Go Higher: Don't wait until you have graduated to get a job

It is never to early to start thinking about what kind of work you would like to do, writes Tamsin Smith
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The Independent Online
Working in a burger bar is fine for paying the bills and giving you that essential extra for the pub, but is it really what you want to being doing when you graduate?

Although most students are adept at finding work to help them pay their way through university or college, and can organise their study time like a military operation, too few of them start job-hunting in time for it to really count. Many don't realise how many opportunities there are for work which will help boost their career prospects even if they have not decided what it is going to be.

And far too many leave it until after they have graduated to start searching for work.

"It is never too early to start thinking about what kind of job you would like to do and to explore work placement schemes and part-time work so you can start building up your experience," says Carolyn Morris, director of Sussex University's Career Development Unit.

"Sadly, most students leave it until their final year. The sooner you start the better, as you will have the edge over students who are only just beginning to get their act together."

She suggests the first thing students should do is to pay a visit to their university's careers service.

Most have extensive libraries which will help you find out what kind of job appeals to you and how to approach it and there are student employment officers and advisers on hand to give you advice about how to create or improve your CV, how to show yourself off in application forms and how to cope with interviews.

The career development officers will also be able to help you expand on any ideas you may have for job opportunities.

In association with UCAS, CSU and the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services produces a guide, What do Graduates do? which gives the latest information on which careers graduates are going into and what employment prospects are like.

It also lists a student action plan, produced by the Association of Graduate Recruiters, to help you organise and fine tune your job-hunting skills.

Your employer will want to know three questions about you. Can you do the job? Will you do the job? And can you fit in?

As well as minimum qualifications, they will also have a list of skills in mind when they interview you.

They will want evidence of your competence and it is all to easy for competent people to miss out on jobs because they have failed to produce the evidence.

The most important skills they seek are: communication and interpersonal skills, a facility with numbers and a basic understanding of how computers work. Particular jobs require other particular skills and it is essential you research the post so you can match your skills to them.

A lot of companies will ask when you last worked in a team and what positions of responsibility you have had. Other questions focus on who your customers are and how you can best serve them.

Recruiters also need motivated and enthusiastic staff who really want to work in this particular industry in a very competitive marketplace, so you will need to show that you have a real interest in the company, that you have taken the trouble to find out about it and have applied that knowledge to their competitors.

'What Do Graduates Do? 1999' is available from Sheed & Ward Ltd, 0171 702 9799 (pounds 8.95).

how to get ahead

What do Graduates do? suggests you consider the following points:

1. First and foremost, increase your self-awareness.

With the help of friends list your strengths and weaknesses.

Seek feedback from colleagues, staff, close friends and family.

Make a note of which experiences really motivate you.

Try to establish your values and beliefs.

2. Make an informed decision about what, how and where to study.

Think about your reasons for doing a degree.

Get to know your preferred learning style. How do you learn best?

Ask universities searching questions about the course.

3. Gain relevant work experience.

Use holidays or gap years to find work experience.

If you cannot find paid work, voluntary work is just as useful.

If you have already had work experience, make your next job more focussed on your career.

Use family and friends first to find work. Remember small businesses are valuable as you may be given more responsibility.

Spend time shadowing friends and family to get the flavour of a job and explore opportunities.

Think about what you have to offer your employer, so you can "sell" your skills better.

4. Develop skills for the workplace.

Become involved in teams. Take responsibility. Make the most of opportunities to travel, practise a language and take an interest in the local culture.

5. Use your contacts and develop the art of networking.

Draw up a list of family and friends who may be able to help you find holiday work.

When networking, ask people for advice or other people who may be able to help.

6. Explore options.

Read a newspaper. Visit the careers service. Use student networks while at university and go along to job fairs in your first or second year.

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