The early bird catches the worm, they say. University is the time of your life, they say. Putting aside the ludicrous incongruity of my coupling ‘early bird’ with ‘university life’, I’d like to propose two caveats to these maxims. Only early birds who actually venture beyond their nests catch worms, and university is the time of your life because it precedes real Life (capitalised for authenticity) – a time when the alliteration that strings together ‘bringing home the bacon to pay your bills’ isn’t so much a matter of practical criticism as it is one of practical calculation. Now is the time of your life when reckless bacchanalia trumps (read: is way cooler than) responsible budgeting; when taking selfies at your college library could easily pass off as work; when proximity to the workplace qualifies as productivity.
Freshers, if you’re reading this, then take it from a finalist that there is an expiry date to this Arcadian existence. And no, this is not me scaremongering as some bitter horsewoman of the apocalypse, whose FHS dates are getting closer by the day. As for my final-year comrades, the time has come for us to take that sobering leap from matriculash to maturity, so if you are still stuck in those merry Park End days of yore and not all “internships/job search come at me!!!” then I’d say kudos for the chillaxing ethos. David Cameron has taught you well, but good luck and let me know how it works out in the end. Perhaps this is anxiety is a tad bit premature, but I dare say that more people have regretted unemployment-induced hangovers than job stability. Bottom line: in order to gain a foothold in the cutthroat job market today, it is imperative to kick-start your career prep work as soon as possible.
As an Editorial Assistant for the 2014-5 University Careers Guide, I’ve recently liaised with over 50 Oxford alumni from various industries, and their achievements all attest to the importance of setting clear goals and planning ahead when it comes to mapping out a career blueprint. So read on for some pointers on how to go about navigating life after university, and hopefully they’ll help you alleviate that creeping fear about what to do with your paper-inundated self once essays and problem sheets no longer matter.
1. Brainstorm: passion vs. practicality
Before you launch any sort of job search, perhaps it’s worth doing a bit of thinking about what your interests are and where your passion lies. Obviously it’s important to weigh them against more practical concerns, but that should come later when you’ve already identified a general direction that you’d be happy to go down for at least two or three years, if not longer. It’s likely that you may have diverse interests, so work that to your advantage and present them as evidence of open-mindedness, flexibility and a wide-ranging enthusiasm. While your Nexus may already be regularly bombarded with emails from graduate recruitment companies like TargetJobs and Bright Network, don’t feel like you have to limit your options to whatever is offered on the table. Unless you’re dead set on getting a professional qualification in medicine or law, it definitely won’t hurt to think outside the box and consider opportunities outside of investment banking or management consultancy. Check out Forbes’ website for a good supply of job-related articles, tips or checklists, or just ‘like’ their Facebook page to get updates on the trends of different industries or the latest market analyses.
2. Update LinkedIn & polish that CV
The next step is to tally your assets – i.e. polishing up that CV. If your LinkedIn page screams minimalist at best and incomplete at worst, then start bulking it up with information, since more firms have taken to using LinkedIn as a CV substitute. It’s just one big exercise in self-marketing, and who doesn’t like a bit of legitimised ego-stroking? What’s more, you get to do research on different people by way of guilt-free stalking. All joking aside, charting your achievements in life can help you gain a better perspective on what skills, credentials and leverages you have to work with. While this may sound clichéd, it’s incredibly important to know yourself well when it comes to evaluating where you stand in the current job market. What are the industries that give you an edge or allow you to play to your strengths? It is not so much blowing your own trumpet as it is showing potential employers why you’re an appropriate fit for certain roles and how you meet their specifications. Just bear in mind not to punch above your weight or weave too self-serving a narrative in the summary section. For example, instead of claiming that you are “diligent and dedicated” without providing any concrete proof, illustrate these qualities by putting down specific projects or assignments that you’ve done at university or during internships. Rather than spelling everything out, let the facts speak for themselves.
3. Research companies that interest you and approach them
The next step is to do your research and be proactive about approaching companies. Attending networking events is always a good shout, but most people do that, which is why this doesn’t especially mark you out as an interesting or stellar candidate. A lot of the alumni that I spoke to didn’t limit themselves to Barclays or GlaxoSmithKline when they first started out as graduates, but instead looked extensively into less well-known companies or start-ups. One thing that definitely makes younger firms better is that they’ve got a smaller managerial makeup, which means that employer-employee relations are often closer and that the company is more tight-knit as a whole. Whereas responding to a job posting online will only lead you to the HR department, try going down the gutsier, more person-oriented route, by approaching the person in charge directly, whether that be the department manager or even the boss themself. This may be less of a possibility when it comes to applying to big firms, but the point is that taking the initiative sets yourself apart from the flock, since you demonstrate that you’re really interested in that one company and aren’t just another clueless graduate who is randomly knocking on doors and trying their luck. Even if the other end turns you down, they might consider keeping your profile for future consideration, and it’s likely that you’ll be the first on their mind once vacancies arise.
So there you have it: the prospect of leaving university for real life may seem daunting now, but it won’t be as much of a challenge by the time graduation beckons if you lay the groundwork early. Unlike deadlines, looking for a job isn’t something that you can cram overnight on a Red Bull-induced high. You’ve heard of people bashing out an amazing 2000-word essay in two hours, but I’d wager you anything that no one has ever managed to snag a job (bar part-time or menial ones) with that sort of spontaneity. Getting in there early is effort, but it is effort that will pay off – literally – in the long run.