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Top ways to boost your job prospects while you’re at university

Whether you're off to university or college it’s time to start looking to the future. The AGR explains how to boost your job prospects while you're studying...

Start thinking early on about what employers will be looking for. As the representative voice of more than 800 graduate recruiters, we asked the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) to offer some easy ways to prepare yourself for the working world…

Choose the right place to study

If you’re still deciding which course or university to choose, it’s worth thinking about (or asking about during an open day):
  • The reputation of the course and university – how is it viewed by employers?
  • Developing skills that make you more employable – does the course offer a real focus on this alongside your academic studies?
  • How the university or college can help you find quality work experience – what links to local employers does it have?
You can compare courses and universities using the search tools here on Which? University.


Set yourself regular careers objectives

Your university careers guidance service is one of your most valuable resources, so visit it early and as often as possible. You don’t need to know what you want to do beforehand – that’s the whole point of going!  Set yourself these goals:
  • Year one: Explore potential industries and roles of interest to produce a longlist of possibilities and start developing skills through some work experience (maybe a part-time job) and extra-curricular activities such as sport, joining societies or other hobbies.
  • Year two: Cut your longlist down into a shorter list of job sectors you’re interested in. Try and undertake some work experience that will specifically help you develop skills useful to these sectors – check for summer internships, or volunteer to become a student ambassador. If you haven’t done so already, get help from the careers service to update your CV.
  • Year three: It’s time to get applying  early  to graduate employment programmes. Subscribe to graduate job alerts, register with relevant recruitment agencies and get back in touch with anywhere you’ve previously done work experience – are there any graduate positions available?


Build up your contacts

  • List the people you know – friends, family etc. What do they do for a living? Could they help you get a voluntary or paid job?
  • Think creatively about past and present contacts - the people you’ve met in your part-time jobs or volunteering, neighbours, professionals within the community. Is it time to get back in touch with them?
  • Create a LinkedIn profile and update regularly with relevant skills and experiences (these could be from jobs, study or activities you are involved with outside these).


Make the most of work experience and volunteering

  • Find out whether your university has a job shop or schemes for work experience / volunteer work
  • Target sectors you are interested in working in – see if there’s a structured internship or work placement programme, or try contacting organisations directly
  • Make the most of opportunities as they arise – be that voluntary, project work or freelance jobs – and try working in different sizes and sectors of company to work out what suits you best
  • Collect evidence of your main achievements and continually log your learning. Keep any letters of commendation or positive feedback.


Learn to sell yourself

Marketing yourself rarely comes naturally. Self-promotion is ultimately down to building confidence, so use every opportunity to try and do this.

Remember, most people at university aren’t as confident and self-assured as they might seem. If you’re shy, it can be hard to speak to lots of people, but you could well need these skills in the future. Starting now means you’ll be a lot more confident in later work situations. How about trying:
  • Joining a club or society where you present your ideas, or lead a group
  • Tackling various audiences  organise a student quiz and present to academics as a course representative
  • Arranging a mock interview with a careers adviser
  • Stepping beyond your comfort zone – try something you wouldn’t normally do, from a new activity to talking to new people.
  • Listing out your best points, with specific examples of where you’ve put these to good use, or learned something new – it all makes for good job application and interview material.


Boost your career prospects

To make the most of your university or college experience you need to answer ‘yes’ truthfully to all the following questions:
  • Are you aware of the changing world of work  and prepared for it?
  • Are you aware of your strengths, weaknesses, values, experience and career aims?
  • Do you have enough work experience in the right areas?
  • Have you made the most of activities such as clubs and societies?
  • Are you making the most of my university careers service?
  • Do your have clear objectives for making the most of your university experience? Are these broken down into small, manageable steps?

Good luck!

Which? University provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting organisations in all aspects of graduate recruitment.

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