Thinking of taking a gap year after graduating?

pexels-photo-346885Taking a “gap year” either for self-fulfilment or career development can reap rewards. In a recent survey, 37% of employers believe it increases people skills, and 35% agreed a year out helps people adapt quickly to new situations.

To make the most of it, make your time out count:

Why take a year out?

Going abroad provides a chance to broaden your horizons, discover new cultures, and is a great way to network and make new friends. Picking up a language and teaching English are also motivators for some. Remember, taking a year out is not just about travelling – you may want to stay in the UK to pursue your passion for music for example, or volunteer for a while.

What about my career?

Activities undertaken on a year out can boost skills sought by employers, and can give you space to work out what you would like to do in the longer term.

If you’re undecided on what you want to do next, make sure you do some thinking before you go (or come and speak to one of our Careers Consultants!). A gap year is a great opportunity to pick up some work experience in an area that interests you.

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The value of volunteering

There are many reasons to volunteer, like wanting to help others, keeping up a hobby, making use of spare time, meeting new people etc. Often people forget that volunteering can also be an important step to getting that desired job or place on a postgraduate course.

Volunteering can give you structured opportunities to establish, improve or maximise general workplace skills like time management, communication or more specific skills that an industry demands – see Prospects’ Job Sector information to identify some of these. Volunteering can introduce a range of scenarios that you could use as examples to help answer competency questions for job applications and is a great addition to your CV, showing an employer that you have gained valuable work experience and taken the initiative to get involved in different things outside of your studies.

Work experience through volunteering can be vital to being accepted on a postgraduate course especially if the degree is more vocational or it’s a change in career direction.  For example it is likely that an IT graduate wanting to do an Masters in Social Work would need to build up practical experience of working with vulnerable people. Volunteering can also be an information-gathering exercise to know more about the area you are hoping to study as a postgraduate.

Remember that there are some practicalities to consider before you start volunteering like commitment, location, financial support and application processes. There are many different ways to volunteer – for example, being a member of a society committee, being a course rep or helping out at your local community centre.  Here is a brief list of places to look for volunteering opportunities to start you off:

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Become a Student Ambassador – applications now open!

The Queen Mary Student Ambassador scheme is an opportunity for current students to further their involvement in College life by representing Queen Mary to the public. We hear from Qudsia below, who studied Chemistry and was a Student Ambassador for 2 years:

“Being a Student Ambassador was a great opportunity which really enriched my uni experience. One of my responsibilities was to lead campus tours, and I had the privilege of representing the university, often to an international audience. This gave me the chance to be able to share my experience of being a student at Queen Mary with a large number of visitors to open day events.


This helped me to improve my communication skills, as I had to be able to understand and respond to the queries and concerns of parents as well as the eager students looking forward to starting this exciting chapter of their lives. On school visits both on and off campus, I had the experience of working alongside colleagues from different degree programmes, running days where we gave students of various ages an insight into university life. This was a really enjoyable experience.

Summers were the best part about being a Student Ambassador. With various events

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Was your new year resolution to get some work experience? Here’s how:

If you’re a student, the New Year is unlikely to feel as new or fresh or organised as the billboards and Spotify ads would suggest. The hangover of the previous calendar year will persist well into January as you wait on exam results or assignment marks. With all the havoc that January wrecks, it is often easier to live in the present rather than plan ahead.

But unfortunately, with each January, graduation is ever closer. And at some point, you will need to ask yourself what it is you are going to do with the next forty plus years of your life. This conversation can be either panicked, or productive. Thankfully, Queen Mary Careers and Enterprise Centre are available to make the conversation a productive one.
What many students struggle with is the idea of how they will reach their envisioned career goal. Whether it is banking, business development, charity or media you see yourself working in, it can be difficult to know where to begin when your CV is empty aside from your four-month stint at Build a Bear or Wetherspoons. QM Careers run a number of successful schemes aimed at developing your professional profile and preparing you for applications to graduate roles.

If you are determined, but lacking in relevant experience, QM Careers’ QProjects scheme is where you should start. QProjects is an award winning work experience scheme that places QM students on challenging and meaningful projects in local organisations. Past projects have included medical research, corporate partnerships, marketing and finance.
Not only will these projects enable you to grow transferable professional skills and demonstrate them to graduate employers, they will give you confidence and trajectory. Students who have undertaken a QProject have often extended their placements or even secured permanent paid employment at the organisation.
So rather than making New Year’s resolutions that you know won’t last – never will another sugar granule pass my lips, for example – why not resolve to do something that is worthwhile, meaningful and forward looking? Something like a QProject.
To learn more about the QProjects available, please visit

Read our article ‘Experience Matters’  (QMUL login required) for a list of 10 other ways you can build your work experience.

Volunteering: Good for your CV and good for you!

Volunteering is a way for you to interact with and make a real difference in the local community…but do you realise how much it could help you?

Even though, in recent years, top graduate recruiters have increased their number of graduate vacancies available, so many of these places go unfilled (an average of 45% of places were left unfilled per major graduate recruiting company in 2015, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters). One reason for this is that candidates lack the soft skills that employers are looking for. In today’s competitive job market graduates need more than a degree – employers are looking for key skills such as interpersonal and communication skills, team-work and self-reliance. Volunteering is a way to gain and demonstrate these, and other key skills, to employers and stand out from the crowd.

A QMUL graduate, Michael Zamecnik, now pursuing his dream as a trainee solicitor, said “Looking back at all the applications and interviews I completed in the end, I can’t believe just how important all my volunteering experiences turned out to be! It certainly wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that nowadays, every employer considers volunteering crucial for developing a variety of valuable skills, including team work, leadership and professionalism.“ In fact, 80% of employers value volunteering on a CV.


The personal benefits you can get from volunteering go beyond securing future employment, and include self-discovery and broadening horizons. A current QMUL student Law student, Megan Domas, is a Mentor volunteer: “Outside of adding to one’s CV, it is a great opportunity to hone skills much needed in any practical aspect: responsibility, empathy and leadership. For current medical student, Harriette Pearson, volunteering has been about “meeting new people, challenging my own assumptions, and learning things that can’t be taught”.

As a student, time is on your side. Your university experience will fly by faster than you can imagine…consider your volunteering options now!

Queen Mary’s Volunteering Service, QMSU Volunteering, offer students a range of different flexible volunteering options, one-off and regular, with various charities and statutory bodies. For more information about volunteering roles available come along to their Volunteer Fair on 21 October, 1-3pm, Students’ Union Hub. Visit the QMSU Volunteering website for more info! 


Being a Green Auditor

On the 3rd June 2015, 23 student volunteers from across a range of subjects at Queen Mary became environmental auditors. The volunteers were trained by QMUL Sustainability to verify the work of 27 Green Impact teams across the university.

Why did I decide to take part?

I decided to get involved with Green Impact as I have a great interest in the natural environment and being outdoors, which comes from being a geography student and being raised in Cornwall. I am also aware of the increasing impact we are having on the shape of the planet and the pressure this has put on natural resources. Environmental Auditioning was something I hadn’t come across before at university, until a careers events when I green maryhad the opportunity to speak to the team of an auditing company and thought this might be something that interests me. Therefore, when I saw the advert for Green Auditing at QMUL, I thought it was an opportunity to gain a greater insight into what is environmental auditing but also see the work across QMUL of various impact teams and the beneficial impact this is having on sustainability at the university.

How did the day go?

On the actual day of the training, we started early and were given a brief talk into why we conduct environmental audits and how they are beneficial. This gave us to an insight into sustainability at QMUL. We were then divided into our groups and started to look at the audit forms and discuss the kind of questions we should be asking when going around to talk to each Green Impact team. After a light lunch, we then went from the training to actually conduct our own Environmental audits and each team of auditors was responsible for visiting three Green Impact teams. We visited the School of Computer Science and Electronics and the Student Union. The purpose of these visits was to check their submitted impact forms against physical evidence. Each meeting often started off discussing issues around a table and then getting an informal tour around the department/building to see some of these measures and changes that have been implemented.

The skills gained from this opportunity

I have been able to develop various skills the most important being communication as this was key to engaging with the Green Impact teams and getting the most out of the meetings. Organisation was important as well, as we discovered you need to be very organised from the beginning to make sure you knew what you were looking for since many of these teams had spent a lot of time applying for their Green Impact certificate.  Finally, this opportunity taught us about professionalism while working, as in this case we were meeting with established members of staff and beyond it being awkward at times, we needed to act professionally to get the job done whilst we were representing Green Impact for the Sustainability team.