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STUDENT LIFE / NOV. 18, 2016
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Student Life: A Guide to Kick-starting Your Career While Studying

student life guide

University is great! The freedom to make your first steps into the adult world while being in the protected environment of a university campus is unparalleled. And it’s an experience that you’ll cherish for your entire life so ensure that you make every minute count.

University is an opportunity to shape yourself into the person you want to become, both as a professional and as an individual. You need to challenge yourself because this is the only strategy that guarantees growth. Don’t settle for remaining in your comfort zone, try to push yourself outside your boundaries so that you can experience new things and acquire new knowledge.

Enjoying yourself, meeting new people, doing new things (which yes, does include partying) are encouraged, but that does not mean that you should restrict your university experience to these things alone.

Your time as a student should be used as preparation for your future career, so take advantage of all that your university offers to learn new things (including languages and employability skills) and meet people who will be valuable connections down the line. Getting a job after graduation is not as easy as it ought to be which is why it’s important to equip yourself with tools that will allow you to become a highly sought after candidate.

Start Thinking About Your Career Prospects

think about career prpspects

You might think that worrying about your future career while at university is a little premature. After all you have a good three or four years before you graduate. But the cut-throat professional world has so many demands that your only hope to achieving your career aspirations is to equip yourself with tools and qualifications that will turn you into a valuable candidate from day one.

Bear in mind that if you are interested in a postgraduate course, the best ones are highly competitive which means that if you’ve taken the time to equip yourself with valuable skills during your undergraduate course, you’ll have better chances of being granted a position on one of these programs.

Step 1: Determine Your Career Course

The truth is that you can’t wait until after university to decide what you want to do with your life. It’s important to identify your goals right from the start as this will allow you to focus on finding strategies that will help you achieve your career aspirations.

Look into your graduate options and determine what you want to do after graduation. This will allow you to be more focused and productive during your studies.

Step 2: Make a List of Skills You Need to Learn

About half a million students enrol in UK universities every year, and this should concern you as it means that you are just one of the millions of other graduates with a university degree. This basically means that having a degree means nothing on its own and that you need a whole other set of skills to achieve your career goals.

To decide on what skills you need look at current job descriptions of roles you are interested in and make a list of the skills mentioned there. Your next move should be to start looking at your options. Where can you learn and how can you make yourself more employable. Luckily, university is a place that encourages learning so you’ll find that you are in the most appropriate place. If you are unable to determine which employability skills are essential to your future career try talking to the career services at your university and your tutors.

Step 3: Make a Plan to Help You Get Through University

Getting a degree is no small feat, it requires vast amounts of time, energy and dedication. If you plan on acquiring employability skills as well, then you should expect that you’ll have even more trouble managing your time. But as organisation is always important make sure you create an effective plan. Don’t leave your time-management to chance as you are likely to fail if you do, rather schedule study sessions, volunteering or participating in other activities, etc.

Step 4: Find a Balance

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t miss out on the social life that university has to offer for the sake of your future career. Go out, meet people and have fun as these are also part of developing your personality. You just need to ensure that you find a balance between working towards your career prospects and having fun.

Remain Focused on Your Degree

focus keep studying degree

Volunteering, interning and even getting a part-time job will teach you lots of new things, and they will – beyond a doubt- make you more employable, but you shouldn’t focus on them so much that you forget the real reason why you are at university.

Do Degree Grades Really Matter?

The truth is that, in the long run, degree classifications matter little. Whether you got a 2:1 or a 2:2 on your degree doesn’t make that much of a difference five years down the road, but it does make a difference at the start.

If you are interested in graduate jobs, then you probably know that these are highly competitive. In fact, people need to apply as early as Christmas of their final year to get onto one of these schemes. So, getting a place depends on numerous details, and this includes degree classification.

Bear in mind that even if you are not interested in graduate jobs, not getting good grades could also hurt your chances of working for a prestigious company. As these companies are in serious demand, you need to be able to prove that you will offer true value to have a shot, and a person with a 2:2 could easily be deemed as someone without the right level of dedication required or simply as someone who’s just not smart enough.

Why You Need to Concentrate On Your Studies

Apart from the obvious answer (grades), focusing on your degree will also help turn you into a better professional. Knowledge gained at university will help make you more efficient in the workplace; from making smart decisions to having all the knowledge required to take an action these are things that you can learn in class so pay attention.  

Being focused on your degree as a student will make it easier to demonstrate your worth in the workplace later on, while it will also minimise the chances of making mistakes at work which could mean that you’ll never risk getting fired.

Even if you are required to attend classes that are not directly relevant to your industry you still need to pay attention as there’s a lot to be learnt.

Boost Your Employability Skills

boost employability skills

To make yourself more employable and get a job after graduation, you shouldn’t limit yourself to knowledge learnt in class. In fact, you should actively seek learning opportunities outside lecture theatres as the skills will boost your CV and turn you into a great potential hire.

If you’ve already made a list of all the skills you need to learn to have a shot in the professional world, the next step is to start learning. Some things will be easier to learn, for example leading a team project can help you improve your teamwork skills, and you can use it on your CV. But, skills that are more relevant to specific work responsibilities won’t be quite as easy to acquire.

And this is why you should think about the different options available to you. From volunteering to interning, there are lots of ways to make yourself more employable, all you need to do is determine what will be beneficial to your career.

Volunteering

You probably already know that volunteering is highly regarded by employers. According to a study conducted in the US, unemployed people with volunteering experience are 27 per cent more likely to get hired than those who don’t.

The reason why volunteering is so respected by bosses across the world is that it demonstrates action. Having offered to work without pay implies that you are not afraid to push yourself and that you are not lazy; qualities that are vital in any good employee. Apart from that, however, it makes you seem charitable and ethical which could appeal to hiring managers.

Where Should I Volunteer?

There are lots of organisations that need volunteers, and if you are interested, you should contact the career services of your university, or speak to your tutors about organisations in your area. This will enhance the likelihood of not giving up after the first couple of weeks.

If you are not interested in making a long-term commitment because you already have a lot on your plate, you might want to look into organisations that offer volunteer opportunities across the world. Check out ISV for example, or Volunteering Solutions as these two organisations offer challenging opportunities all over the planet.

The key, of course, is to find an organisation that’s as relevant to the kind of position you are interested in having after graduation as possible. If for example, you can find an organisation within your industry it would be ideal. But even if it’s just a similar role, there’s a lot to be gained. If you get a placement with an organisation that’s completely irrelevant to your industry, you can choose a skills-based CV format and highlight your transferable skills there.

Things to Consider Before Volunteering

  • School-work: Even if you are just planning to volunteer for a short period of time you need to ensure that you’ll be able to remain on top of your school work. Falling behind on your assignments could be costly so only consider volunteering (or any of the other options listed below) if you are confident that you can juggle everything.
  • Money: Most –if not all- volunteering opportunities will never pay you for your time and if you are struggling financially you might want to look into getting a part-time job instead.
  • Reviews: Don’t just blindly agree to work for an organisation, look for information about them from other people who’ve worked with them. You should never make yourself a victim of anyone. So do your research and meet the people who’ll be in charge of your work before you agree to anything.

Getting a Part-Time Job

Having a job while studying can be difficult but if you are confident that you can make time for work and study, then you should give it a try. The benefits of getting a part-time job as a student don’t just include transferable skills that can help boost your CV, they also include financial benefits which could mean the beginning of your savings account.

Where to Look for Part-Time Work

It’s ideal to find something on campus or nearby as this will reduce chances of skipping classes. Of course, this probably means that you’ll either end up a cashier, a waiter/waitress or even in the library and it won’t help you much with employability skills, but you can gain soft skills at every job you’ll ever do.

If there are no positions available around campus, consider taking your job search online. Sites like Jobcentre, Total Jobs and Student-Jobs can help you find a job tailored to your needs.

Things to Consider Before Getting a Job

  • Responsibilities: Having a job goes hand in hand with having responsibilities, and you need to feel certain that you are going to be able to pull your weight before you apply, this means that you’ll need to cut back on going out, staying out late, etc.
  • Work experience: Having a part-time job is a great opportunity to get some work experience, but to make it count on your CV you need to ensure that your part-time job is relevant to what you want to do in the future.
  • Schoolwork: A lot of people find that earning a wage is a lot more rewarding than studying and they often end up ignoring school for the sake of work, but as your studies are just as important you need to stick to a fixed number of work hours.

Joining University Societies

Few students actually think about their career prospects when it’s time to join societies, but just like any other extracurricular activity, being a member of a society could help boost your CV. Of course, the idea is not to solely look for activities that could help you out in the long run; you also need to enjoy yourself.

Which societies should I join?

The idea is to join societies that will challenge you. If you are an introvert, joining a society where teamwork will be essential can help you work on your teamwork skills. If on the other hand, you are interested in showcasing your management skills, then consider joining a club where rising through the ranks will be easy. To make the most of your innovative skills look for clubs that have fallen into disarray and actively work to get them to the top. Consider joining a society as an aspect of the workplace and work towards improving yourself in that area.

Societies you should consider joining

  • Media groups: Joining your university’s newspaper, radio, TV, blog or website could get you visibility. It’s an excellent way of demonstrating communication skills even if you are not planning to pursue a media career in the future.
  • Debate groups: It may sound like something you’re more likely do in high school, but joining a debating team could help hone your public speaking skills.
  • Groups relevant to your degree: Apart from learning trade secrets, it’s a great opportunity connect with people that will be working in the same industry as you after graduation. It’s a great way to start your professional network.

Taking Up Internships

You can learn a lot from the options listed above, and that they will all make you more employable, but nothing can beat and internship at a relevant company. Internships offer professional training and a chance to experience a real work environment. As bigger firms often have the best ones, they can seriously boost your CV.

What Internships Should You Be Looking For?

There are tonnes of internships available for students; the key is to decide what you want early on so that you can apply as soon as there’s an opening. Bear in mind that internships are pretty antagonistic, and you’ll need to show an excellent academic record to be accepted onto a good one. But, as some of them almost guarantee a job after graduation they are worth the effort.

Student Internships generally take place in a student’s third year and although universities do not usually accredit them, they are sometimes recognised by international organisations as placements. It’s also a good idea to look into summer internships as employers are often more flexible about hiring students.

The good news is that lots of internships in the UK are now paid which means that whether you are interested in a summer or a student internship you’d have a small income.

Tips to Find the Right Internship Scheme

  • Company reputation: Internships are kind of a big deal in the professional world which is why it’s important to intern with a prestigious company. It will help boost your CV and increase your employability skills.
  • Take your application seriously: An internship application is just as important as a job application so use this experience as your opportunity to learn. Ensure that your CV is tailored to the demands of the position and that you are showcasing talents that are directly relevant to the position.
  • Speak to your tutors: Searching for internship opportunities online will give you a myriad of results. To ensure that you are getting on the best scheme talk to your tutors about it. They might know of companies who are looking for interns, and they might even be able to put in a good word for you.

Continue Your Personal Development

personal development

If you are interested in achieving specific career goals, you’ll need to spend a good part of your adult life developing professionally. This includes continuing your education and growing your professional network, but before you do any of that, you need to ensure that you’ve developed personally, i.e. that you’ve become the kind of individual that can achieve greatness both inside and outside the workplace.

To do that, you need to expand your mind and broaden your horizons and learn how to be open-minded and accepting of new ideas. You also need to learn how to build your network and improve your social skills.

Becoming Open-Minded

Being open-minded is an essential ‘skill’ in the career world as it allows you to understand and communicate better with other professionals. It also allows you to be more innovative and creative as a worker and as such it’s an essential prerequisite.

How to Do It

Becoming open-minded doesn’t require constant effort. It’s merely a decision to become more accepting of other’s opinions and ideas. Understand that you are not always right and that you need to consider other people’s perspectives before you make any decision.

Building Your Network

Although building your network doesn’t necessarily help you with your personal development, it does go hand in hand with your social skills which need to be honed in if you are interested in achieving success. You need to understand that mastering relationships with professional connections will help you get ahead in the world.

How to Do It

It’s important not to delay building your professional network as the university is a space where you can find many industry leaders (or future industry leaders), and you should make the most of the opportunity to connect with them. Start by formulating a relationship with your professors and tutors as they have valuable insights to offer. Also, make a point of forming some sort of relationship with all of the people in your class as they will prove to be valuable professional connections in the future.

Master Adaptability

The more adjustable you are, the happier you will be in the workplace. Professionals often find that changing work environments, responsibilities and even colleagues hinders their ability to perform. To make yourself a better employee and a happier individual become a master of adaptability.

How to Do It

As a student, you are required to constantly switch between classes, assignments and social networks, etc. You can make the most of this by learning to quickly adjust to the demands of every context you find yourself in. To do that you simply need to increase your self-esteem and trust yourself to excel no matter what is asked of you.

Work on Your Self-Esteem

To become successful in life, you need to believe in yourself and trust your gut. Being confident is a matter of understanding your strengths and weaknesses and working on those weaknesses to achieve the desired result.

How to Do It

Being a university student is something you should be proud of, as you are constantly given the opportunity to challenge yourself and further your knowledge. You should take pride in what you are achieving every day.

Improving Self-Awareness

The key to having a successful career is being realistic about your potential, and this is not just true about the professional aspects of your life. It’s equally true about your personal aspirations. Being realistic about who you are and what you can achieve can save you heartache and disappointment so it’s something you should work on.

How to Do It

You simply need to take a hard look at yourself and evaluate your strengths and weaknesses against your career goals. Do you really have a shot at achieving them? Are the things you’d need to do to achieve these goals realistic? Determining how you’ve overestimated or even underestimated yourself can help you become more self-aware which will allow you to be a better employee.

 

University is often characterised as the best part of an individual’s life because it offers unparalleled freedom and chance to develop one’s personality. But to make the most of it, you need to start thinking about your career as well. Determining your goals and developing additional skills won’t just put you ahead of the competition; it will also help you find a job after graduation.

Do you have any questions about kick-starting your career while studying? If you do, let us know in the comment section below…

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