How to take the first steps in your career after university

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Article by Caroline Tolond, Head of Careers and Employability at Arden University

For university students or those still pursuing their studies, it is never too early to start thinking about the future.

When you start to think about your career, you’ll go through a cyclic thinking process of three different phases: discovering career ideas, focusing on specific career areas and finally, taking action to move into those opportunities, whether that is going into employment, self-employment or something else. As you move through a variety of opportunities you can move forward in the cycle (going into the focus or action phases) or, if you decide an area is not for you, you can go back into either the discover or focus phases.

Looking ahead

There are three elements that are valuable for all students to apply to every year of their education that will help in all three phases:

  • Set aside regular time to read about career sectors of interest, to enhance commercial awareness. For example, scheduling 30 minutes a week, or even two 15-minute blocks, to read articles and social media around sectors of interest. This will build up a depth of knowledge that will really help you when it comes to putting together an application or preparing for an interview.
  • Seek experience. Any experience. That could be working part-time, volunteering, running a student club or society or even shadowing someone in a sector of interest. And then record what you are doing, reflecting on the challenges you faced and how you overcame them. This will build great evidence to include in applications or interviews, even if the experience is not directly relevant to the positions you apply for after graduation. All these experiences will provide examples of the range of transferable skills you have that employers are be looking for.
  • Network. Build a LinkedIn profile and start connecting with others on your course, professional contacts, or alumni from your institution. Always personalise your connection messages and give your contact a reason to accept your connection. Remember, people like to help people!

Be proactive

There are, of course, more proactive ways for you to start looking at your future. Go to careers events in person or online, or watch recordings of events that your university or other organisations are running if you can’t attend. These events are great opportunities to find out the inside track on companies and sectors of interest, to see if they are for you and, if so, give you extra information for your applications. Also, know when the recruitment cycles for companies of interest take place – your careers service can help with this. Seek summer internships in your second year and be aware that many graduate schemes open applications early in September, but don’t panic if you haven’t applied before Christmas! The majority of graduates work for small to medium sized companies (SMEs) and these types of companies will be looking to hire nearer graduation.

Stand out from the crowd

Sometimes it is worth trying a more unconventional approach. I’ve worked with students who have proactively reached out to businesses in their area of interest to offer their skills in social media and have had opportunities created for them, as well as others who have started their own business if they can’t find the right opportunity.

Each company will have their own specific requirements, but broadly employers will look for a good commercial awareness of company and sector, someone who has researched and really understands the role, and also has a high degree of interest in the role. This is about going beyond an initial Google search; read the employer’s blog, social media feed and sector press. Opportunities to show your passion and interest in the role will make you memorable and allow you to stand out from the crowd of other applicants.

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