As many students are starting or making there way back to university it has got me thinking about my time at university and how I didn’t really make the most of it. I left university two years ago graduating with a 2:1 BA Hons Geography degree.
I have been lucky and had a job I really enjoy since graduating but I know for a lot of recent graduates this has not been the case and it has been a hard time facing unemployment. When you drill down to the reason why jobs are so hard to come by for graduates, it is usually the lack of relevant experience. University isn’t a three year piss up anymore, with employers looking for more than just shop experience for you to stand out about the increasing volumes of applicants. This has made it tougher than ever to land a meaningful role. This post goes through some of the decisions I have made and what I would tell my 18 year old self now.
Choose a Course with a Placement Year
My course did not include a placement year. Looking back this does put you at a disadvantage for a variety of reasons. A placement year is a great opportunity to try a career path or to explore a new one. A previous friend of mine found that the career path she originally wanted to follow (journalism) was not the right path for her after going on placement at a local radio station.
Placements lead you to making connections which will help you in the future and could even lead you to a job. My fiance got a job after a week’s work experience at a newspaper. These days employers do not want to spend time to train up employees (not necessarily something I agree with but that’s a different story) so by gaining experience in a variety of different areas will make you more desirable.
Admittedly I did go on a ‘placement’ module which was helping one of the university academic’s with research. I was interviewed which meant being up against my course mates so was thrilled when I got the placement. However this wasn’t enough. All my research could be done from home so I wasn’t in a physical work area where I could interact with people, the consequence of this was no networking. Nonetheless juggling two research projects in my final year (the other being the dissertation) showed potential employers that I could deal with pressure and I think was one of the reasons why I was employed in my first role after university.
Gain lots of work experience in a variety of different areas.
In three years the only job I held down was a full time cleaning role in the summer holiday and about four weeks work experience in a school because at the time I thought I wanted to be a teacher. Therefore I had tonnes of spare time in term time and just wasted it. I should have written down two or three career paths I was interested in, got on the phone and asked places if they would take someone on for a few weeks. A student on my course at one point held down five different paid and unpaid jobs in her degree so gained many transferable skills that made her stand out. She deservedly was the first student on my course who landed herself a graduate role.
Research the jobs market
Studying Geography I was focused on the environment and humanitarian work. However I didn’t research if there were many long term roles in that area and what skills are required. If I had researched this I would have been able to tailor my experiences to fulfill the skills requirements or broaden my horizons a lot more.
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