By George Theodorou
This post was originally posted on George's LinkedIn, on the 18th August 2021. You can find the original link, here.
Here is a rough blueprint for students to follow in terms of planning their career at university. It’s important to realise these ideas are flexible and you must add context to your situation to work out what’s best for you. These are simply pointers for you to consider. So, here we go –
BEFORE UNIVERSITY - SELF REFLECTION - be honest with yourself before you start university. Why have you chosen the course? Will the course lead you into a career you are interested in, or are you simply interested in the course and have no idea what career it may lead to (which is fine!)? Are you wanting to follow a linear career path, or are you flexible? In your ideal world, what would be the perfect career for you? What are your values and interests, and how do these relate to your career? The more you reflect, the more you can make a strong and suitable plan that works for you.
Before arriving at university, I would look at getting familiar with how you can access the careers service. Whereabouts on campus are they? Is it appointment only? How do I book in? This will lead on to eventually visiting your careers services as soon as you can.
Any specific goals that you want to set whilst at uni? E.g. want to do an internship/placement; want to find a part-time role; want to volunteer. You do not have to know for definite at this stage but give this some consideration and speak to a careers adviser to talk through the options.
Probably the year where you have the most amount of time. But you want to settle into university life and to a new environment (e.g. a new place). So, creating a timetable to help manage your time, whilst dedicating some time for career planning along your degree (can even be 30mins to an hour per week at this stage) will help with clarity on how you can get the most out of your time.
For me, this year is all about getting used to your new environment. So, you don’t have to go heavy on the careers side. Simply building up as much knowledge as you can, by speaking to careers advisers, getting your CV checked, reflecting on your skills and where you may want to improve, and thinking about what experience you want to gain, will go a long way in terms of your development. You could also attend employer events or look into signing up to insight days (through your careers services) to build a clearer picture of your career ambitions.
If you haven’t already (if you are seeing this then you must do! Or this could have been shared with you, either way -), make sure you have a LinkedIn profile set up. When you are at these events, you may want to spend a bit of time building relationships with representatives of the organisations that are at these events, and you can follow up with a LinkedIn connection request. Make sure your connection request is sent with a tailored message, with a professional and polite tone stating how you are sending this request as you would like to keep up to date with this individual and their activity at their workplace – or something along these lines. This is a passive way to keep up to date with goings-on at companies you are interested in and the type of work the people do there. You can also directly follow companies you are interested in on LinkedIn.
Building connections with others (i.e. networking, *yuck*), can be daunting. But realise this, most people are open to connecting with others, especially employers who are looking to attract graduates. Those who put themselves out there by showing a little bit of confidence can gain the upper hand in the recruitment process. It’s also nice to build relationships with others, and opportunities can arise simply because you have a strong network and you may actively, or passively, hear about opportunities that may suit you.
You can even set an agenda with your careers services, to talk about things that you want to work on with them or want to improve on. For example, you may want initial support in showcasing your best self at employer events, you may want help with applications (e.g. preparing for interviews or assessment centres, or being able to deliver a high-quality, tailored application), or you may want to better understand your values and interests – considering how this may shape your job search. This can be done over several sessions.
Values and interests are key ones for me, as they truly set the tone for your job search e.g. do you want to work at a prestigious company? Did you want to travel around the world for your work? Is money the most important thing to you? Setting an agenda will help you tackle these aspects of career planning and will provide you with structure. This will help to put a plan in motion – keeping you on track for future success.
By the end of second year, you could potentially secure an internship or a placement. Most employers are looking for those who are in their penultimate year. However, this does not mean that you start looking for these opportunities come the end of second year. A lot of work must be done before this to put you in the best possible place to secure a role. You may want to dedicate slightly more time to career planning in second year, maybe one-to-two hours a week – building on the activities from first year (such as attending employer events, keeping up with your careers services etc.). This may help in securing an internship or a placement.
Of course, although the academic workload increases in second year, you may be more comfortable with university life and may want to look at securing a part-time role (if you haven’t already). This could come in the form of working on-campus, working in the local area, or volunteering. Ideally, you may want to secure a role that aligns with your career ambitions. Although, this isn’t a requirement – if you are gaining transferrable skills and dealing with responsibilities in a role that you can articulate to employers, then the majority of part-time roles can be beneficial.
The exact same goes for internships and placements. However, these are typically used to see if a certain career you had in mind is worth getting into when you graduate. Regardless of what you do, what counts is that you can showcase to employers that you can take on responsibility and that you are gaining transferrable skills. If you can articulate those to employers, you will be able to deliver strong applications in the future.
FINAL YEAR -
After taking inspiration from the previous bullet points, hopefully, you are feeling prepared for securing a role at the end of your final year. This is the most intense academic year that you will probably face at university. So, having your career plan firmly in place will hopefully give you one less thing to worry about.
At this stage, you may have clarity in terms of what career you would like to go into. You may also know under what conditions you would like to work – e.g. where you’d like to work (from home, in the area of your university, in the area of your hometown, or somewhere completely different). You may also have a better understanding, after reflecting on your values and interests, of what you deem as important in your career. Is money a primary motivator? Are you looking for a good work-life balance? Do you want autonomy in your work? These are some of the things you may have learned whilst going through your career planning.
You would have hopefully had exposure to a variety of companies by attending employer events and any other events that you had a chance to attend. You could couple this with further research on companies that are of particular interest to you, so you can work out who you would like to apply for.
The earlier you have an idea of who you would like to apply to in third year, the better. The big graduate schemes may close sooner than you think. So, being prepared for this will help to ease any anxieties about opportunities slipping through your fingers and will help you to feel organised. However, this does not mean that you will not be able to find opportunities later down the line. Many roles, particularly at small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), will advertise much later in the year – as they advertise on a when-needed basis.
You don’t want to be sending out 50+ applications in your final year. Applying to that many jobs, coupled with an intense academic year, is likely to lead to burnout. You want to be applying to jobs where you feel your interests and values align with the role. You also want to deliver high-quality applications, which would be difficult to do for over 50 roles. Whilst there is no magic number, I’d argue that applying for over 10 roles (if they are high-quality, tailored applications) may be too much. 1 or 2 may be too little, so around 5 may be best. Again, whatever suits you – you know yourself best.
I appreciate this is a long list and may feel like a lot of pressure to add to what is already a busy schedule at university. However, all I am trying to do is to give pointers about what you can do to manage your career planning whilst at university. Please feel free to save this post and refer back to it whenever you like. Also, feel free to reach out to me if you would like me to clarify anything!