Tag Archives: Year out

What if I don’t want a graduate scheme?

 

If you’re a penultimate or final year student, you may well feel that applying for a graduate scheme with a large recruiter is the only career option available to you.  This is because these organisations have very large budgets and can afford the kind of publicity that is probably appearing everywhere you look on campus.  It’s also possible that friends and flatmates are busy filling in the lengthy application forms required for these schemes, or that parents are advising you to apply as a ‘safe option’.

However, the truth is that only a minority of graduates secure these jobs. PwC reported receiving 30,000 applications for only 1,200 available positions and, while they seem like a secure option, you only have to look at the current problems with The Co-operative, for example, to realise that the graduates who started their training schemes with this group may now be reconsidering their position.  Realistically, your job is only ever as stable as the notice period you are obliged to be given before being handed your P45.

The most important aspect of career planning is choosing something that not only matches your skill set but that you will also enjoy.  So, if you think that a graduate scheme isn’t for you, here are a few alternatives to consider.

Working for an SME or start-up

A small to medium-size enterprise (SME) employs up to 250 employees, but you could be working with as few as two or three people in a small business, so it’s possible to make a significant contribution and feel that you are making an impact.  You could also gain responsibility much sooner than through a graduate scheme if you can prove the quality of your work.  Many graduates now run their own businesses and know first-hand the skills and talent that you could offer.  They won’t have the budgets to advertise any vacancies though, so you’ll need to get networking, search for opportunities via social media and approach businesses directly.  Make sure you’ve done your research into the company and be clear about how the skills and experience you have to offer match their requirements; remember that it’s about what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.

Taking a non-graduate job

There are sectors such as media where you simply won’t be able to find a graduate scheme.  You have to work your way up and make the most of work experience or internship opportunities to be able to make contacts and build your portfolio.  Taking a non-graduate job can be a useful way to get your foot in the door, but you need to network and build your reputation if you want to get ahead.  It is wise to have a Plan B if you take this route, in case your progress is limited.  If you opt for unpaid experience, make sure that the potential benefits outweigh the costs and that you are not being asked to undertake unreasonable duties.

Graduate internships and work experience

Recruiters have realised that graduates may not have committed to a career path by the time they leave university, so you will also find vacancies labelled ‘graduate internships’.  These structured programmes, often lasting six months to a year, are a great way to try out a role or sector and gain valuable experience before deciding what you would like to do more permanently.  You can also ask organisations that interest you about work experience opportunities even if they are not advertising specific vacancies; see our web pages on making speculative applications.  Have a look at the UoB Internship Scheme to see a range of current opportunities.

Postgraduate study or retraining

If you are considering this option, then be sure to check with potential employers if they need you to take a higher degree or postgraduate diploma in the first place and, if so, which particular courses they recommend.  Many students are surprised to find out, for example, that consulting firms don’t require a business Masters and that you can apply with a wide range of degree subjects.  If you don’t do your homework, further study can be a costly mistake as well as an extra year out of a very competitive labour market.  Don’t make assumptions about what might put you ahead of the game, given that many recruiters now see work experience as a greater enhancement to your CV than more qualifications.

Also, bear in mind that academic options are not the only ones available.  You can study more vocationally as a chef, costume maker or personal trainer, for example,  to move your career forward, and this could be more cost-effective and take up far less of your time.  Funding is challenging to find for further study, but Professional and Career Development Loans are worth a look, especially to cover shorter, more vocational courses.  We also have information on our web site to help you find potential sources of financial support.

Taking a year out

Many students ask us how employers view a year out after graduation.  Generally, employers tell us that they don’t mind at all, especially if you come back with new skills gained from work experience or travel and are now ready to settle down and focus on the job.  Better to get that urge to volunteer in Africa for six months out of your system now than to start work and realise that your next holiday won’t be longer than a fortnight.

Being self-employed or working as a freelancer

Finally, if you have a skill, product or service that you think you could sell, it’s always worth looking into being self-employed.  It’s not as hard to set up a business as you might think, but keeping things going could be a challenge unless you are very self-disciplined and are prepared to market yourself.  The University’s Research & Enterprise Development (RED) department can help students and graduates to set up their own businesses, provide working space and offer valuable advice on all the essentials such as developing a business plan and managing your accounts.  Get some work experience in a start-up (see above) to see if this way of working would suit you.  The Careers Service also has several books on self-employment in its library, including the very useful Brilliant Freelancer, if that option appeals.

And there you have it – a wide range of options other than graduate schemes to explore.  If you’re not sure about your next step, come in to Careers and speak to our staff about how to find the information and guidance you need.  Good luck!

Dr Tracy Johnson, Careers Adviser

(Image sourced from: http://suzanneevans.org/2014/01/the-choices-you-make)

Help – I’ve been forced to take a year out!

Help – I’ve been forced to take a year out!

It’s that time of year when many students receiving their degree results have to make a sudden change of plan.  We’re busy right now at the Careers Service seeing people who are rethinking what seemed like career certainties just a few months ago, either because they didn’t get the class of degree for which they’d hoped, or occasionally because they achieved a much higher degree result than expected and they hadn’t applied for any jobs.

Whichever position you find yourself in, it can be a daunting prospect to be graduating into months of completely unstructured time, but this doesn’t have to be a disaster.  Employers are very interested in how people cope with setbacks, as well as how they demonstrate resilience and move on, so the focus should be on treating the unexpected time out as one big potential learning experience.  It could even leave you with a stronger CV than the one with which you start your unplanned year out!

Try to maintain a sense of purpose

What employers will be looking for when you do start applying for graduate jobs is a sense of purpose: that you were able to set goals for yourself, plan ahead and structure your time.  It can be incredibly difficult to motivate yourself when you have empty days looming ahead of you after the bustle of university life, but it’s important to have targets both in the long term – the job you want – and in the short term.  What will you be doing each day to keep moving forward?  How will you organise your days?  It’s crucial to have something to aim towards so that you can maintain your motivation.  Staff at the Careers Service are happy to talk through your ideas and help you to plan ahead, and we are open throughout the summer if you would like to come in for a chat.

Get some work experience

A great use of a year out is to find work experience and sample some different jobs and organisational cultures, as this could help you to make much more informed career choices further down the line.  More work experience can also help to mitigate against the effect of a 2:2, as it can flesh out your CV and show that you are completely capable of doing the kind of work you want to do.  The media has done a great job of convincing people that there are no jobs out there, but we know from talking to employers that this isn’t true.  You will, however, need to be persistent to get your foot in the door.  You can start by looking at the vacancies advertised on the Careers Service web site, and there are several national newspapers that have excellent online job databases, such as the Guardian.

You will also need to make speculative approaches in person, by phone & email and in writing to employers that interest you.  To do this effectively, make sure that you have done your research before you make contact.  Read the company’s web site carefully and make sure that you are clear about the kind of person, skills and experience that they are looking for, as well as reading related publications and web sites to fill in the bigger picture of what is going on in the sector that interests you.  There is information on the Careers web site about how to make a good speculative application.

Finally, try to make use of any contacts that you have to find out about any work experience opportunities.  Talk to family and friends about who they know or get back in touch with any previous employers who could be useful to you.  You can also use the Careers Network of Bristol graduates who are all willing to answer questions about their work and career paths and, in some cases, may be able to offer work experience in their organisations.

Other options

Many students also consider volunteering opportunities, if finances permit, getting involved in a range of projects where you can develop and use skills that employers will value in your applications.  These can be local to your community or they could be an opportunity to travel abroad.  If you’ve always wanted to travel then this could be your ideal time to do it, as long as you can provide evidence of learning and development along the way by taking short-term work or getting involved in development projects.  However, don’t forget that applications for graduate schemes open in the autumn in the year prior to you starting work, and sometimes even earlier, so you will need access to a PC to submit yours on time.  You will also need to be available for interviews should your application be successful.  If you don’t get organised for this crucial period then you might be looking at even more unscheduled time out, so it will pay off to have a plan you can stick to.

Follow up and support

However you decide to use an unscheduled year out, do remember that you can continue to use the Careers Service for a further three years if you are a University of Bristol graduate.  We can provide advice, information and guidance in person, by telephone and also by email, so there is no need to panic if you are on the other side of the world and need someone to give you feedback on your CV!  Just remember to keep track of what you are learning from your experiences, and you should be a solid candidate for the jobs you start applying for in a few months’ time.  Good luck!

Dr Tracy Johnson, Careers Adviser