After three years of study adjusting to life outside the university bubble can be tough. If you're still figuring out 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. 'Most services offer continued support after graduation,' explains Diane Appleton, head of careers and employability at the University of Chester. 'At Chester we offer support to students two years post graduation.'
Diane also offers the following advice when searching for vacancies. 'Make sure you know what the best vacancy sources are for the type of role you are looking for. There are thousands of recruitment websites and agencies and some specialise in particular sectors.
Also consider small and medium sized employers (SMEs), as well as well-known graduate recruiters. 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 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. 'LinkedIn has developed into a recruitment, as well as a networking platform so if you're not on it you could be missing out,' adds Diane.
'To find a graduate job you'll need to be pro-active, try different approaches, stay positive, learn from any set-backs and continuously improve your applications until you succeed,' advises Alan Stuart, director of careers and employability at Middlesex University.
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.
'More and more graduate recruiters are beginning to realise that there is more to university life than obtaining a 2:1 or above. These companies are interested in what else you've achieved, whether that's working part time alongside your degree, volunteering or representing your university in a team or event,' says Diane.
Get more advice about applying for jobs.
Make an effort to improve your CV and cover letters so that they show off your qualities and experience. And then, when your applications begin to pay off, ensure that you are prepared for interviews.
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.
'Many universities offer help to get you started. Here at the University of Chester we run the Venture Programme, designed to equip students and graduates with the skills and knowledge to start a business,' says Diane.
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 already prepared a roadmap of how you intend to transition into self-employment - whether you are considering operating as a sole trader, freelancer or as a more formal entity such as a limited company,' explains Alan.
However, you need to be sure that self-employment is right for you. Being your own boss might sound fun, but 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. You'll also have to bring in customers and deal with the uncertainty surrounding the availability of work. 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. However, studying for a Masters takes time and money so make sure you're entering into it for the right reasons.
'If you have a real desire to study a particular aspect of your undergraduate course in more depth, then postgraduate study is the answer. Some career areas, such as law and psychology, require further study at postgraduate level in order to qualify,' says Diane.
However, Alan warns 'there are obviously costs involved in undertaking a postgraduate course and there is the argument that employers are increasingly focused on the individual - their experiences, aspirations and motivations and potentially less so regarding their educational credentials.'
Don't take on a Masters degree to stall for time or to boost general employability. Courses are expensive and unnecessary for certain jobs. 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.
4. Take a gap year
If you want to see more of the world, learn languages, experience different cultures and meet new people before settling down to work you could take a gap year. Travel experience makes you an interesting job candidate and can make improve employability in the long run. Taking time out to go back-packing 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.
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.
Find out more
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