It’s confusing world out there, with so many mixed messages about careers and the world of work. Let’s look at some of the most commonly spoken career myths and discover the truth behind them.
“The earlier you decide on your choice of career, the better.”
Not necessarily. While it may appear to give you a ‘head start’ over others, that is no use if the choice isn’t the right one. What is most important is that you conduct thorough research to enable you to make the best choices for your future. Getting a range of exposure across a number of industries, whilst at university, may help you discover which is right for you. And don’t forget that these days it is common for people to change careers several times throughout their working lives, perhaps as their own needs and circumstances change.
“Your career should be directly relevant to your degree or university was a waste of time”.
Wrong! A degree isn’t a vocational training programme (although, in some cases, it may carry professional qualifications with it). It’s an academic qualification which shows your ability to learn whilst developing a whole host of useful transferable skills such as research, communication skills, critical thinking etc. Additionally, university provides a unique environment in which to bolster your transferable skills whilst also exploring different career options. This is why the majority of graduate employers do not specify a particular degree discipline from their applicants and prefer, instead, to draw from students from a diverse range of academic backgrounds.
“The best careers are those that pay the most.”
To some people, yes, to most people, no. There are always going to be people who are more money motivated than others and for these people a high salary is going to be important. But let’s not forget that there is usually a big pay-off for a fat pay cheque. These jobs often involve insanely long hours and a lot of responsibility and pressure. If that doesn’t drive you then think about what’s important to you – do you need a job that helps other people/has professional respect/is intellectually challenging? Aligning your career with your own set of work values should help ensure that you find the best job for you in the longer term.
With Easter now a dim and distant(ish) memory and exams drawing closer by the day, final year students from all degree disciplines will be starting to focus on the big event that is graduation day. And yet this day of celebration – of marking years of hard work and commitment – may appear a little less joyous if uncertainty remains over “what happens afterwards”.
The truth is that for every undergraduate who has their career plans all sewn up, there will be others who, perhaps, haven’t got around to thinking that far ahead yet. Such is the reality of university life that whilst we know it is a good idea to start planning for the post-graduation years early, the pressures of studying, of meeting deadlines, of needing to juggle part-time work with study, means that longer term career plans are not always priority number one. So what can you do about it?
Don’t be shy!
At this time of year it is incredibly common for our careers consultants to be meeting final year students for the first time. We know that these students can find it intimidating to admit they are feeling a bit stuck this close to graduation, but we are here to help and we work non-judgementally. We can promise you that you won’t be the first (or the last) student to meet us in these circumstances. An appointment can be a really useful opportunity for you to talk things through and discover your options, whether you already have a vague idea of the area you want to work in, or whether the whole job market still baffles you entirely. A careers appointment is often a first step in the right direction.
While it may feel like the Holy Grail of graduation to have secured a trainee scheme with a Top 100 company, SMEs (small and medium enterprises – defined as companies that employ 250 people or less) make up a whopping 99% of UK private businesses, thus providing very real opportunities for graduates to start, and develop, their careers. It is easy to see, of course, the draw that many students have to the bigger and more illustrious companies; apart from typically higher starting salaries, who wouldn’t want the career clout that comes with having those names on your CV? But by focusing on these employers alone we risk overlooking the endless possibilities and benefits that come with starting your career in an SME. Consider some of the following advantages:
Without a lengthy initial training programme, SMEs can be very well suited to individuals who want to get stuck in from the get-go. The relatively flat structure of these organisations, along with smaller team sizes, means that you will be in a position to put forward your own ideas and concepts and help shape business decisions from an early stage. On a personal level, this means that you are more likely to see the fruits of your labour and achieve the career confidence and satisfaction that comes from this.
SMEs tend to provide less structured career paths which, for the right person, can be a wonderful thing. This puts you in the driving seat and should allow you to shape your career more easily in the way you want it to go, rather than the ‘expected route’ that the company has laid out as part of a longer term plan. Less hierarchy means that you will be given more direct access to major influencers in the organisation allowing you to network with the right people should you decide you want to develop your career in a certain direction.
A more relaxed working environment
Not everyone wants to be suited and booted nor feels comfortable in a workplace that is. This will obviously vary from company to company but chances are, the office environment will feel more relaxed and less bureaucratic. A number of recent research findings have shown that SMEs tend to foster better job satisfaction and more employee loyalty, plus they often drivers of innovation and creativity, making SMEs particularly ubiquitous in sectors like technology. With growing incidents of work place stress in the UK, SMEs are also seen to be more supportive of a healthy work-life balance amongst their staff.
December has been and gone and the cold, hard reality of January is now upon us all. It is rarely an easy time of year, but throw in the added pressures of a graduate job hunt and it can be particularly hard to get motivated, to stay motivated and to remain positive.
Of course, everyone’s situation is going to be a little different – some of you be dealing with the results of pre-Christmas applications that you made, others may be starting to think seriously about applying for jobs for the first time – but your optimism may well be challenged. What, therefore, can you be doing to ensure that you remain upbeat through the months ahead?
Formulate a plan (and stick to it!)
Before anything else, take the time to work out the steps you need to take and plan them. Goals are much easier to achieve if you have a methodical way of working towards them and ticking items off the plan will help you feel that you are making progress. A Careers Consultant can help you identify your next steps and put together a plan if you are unsure how to get started.
If you have experienced disappointment with your first few applications, don’t just throw yourself into making more without taking a step back and trying to identify what may need to change. If you have been lucky enough to receive employer feedback from your applications then use it. If you are struggling to work out where you are going wrong, book an appointment with a Careers Consultant to help you find out. If you are beginning your job hunt, start by gathering the information you need. Have you found out about the types of roles and companies you’d like to apply for? Do you know how and where they recruit (e.g. LinkedIn / job websites / the company’s own website)? Have you had your CV checked? Again, get a plan written and start ticking things off.
A new year is a new start: it’s the perfect time to think about what you want to accomplish and to set new goals. Why not use January to reflect on your career ambitions and formulate plans for achieving them?
- Follow relevant people and organisations on Twitter: use your social media profiles to develop an up-to-date and comprehensive understanding of the field or fields you are interested in. This can be a source of inspiration and interest, increasing your passion for pursuing your chosen career path. Getting to grips with current issues or debates in the industry is also very useful for answering commercial awareness questions in future interviews (e.g. ‘what do you think is the most important issue currently facing our company’).
- Reflect on 2016: why not use January to reflect on the progress you’ve made in 2016? What skills have you developed through your course and your extra-curricular activities? What responsibilities did you take on in your work experience? Did you receive any praise from fellow team-members or from an employer? It’s useful to keep an ongoing record of your accomplishments which you can use as the basis for targeted CVs and job applications in future. Think also about your interests. What motivates you, energises you and interests you? Reflecting on the kind of tasks which you find meaningful and engaging (rather than the sort of tasks which you feel you should be interesting to you) can be useful in making decisions about your career path.
- Decide what you want to achieve in 2017: think carefully about what you want to accomplish for your career this year. You could start by looking at the person specifications and job descriptions for graduate and entry-level jobs in the area you’re interested in. Where are the gaps in your CV which you need to fill before you’d be able to apply for these jobs? Then look for ways in which you can fill these gaps, such as work experience placements, QProjects, internships and volunteering. Identifying your goals at the beginning of the year can give you direction and focus.
- Make a plan: think realistically about how you will achieve your aims. If your goal is ‘find work experience’, break it down into small, manageable steps.
E.g.: step one – research organisations offering summer work experience placements. Step two – start an application for one placement, tailoring your CV and cover letter to the employer’s requirements. Step three: visit the Careers and Enterprise Centre to have the application reviewed. Step four: Revise the CV.Decide when you will work on these career development tasks. Why not set aside a regular time each week? Set yourself deadlines to make sure that you complete everything you plan to.
- Brush up on your interview skills: practice is the key to successful interview performance. The more familiar you are with articulating your key selling points in succinct and compelling ways, the more likely you are to be a persuasive interviewee. You might not have an interview coming up, but why not record yourself answering common interview questions (such as ‘tell us about a time when you have demonstrated effective communication skills’)? Then watch the interview back – even if it’s embarrassing! Look at your body language, listen to your tone of voice and think about how specific and concise your answers are. Then work on ways to improve your weaker areas. You could also practice with a friend, and take turns being the interviewer and interviewee. This will give you a new perspective on interview questions
Smart students already know that success requires great grades (two-thirds of companies require at least a 2:1) and relevant work experience (half of hiring managers won’t hire graduates without any). But these qualifications alone won’t make you stand out from the crowd. The average number of candidates for each job is 39, and that figure rises into the hundreds for competitive industries.
Want to shine? Here’s what you should be doing long before graduation:
- Write Your Graduate CV
Many students will have a CV which they made for their part-time job, but few Freshers will have bothered to write one for the job they expect to have after university. This is a mistake. Recruiters are busy people routinely faced with more applications than they can handle. The easiest way they can cut the pile down to a manageable size is by discarding any and every CV that doesn’t appear up to scratch at first glance.
To avoid this fate, your CV needs to be perfect in two respects. Firstly, it must show that you meet all the basic requirements. Secondly, it must be clearly formatted, correctly spelt, and easy to read. That is why starting to work on it early is essential.
Placing everything you can offer on paper makes it easy to spot any glaring gaps in your experience while you still have plenty of time to fill them. Have a look at some job specs from the types of industry or job you want to go into. You’ll probably notice that a lot of them ask for some specific skill, such as pivot tables or Adobe Photoshop, which you can learn to use in your free time.
The Careers Knowledge Bank is our brand new online resources portal, containing our ‘top’ resources arranged by theme. You can find factsheets, videos, links and other materials under the following sections:
The Knowledge Bank is really easy to navigate, and one click on a resource will open up a full screen version.
You can access the Knowledge Bank by going to the Careers & Enterprise landing page (go to QMPlus > student life > careers) and clicking on the Knowledge Bank logo, or the direct link is here.