Life&Style Editor Estelle Dragan gives career advice on how to make the most of your final year at university, arming undergraduates with options for the future
3 years ago, answering the question “what do you want to do when you graduate?” was a bit like discretely humming over the lyrics of a tedious song you frequently hear on the radio yet never actually take the time to familiarise yourself with. Today, I’m in full spotlight of the club – everyone knows the song off by heart and I’m cringing at myself as I improvise the lyrics foolishly. Here I am, landing (crashing) head first into my final year of university with the dreaded ‘G’ word haunting me. Time really does fly when you’re having fun.
All analogies aside, the difference between first and final year is that time is no longer on your side. Along with balancing essay-writing, lecture-attending and hangover-bearing, career planning suddenly jumps into the picture. Unfortunately, three years of referencing theorists doesn’t automatically translate into commercial awareness, leaving the world of work somewhat alien to us career-unconscious students. First thing’s first – being made aware of post-graduation options and support available at the university is extremely important in order to grab the right opportunities for you.
University campuses make missing this option pretty impossible. Believe it or not, companies like KPMG and Deloitte don’t give out free keyrings for fun! They want you to apply to their infamous grad schemes. These are structured training programmes mainly offered by large, renowned employers, typically lasting 1-2 years whereby new recruits receive relevant skills development and acquire hands on experience. Often, the recruit will work on a number of assignments in various areas of the organisation to get a 360-degree view of the business. The majority of these schemes hold their application deadlines between October and December for programmes starting the following September/October which means having to apply early in the academic year alongside your studies. The application process also differs from a standard graduate job in the sense that very few employers will request CVs but instead ask candidates set questions as part of an online application form, or they may even ask you to pass online psychometric texts and/or complete a video or telephone interview. UoB’s Careers Network offers a wealth of resources including interview, assessment centre and psychometric testing support to help you practice.
A major perk of graduate schemes is that many offer a starting salary of more than £40,000 per annum. Although these schemes are highly competitive, they’re always worth a shot, and remember that every application is practice for the next, regardless of the outcome. If this sounds up your career ladder, you can start browsing on websites such as Milkround, TARGETjobs, Prospects and Graddiary. Make sure you also make full use of the university’s career service – don’t miss out on attending upcoming careers fairs and Getting to Know employer workshops.
A graduate job differs from a graduate scheme as it calls for a more standard application approach. As these are one-off opportunities where an employer looks to recruit one person, they will often ask for a CV and cover letter. Graduate jobs are also advertised all year around, although you should apply for these 1-2 months before you want to start working.
You can find graduate jobs online, and although there are websites listing jobs in all industries, most jobs are advertised on sites according to their industry. It is also worth noting that some jobs only appear on employer websites which make them much harder to find unless you have a specific employer you’d like to work for.
Although graduate jobs tend to be less structured than a scheme, the work you do can be more flexible which may give you more freedom and responsibility.
An alternative route available to postgraduates is to study a Masters. Many career bands such as psychology and law require further study in order to qualify whist many also have a desire to specialise and broaden their academic knowledge. However, this route is expensive and sometimes not necessary for some professions, so be sure to way up your options carefully.
Another pathway that many graduates choose is taking a year out before settling down to work, whether it be to travel or to get a part-time job whilst gaining more experience. This can make you a more rounded, interesting candidate all whilst enabling you to explore new avenues and develop new skills rather than committing to a profession straight away. If you haven’t located where your professional interests lie yet, this could be a more productive option in the long run as it may help you make a more informed career choice.