I can remember the exact moment that final year fear set in.
It was the first lecture of the new academic year and before I’d even managed to locate a biro, the lecturer dropped the bombshell: “You only have 235 days of university left.”
A collective gulp went around the room as everyone realised that in just a few short months we’d be launched into the ‘real world’ to sink or swim. Like many of my classmates, I was terrified of sinking – grad job fever had arrived and was here to stay.
It can be hard to balance the pressures of studying with looking for a job and there’s certainly some ways that, looking back, I could have made the process much easier for myself. Here’s what I’d say if I could turn back time and speak to my student self 12 months ago.
This might be an age-old tip but it’s definitely a good one. I neglected thinking about possible career paths until my final year of university, which meant I had a lot to squeeze in to one short academic year! Although it might not be possible to look for a graduate job until a few months before you finish university, the years before you graduate are perfect for researching different industries and getting some experience.
Heading into final year with a clear picture of a few choice industries you’d like to work in and why will give you a real head start when it comes to job hunting. I spent at least 2 or 3 months just working out what it was I wanted to do!
Graduate schemes are not your only option
When surrounded by thousands of eager graduates also on the job hunt, it’s easy to get swept along with the ‘graduate scheme or bust’ mentality. In reality, there are only around 20,000 vacancies a year on graduate schemes. That might sound like a big number, but given that around 300,000 people graduate each year, it’s actually quite a small proportion.
Although training in a large, corporate company might be a great fit for some, there are also loads of advantages to working for a smaller company in a non-grad scheme role. You might find that there are more opportunities for progression or to mould your own role in a business which isn’t necessarily a household name.
Don’t be afraid to ask for advice
As a student, I remember worrying that I might annoy or bother people by asking for their advice. My biggest tip would be – don’t! Most people are willing to help you out, be it meeting for a coffee, pointing you in the direction of relevant contacts or maybe even inviting you to do work experience with them. You just need to be friendly, enthusiastic and willing to ask!
Your university careers service can be a great place to start – ask if they have a mentoring scheme which can pair you up with a grad, or if they host events where you can chat to employers. I was really lucky to have a brilliant mentor from the PR industry in my final year, who ended up putting me in touch with the company I work with now. She helped me with everything from the basics of writing a press release to top tips for impressing whilst on work experience. Without exaggerating, I owe my current job to her!
Get social media savvy
When looking for a job, it can be tempting to go on ‘social media lock-down;’ making your profiles private to avoid potential employers seeing pictures of you in the pub on a Friday night that might not be strictly ‘professional’.
However, used well, social media can be a great tool when it comes to tracking down that elusive job! In certain industries, like PR or events management, having a social media presence is really important and your future boss is likely to be keen to see whether you’re active on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn. If you’re not sure where to start, there are loads of handy guides on the web – get experimenting!
Social media can also be a brilliant place to get a feel for different companies and what their culture is like. If you spot somewhere you think you’d be perfect for, don’t be afraid to phone, email or even tweet them to sound out any opportunities for work experience, internships or even jobs. You never know where a phone call might lead!
Say no to stress
And my most important piece of advice? Don’t panic! Although looking for your first job can be scary, it’s exciting too. Try to enjoy taking the first steps towards building your career – and don’t forget to make the most of being a student, either!
About the author
Sapphire Rees is an account executive at Fourth Day, an independent PR agency with offices in London, Manchester, Paris, Casablanca and Berlin