Don't panic, there's still time

There's no need to choose a career in haste.

So you missed the autumn term frenzy at your university careers centre and panic is starting to set in. Sounds familiar? After all, final year students are traditionally encouraged to take advantage of the range of job-seeking events organised before Christmas. But fear not. Postponing your career planning to later in the final year, or even after you've graduated, is becoming more viable.

Indeed, research shows that for a start, the resources and literature available in modern university careers centres are more comprehensive than ever. While students from the past may have considered the material as "outdated" or even "vague," today's publications such as Your Degree What Next? and the Signpost information sheets cover every possible discipline in significant detail.

In addition, most careers services will provide access to a sophisticated careers guidance software package called Prospects HE. This offers advice on every stage of career planning from suggesting career ideas, which match your personal profile, to writing a CV and completing an application form. What's more, the system is unique to university careers services. Similar careers advice is available via a graduate telephone line run by the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS).

If you already have a career area in mind, it's worth taking advantage of free literature such as information booklets on occupational areas and reference material with details including contacts and addresses. You will also be able to take away, or read in the reference section, publications listing national graduate vacancies, such as Prospects Today. The careers service's own graduate vacancy bulletin is particularly useful for local graduate opportunities.

One of the most popular methods of job hunting through the careers service is the Internet. The incentive for employers to take advantage of this has recently been increased by an annual award given by The Association of Graduate Recruiters for the best graduate recruitment website. Last year's winner was the army, and the websites of Schroders, Glaxo Wellcome and BT were highly commended. Some of them even allow you to register or apply for vacancies on-line. And if you're not a regular surfer, remember that the careers service staff are there to help. Access to word processing facilities may be available, but do check in advance.

All university careers services belong to AGCAS and as such have agreed to provide a reciprocal service to recent graduates. As a result, provided you are within three years of having graduated, you can use a university careers service other than your own - which can be very useful if you've moved back home. Some services are even funded to provide free guidance interviews for unemployed graduates or deliver job hunting workshops. Others charge a small fee of pounds 10-pounds 40.

Of particular value is an initiative for graduates in the East Midlands region. Here, seven of the higher education institutions have collaborated to provide a free-of-charge co-ordinated series of one day Job Seeking Skills Workshops. Back in London, a consortium of three universities and three private careers services, led by London University, offers a service called C2. Based at London University, C2 is open from Monday to Thursday from 5pm to 8pm, offering services such as brief careers advice on a non- appointment drop-in basis for pounds 10; a guidance interview for pounds 70; or a careers group session for pounds 12. Manager, Kavita Sharma, says, ''We see graduates at the start of their careers and those who graduated some time ago, but want to change or develop their careers.'' In a novel approach to make contact with as many graduates as possible, C2 will be providing a CV checking service at Euston railway station from 7am to 7pm, on Monday 22 February. For more details call 0171-554 4555.

Career fairs aimed at graduates tend to take place in the summer, providing a valuable opportunity to talk to employers and careers advisers. But consulting engineering firm Ove Arup and Partners echoes the view of an increasing number of businesses in commenting, "We have changed the strategy a little this year by moving away from displaying our wares at careers fairs, and instead started targeting departments where we think a university might be able to help us with a particular discipline."

Other employers appear to favour certain departments of certain universities not so much because they are looking for expertise in particular disciplines, but because they want a simple way of reducing the annual avalanche of applications. Consequently, it is essential to ask staff about the particular businesses that take an interest in your department.

Shauna Horgan is Head of Careers Advisory Service, Kingston University.

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