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How to prepare for the world of work whilst still at university

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The interview’s gone well so far. You turned up half an hour early and managed to avoid spilling your takeaway Costa down your shirt. You haven’t tripped over your words yet or started on a torrent of nonsensical nervous rambling. You’ve done your research on the company and the interviewer’s clearly impressed.

“So, what else did you do outside of your degree?”

And then you’re stumped.

Three years at university might sound like a long time, but before you know it, you’ll be out in the real world scouring the increasingly competitive job market. Employers look for candidates who stand out from the rest, and for the majority of positions – particularly those in the media and creative industries – having a good degree simply isn’t enough.

As well as being a place to study and have some of the best years of your life, university is also the best place to prepare yourself for the world of work. There is such a huge range of opportunities available to students that will do just this, and it is important to make the most of them while you can.

Societies

It is no overstatement to say that there is a university society for absolutely everyone. Some of the more unusual societies include the University of Cambridge’s Tiddlywinks Society (seriously) and the University of Exeter's Hide and Seek Society (anyone for a game?).

Joining a society – no matter how weird – is a great way of making yourself more attractive to employers, as well as another way of meeting like-minded students. It demonstrates a different side to your personality, and shows that you can manage your time effectively. And, who knows, if the society is particularly bizarre, the interviewer might even remember you for just that reason, and that’s never a bad thing.

If you want to make joining a society even more worthwhile, why not run for a committee position? Being on a committee is an excellent way to improve your team, leadership and organisation skills, and specific positions can also provide you with skills directly related to your future career. The position of treasurer, for example, is a good one to go for if you’re thinking of going into finance.

Charity and volunteer work

There are lots of opportunities to do charity and volunteer work at university. RAG (Raising and Giving) societies are extremely rewarding to get involved in, and have loads of events throughout the year.

You could also consider becoming a peer mentor for a younger student, or joining your university’s Nightline, which offers listening support to students. No matter what sector you want to work in, volunteer work is greatly valued by employers, as it requires commitment, dedication and a willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty – all valuable skills in the world of work.

Student media

Most universities have a number of publications you can write for, as well as their own TV and radio stations. If you want to get into any form of journalism or media, getting involved with the university media outlets almost goes without saying. This is the best way possible to improve your journalistic skills and build your portfolio. You’ll also start making connections with people already in the industry, and these contacts may help you to get work experience or even a job interview in the future.

Even if you don’t want to work in the media sector, writing for student publications can provide you with transferable skills for a variety of different careers. Content writing – whether this is blogging or even sending emails to clients – is an important part of most jobs, and you will be in a much better position to do this if you have previously written for a student publication.

Getting involved in student radio or TV is also a fantastic way to improve your confidence and verbal communication skills, which are highly valued in client-facing professions.

Extra lectures

As a student, it is your right to attend any lecture of your choice for no extra fee. Not only does this mean that you can go back to the same lectures from previous years for revision purposes, but also that you can learn about any other subject your university provides for free.

If your course doesn’t have many contact hours, this is worth considering. A History lecture, for example, could be very useful for a piece of English Literature coursework that requires a lot of historical context. If you’re writing an article on a specialist topic for your student newspaper or magazine - for instance, mental illness - attending a psychology lecture may provide you with helpful information.

In a job interview, you may be asked about your interests in other areas besides your degree subject. Attending lectures from other subjects is a great way to discover what else you are interested in, and will also demonstrate to employers that you’re keen to learn and take on extra information – valued qualities in the eyes of an employer.

Talk to lecturers

Believe it or not, lecturers do actually enjoy talking to their students. It is always a good idea to go and discuss your assignments with the relevant lecturer or tutor both before and after submitting the piece, but it's an even better idea to talk with your lecturers throughout the semester.

Building a relationship with your tutors not only means that they'll recognise you and therefore be more willing to help you with your academic work, but might also lead to work experience. All lecturers have different particular interests within their subject field, and many useful contacts too. If one of your lecturers specialises in something you're interested in, let them know - get as much information from them as you can, and ask them for advice on how to get related work experience.

Another reason to make yourself known to lecturers is for references, which you'll need when applying for jobs. If you've made the effort to come and speak to a lecturer regularly, they'll be much more willing to write a reference for you, and they'll be able to write more about you too.

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