Are you a first or second year university student? Your career actually starts now. The end of university can be daunting for a number of reasons; don’t let making a career choice be one of them. With a focus on study at university, it is easy for students to put thoughts of their career on hold, after all, it’s at least three years away, right? You know that you want to go into finance or consultancy anyway, so you will just apply for graduate schemes at the start of your last year and you’ll be sorted for when you graduate… If this sounds like your current strategy, then you need to read on!

It is worth considering that students are now increasingly researching career options by the end of their first year at university with more than four-fifths of recruiters holding events specifically for first year students, such as taster sessions, open days or introductory courses. School leaver schemes are also becoming more popular in the finance and consultancy sectors with many employers now targeting pupils at schools and sixth form colleges. While it’s great there are such a mix of roles, it doesn’t take much to work out that there simply are not enough of these opportunities available for everyone…competition is tough!

There are things you can do from your first year, to help get ahead in building a good foundation for your first career step after university. Read on to discover some useful insights and advice on how you can make the most of your early years at university.

1. Developing workplace skills beyond your degree is a necessity

In today’s job market, gaining a degree is only part of being employable. Employers want to hire graduates who have developed skills which demonstrate they can function in a professional manner. Being able to work collaboratively with others, practical problem solving, communication, negotiation and being adaptable are all important when working in finance and consulting. Gaining experience such as an internship or placement year can all improve workplace skills that employers value and add weight to your CV. In fact, according to a recent survey, a quarter of final year students had been offered a graduate job with the employer they had done work experience with*.

2. There are different types of work experience and it is all useful

Outside of a more formal placement or internship, many students think that their part-time casual job, volunteering work and extracurricular responsibilities are not important if they have no direct relation to their future employment sector of interest. However, employers want to see evidence of your development; this can come from these types of experiences and could provide valuable examples to employers of your achievements and professionalism.

Many of the larger graduate employers may offer insight events aimed at students during their early years at university. Insight events give students the chance to engage with employers, and to learn about a company and its business through presentations and interactive workshops. They usually take place on company premises, giving you a first-hand feel for the company’s culture and the kind of work environment you might enter into. Check the careers sections of company websites and the Inside Careers events calendar for event details.

3. Build your professional network

You may think you don’t know many people in the workplace, but you probably have more connections to the professional world than you think; consider course colleagues, friends, family members and course lecturers. Many academics have previous experience working in commercial organisations (or may still work in industry and lecture part-time). Speaking with contacts can be really valuable as they may have worked, or know someone who works, within finance or consultancy who could give you some pointers for the stage you’re at now.

Explore the professional bodies and institutions linked to the finance sectors and consultancy on the relevant sections of the Inside Careers website. Many professional bodies organise guest lectures, or even specific careers events. The majority also offer a number of qualifications, certified apprenticeships, traineeships and other opportunities to help you at every stage in your career.

4. Informational interviews

If you are keen to learn more about certain job roles, career areas, company cultures etc. try and speak to a professional of that particular company/ career area. This may appear daunting but it gives you the chance to ask questions about the work that they are involved in such as: what it’s like working for the company of interest, how they got into their particular career field, and if they could offer any valuable advice to someone looking to get into that field? When taking this approach, you should be prepared to talk about yourself e.g. skills/strengths, motivations, what you have learnt during your degree (subject knowledge as well as key transferable skills), and what interests you in terms of your next career step. Some university careers centres organise for industry professionals to come in and conduct mock interviews with students – keep an eye out for these valuable opportunities!

This approach may or may not lead to job opportunities, but it is a good way to ‘get out there’, meet employers and talk to other professionals.

5. Understand early on that graduate schemes are not the only career option after university

With high levels of visibility on campus, it could be easy for you as a student to think that graduate schemes are the only choice for a career after university. This is not the case.

In 2016, in the UK there were a recorded 5.5 million businesses, of which 99.9% were small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs)**. SMEs employ less than 250 people. Whilst these companies may not have the resources to implement a structured programme of employment for graduates, many do offer graduate jobs to university leavers – a graduate job is a
defined role requiring the successful candidate to have obtained a degree.

Smaller companies can offer some fantastic opportunities, so start exploring what’s out there early on during your time at university.

6. Find companies you may never have heard of and research, research, research!

You may already be aware of SMEs and be interested in a specific company but they don’t have a ‘careers’ or ‘jobs’ section on their website, or maybe you have little or no knowledge of companies in a certain sector, outside of the larger well known graduate employers. Go to our Employer Directory for a comprehensive list of recruiters and the opportunities they have to offer. Research the companies that interest you and if they do not have a dedicated careers section on their website, consider sending a speculative application and begin to create opportunities for yourself! Speak with your university careers service about how you can find and research a range of companies.

Start taking these less obvious steps early on during your time at university to build important knowledge when it comes to exploring and making the next best career step after university.

About the Author

  • About Sarah Warburton: Sarah works as a careers consultant at Aston University in Birmingham, supporting students and graduates to prepare for the world of work, and to make career steps that are right for them after graduation.

Sarah Warburton

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