10 ways to prepare for your dream job, while you’re at uni
We asked some of our students and graduates for their best advice on achieving their first career goal – getting their ideal graduate job.
With the graduate marketplace becoming increasingly competitive and ‘employability’ being the buzz-word of the day, the extra qualities that make a candidate stand out are more important than ever. But what exactly does that mean? We spoke to the people arguably most familiar with this topic – students and recent graduates – to get their advice on how to make a lasting impression.
1. Attend careers fairs and events with the right attitude
One for the first-year students: don’t think that the careers events happening on campus are only relevant to second or third years, make sure you get out there as early as possible! You’ll find that many employers are actually keen to speak to first years, and are particularly impressed when they meet one who shows a real interest in their organisation.
If you’re in your middle or final year, don’t get too distracted by your mounting workload, these events are excellent opportunities to engage with employers and find out more about the roles that are available.
Do your homework and get out there as early and as much as possible. If you’re feeling brave, you could even ask for representatives’ business cards (so you can get in touch at a later date with any questions) or ask to join their mailing list.
“Definitely go to your university's career fairs and company sponsored events to get a feel of what they are like and what they're looking for. You could make some good contacts as well.” – Second-year student
2. Try out a lot of different activities and make sure you stick with a few
Balance is the key here. If you’re anything like most of us, you’ll have eagerly signed up to the mailing lists for a huge number of different societies in Fresher’s Week, only to find that your workload and other commitments make it challenging to keep up with all of them. Your time at university is incredibly valuable and while focusing on your studies, you can still be involved with a society or two without getting swamped.
This is a fantastic opportunity for you to gain ‘CV points’. Getting elected to a committee, or being involved with planning events and budgets will help you develop key skills and gain experience that sets you apart from other candidates with equally good results. It can also be lots of fun.
“University gives you many opportunities that you wouldn’t normally have and free time to let you pursue your interests. Take advantage of as many extracurricular societies and sports as possible at the start of the year. You’ll have something to relate to a variety of other people with and if you get good at it, you could lead part or all of the society and get some valuable leadership experience.” – Second-year student
3. Keep on top of industry and general news
This is a simple tip but one that many neglect. Read the newspaper, watch the news, and subscribe to any specialist publications and trade press for the industries you’re interested in. Firms expect applicants to understand the wider context of the industry they want to work in, and having a good general understanding of events beyond the world of university will help to prove that you’re the right candidate for the role.
“Raise your commercial awareness (fancy term for read the newspaper)! Make connections between what you’re studying and how it applies in the real world.” – Third-year student
4. Don’t neglect your studies
With all of your event attending, newspaper reading and activity doing, it can be tempting to forget about the main thing you’re at university for – to study. With a saturated graduate jobs market and more and more qualified people searching for roles, the bare minimum many firms look for is a 2:1. Some will even specify a 1st. Having good grades isn’t everything but they do make it a lot easier to get through the door at the most competitive graduate recruiters.
“Don't be afraid to sometimes spend your evenings in the library instead of going out with your friends – remember that their courses may not require as much work as yours!” – Second-year student
5. Start building your network
You know you should be networking and you have peers who seem to be naturally gifted at it – they always know somebody who knows somebody who works at a place. But how do you actually do it? The fact is that everybody can be a useful connection.
Talk to students who are thinking of going into similar career areas to you, find out which companies they’re applying to and why. Build good relationships with your tutors too. They’re the people who can give you that brilliant reference or recommend you in a couple of years’ time. Once you realise that there’s really little difference between your ‘career network’ and the people you know in day-to-day life, networking becomes a little easier to understand.
“If you join an internship, make sure you go on socials and get to know people outside of the office. I got the best advice from my seniors on nights out and during coffee runs. Keep in touch with people when you go back to university, too. Be genuine and make genuine connections, you can never have too many friends.” – Third-year student
6. It’s never too early to make a start
This one sounds like a cliché, but it really is true: it’s never too early to start working towards getting your ideal graduate position. Start looking at careers sites and scope out what undergraduate opportunities there are for first and second years, to make sure you’re prepared when it comes to securing that graduate role. Read as much as you can on application processes, assessment centres and interview techniques, practice online aptitude tests and get into a more commercial mind-set. It all adds to your employability and value to a potential employer.
“Apply for as many opportunities as possible as early as possible because one great thing can lead to another. I started at EY on an Insight Day in Manchester, then did a leadership academy and a summer internship – and now I have a graduate job lined up. Don't worry too much at this stage about whether you’ll like something and don't rule anything out, you may just surprise yourself.” – Second-year student
“Google! Google! Google! Make sure you understand the application process for an internship. What’s the format of the application, what tests will you have to perform, what’s a typical assessment centre format? All of these things will help you in the application process and prevent you being surprised and unprepared.” – Third-year student
7. Get the most out of your university careers services
This is probably the most common thing that students fail to do. Your university has freely-available services dedicated to helping your job search. They also have years of experience in helping to guide students into their preferred industries as well as advising them on what else is out there.
Find out what help is on offer and take advantage of it. You may even find openings that are only advertised through specific university careers services.
‘’Your university will probably have an excellent and underused careers service in case you have any questions outside of careers events – make the most of it.’’ – Second-year student
8. Get experience
The single biggest thing that most students lack when they start looking for work is experience. It’s tempting to see this as a catch-22 because you need to do the job to get experience, but you also need experience to get the job.
The truth is you don’t need to have experience in the role you are applying for because we all have transferable skills, so any job experience is relevant. You can be creative in how you categorise it. A part-time retail role in the summer holidays may have given you some useful commercial nous, and being captain of your university sports team will no doubt have tested your team management skills. Make the most of the opportunities available to gain experience and insight into an organisation via internships and placements. Don’t worry if you’re not sure about the industry or role just yet, apply for the roles that interest you and narrow down your options later. Experience can be useful even if it’s not directly related to the field you end up applying to.
“Do some volunteering. It’ll look good when applying and will improve skills like confidence and punctuality.” – Second-year student
9. Smarten-up your image
Getting suited up in appropriate business attire for attending networking events and interviews is essential, of course, but be aware that your image extends beyond this. It’s well-known that employers frequently look at potential recruits’ social media profiles, so now is as good a time as any to make sure you have a presentable picture and double check your privacy settings. Beyond that, you can use social media proactively to create a favourable image.
In the age of social, everybody can be their own publicist. The first port of call should be LinkedIn. Get a profile, if you don’t have one, and make sure your description reflects your experiences, skills and career aspirations, as well as what you are currently studying. Use Facebook and Twitter to keep up-to-date and connect with the employers you’re interested in. This can be a useful way of engaging them directly, for example by asking questions during a Q&A session on Twitter.
“Create a LinkedIn profile to begin to build your network. If you’ve taken any internships in the past, connect with the people you worked with and make sure you keep in touch.” – Third-year student
10. Relax, have fun and learn how to balance your time
Finally, remember that employers are usually looking for well-rounded people, not just workaholics. University is a great time to learn the vital skill of time management that could end up getting you through the busy working weeks of years to come. As well as your studies and extracurricular activities, make time to socialise – you’ll make great friends and have a lot of fun in the process.
“Work hard but don’t forget to enjoy yourself, especially in your first year when you can have the most 'leisure' time.” – Second-year student