‘So you’re telling me I have to get experience…before I get experience?’
No doubt this is something many students have experienced – if you can have experience of not having any experience? The point being, it feels like a losing battle when it comes to looking at life after university. The “joke” of a company looking for someone aged 22-26 but with 30 years experience is no longer a joke. But if you’re like me and coming to the end of your degree, it’s likely that you’re looking at graduate schemes as your next move, in spite of wailing optimism.
Yet as proven, it can be quite off-putting and difficult to ignore the fact that employment after university is becoming increasingly more competitive and difficult. Students are finding new ways to boost their CV , whether it be through joining societies, involvement in sports, networking at social events, or work placements. Some students are fortunate in that their courses offer a year in the industry in which you’re able to gain a level of experience as well as have the opportunity of work after you finish your degree. Others, like me studying history, are not guaranteed any level of experience whilst studying as part of our degree and are aware that it takes a significant level of initiative and motivation to get into any type of graduate scheme or work experience.
The good news is, when combined together, the top 100 list of graduate vacancies – ranging from working for a large investment banking company like Goldman Sachs , to Aldi the much loved and ever popular supermarket (who offer £42,000.00!) – has risen by 9.6% to just over 27,000. However, that does not mean they are not competitive and a good level of organisation and preparation is vital if you’re going to stand yourself in good stead when applying.
The first step is research whoever you’re applying to, whether it be for a six month internship or a full time paid graduate scheme. This may seem like a petty point to make and one that is fairly obvious, but I was informed at a recent talk given by the Civil Service recruitment department, that they can instantly notice applicants who have little knowledge as to what they’re applying for and have sent in a generic application. They receive thousands of applicants year on year and they are able to halve the number of applicants simply by noticing those who have not conducted any research in the position. It may be simple but it is the first thing employers will look for. Spend some time researching the company ethos, their background, and most essentially, what they actually do. This will enable you to indicate to the recruitment department through your application, that you already have an understanding as to who you could well be working for.
This leads onto the next point of tailoring your CV and cover notes to the specific job. Don’t send out a generic application to dozens of employers without adapting them. A friend of mine applied to plenty of graduate schemes and placements during his final year, but it was only a few weeks later when he noticed he had been applying to investment banking grad schemes in Hong Kong, not London. He wanted to get as many applications out as quickly as possible, and he didn’t properly check. When going through your application, try and add in relevant experience that is specific to the position you’re applying for. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t but it will certainly be a beneficial factor.
By ensuring you’re specific to each application, you will also understand that grad schemes differ in their structure. Some are rotational where you move around the company gaining experience in all departments, whereas others are a fixed position. Some grad schemes also require further qualifications such as in finance, and some will cover the cost of your training whilst others won’t. You’re also likely to come across various types of application processes. Whilst some will be simply filling in forms and applying online with your CV, other more competitive schemes require a whole host of testing beforehand. For instance, the Civil Service application process will take you through Self Assessed Reasoning Testing which includes verbal and numerical testing. Others will include psychometric and situational testing which will likely take place at assessment centres. They sound daunting, but pretty much all employers who require this will offer practice tests on their website and there are masses of books, articles, and online resources to enable you to practice and get a feel for what they involve.
It must be remembered that grad schemes are not your only option after university. Internships, whether paid or unpaid are a good alternative and can often suit students who have been unable to gain experience or understanding at university as to what they want to do afterwards. It is a daunting prospect having to plan life and work after university. It can also be incredibly off-putting when it is frequently said that you need to have gone to a Russell Group university to have any hope of getting into top graduate schemes and internships. This is not entirely true; whilst it is true that certain employers do prefer specific institutions, it is also just as much about creating contacts and ties with people and organisations that will help you with your future prospects. Don’t be put off by such remarks or any fears you may have if a grad scheme is not for you.
There is a vast amount of information out there to help you, whether it be finding work after university, or finding experience whilst studying. A great place to start will be at your university and their careers services. They won’t be able to tell you what it is you want to do, but they will be great at pointing you in the right direction and prepping you for applications and interviews.