Unemployed graduates should keep busy to improve job prospects

When job opportunities are scarce, creative thinking is crucial to stay ahead of the curve, says Claire Rogers

Many graduates face the all too common disappointment of being unemployed once their studies finish. They invest large sums of money to further their education with a qualification, but find that they come out of their degree with no full-time job.

According to research conducted by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit, the unemployment rate among graduates from London, typically the highest in the country, reached 10.7 per cent in 2010, up from 7.5 per cent just three years earlier. It is no secret that job hunting can be tiresome and demotivating, unless there is something to keep busy with.

There are several different ways a graduate can fight off the depression of being unemployed while simultaneously improving their chances of landing the right job. One thing that all disenchanted graduates should certainly do is get work experience, even if unpaid.

Mark, an animation graduate from Newport University, was dissatisfied with his job at an insurance firm, which although not in his field of study, helped him pay off his student loans. Two years into the job, he decided to quit and travel abroad for a year. He had many exciting experiences, but when he returned home, he found that job prospects in animation had become even scarcer. “It was quite hard at first trying to look for paid work,” he says, “so I just looked for unpaid internships and work experience opportunities instead. It was difficult because I’m based in Devon, but a lot of animation companies are based in London. I worked for free at a small local company, travelling up to two days a week, and just one month ago they started paying me a modest salary as a freelancer.”

Mark has also been spending his spare time working on animation projects with his friends. “Last year, we read about a competition for a short animation video and decided we’d enter,” he says. While Mark and his teammates did not win the competition, they are still working on projects together in their spare time. “At least I get to add them to my show reel. I suppose it’s a lot better than doing nothing. If I’m at an interview and they want to know why there’s a gap in my job history I can say: ‘There is no gap. Look at what I worked on.’”

Most industries also have professional societies dedicated to helping students and graduates trying to kick-start their careers.

Samantha Smith, a graduate of Kingston University who studied an MA in creative writing and publishing, decided to join the Society of Young Publishers when she realised she needed to expand her network to enhance her job search. “I wasn’t sure what would happen as I went to my first networking event,” she says, “but everyone turned out to be very friendly. Luckily, I knew someone at the event and she introduced me to her peers in the publishing industry. When I got over my initial fears, I had met some very interesting people, to whom I spoke extensively about the different paths I could use to enter the publishing industry. Some of them even encouraged me to send them my CV for potential work experience opportunities.”

But publishing isn’t the only industry where recent graduates can take advantage of career networking opportunities. Sam Williams, a computer science student at Kingston University, recently discovered the British Computer Society, which holds weekly lectures on the industry. “At each weekly event, there’s a specific time for tea and conversations. Everyone wears nametags so there’s an opportunity to talk to the attendees and make new acquaintances before the actual lecture,” Williams comments after attending his second event. “Lectures also tend to be quite interactive, involving the audience by encouraging them to ask questions. After the talks, the speakers are quite approachable so attendees can easily walk up to them to learn more.”

“BCS was recommended to me by my university lecturers,” Williams says. “In my field it’s a recognised professional body, so I can get chartered through them. You have to be a member to get chartered.”

Professional bodies are not only useful for networking; they often offer extra qualifications and exclusive job postings. There are currently more than 270 professional bodies in the UK across 34 industry sectors, ranging from accountancy to transport and logistics. “It’s such a great opportunity to broaden one’s network of contacts,” Williams says. “At the end of the day, those are the people who might offer you your first job – so it’s very important to always strive to make the best impression.”

For more about student life in the UK and for an opportunity to publish your work, visit HerUni.com

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