I’m sure most of us have a memory of sitting at the back of a dimly-lit hall in Sixth Form listening to a dull talk by an early career professional about their post-university experience.
For me, most of what he said, with an ill-advised overzealousness towards the hundred or so tired teenagers in the room, entered one ear and left the other but one key point he made stuck with me for years to come:
“Don’t think going to university gives you an edge in the job market. I know many grads who have left uni and struggled to find employment for months and even years. You need to realise that you will graduate with thousands of people who have the same degree. In the face of all that, how do you stand out?”
Later, we would all moan about the catch-22 of employers asking for us to have relevant experience before applying for the very experience we so desperately needed.
And that collective frustration was comforting until I thought about it and realised getting experience as a student was not impossible, it just required initiative and a few compromises and I distilled it down to five key points.
- Be curious and apply for everything. Even if you don’t have the time for it, it is better to have the opportunity and decline it due to time constraints then have nothing at all. Many of us leave college and university not knowing what we want to pursue but if you follow every whim when applying for experience roles that even faintly interest you, then at least you can start crossing stuff out.
- Have a consistent job throughout your three years. Try and work the same job for a while just to show future employers that you can be consistent and also to use in interviews to show multiple years of experience in a role. I worked as a tutor for four years and was able to write “graduate with years of community facing experience” in my cover letters.
- Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! Sometimes take on roles that don’t pay just so you can build up your CV, especially if you feel that you have limited skills in the sector that your volunteer position will cover. You have to make the call for yourself, especially if you come from a working-class background and free labour is not something you can afford.
- Treat University as a testing ground for all your bad ideas – want to start a radio show or a small business? This is the time in your life where you have the least to lose and the most resources at your disposal.
- Your lecture rooms aren’t the only place you can learn, embrace all the opportunities to develop knowledge – In my final year is when I really embraced this philosophy. I signed up to a coding course, completed a mental health first aid course and an 8-week mentoring opportunity. Interacting with so many companies meant that I was able to bulk up my CV.
Taking on these principles meant that I left university with months or years of experience in multiple fields and had wide-ranging skills outside of my degree that let me shine against the large pool of candidates all leaving university with the same degree.
As a result, two months after finishing my degree in 2020, I secured a graduate job in my chosen sector.