Graduation is looming up to meet you like the water at the end of Titanic. It’s a scary time- until this point in your life you’ve been pretty much certain what will happen from one year to the next, and life after education can seem like a terrifying blank void. To make it worse, the news isn’t really trying to boost the confidence of anyone about to enter the job market, with unemployment seemingly always on the rise and people throwing around phrases like “the lost generation”. Still, there are things you can do to prepare yourself for the job market, and give yourself an edge in a world where everybody seems to have a degree.
Take part in student societies: These might seem like they’re just for fun, but actually getting heavily involved in these organisations can give your CV a much-needed boost. Whether it’s the student paper (which is always a key asset for anyone looking to get into journalism), or the university’s Extreme Frisbee society, getting involved in extra-curricular activities shows a willingness to get involved that will serve you well on your job hunt. Don’t just sign up, but volunteer to help out where needed. Write the weekly newsletter, organise the annual Christmas party, arrange to have a speaker come and visit. Any of these things demonstrate a range of time and people management skills that your employer would be glad to have on side.
Work for free: Now it’s important to be careful when doing this. A big problem in the job market right now is that, because of rising unemployment, graduate jobs are rare and you’ll often competing with people who’ve been doing that job for years. As you go through the job ads you’ll find a huge number of them make use of the word “experienced”- leading you into a pretty unfortunate Catch 22 style situation. Fortunately, while you’re at university you’re still in a position where you can afford to work for little or no money. Of course, for it to be worthwhile you have to be certain that you’re getting something out of the experience. There’s no point giving up your free time to stack shelves or type up records if you’re not going to get anything from it. When looking at work experience or internship opportunities, be sure to ask exactly what you’ll be doing and who you’ll be working with.
Work for money: Of course, university is getting more expensive and beer and baked beans do not grow on trees, so it may be that the best option for you is to find paid work. Even seemingly unrelated work can help your CV. Bar work might not be your vocation, but can still be a great arena to demonstrate your verbal reasoning and numerical skills, and on a Saturday night you’ll soon find out whether you can perform well under pressure. That said, before diving on the first bar job you find, it’s worth having a look to see if you can find any work that’s more relevant. Freelancing in particular is a good option, as it allows you to move the work around your studies. Increasingly you will find plenty of websites that actively recruit student freelancers, on account of how they are cheap, but also show a great deal of enthusiasm.
At the end of the day, doing anything is better than doing nothing. When it comes to applying for your first job, and answering that first set of interview questions, you’ll quickly find that your competitive edge depends as much on what you were doing outside of your studies as the degree itself.