“So…what are you going to do with your degree then?”
That question on the lips of parents, tutors, your aunt’s pal, the person that you got chatting to at the bus stop. That question which would make me break into a nervous sweat.
As a former student of English Literature and Modern History at the University of St Andrews, I never had a pre-planned career path ahead of me. I would say that “I wasn’t quite sure yet”, mutter something about ‘transferable skills’ and pray that the conversation would move on swiftly. Anyway, I had made it to university. Wasn’t that enough?
And for my first three years, these aversion tactics seemed to serve me well.
It was only until my final year that the urgency of this question hit both me and my year group like a tonne of bricks. We all scrambled to attend those industry networking events, stayed up late to complete psychometric tests and job applications and finally, finally, updated our CV’s.
Leaving it to the last minute is the eternal preserve of the university student.
It therefore came as a big surprise when I secured a graduate placement with the ScotGrad Team immediately after graduating in June.
Although the ‘last-minute job search panic’ approach can produce results, it is far better to ditch the excuses, confront that question you dread and get yourself prepared for life after uni. Because it will happen. Take it from me; you will have more sleep and less stress at the end of it.
So having come out on the other side of this last-minute job search panic with some fresh perspective, I would now like to share a few pieces of careers advice that I know would have left me more prepared for graduate life. So here goes!
1) Seek out new challenges – University can often feel like an odd social experiment where thousands of students are turfed out of school, thrown together in an unfamiliar environment and told to survive. The tendency can therefore be to stick with the familiar. Yet university is the perfect time to do the opposite of this. Actively seek ways that you can find new skills and develop beyond your degree choice. The easiest way to do this: join a society. If you’re passionate about writing, sign yourself up as a columnist for the university rag. If you’ve never tried water-sports before, find a wetsuit and head along to the kayaking club’s taster session. If you can’t find a society to join then start your own. Whether you’re in your first or final year, you have nothing to lose by doing this. Universities even offer the opportunity to spend a year of your degree abroad. This will look amazing on your CV and, at the very least, will give you decent stories to keep your mates entertained down the pub. Employers seek employees who have passions beyond work, show initiative and get out of their comfort zone. So give them a CV they can’t ignore.
2) Update your CV regularly – Now this is a great piece of advice that I ignored for a good long while. Bad move. I paid the price when I would have to unearth and rewrite my CV with little time to spare before a vacancy closed whilst juggling multiple essays alongside. Sure, it’s often the last thing you would think about and the last thing you would want to spend your free time doing. But having an up-to-date CV to hand out when required means that you will never miss an application deadline and never have to spend a late night desperately trying to remember what you did in that summer placement two years ago. So, every time you experience something which can be put on your CV, then update it. DISCLAIMER: Don’t be lazy and submit the same CV for every employer. It’s tempting I know, but if you want to show that you’re the right person for the job, every skill and experience in your CV should testify to that. Too many people do a one-size-fits-all CV so use your knowledge of the company and job spec to your advantage.
3) Get on LinkedIn. LinkedIn has a rep among the young of being a platform for older, professional people to post dull articles about industry events and statistics. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen. But LinkedIn is a resource that our generation should be using more. Why? Well, every profession you could imagine is on it and people on the site are ready and willing to chat about their career and their industry. If you want to hear about the latest jobs and industry developments then get LinkedIn. If you want to connect with someone in a role you’re excited about then get LinkedIn. I use it to look at and take notes on the career history of people whose job interests me (Trust me; you’d be surprised that so many career paths are not as straightforward as you may think). Just get LinkedIn. You’ll not regret it.
4) Ditch that email address you made when you were 12 – Seems obvious, right? Wrong. The ScotGrad Team are sent too many applications by students and graduates with email addresses such as email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you apply to a job with this email address, then don’t expect the employer to read your application. Simple as that.
5) Don’t vegetate on your summer holidays – I know, I know. You deserve a break at the end of a semester. And you’re right, you do. But some people use it as an excuse to binge Netflix box sets in their pyjamas and exist off a diet of strawberry poptarts for 3 months. As chill as that sounds, the summer holidays are long enough for you to both have a rest and also to gain some valuable work experience. That can be a professional internship or it can be getting a job in the local bar. Shameless promo: ScotGrad has a variety of exciting summer placements for students so check them out! However, don’t think that you have to get a job. If you want to go inter-railing across Europe then do it or if you want to use your summer to develop a passion, do that. Not only are these great experiences in and of themselves but they can really help you to stand out from the crowd when you start applying for jobs. Make your summers count.
This list of tips is certainly not exhaustive and don’t worry if by the end of university you’re still panicking when someone asks you about your post-uni plans. You’re not alone and graduate placements are offered all year round. Also, don’t panic too much about your next step that you forget to enjoy university and all the experiences it gives you. The main thing is to get thinking about your future and to ensure that you’re always ready for opportunities when they arise.
Life after university is a scary thought for everyone. Get prepared, get skilled up and get connected and then you’ll be ready to face it head on.
Graduate placements with ScotGrad are available throughout the year. If you’re interested in ScotGrad check out our current placements on offer and register for updates.