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Career Planning

Getting involved is the only way to get ahead

Students need to make themselves stand out against the crowd. It's as easy as finding what you like and getting stuck in

Over the last few years we’ve been bombarded with scary statistics and gloomy news about the highly competitive graduate job market - how we’re all doomed to years of debt, under-employment, and depression. I won’t bore you with more information along those lines, because while it could be true, it’s not particularly useful.

So let's just say that a good degree doesn't cut it anymore. Simple maths: too many of us and too few jobs.                                                                     

Work experience is important, really important, but unfortunately everyone knows that. So again too many people applying for the same positions have good work experience. It's all become, well, standard.

Students now need to be concentrating on what they can do with their extracurricular activities to shine in the job market. It's not good enough to just be a member of a few societies, go to the odd event and re-tweet a few promotions, you need to get involved.

What do I mean by get involved? Well, instead of standing on the sidelines or going along with things other people are doing, getting involved means investing a bit of yourself in the project. Investing your time, your brain power, your energy.

Many of us know that work experience, particularly internships, often teach you more about making a lot of tea than anything else. Getting involved with projects at university on the other hand can give you some seriously useful skills; marketing, social media campaigns, editing, writing, fundraising, sales, event organising, management, team work, leadership, the list goes on.

Luckily being a student puts you in an almost unique position; being in a place where there is a lot going on to get involved with and having the spare time to take advantage of those opportunities.

I realised too late that being a dormant member of a few societies just wasn't going to make the grade in a climate where hundreds of applicants, all with good qualifications, are competing for the same positions. Employers want provable examples of your skills that stand out, and who can blame them? The hiring manager has a job to do, and when faced with waves of qualified applicants of course they're going to pick the candidates with the most interesting and impressive experiences.

Think of your future self. Imagine filling in application forms and answering favorites like these:

  • 'How have your extracurricular activities prepared you for this role?'
  • 'Describe a time when you led a project'
  • 'Tell us about a time where you worked with a team towards a goal'
  • 'Give an example of a time where you were in a position of responsibility'

Do you have good answers to these questions? Because your competition probably does.

Get stuck in

So look around you, what's going on, what are you interested in? Do you enjoy writing? Student newspapers are almost always looking for contributors. Any charities you feel strongly about? Charity projects will generally be receptive to new fundraising ideas. How about getting involved with the student union, or becoming a student rep for a brand you like? Most universities have hundreds of societies, could you see yourself playing a leading role in one of them? The nature of university (three- or four-year courses) means a high turnover of people, meaning there will always be vacancies at the top. It's important to be proactive so you can be next in line for the job.

Also remember that at uni you have an easily accessible market and support infrastructure if you want to start your own project - a particularly good way to make sure your CV reaches the candidate pile and not the shredder.

And honestly, you'll probably have a great time while you're at it. Maybe it'll add to your stress come essay deadlines and maybe it'll prevent you from fully sleeping off the odd hangover, but you'll make friends, build experiences and set yourself up for the future. You get out what you put in - and other similar cheesy but pertinent clichés.

Don't despair if, like me, this revelation came too late for you and you've already graduated or are about to. While university is the perfect place to get involved with interesting activities that will improve your CV and add to those all important 'transferable skills', it's not the only place these opportunities exists. Volunteering, community projects, charity fundraising, etc. can all provide similar opportunities in the big wide world - you just have to use a little more ingenuity to find them!

Rachael is an economics graduate who now works at Graduate Rescue, a social enterprise and employability resource for students and graduates.