Being an organisational freak, I had my post-graduation plans lined up sometime around Christmas. I plan to spend three months au pairing in Rome before moving to London and beginning a journalism diploma in January. My soon-to-graduate friends, the majority of whom are just finishing arts and humanities degrees, are also close to sealing the deal on their 2011-12 plans. Some are preparing for further education (art conversion years, MAs in 19th Century literature), some are doing the interview rounds (graduate scheme in recruitment consultancy, anyone?), some are sending off CVs in abundance and hoping for a positive response to plop into their inboxes in the near future. Those who had seemed reluctant to start the job hunt, citing too much pressing coursework, the overwhelming amount of choice, etc, are starting to get there.
Obviously, my friends and I are not alone in this situation. We will be graduating alongside close to half a million others (the 335,000 graduating with undergraduate degrees in 2010 looks set to rise this year, and that’s only in the UK), and the competition for graduate jobs is fierce.
These kinds of jobs, though, are unlikely to be for everyone. I’ve known for years that they wouldn’t be the way I’d be going after July 2011. Two years tied down to the sales and administration department at Aldi HQ? Eighteen months in Milton Keynes at the Argos Head Office, sourcing the best type of lawnmower? Graduate schemes don’t sound all that inspiring to me, despite the obvious perks and pay that would come with working for a huge company.
In October last year a graduate fair visited Lancaster, and I had the chance to discuss my future career plans with a BBC journalist. He told me that the best advice he could give would be to ignore the wonderful guidance of the careers office. Why? Because a university’s worth is measured on how many of its students are in graduate employment six months after trotting across the stage in their gowns, not by how fulfilled they are by the choice they’ve made.
(Oh! The places you’ll go! Bradford for the Morrisons graduate training scheme, heading up the frozen food marketing division? Dr Seuss will be turning in his grave).
Essentially, following the advice given by the careers office will cut you off from all those things that make graduation so exciting –not having a firm plan, the ability to travel anywhere in the world, the chance to discover what it really is that you are passionate about and want to spend your life pursuing.
So it’s a good job that there are countless other options.
1. Mailing lists. Free mailing lists can be a godsend for those creative types with no real plans and a flair for freelance. The best is offered by Arts Council England, which regularly fills my inbox with job adverts for everything from writers and artists to models and actresses, to marketing officers, to theatrical wardrobe supervisors.
Best for... artistic/ theatrical jobs.
2. Work experience. If you haven’t had any work experience whilst at university you’ve missed a good opportunity, but never fear. There is always time, and it is almost certain that a few persuasive letters will get you a placement somewhere. The low point is that it’s likely to be unpaid; the high point is that you’ll make contacts that could potentially lead into a job.
Best for... any company based job.
3. Interning. Bigger companies are likely to take on graduates for longer than a few days, and if you can find an internship you are on the way to securing a job with the company. All you have to do is impress.
Best for... magazine journalism.
4. Conversion course. It might be now, just as you are finishing your degree, that you realise your passion lies in a different area. Every year people graduate with history/ science/ psychology degrees and go on to become successful lawyers. Well, why not?
Best for... professional careers.
5. Volunteer... in England. There are thousands of charities in this country that are vying for talented graduates to come on board and support them, even if it’s only for a few hours a week. Aside from the personal satisfaction, what could look better on a CV than time out spent helping others?
Best for... charity sector jobs.
6. Volunteer... abroad. The amount of companies offering the chance to work abroad –in conservation, teaching, orphanage building, the list goes on– is massive. A few weeks or months out can offer a whole new perspective, as well as giving you the chance to see a completely different part of the world.
Best for... those with the travel bug.
7. TEFL. Teaching English as a Foreign Language is something that can be done with any degree, and can mean travel all over the world. TEFL qualifications are offered by an abundance of companies and can be a perfect stop-gap before you decide exactly what it is you want to do.
Best for... any native English speaker.
8. Roles within the SU. For a lot of students taking on a role within the Student’s Union can be a good way to hone skills before tackling the job market. There are huge numbers of perks –you can immerse yourself in debate and democracy, probably live rent free in halls, and keep the security of university for another year.
Best for... political careers.
9. Moving abroad. How many of us know friends who will be finishing years abroad this summer? My guess is a lot. Ask them to keep an eye open for bar jobs and rooms free close to where they live. Then move out for six months. Take the plunge. What have you got to lose?
Best for... the carefree.
10. Au pairing. The chance to experience a completely new place, with a salary and somewhere to live thrown in? The security of living with a family? The ease at which au pair placements can be organised means hundreds of graduates take up the opportunity every year.
Best for... those with experience of working with children.