Maybe you’re a fresher, taking your first steps into the brave new world of tertiary education. Maybe you’re a finalist, peering over the barricade into the maw of full-time employment. Whichever it is, you need to start thinking about your employability – however unsexy that may sound.
Make your time at university count with our five-step essential guide.
- FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO
It sounds obvious, but few students actually know what they want to do with their lives. Work it out, and fast. Students who know what career path they’re aiming for after university are more motivated, focussed and ultimately successful in their job applications.
University is a wonderful time to feel lost, make mistakes and discover yourself. Make sure that, in amongst this chaos, you’re also thinking about your future.
- WERK UR MEDIA
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linked-In… There are better uses for your newsfeed than resuscitating that hilarious Sean Bean meme from years back.
Market yourself. Start at uni, and you’ll avoid a painful re-branding process later along the line. Get a grip on your privacy settings. Half of employers Google their candidates before interview, and they don’t want to see those embarrassing fresher pics of you, half-naked, swigging Jack Daniels from a shoe. Keep your profile pictures innocuous, and your Insta cute rather than sexy. Check out Kanye’s Twitter, do the opposite, and you’ll be fine.
Once your online presence is nicely censored, it’s time to start building your online brand. Not on LinkedIn? Fix that. Want to be a writer of any kind? Get on WordPress. Link your articles back to your social media, and your clicks will rocket. Find conversations on Twitter relevant to your career path and engage.
Channel Destiny’s Child. Make sure people in your future industry are familiar with your name, however distantly. That way, when you walk into their interview room months along the line, you’ll have already laid the groundwork for a stunning application.
- NOW DO ACTUAL WORK
We don’t mean the academic kind – though that might help too. Eight out of ten students currently work part-time to help fund their studies, but that job is doing a lot more for them than bringing in the cash. A part-time job at uni shows you can juggle commitments, develop your skillset and – crucially – get on in a daily workplace.
And employers aren’t fussy. Work experience, vacation internships and volunteering all count. People who spend their holidays in employment, whether paid or not, are perceived as more dependable candidates than their less enterprising counterparts. Proving that you already have work experience counters regular complaints of a lack of commercial awareness, time management and initiative in graduate applicants.
Some students even choose to set up their own business. This is the ultimate symbol of a self-starter and looks highly impressive on any CV, whether the enterprise tanks or not. If you can run your own company while in full-time education, what can you do as a permanent employee?
- BOOST YOUR EXTRA-CURRICULAR
That’s right. According to a study of 500 UK SMEs, 70% believed that extra-curricular activities – that includes sports, music, volunteering and travel – are a vital part of a grad’s job application. In fact, two in three employers placed as much or more emphasis on an applicant’s extra-curricular than their academic achievements.
People who partake in extra-curricular fields such as expeditions, societies and artistic pursuits regularly demonstrate improved creativity and self-motivation. They are perceived as self-starters, able to advance themselves within a company more easily and quickly than those with narrower skillsets.
So get out there and get moving. If you want to be in politics, get involved with your student union. If you want to be in music production, set up a club night. It doesn’t even matter if it’s unrelated to your future career – just do something.
I know, I know. It’s every student’s worst nightmare: the ‘schmooze social’. But be there or be square; often, the biggest regret graduates have re:university is not making the most of networking opportunities.
There are plenty of ways to do it. Go to the events advertised by your university. Prepare well and work the room. Email people you’ve met, or even haven’t met – a feedback email sent to a visiting speaker or academic you’ve seen, along with a suggestion to get coffee or link in, can work wonders. You can even keep a spreadsheet tracking who you’ve met and where.
“Follow the three-D rule,” advises Georgina Kilner, head of Henley Business School’s postgraduate programmes. “Do it now, do it every day and don’t worry about punching above your weight.”
Meeting people in the flesh should always be your end-game aim. This is how you make a good impression, practise your people skills and boost contacts. So embrace the awkward convos – you’ll get free alcohol out of it, if nothing else.
And there you have it. Five ways to turn your time at uni into an employer’s dream. This is one of the most important periods of your life – don’t waste it on booze and parties.
Susanna Quirke writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment firm which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs London, visit our website.