Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
GRADUATES / OCT. 25, 2016
version 19, draft 19

The Graduate’s Guide to Taking the First Steps in Your Career

graduates guide

If you are wondering what to do after graduation, you should know you are not alone. In fact, the majority of people leaving university are uncertain about what their next steps should be. And although deciding may seem overwhelming the reality is that you just need to pick one of the five options laid out in front of you: getting a graduate job, taking a gap year, pursuing a postgraduate degree, applying for a graduate scheme and an internship.

1. Postgraduate Degree

postgraduate degree

According to HESA, the experts in higher education data analysis, pursuing a Master’s degree is not the most popular choice for students. In fact, only 15 per cent of last year’s graduates pursued a postgraduate degree after graduation.

Why You Should Consider It

A postgraduate degree, and more specificaly a master's degree, can help you become more specialised in your specific industry and gain more skills. Keep in mind that the job market is becoming more and more demanding and, as such, it requires candidates to be more knowledgeable and better skilled than ever before. A postgraduate degree could, therefore, mould you into one such individual. It should be noted, however, that although continuing your education could make you more employable, it does not guarantee a better remuneration package or a better position.

If you are not inclined to continue your studies, you shouldn’t feel bad about it as there are many reasons to opt out of doing so. The biggest concern most students have is that doing another degree requires time which could be otherwise used in job searching. Keep in mind that student loans are another major concern as lots of people hope to start earning a salary early on in order to repay the debt they accrued.

Deciding whether you should pursue another degree or not is a very serious decision, and you should consider whether the disadvantages really outweigh the benefits. The best advice to give you would be to look at your industry and see what the trend is; if gaining a Master’s is generally the norm, then you might need to consider it as, otherwise, it could be difficult to compete. However, if work experience is valued over education and qualifications, then you should consider starting to look for a job straight away.


More employable


Opens up new career paths

Requires time

Allows you to explore your interests

Heavy workload

More specialised

Keeps you from gaining a salary

Bolster a weak undergrad performance

You won’t be able to start paying off your loan


Where to Start

If you are interested in pursuing a postgraduate degree, it’s important that you start applying as early as January in your final year. Usually, there’s no application deadline for this type of courses but they do work on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you want to get into the university of your choice, make sure that you apply early on.

Applications are usually sent directly through the relevant university’s website, but UCAS offers a more centralised service if you are interested in applying to more than one university.

If you are not sure where you’d like to go, you can take a look at the top universities as you want to ensure that your postgraduate education will be of value. If you want to ensure that you’ll be getting the most value out of your degree, you should also look at the top universities for the specific course you are interested in. If you are not sure where to find a list of those universities, we’d be happy to help you.

Things Your Application Should Include

  • Your application form
  • A personal statement
  • Your CV
  • A list of references
  • Proof of academic qualifications
  • A portfolio (if it’s required for your degree)
  • A research proposal (if it’s required for your degree)

Your application is something that requires meticulous attention to detail, so make sure that you gather all the information that you need. Meanwhile, if you have any questions, talk to your university’s career services as they’ll be able to give you lots of tips on how to make your application stand out.

2. Graduate Jobs and Schemes

graduate jobs

Many people are eager to start job searching as soon as they leave university as this gives them a head-start while it also allows them to earn a wage sooner rather than later. The problem, however, is that many employers will consider you inexperienced. Employers generally prefer candidates who have worked in the past and this usually means that if you don’t have any relevant experience, you might not even be considered for the job and this is why you should consider applying for a graduate scheme or even a graduate job.

Why You Should Consider Them

Graduate jobs are a very specific thing in the recruitment industry; they are offered by big companies that need a constant flow of new employees. The ultimate goal of these recruiters is to hire candidates who will go through vigorous training – which usually spans over two years – and then be placed in management roles.

These kinds of jobs are also known as graduate schemes and they focus on a highly structured training. They are particularly popular in the finance sector, IT companies, retail businesses and manufacturing companies.

However, if you are interested in a career which will focus on your creativity and initiative, then you should think twice before applying for such a job as they are generally known for suppressing individuality and initiative.


Offer exceptional training

Competition is high

You could end up in a managerial position within a few years

No value for personalities and personal aspirations

Offer opportunity to work for a large company

Few people are successful in getting in on these schemes

Usually great remuneration packages

Do not allow initiative in developing talents and skills


Where to Start

If getting in on a graduate scheme is something you’d be interested in, then you should know that it’s important to send your application early on. Most recruiters expect applications by December of your final year, so start with updating your CV and branding yourself as soon as you can (scroll down to Personal Brand for more details).

There are many websites where you can look for this type of jobs, but remember that working for one of these top ten graduate employers can help your career fly. If there’s a company you are particularly interested in, you should check for updates on their website and their social media pages. You can also look through boards as well but if you are interested in looking for these schemes specifically, then you should focus on more specialised boards like:

3. Internships


If you have no idea what to do after graduation you may want to consider an internship. Internships are a common strategy of gaining work experience which is essential in order to get a job with a good salary later on. They teach you the secrets of your industry while they also allow you to explore the industry and understand if it’s something you are interested in continuing to do.

Summer internships are the most popular schemes as they allow university students to gain some real-world experience; however, graduate internships are also quite popular, and you’ll find that lots of companies have specifically designed programmes which allow young people to take the first steps in their career.

Before beginning to look for internships, however, you should weigh your options and also read up on the law to understand your rights as many employers will try to take advantage of you.

You should be aware that the law does not require employers to pay you during an internship if you are not listed as a ‘worker’, so there’s a good chance that you’ll find lots of unpaid internships. And in spite of how important it is to get some work experience, you should really consider whether you can afford to take on an unpaid role.


Look great on your CV

Your employer might take advantage of you

Will help you understand if you are truly interested in your industry

You might not get paid

Help you grow your professional network

You might not get hired full-time

Allow you to gain real-world experience

You might end up doing something completely unrelated

Might result into a full-time position



Where to Start

Like all other options available to you, an internship will require a strong application. Keep in mind that you’ll be required to prove that you are better than the competition, so it’s important to use your CV and cover letter to distinguish yourself from other applicants.

If you are not sure which companies it’s worth interning for, you can talk to your tutors as they’ll probably know which companies have a good reputation in the industry. Keep in mind that, if possible, you should ask your tutors to refer you to the companies they have connections with, as being referred by your tutor can go a long way in helping your application.

Another option is to stop by your university’s career services office and talk to them about internship opportunities, while you can also take a look at the websites listed below.

Getting an internship could be a great solution to your ‘no work experience’ problem, but you should make sure that you choose wisely. If you are going for an unpaid internship, make sure that there’s some sort of guarantee that they’ll eventually hire you full-time and that it won’t span over more than a couple of months.

4. Full-Time Jobs

full-time jobs

There’s a good chance that graduate jobs won’t interest you, especially if you are looking for more creative positions where you are allowed to take initiative, so if you feel like you are ready to kick-start your career, you can look for a full-time position. This could be a better option for you if you’ve worked through university or if you’ve ever had a part-time position and have gained some work experience and skills.

Getting a full-time job straight after university can be a great opportunity to kick-start your career as you’ll be able to dive straight into your industry. However, you should be warned that it’s not as easy as it sounds. In fact, finding employment as a graduate can be very hard because employers will be prejudiced against you.

Transferable Skills

The key to getting a full-time job straight after university is to have a powerful CV, and this means that you should focus on your skills as much as on your qualifications. Remember that the employer expects you to be qualified, so surprise them with a well-structured skills section as well.

In order to make your skills section stand out, you should make the most of each and every skill you’ve ever gained. If, for example, you’ve worked on a lot of team projects at university, you can use this to support your teamwork skills.

If you had a job during university, or if you interned at a company, it’s important to make the most of these experiences on your CV as well.

Transferable skills are usually used on CVs when a professional is interested in changing careers, but the truth is that they can also be used if you are just starting your career and you want to make the most of the skills you’ve gained at university.

Essentially, if you were part of a society, for example, or you volunteered during university, you can make those experiences count by adding them to your transferable skills section.

Look for a Job in Another Industry

If you are wondering what to do after graduation, you are probably also wondering if you should perhaps look for a job in another industry. Just because you studied something doesn’t mean that you need to make it your profession. Perhaps you are interested in doing something else; if that’s the case, you should know that so long as you craft your CV in such a way that shows that your skills and qualifications are relevant to the position you are applying for, then you can get any job you want.

Tailor Your Search

There’s a good chance that, as a recent graduate, going through job boards and applying for vacancies that you think might hire you won’t help you succeed. What you should do instead is try to make your job search as tailored to your needs as possible as this will make your search more targeted which will yield better results.

Step 1: Make a Long List of the Companies You’d Like to Work For

Your first step should be to make a list of all the companies you’d be interested to work for, so search for all the companies within your target industry. Look for companies with updated websites and a strong social media presence as this will imply that young people are working within that organisation and this could mean that getting hired will be easier.

Step 2: Shortlist the Best Companies

Your next step should be to narrow down your list of options. Start researching the companies you’ve listed and find out everything you can about them. Look for reviews on sites like Glassdoor to see what other people are saying about the company, and go through their website and social media pages, too. There’s a good chance that you’ll find some indications as to whether the company hires graduates or if they prefer hiring more experienced professionals. Also, if you find a company with a culture you’d like to join, make sure that you move it up the list so that it becomes one of the first companies you apply to.

Step 3: Network

As a graduate, you are a risky hire for any hiring manager. No one wants to hire someone who might be irresponsible or inexperienced, and because you are young, they might easily believe that you fall under these categories. Finding someone who can attest to your character and your work ethic could be a way to get around this problem, and this is why it’s vital that you network. By getting to know people within the company you want to apply to, you are making connections with people that could vouch for you to the person responsible for hiring, so don’t be shy: spruce up your LinkedIn profile and start connecting with people.

Step 4: Apply

Even if the companies you want to apply for have no vacancies, you should still apply. You never know what might happen and it’s not unheard of for companies to hire someone just because they thought they would be a great addition to their team.

However, the problem that you face here is that there won’t be a listing with a full job description for you to understand what they require. In order to get around this issue, decide what position you are interested to apply for and then look for what other companies of the same calibre require from candidates for similar positions.

A tailored CV can make you more desirable and it can also showcase the value you can add to the company, so make sure that you adjust your application accordingly.

Finding a full-time job after university is not impossible, even if you are interested in other professions, so make sure that you  map out your search carefully before you actually start searching and you’ll do great.

5. Freelance


Freelancing is another option that you should consider, especially if you are in a creative profession that allows you to work from home. However, you should consider freelancing even if you aren’t in a creative profession as it can help you make connections, get some experience and make a name for yourself.

Having said that, note that finding clients willing to put their trust in a young freelancer will be difficult but it can be done if you brand yourself correctly and offer affordable prices. Being your own boss is possible and it can be a great start for any graduate who’s not quite sure about what to do next. Don’t expect that you’ll be able to freelance and search for a full-time job and at the same time, though, as both require dedication.

How It Can Benefit You

Getting a freelance job will allow you to start earning some money which is always a step ahead. Even if you are not interested in continuing to be a freelancer forever, freelancing at the beginning of your career can be beneficial since it will give you a taste of what working in your profession really is like. It will also look great on your CV as you’ll be able to demonstrate some experience and some soft skills like self-discipline and time management which are always advantageous.

According to data released by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed, there are currently 1.91 million freelancers in the UK. However, it should be noted that only 11 per cent of those people are between 16 and 29 years old. This is the result of a number of reasons: graduates generally opt for jobs that will give them a hands-on experience; retirees find meaning in their lives through freelancing; and being a successful freelancer requires connections which is something most young people don’t have. However, if you are serious about doing freelance work, you can use this to your advantage as it will mean less competition from your age group. Brand yourself as a young, highly qualified and knowledgeable freelancer, and you might be surprised to see that a lot of people are interested in something fresh and unique.

Where to Start

In order to start freelancing, you need to build a professional website. Having a great landing page can help attract people and it can help make your brand stronger, so invest some time and perhaps some money in building your own website. There are lots of sites that let you to build your own website in a relatively stress-free manner, so put those IT skills of yours to good use.

Apart from building a website, you should also create well-rounded professional profiles on different social media platforms. If you already have a profile and would like to use it for work, ensure that it’s as professional as possible and then start sharing and connecting with other people. Keep in mind that your goal should be to become as visible as possible, so if you think that advertising yourself on social media could help you get ahead, make sure that you do so.

Don’t lose heart if people don’t start ‘liking’ your page or asking for quotes straight away: it takes time to establish a good brand, so you need to continue promoting yourself – no matter how long it takes.

Deciding how much to charge can be difficult since you want to make some money but you also want to attract clients with your rates. According to Jake Jorgovan, an expert freelance web designer, charging hourly rates is definitely not the way to go if you want to get the most value out of your work; instead, what you should be doing is charging rates per project.

‘When you charge based on the project, you are tying the price of the project to the client’s end result,’ says Jorgovan. ‘The end result is all that the client cares about’.

The gig economy is taking over the world and it might be a good idea to start building your clientele sooner rather than later.

6. Take a Gap Year


Travelling after graduation used to be a popular choice for graduates but as the economy is becoming more and more competitive, fewer people are willing to take time off from their careers. However, if you are passionate about travelling, you should try to find ways to tie work experience and skills to your journeys and make the most of your career while going around the world.

Gap Year Ideas

#1 Remote Working

If freelancing is something you are interested in, then perhaps you’d like to combine it with travelling. You can thus make your way through the world while taking up projects back in the UK to support yourself. Of course, you should note that travelling and living abroad can be costly and that living off your gigs as a new freelancer can be more difficult than what you might expect.

#2 Work Part-Time While You Travel

Another option that you have is to find part-time jobs in each country that you visit. This will allow you to get to know each country and its people more deeply than what you’d experience as a tourist, while it can also help you support yourself throughout your travels. It will also teach you valuable skills which you can add to your CV.

#3 Work in Exchange for Housing

You will find that there are many organisations that offer housing in exchange for volunteers. This method of travel is popular amongst graduates as it allows them to gain experience and travel the world at the same time. Volunteers are usually expected to work for a few hours a day and they can choose for however long they wish to stay at each destination. Volunteering opportunities include everything you can imagine, from teaching English to gardening and manual labour on organic farms.

There are lots of organisations that support this type of travel, so just to be on the safe side, do your research before packing your suitcase. These are a few of the websites you can use:


The New Economy and How It Affects You

economy graduates

Whereas a few decades ago graduates were able to take charge of their prospects, today’s economy makes it hard for young people to be masters of their own paths as cruel realities are constantly being imposed.

And it’s not just a matter of student loans which are becoming harder and harder to repay because of how the economy is being reshaped: it’s also to do with the fact that the gig economy is supporting the model of an employee with no benefits and no minimum salary.

Graduates are vulnerable to the shifts in economy because they are inexperienced and this is why it’s important for you to understand how the economy can affect you and your future. For example, zero hour contracts are becoming more and more popular and they, too, make earning a steady wage impossible.

Student Loans

One of the biggest concerns for graduates these days is the repayment of their student loan. With steady wages being a thing of the past, paying back your student loan can prove to be more difficult than you would have imagined. 

As you probably know, you are expected to pay 9 per cent of your yearly income, before taxes, once you pass the threshold of £21,000 a year. Although, this might initially seem doable, the high cost of living in the UK, the raised tuition fees and the increased interest rates make repaying your loan impossible, even if you meet the minimum requirement every month.

According to a recent study, the Student Loans Company assumes that families will be able to help graduates with their repayments, but as most families are struggling to get by as it is, they never manage to actually help their children. There is, of course, the possibility of your loan being written off but this will require a minimum of 35 years of never earning more than £21,000 a year.

Although the system is seemingly set into place to aid those in need and target top-earners, it begs the question whether earning £21,000 a year – before taxes – in the UK, in 2016, makes you a top earner.

There’s not much you can do about student loans, however. You can only make sure that you give what is due every month as the government has recently announced that it plans to prosecute those who don’t repay their loans. Of course, the best thing you can do about your loan is to give as much as you can every month in order to get rid of it sooner rather than later.

The Gig Economy

Temporary positions are becoming more and more popular as they essentially allow employers to hire independent workers for short-time projects and pay them for just however long they need them for.

The problem for the independent worker, however, is that they remain unprotected by law: employers are not required to pay them a minimum wage, there are no hour requirements and there are no benefits. As such, surviving as a freelancer is often hard, as temporary workers struggle to piece together an income they can live on from multiple sources of employment.

In order to advance your career, you will eventually need to understand how to make the most of the gig economy, so I’d advice that you start planning your career in the gig economy today. The truth is that not everything is ominous about this trend in economy. One of the most essential benefits you need to be aware of is that holding temporary positions can give you greater flexibility. This can be beneficial as it will allow you to pursue various projects that you might be interested in. Another benefit is that you can choose which projects you take on.

Zero Hour Contracts

Zero hour contracts are also becoming vastly popular in the UK. According to a recent report, there are as many as 900,000 people on these schemes at the moment and, although this type of contract seems to embrace flexibility, the truth is that these contracts have been created in order to fit the needs of the employer rather than those of the employee. Essentially, these contracts allow the employer to not guarantee minimum working hours while the employee is supposedly not obliged to accept the work that he or she is offered. The problem, however, is that they end up making people more stressed and more afraid about their future. It should, in fact, be noted that 92 per cent of Brits consider job security important but only 65 per cent think they are secure professionally, meaning that there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who are worried about next month’s bills.

For people who’ve just finished university, security might not be a big concern but what most certainly is a concern is that zero hour contracts make building a future almost impossible as they do not guarantee work or income.

But as it's becoming obvious that the economy is moving towards a freer job market, it’s essential that you get on top of these changes and start thinking of ways with which you can achieve your career goals. Your best bet is to brand yourself in such a way that you make yourself appealing to hiring managers.

Brexit Effects

Life after university might not continue to be quite as rosy as it has been for previous generations, however, as the effects of Brexit are expected to shake up the economy. According to the Independent, there’s a good chance that unemployment will rise to 6.5 per cent and this will likely squeeze nominal household incomes. It’s important to understand that these changes might affect your life and as such figuring out what to do after university becomes more important. Understanding your options will help you figure out what you can do and how to get ahead of competition whether your goal is to dive into job search or pursue a postgraduate degree.

brexit affects unemployed


Tools That Will Help You Get Ahead

graduate tools

In order to get ahead in this economy, you need to be able to distinguish yourself from the competition, and although it’s important to find what you want to do after graduation, it’s also important to put all the tools at your disposal to good use.

Of course, you’ll need to identify tools that are specific to the path you want to pursue: for example, if you want to travel, you might want to learn a few languages rather than understanding what to expect during an interview. However, equipping yourself with the tools below will help you achieve your professional aspirations.

1. Personal Brand

Creating a brand for yourself is essential since your online presence precedes your reputation and it is, therefore, important to ensure that your digital presence is in accordance with how you want to present yourself.

As a jobseeker, it’s important that you establish your personal brand since it can assist you in attracting potential employers. It can make you seem more professional, so it’s important that you take the time to develop it before you start applying for jobs. Keep in mind that this means you should adopt a consistent identity for all aspects and stages of your career, and this includes how you carry yourself, how you speak and what your interests are.

Keep in mind that recruiters tend to search for candidates online, so it’s vital that you have a presence across all social media channels and that you have a personal website which communicates your goals. Equally important is ensuring your online presence is consistent across all channels.

In order to establish your brand, you need to start by thinking about your career goals. After you’ve decided on those, you need to think about your target audience as your strategy will depend heavily on who you wish to attract and for what reason. If, for example, you are going for a graduate job, make sure that you include buzzwords as these will attract recruiters. If you are going for a small to medium-sized company, on the other hand, it’s important to emphasise your loyalty and interpersonal skills.

After you’ve identified these key areas, you need to start thinking about how to communicate your message. Again, this will largely depend on what you hope to achieve and what the industry you are trying to get in is like. So, if you are going for a marketing career, for example, creating your own videos could be a good idea. If, on the other hand, you are trying to get into business analysis, writing a few pieces and getting them published on relevant sites could get you the results you want.

2. CV

The truth is that you should see your CV as part of your personal brand and you should treat it just like you would any other branding strategy. As such, your CV needs to be tailored to your audience and it needs to clearly communicate your career goals.

While you can’t be sure who will view your website and social media profiles, your CV is a different story as you know exactly who is going to be seeing it. In order to customise it accordingly, start with reading the job description carefully and then move into tailoring it to fit it to the job description.

Of course, there are many dos and don’ts in CV writing, so I’d advise that you read up on the subject. There are many mistakes people often make without realising that recruiters and hiring managers expect to see certain things and that if you don’t cater to their needs, you might never get called in for an interview.

3. Network

Connecting with people can be a great way to start taking the first steps in your career. Even if you don’t plan on searching for a job after university and you want to continue your studies or even travel, you should still hone your skills as you never know how someone you’ve met can assist you.

Keep in mind that knowing the right people means having someone to refer you whenever there’s a suitable vacancy and considering the fact that to most employers your inexperience will be deemed negatively, you should try to connect with people that could help you overcome this obstacle.

There are many ways to start making connections. For example, if you’d prefer to make connections online, you should sign up on LinkedIn, if you don’t already have an account, and start looking for companies you’d like to work for and industry leaders. Of course, you should also try to network with people in real life, as well. Nothing beats getting to know someone on a personal level, and the connections that you’ll make in this way will definitely be of more value than the ones you make digitally.

Becoming a member of your university’s alumni can also help you advance your professional network, so try to actively look for other alumni and learn from them. To do that, go to your university’s website and look for after graduation options listed there.

4. Volunteer

If you volunteered during university, then you are in good luck as this not only speaks of your character but it also makes you more relatable as well as provides you with work experience that you can use on your CV.

However, even if you didn’t have time for doing charity work through university, it’s important that you make time for it after graduation. Volunteering hones your interpersonal and soft skills, and these are areas that employers are always particularly interested in.

If you can, seek for volunteer work within your industry as this will look great on your CV. However, if you can’t, or if you are interested in doing something different, make sure that you do whatever you are passionate about as you can list this experience in your transferable skills section.


The truth is that real life begins after university and it can be a beautiful journey whatever you choose to do, so long as you are smart enough to make the most of each opportunity presented to you and to grow as an individual.

Learn from others and pay attention to advice being given to you as experience is always the best teacher, but don’t be afraid to become a disruptor. Use the knowledge available to you to improve yourself and the world around you, and always put forth your energy and your passion because these are the two qualities that graduates should be taking more in advantage.

If you are ready to set out in the professional world, make sure to stop by Career Addict’s job board as there are hundreds of positions available there. If, on the other hand, you are not quite ready to kick-start your career, take the time you need and remember that thinking things through is always the best development strategy.

Get our FREE eBook!
'6 Steps to Landing Your Next Job'
Career Test
Career Test
Career Test





female tourist with map
GRADUATES / JAN 28, 2017

As the economy is becoming more and more unstable recent university graduates are looking to get a job that will ensure a salary as soon as possible. Taking a gap year to...

male graduate who dreams of working in the office
GRADUATES / OCT 21, 2016

Firstly, congratulations. All your hard work and effort has paid off, you’ve graduated! The hard work doesn’t stop here though. Now you need to find your first graduate...

graduate holding tablet computer
GRADUATES / MAR 07, 2017

There are many options available to graduates. From pursuing postgraduate degrees to taking a year off abroad, the opportunities are truly endless. However, if you are...

masters degree students studying
GRADUATES / APR 12, 2017

Master’s degrees are becoming increasingly popular amongst recent graduates because they help students transition into specialised professionals. But understanding which...

MBA written on a wooden cube in front of a laptop
GRADUATES / SEP 19, 2016

Have you ever considered enrolling in an MBA program? The potential for high-income is a good reason to choose it! The other reasons are listed here! For students today...

GRADUATES / JUL 25, 2016

Graduation is both exciting and terrifying. You need to find a job, find a place to live and deal with immense competition. Are you employable though? It seems that every...

Get our FREE eBook!
'6 Steps to Landing Your Next Job'
G up arrow