Where to start
Career planning is the first step of any job search; it will help you determine the direction you want to go in and how to go about securing an opportunity in your chosen field(s).
The first step is to pinpoint your knowledge, strengths, weaknesses and ambitions, what you enjoy, what motivates you, and in doing so identify the skills and attributes you have to offer an employer.
Unless you have a clear idea of what you want to do, it can be difficult to know where to start. And if you do have a career in mind, how do you know whether you've considered all of your options?
To start you could try sitting down with a piece of paper and listing:
- courses you've taken in the past, or are taking now;
- any jobs you've had, including part-time work and voluntary work;
- interests outside study and work; and
- any other experiences, like travelling, playing sports regularly, belonging to a university student society or club.
Then ask yourself:
- why you chose to do them;
- which parts you really enjoyed;
- which parts you found frustrating or boring;
- which parts you were best at;
- which parts you found a challenge;
- what other people have said about your contribution; and
- what other people have told you you're good at.
After carrying out this self-analysis you might start to see some patterns emerging, for example the types of skills you enjoy using, the sort of culture and environment you perform best in and the types of people you like working with. This will also determine what sector and type of role best suits you – for example, jobs with a people focus or project focus.
Suggested activities for each year group
In your first year
- Your first priority should be your academic work but still get involved with activities, clubs and societies at university. Remember, potential employers are looking for rounded individuals with lots of outside interests.
- If you get involved with a university society or club, volunteer for positions of responsibility. Aside from being worthwhile in its own right, taking on responsibilities will develop your communication, leadership and negotiating skills, all of which will be useful for your CV.
- If you have not already done so, prepare a CV. This will be useful for applying for temporary or vacation work and will be the basis of the CV you use to apply for jobs after you graduate.
- Build up your work experience. Any work experience will be useful in helping you develop skills and contacts.
- Do your preparation by thinking about what is important to you in a job and start to research possible careers.
- Attend careers events.
In your second year
- Keep researching and refining career plans. Attend as many events as possible in order to get a feel for the range of options available to you.
- Many vacation placement/internship schemes are aimed at second-year undergraduate students and so this is the time to get organised and test your career plans through work experience. Check closing dates for these schemes and apply early.
- As well as applying for vacation placements and internship schemes apply for year-long industrial placements as well. This will give you a deep insight into an industry that interests you, enabling you to build up your skills and your network on contacts. If it goes well you could get a great reference too. By doing a placement this might also tell you that you do not want to work in a particular type of company!
- Use your networking skills to find work experience or just discover more about jobs or organisations which are of interest. If networking contacts cannot offer actual work experience, would they might be willing to meet you for a coffee and a bit of careers advice?
- Update your CV as you develop new skills and gain new work experience.
- If you do not obtain work experience, do not panic. There are lots of ways you can demonstrate employability skills, including organising charity or community events, taking up roles in university societies, which will make you attractive to potential employers.
- Continue to focus on your studies. Many employers and large organisations require a 2.1 honours degree so it makes sense to aim to try and achieve this.
In your final year
- Be organised and check the deadlines for organisations that are offering graduate training schemes which interest you, and apply in good time. Application closing dates will vary according to the size of the organisation. In general, the large corporate graduate recruiters will have application deadlines during autumn. Smaller organisations and public sector employers may not recruit until after you finish your course.
- Look at graduate recruitment directories, research entry requirements for the companies in which you are interested and consider if you can meet their requirements. Be realistic.
- Look for vacancies on this site, other websites and newspapers.
- If your initial applications are unsuccessful, seek our advice and revise your strategy if necessary.
- In the summer term, focus on your revision for final exams.
- For smaller companies and industries which are hard to break into, consider making speculative applications. Even if there are no current vacancies, companies may be willing to keep your application on file in case something suitable comes up.
- Use recruitment consultancies (specialist or general) to help you in your job search.
- Attend both internal and external careers events as these could provide vital contacts and networking opportunities.
If you would like to speak to someone about your career options, contact your faculty employability consultant.