Final-year resolutions: Your January starter for 10

If you've broken your New Year's resolutions, let Virginia Matthews furnish you with a set that will make 2006 the year of the career
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The Independent Online

You've already tried to ditch the cigarettes, cut out the booze and start living within your (albeit modest) means. Now your most important task, apart from your finals, is to find yourself a job.

Easier said than done if, like thousands of others, you simply want to earn pots of money for doing very little and don't have a clear career ambition. Here are 10 New Year's resolutions for final year students, to give you a flying start...

1. Work out what you want to do when you graduate

Being asked what you want to do with your life is - along with the recruiter's favourite "Who would you most like to have breakfast with?" - among the most excruciating questions in the world. Be it finance, medicine, ecology or golf though, everyone has skills and interests that can be turned into a career. Tune into your inner voice for guidance. If that means taking a year out to travel or try your hand in work experience roles, plan ahead.

2. Find your careers service, and pay it a visit

Careers advisers have a wealth of information on everything from assessing whether you would make a top MI5 agent, or be better off in accountancy, to coaching you for psychometric tests. Some campus careers services are more glitzy than others, but whether staff sit behind spankingly new "beech-effect' workstations, or next to peeling wallpaper, the advice is usually good. Advisers know far more about the sneakier tricks of the HR trade than you do and actually enjoy perfecting a CV.

3. Cut your CV down to size

Tony Blair is expected to have a l-o-n-g CV, but you are not. Two pages of clearly written information is the maximum and always work backwards from today, rather than forward from your dramatic debut as a nativity donkey. Prospective employers are looking for anything that distinguishes a candidate from the herd, but they don't appreciate jokes, self-aggrandisement or coffee stains. Use a spell-checker, don't be tempted to lie and if your current CV bores you to tears, tear it up and start again.

4. Apply cold

It's not the traditional way to find a job, but having honed your search for an opening in hotel management to 15 top names, there's nothing to stop you writing to them directly and out of the blue. If your covering letter sparkles with potential and relevancy and your CV is well-written, some firms won't hesitate to take a look at you.

5. Refine your job search

Restrict your online applications to firms you are genuinely interested in and spend time perfecting your responses. This isn't a round-robin Xmas e-mail to your mates, but a genuine job hunt, so reply to questions formally and don't be tempted to cut and paste answers. Get to know the relevant web pages and copy or print sections that require loads of thought just in case the pages expire. Submitting your form ahead of the deadline looks better than seeking urgent assistance at the last minute.

6. Note: "" won't hit the spot

Presentation is vital in today's job market and just as you wouldn't display all your bodily piercings at an IBM interview, nor do you want recruiters to be deterred by a wacky e-mail address, or a recorded voice message that invites them to "leave a number, baby". If you share a house, it may be wiser to re-route potential employers to your parents' number rather than run the risk of a drunk house-mate ruining your big break.

7. Have fun at the careers fair

Careers fairs are a two-way process where you and prospective employers eyeball each other. Ask informed questions and follow up any good contacts before you get forgotten. Although fairs tend to feature only top names, there's far more to broadcasting than the BBC and to banking than HSBC. Seek out the smaller firms too and steal a march on your rivals.

8. Find your voice

Some cruel HR departments like to cold call a candidate when they least expect it. Time spent perfecting an unflappable telephone manner is as well spent as staging a mock interview in which you respond to questions like "Why are you applying to Bore and Tedium Brothers?" (see Resolution 2).

9. Stand out from the crowd

In applying to world-weary recruiters who eat insipid undergraduates for breakfast, you need to stand out. Sporting a tri-coloured Mohican and facial tattoos is one way, but a more tried and tested route is to have skills that set you apart from all the other potential 2.1/2.2 graduates this year. Thousands will have "outstanding coursework", but how many have worked for the Samaritans? Earned a qualification in Business Russian? Or taught scuba-diving to the disabled ?

10. Don't look back in anger

If politicians keep raising the retirement age, you may be working well into the second half of this century. So although finals are looming, don't forget to enjoy your last year of studenthood. You'll rarely experience this degree of freedom again.