experience
The most important thing to do when leaving university is to build up as much experience as you can – regardless of where this experience is. Key areas that employees will want to see experience of are communication and relationship management; such as hospitality, administration and customer services. Administration in particular is a fantastic way of learning how businesses operate and can often lead to opportunities that help to develop your career.
Although it’s important to take some time for yourself after completing your studies, employers value proactivity and seeking out ways to build out your professional skills though paid or unpaid experience rather than waiting for the perfect opportunity to fall into your lap – which may not come around for some time – is a great way of filling your time, as well as your CV.
Consider also looking into more short-term internships and work experience / temporary options- this can allow you to explore numerous areas of interest while continuing to be proactive.
One of the most popular options when completing your degree is to apply for a Graduate Scheme. Thousands of companies recruit graduates into these structured roles which often include rotational placements over a 1-2 year period, sometimes with stints in international offices and generally through a range of departments.
Graduate Schemes are an excellent way to kick-start your career, but obtaining a place on a scheme is not easy. The number of places available may be relatively low compared to the number of applicants, which may be in the tens of thousands and so competition for places is high.
Remember that you don’t have to be a recent graduate to get a place on a scheme: 1-2 years’ experience in a transferrable role can put you in a much better position if you are unsuccessful in your first attempt to obtain a place. Many large-scale schemes start their application processes in September / October or January for a September intake.
Identify Your Strengths
With so many options available to you, job searching can be overwhelming due to the sheer volume of options, and it’s often difficult to know what you will or will not be interested in before you have undertaken experience within this areas.
A practical way of addressing this can come from simply working out what your key strengths are, and identifying pathways based on these. Just a few examples of these include:
University Society roles involving organising events and trips
Revision and essay schedules and plans
PA / Business Assistant
Event or Project Coordination / Management
University / Course Ambassador roles
Public speaking, including giving
Roles in Alumni / student support
Customer-facing part-time work – hospitality,
Reception-based administrative roles
Customer / client service
Society Treasurer roles
Number-based university course (economics,
Finance / Accounts Assistant
Associate / Analyst roles
Administrative roles within financial
Graduate schemes in Financial Services
President roles in societies / student
Taking leadership roles within group projects
For many graduates who don’t know quite what they want to do at the next stage of their career, a viable option is to continue studying – often to put off the decision for another year. Although Masters degrees can be a great option and can allow options for a more specified career path, you may find yourself in the exact same situation you were in after finishing your undergraduate course. Why not consider other study options, such as:
Secretarial Diplomas. Colleges such as Oxford Media and Business School and Quest Professional offer excellent courses of study in order to build up an all-round skillset ready for the workplace- from the Microsoft Office suite to general business and marketing.
Specified workplace qualifications, such as CIPD or financial qualifications including the Investment Management Certificate. Although many entry-level vacancies in areas do not require specific experience, holding these qualifications may be an advantage in your job search.
PGCE / Schools Direct / Teach First. Training to become a teacher can set you on a career for life but will also equip you with valuable transferrable skills which you will take with you throughout your career.
Searching for your first role can be extremely daunting , so make the most of the resources you have available to you. Use University careers services, register with relevant agencies and use your LinkedIn profile to build up a network of relevant contacts.
Victoria Wall Associates offer a Graduate Careers service with comprehensive advice and CV guidance – get in touch with the team to find out more by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling us on 020 7225 1888.