Improve your job prospects from day one. By Roger Trapp
For students who have already signed up for university and college courses starting this autumn it may already be too late to heed the advice on choosing a degree. But anybody preparing for the world of work could gain much from the other guidance published recently by the Association of Graduate Recruiters.

To judge from anecdotal evidence from many employers, graduates are increasingly professional in their approach to job hunting and preparation. But the guide, based on the findings of a research project published last year, aims to build on this thoroughness and spread it more widely. The idea is to help students make the most of their university years, even if they are not yet sure of their careers.

The booklet, produced for the AGR by Whiteway Research, is described as an action plan and has 10 key facets. First is increasing self-awareness. To do this, students should indulge in such practices as listing strengths and weaknesses and seeking feedback from family and friends.

They should also gain relevant work experience. "Customer-facing" work is deemed especially useful, as is that carried out in a small business on the basis that that is more likely to provide responsibility and a wider range of tasks.

To build on this, they should develop skills for the workplace. This might involve becoming involved in teams, taking responsibility and initiative, making presentations to different audiences and travelling. They should also practise negotiation skills.

In addition, future managers need to develop the art of networking early - expanding their circles of people who can help to find vacation work and provide advice. And they must not confine themselves to the academic tasks, but find out about the changing graduate jobs market and visit careers fairs from as early as the first year.

But amid all this activity, they should set aside opportunities for reflection on learning. This might entail using a learning log and making a point of learning from experiences - good and bad.

And, however tough a regime this sounds, it is important not to panic. While they should seek to differentiate themselves from the crowd by doing something such as learning an unusual language, taking up a distinctive hobby or setting up a new voluntary organisation, graduates do not have to be perfect, says the guide.

"Tackle this action plan in manageable chunks and review your progress regularly. You will find you can achieve a great deal over three or four years if you start now," it adds.

It almost appears that any job obtained afterwards would be very straightforward by comparison. But as the booklet also points out, the skills gained will be essential for managing a varied career and to be an effective learner.

"These are the skills which will allow you to develop and make use of your own individual strengths. They could be called "enabling skills" because they will enable you to be effective in managing your work. They will put you in charge, instead of being at the mercy of your work."