Advice on applying for graduate jobs – blurred lines? Don’t expect to get lucky


Are you walking into £22,000 worth of debt with your head held high? Why not? HAMISH KILBURN investigates how you can get the most out of your uni days…

University is a place where you learn the necessary skills, pass the necessary modules and write that killer dissertation in order to better yourself in your chosen career. Okay, so in order to better yourself, you have to make a few sacrifices and accept a few loans, but eventually, when you are in the high-paid salary career you have been dreaming of for so many years, all of this will be worthwhile. All you have to do is keep your head down and pass the modules, right?

Wrong! Although many students determine their success at university with the grade they receive at the end of their degree, what use is that certificate when potential employers consider your grade to be only one side of the coin. Ghandi once said, ‘The expert knows more and more about less and less…’ Therefore being the most knowledgeable in your field does not necessarily make you the most employable. A degree doesn’t demonstrate your interpersonal skills or your professional character.

Some universities judge success with numbers. Of course this determines how academic the student is, but the real testament to a student’s success, is how they worked hard to end up being employable at the end of the three years. So don’t for one-minute think that getting a first honours degree will guarantee you a position in the workplace. It’s a competitive post-graduate world out there.

 Money makes the world go round

Going into university with a blurred understanding about money will decrease your chances in getting lucky in the workplace. Know what you are getting yourself into. Learning to manage your money early is a good practice to get into. Your interest-free overdraft won’t last forever, and if you get too comfortable in the red as a student, the chances are that you will spiral deeper and deeper into the minus.

Being unemployed is expensive, merely sending out CV’s adds up and you need to ensure that you are not missing out on an opportunity because of your careless spending habits. Be sensible with money and plan for the future early.

The right attitude

Your career should go further than the nine to five. What employers really want is someone who enjoys their role, goes the extra mile and doesn’t consider it as just a job. If that same mantra is applied towards academic study, then in the long-term you be someone who creates solutions as apposed to problems to a potential employer.

Employers make assumptions. ‘You’ve got just seven seconds to make the right first impression’[1] Looking smart, being hard-working and ensuring you attentive are all good first impressions.  In October to December 2013, there were 2.34 million unemployed people[2]. Recent economic circumstances means that you are not just competing against your recent graduates, but also candidates with much more experience than you. Use your fresh energy to your advantage and show the company that you are malleable. Ask questions and be memorable for the right reasons.

During the three years of learning at university you don’t need to live by the motto, ‘all work and no play’ because lets face it, that makes Jack a dull boy. Networking is a skill that should be fine-tuned during the your student years. Finding time to switch off and re-charge is just as important as meeting your fast approaching deadlines. It is easy to over-work yourself so for that reason.

Completing work little and often will ensure that you stick to a well-paced work schedule. You will find that you enjoy the work more and as a result. Your final submitted piece of work will be stronger and you won’t feel as if you have ran a marathon when you hand it in. Allowing your work to mature and going back to it a few days later is the best way to pick up on errors and inaccuracies. Plan ahead so that you don’t have to cram last minute.

Five-year goal

By the time you reach your third year at university you should understand the values of work and have a clear idea as to how you are going achieve your goal. Having a career plan in mind will allow you to pinpoint what you need to do in order to take the next step up within.

A large proportion of people that tell you they have just ‘fallen’ into their career are wrong. They were probably given an amazing opportunity that they grabbed with both hands. Without question, it was their professional qualities and past experience that has made the opportunity available and makes them more employable. Companies look for productivity when building their workforce.

So this may all seem a bit daunting if you don’t know what area you want to follow. Just because you have a plan doesn’t mean you have to stick to it. If you attract attention from an employer who is offering a good position then of course you should consider it. Who knows? Later on that decision could lead to your ultimate dream job. Having a five-year plan will give you something to focus on and provide you with a back-up plan if the tangents you take along the way don’t work out the way you thought they would.

Experience to get the ball rolling

Okay so you apply for a job and you get the standard response. ‘We are grateful for your interest in the position but we were looking for someone with more experience in the field’. I know what goes through your mind when you read this. How the hell are you meant to gain experience without getting an opportunity? The answer, work for free. Instead of waiting for a position to open up, why not call up and ask if there is anything you can do in order to get experience? Employers like someone who is pro-active and someone who can show initiative. Seriously, you have nothing to loose but everything to gain from being keen.

So what can you do during your three years at university that will make the £22,000 debt worth it? You should use your time at university to meet like-minded people, network with industry professionals as well as gain the necessary skills and qualifications to move to the next step of your career.

In the short term, if you are dreading your lectures, deadlines and work then ask yourself, why are you putting yourself through this torture? You should choose a subject area that you can see yourself working in, otherwise you will just come out of your degree with a heavy debt on your back, and no hope in making it in your chosen industry. Grades will only see you through the first door of getting an interview, having a good attitude and experience will see you through the interview. Coming fresh out of university and straight into employment with good work ethic, punctuality and ambition will allow you to open more doors and eventually the hard work will pay off. Make it easier for yourself, start early and treat university as a stepping stone not a hurdle.


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