If you haven't figured out what you want to do after university, don't panic - as the chances are a lot of your peers haven't either. To help you decide on your next move, take a look at some of your post-graduation options
While graduation signifies the end of an era many students can be left wondering, 'what's next?'
There are a number of routes you can take after university - and everyone's journey will be different. You could search for a graduate job, enrol on a postgraduate course or set up your own business. If you'd like to gain more experience before making a decision you could volunteer, intern or travel the world on a gap year.
1. Get a graduate job
The majority of graduates look for a job. In this instance, your first port of call should be your university careers service. 'It's useful to remind recent graduates that career services generally support students after they graduate - at Imperial we provide this support for up to three years,' explains Jason Yarrow, director of the careers service at Imperial College London.
While the pandemic may have changed the face of the job market you were intending to join, there are still opportunities available. 'Graduates should fully review the labour market and sectors they are interested in, as some are bouncing back quicker than others. Graduates may also have to be more flexible in their choices and perhaps consider an option that they wouldn't have pre-pandemic,' says Jason.
Those 'other options' may include small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - while they might not have been your first choice, they shouldn't be discounted. Being a small fish in a big pond isn't right for everyone and you can still get good training, development and prospects in smaller companies.
If you haven't yet decided on the career you want to pursue, take a look at what can I do with my degree? and explore the job sectors for inspiration. Also, remember that your first job doesn't tie you to a particular career forever, so think about widening your search for graduate jobs.
Work on building contacts with industry professionals. This can be done through work experience, attending networking events such as careers fairs and through your social media channels. 'Networks are important and LinkedIn is a good resource, also try connecting with alumni from your university,' adds Jason.
If you leave university with a 2:2 there are plenty of options open to you. While many large employers insist on a 2:1 from graduates joining their graduate schemes, many organisations now accept 2:2 grades.
When looking for a graduate role, Jason suggests that you try to be proactive without being pushy. 'A lot of opportunity is serendipitous and if you wait passively for doors to open, they may not. Short term graduates could consider using recruitment agencies if they're a bit stuck, but caution and understanding on how these work is key.'
Laura Bromley, careers and employment adviser at Lancaster University has this advice, 'When looking for a graduate role after graduation, remain positive and schedule time into your week to do regular job searches.'
Get more advice about applying for jobs.
2. Become self-employed
Sometimes you need to think outside the box. If you can't find your dream job, why not create it by setting up your own company? Perhaps you have a great business idea or believe that your final-year project has commercial potential. If so, putting your entrepreneurial skills to the test could be a smart move.
'If considering going self-employed, you need to assess your skills. What can you offer? What is your unique selling point?' says Laura. 'There are other things to consider such as who your competitors are, is there a gap in the market, can you afford to go self-employed and what's your marketing strategy?'
Many universities offer help to get you started. 'At Imperial, students and graduates can fully discuss, test and trial their ideas via our Enterprise Lab,' says Jason.
If you have the confidence, tenacity and business acumen to get your organisation off the ground the advantages of self-employment include:
- independence and autonomy - to make your own decisions
- control - over who you work with and the type of work you do
- freedom - to work when you like on projects that you choose
- flexibility - to fit work commitments in with family and other interests
- opportunities - to build a portfolio of activities funded by different sources and to respond to ideas and proposals as you see fit
- recognition - you're able to take the credit for everything that you do, create, design or invent.
By the time you graduate you should have some idea of how you intend to transition into self-employment - whether you're considering operating as a sole trader, freelancer or as a more formal entity such as a limited company.
However, you need to be sure that self-employment is right for you. 'Fully consider and be sure of the realities of this route,' advises Jason. 'The pandemic has shown that job security is important to many and being self employed can often be uncertain.'
While being your own boss might sound fun, as the owner of a business you'll juggle a number of responsibilities such as providing a service, marketing the business and financial and staff management. Self-employment can also affect your home life when the boundaries between work and leisure become blurred.
3. Pursue postgraduate study
An alternative is to return to university to study at postgraduate level, a route that many find rewarding. 'People opt to do a postgraduate course for different reasons but it is important to understand why you're doing it,' explains Laura. A Masters takes time and money so make sure you're entering into it for the right reasons.
Some careers, such as law and psychology, require further study at postgraduate level in order to qualify. For others it's not a requirement but if you have a real desire to study a particular aspect of your undergraduate course in more depth, then you should consider postgraduate study. In some cases it can boost both your employment and promotion prospects as well as your salary. To broaden your experience and cultural horizons you may also want to consider studying abroad.
However, returning to study requires some serious thought. This option demands a time commitment and there are obviously things like tuition fees and funding to take into account. Don't take on a Masters degree to stall for time or to boost general employability. Speak to your careers service to weigh up your postgraduate options and talk to family members, postgraduate course leaders and people already in the jobs you'd like to do to ask if a Masters is worthwhile.
Laura advises asking yourself the following questions:
- What is your reason for studying your chosen course?
- Why is doing this course important to you?
- What skills/knowledge will this course give you that you don't have already?
- How will it make you more employable?
If you'd like to go down this route, search for courses.
4. Take a gap year
'Gap years offer a brilliant opportunity, not only to see the world but also to experience different cultures, ways of working and understanding. Employers really value this experience and the understanding of diversity that you can bring to the workplace,' says Jason. Taking time out to go backpacking demonstrates maturity, good organisation and planning skills and self-sufficiency.
Working while travelling is also a great way to boost your CV and develop a range of skills. Taking a year out to weigh up your options, decide where your professional interests lie, travel and gain life experience also helps you to make more informed career decisions.
'Plan your year carefully by scheduling any activities, work experience, volunteering and travel and understand what you want to achieve within that time,' adds Laura. 'Keep a journal to reflect on your experiences; evaluate how you felt, what you learnt and the skills you developed.'
If this sounds like something you'd like to do, you'll need to have an action plan in place for when you return. Don't expect a job to be waiting for you when you get back to reality. To find out what it's like to get a job in another country, explore working abroad.
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