How to make the most of the summer break

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
June, 2023

As well as giving you the chance to relax and have fun after an intense year of study, your long summer break from university is the perfect time to learn new skills, pursue your interests or gain some valuable work experience

Here are some suggestions from three careers experts on how you can improve the student experience - and your personal development - by making the most of the summer.

Learn new skills

Acquiring relevant skills will strengthen your job applications, while demonstrating motivation and enthusiasm for the industry you're hoping to enter once you graduate.

For example, if you're interested in digital marketing, creating a website or developing your understanding of web analytics, shows that you're taking your career seriously. For a career in the media, you could start a blog or launch your own podcast.

'When choosing to learn a new skill, take time to look at job profiles for the roles that interest you,' says Kirsti Burton, information and operations manager at Queen Mary University of London.

This allows you to identify what recruiters look for, so you can focus on gaining the particular skills that impress them when it comes to making applications.

'You could take a short course, study online or teach yourself,' she adds. 'Whether you'd like to get to grips with a piece of software used in the sector you're looking to get into or take an introduction to accountancy or business course if you're studying an unrelated degree, take the initiative to get the know-how that recruiters require.'

Sue Moseley, senior careers consultant at King's College London, agrees that finding a short course - either face-to-face or online - over the summer, ' can really boost your confidence and help you to make connections with people who share some of your interests, whether directly work related or not'.

She recommends that you try looking at courses offered by local leisure providers - for example, sports clubs and centres - as well as online sites such as LinkedIn Learning, Coursera or Forage. For these, check if your university has partnerships that can give you free access to fee-paying content.

'Employers are impressed when you've taken the initiative to learn something,' adds Sue. 'A senior manager at a pharmaceutical company described how a student had excelled in an assessment centre because of what they'd learned while training to be a football referee.'

It's also true that even generic activities, such as honing your academic writing style, are guaranteed to boost your CV. Attending language school or teaching English as a foreign language is always hugely beneficial, as both develop your communication skills while helping to clarify your future options.

Explore online learning and microcredentials.

Get work experience

Instead of sitting around during the summer holidays, choose to make the most of your valuable time off by organising some work experience.

Sue champions how internships and part-time jobs, especially those matching your career preferences, offer countless benefits.

They allow you to demonstrate the abilities, motivation and skills that employers look for, while providing recruiters with quantitative and qualitative evidence of your attributes.

Despite this, she still adds a note of caution in striving for perfection. 'Don't worry too much about getting the best internship ever with your ideal employer. While that's wonderful if it happens, the reality is you can gain a lot from part-time or temporary roles.'

For instance, you could help to run a summer activity camp for kids in your area, tutor students or take on shift work in the leisure, sport and tourism industry.

Alternatively, if you're struggling to secure an internship, you can always consider virtual work experience.

The key thing, Sue explains, is to always be curious. Working in a shop may feel a long way from your plan to get an internship in management consulting, but by spending a short amount of time with the regional manager, you could possibly enquire as to how they track the performance of each outlet or ask about their current challenges.

By showing a genuine interest in the profession, this often leads to career and networking opportunities. Get general advice on how to find a job.

Apply for work experience with small businesses by contacting them speculatively, while exclusive work experience opportunities can usually be found through your university's careers and employability service. Discover where to find help at university.

Pursue your hobbies

It may come as a surprise to hear this, but even when relaxing and enjoying a hobby you can seek to enhance your employability.

Kate Daubney, director of The Careers Group for the University of London, reveals how hobbies and side interests can often feel like a complement to work, or even an escape from it - but the very passion and enthusiasm you have for your interest reveals a commitment to learning about something in depth.

'That's one of the reasons employers like graduates - because they've learned about a subject during their degree, while a passionate interest in something also demonstrates learning agility, the ability to keep on learning, which is fundamental to coping with an uncertain employment climate and technological change,' explains Kate.

'Increasingly, students and graduates are looking at multiple employment and self-employment opportunities during their studies and after graduation. A 'side hustle' that reflects your interests is a great way to develop experience that helps you figure out what is important and meaningful. That self-awareness is really important to employers too.'

By pursuing your extra-curricular activities and interests, this shows dedication and motivation, as well as letting employers see who you are as a person. This is important to the recruitment process, as recruiters are always on the lookout for well-rounded individuals who will fit into their company culture rather than simply judging you according to the achievements listed on a CV.

It's also possible to combine your interests and hobbies with job hunting, claims Kirsti. 'Remember that genuine interest in the industry or activity is valued by employers, as it demonstrates existing understanding of the product, market and audience.'

Finally, another great CV booster is volunteering. Voluntary roles are available in fields such as teaching, sports, festivals and performing arts, while travelling and gap years also throw up countless opportunities for personal development. Again, if this isn't feasible at this time, remote volunteering may still be a possibility.

If you have a strong interest in wildlife, for instance, you could consider volunteering with animals during the summer, which may even lead to full-time work with an animal charity.

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