The weeks following your graduation can be difficult as you adjust to life after university. Here are your options during this tricky but potentially exciting period
Although initially daunting, coming to the end of a three- or four-year course actually opens up a number of different opportunities. You might want to search for a graduate job, study at postgraduate level, or take some time out to go travelling or volunteer.
'There are many different routes you can take once you graduate, and everyone's journey will be unique to them,' says Shauna McCloy, head of employability at Ulster University.
Whichever path you choose, the competitive nature of the jobs market means that it's important to take full advantage of any free time you have to make your plans and start putting them into action.
This process can be hard work and take time. Try to set a structure to your day to help you stay motivated and focused
How do I get a graduate job?
The majority of new graduates will be looking for a job. Your first port of call should be your university careers service, advises Vinny Potter, careers consultant at St Mary's University. 'They can give you concrete help and most will continue to support you after graduation,' he says. You can also check out the getting a job section of the Prospects website for more guidance.
If you haven't yet decided on the precise career you want to pursue, take a look at what can I do with my degree? and job sectors for some ideas. Also, remember that your first job doesn't tie you to a particular career forever, so don't be too cautious about widening your search.
'Network with industry professionals,' suggests Shauna. 'Get out there, get involved and make yourself known to prospective employers.' She also recommends managing your online reputation, as 'everything you post online is in the public domain'.
Finding a job can take a while. But as Vinny says, you should be careful not to allow a gap to develop on your CV, as potential employers may question it later at interviews. 'Start doing something active now,' he suggests. 'That might include doing a bit of work shadowing, some volunteering, getting a part-time job or something else.'
Equally, he adds, it's important to leave enough space in your timetable for job hunting. 'This process can be hard work and take time. Try to set a structure to your day to help you stay motivated and focused.' The organisational skills you developed during your university course will be useful in managing your various activities - don't forget your social life too.
As Shauna explains, 'You may want to consider putting your entrepreneurial skills to the test by starting your own company. Perhaps you have a great business idea or you believe your final-year project has commercial potential.
'There are many start-up support organisations and government-funded initiatives that can offer practical advice and guidance. Your university's careers development team will be able to point you in the right direction.'
You can find more advice about applying for jobs on Prospects. Make an effort to improve your CV and cover letters so that they show off your qualities and experience as fully as possible. And then, when your applications begin to pay off, ensure that you are prepared for interviews.
Can I get a graduate job with a 2:2?
Don't be downhearted if you leave university with a 2:2 - there are a number of ways that you can boost your chances of success in the job market.
While some large employers do accept 2:2s on their graduate schemes, many insist on a 2:1. Therefore, you may need to look beyond these and consider starting your career at a smaller organisation where the entry requirements are often more flexible, then working your way up to where you want to be.
In job applications, don't try to hide your result. Instead, highlight your strengths, ensuring that you emphasise work experience or other extra-curricular activities that demonstrate you have the right skills and motivation for the role. If there are genuine mitigating circumstances that led to your grades being lower than expected, don't be afraid of explaining these to employers.
Depending on the career you are interested in, it could be worth improving your employability by taking postgraduate study…
Should I do postgraduate study?
An alternative is to return to university to study at postgraduate level, a route that many in your position have found incredibly rewarding. However, you'll need to make sure you are doing this for the right reasons.
'If you are considering postgraduate study, then first stop to think why,' says Vinny. 'If it is because you need a specific qualification or extra knowledge before entering the career you want, or if you are passionate about your subject and want to learn more, then great.'
Shauna adds, 'Embarking on a postgraduate qualification can help develop your specialist, in-depth knowledge of your undergraduate discipline.' In this case, find out more about postgraduate study and then search for courses.
You may also want to think about studying abroad.
But Vinny warns, 'If you think that a Masters might generally be good for being employable, or if you want to stay at university for another year because you have no idea what to do with your life, then get some advice.
'Doing a Masters is expensive and may or may not be helpful. It depends a lot on the sector and the specific course you do, so speak to your careers service.'
Travelling can help to develop your skills in everything from cultural awareness and linguistics to budgeting and negotiation
What other options are there?
During your job search, you can get involved in other activities, such as volunteering. Or you could take a gap year if you want to see more of the world, learn languages, and meet new people. It will help to make you more employable in the long-run.
'If you are thinking about taking time out to travel and volunteer, then great,' says Vinny. 'This can be a brilliant way to develop skills, have an adventure and make you a more interesting job candidate.'
Shauna says, 'We live in a global marketplace and travelling can help to develop your skills in everything from cultural awareness and linguistics to budgeting and negotiation.'
However, Vinny urges you to ensure that you have a plan for when you return. In other words, don't go travelling and expect a job to be waiting for you when you get back. You'll still need to put the effort into your search for work.
What if I have a job lined up?
If, when you finish your course, you've already secured employment - congratulations! You may be wondering how you should fill any time that you have between graduation and the start of your job.
For example, you could research the company you're going to work for, or further develop your knowledge of the role you'll be taking on. This will ensure you make a great first impression.
Probably your best option, though, is to celebrate the fantastic position you find yourself in by taking a break after years of hard work at university. As Vinny puts it, 'Go off and have some fun. Enjoy life and make the most of it.'
The essential guide to your career
Discover how to make yourself more attractive to employers while at university and ease the pressure after graduation with our job hunting advice.