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Job hunting? How to gain a headstart before you graduate

27th May 2014
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As exam season winds down and thoughts turn to working life after university, Chris Smith, CEO at, advises on how to give yourself a head start before you graduate.

Prepare for take-off

Student life is notorious. Notice I didn’t say notoriously difficult - or notoriously easy.

Undergraduates have a reputation for being the great unwashed; lounging around for three years, drinking beer, eating junk food and skipping more than the occasional lecture...

Yes it’s a stereotype, but the thing about a stereotype is that there has to be an element of truth for it to exist in the first place.

There’s a tendency among graduates to think that the piece of paper they hold in their hands once they leave university will catapult them into the higher echelons of industry. “Who can turn down this scraped 2:1 degree?” runs the conventional wisdom.

In an increasingly aggressive graduate market, this assumption couldn’t be more misguided. Preparing yourself for the job of your dreams doesn’t start the moment you don the gown and pose for that awkward photo; it should start months – perhaps years – before that.

With fierce competition out there, it’s imperative that undergraduates arm themselves with all the weapons they need to make themselves stand out from the crowd. Why should an employer pick you once you graduate? Well, here’s why…

Every Second Counts
Many degree courses, especially the vocational ones, have a conveyor belt of guest lecturers; professionals who run businesses or manage departments. Make a good impression with one of these captains of industry and it could be your first step on the career ladder, so press them for a placement.

If your degree is more academic, you could be attending lectures for less than a quarter of a 40 hour week. Study time is important, but are you really going to spend 30 hours a week revising? Again, by sourcing a work placement, even if it’s unpaid, you will be earning the chance to impress those who can make a real difference to your future career. Of my contemporaries, those that have been most successful are the ones that had managed to network themselves into jobs before graduation.

Let’s also take into account the holiday time a student has. The summer holiday lasts from the end of May until the beginning of October. How is this time being filled?

Whilst you have the weight of a university or college behind you, you have a professional credibility. Simply by having student status, you have an implied desire to reach the top. If your university has a good reputation, then you can ride that wave with employers. OK, you won’t necessarily be earning megabucks,and you might not be fulfilling the exact role you’d envisaged stepping into after graduating, but this is a temporary arrangement.

Think about when you’re able to do work experience or take on an internship. Perhaps this can be done alongside your coursework, for example, or are holidays the only time you can fit extra-curricular work in? Don’t take any job just to show you’re willing to work; target the dates you need to work to enhance your CV and give careful consideration to the industry sector. Anyone can work for nothing doing the photocopying in an office, for example, but your time is more valuable if the business you’re working for is on your hit-list. Make every chance you get count.

Building bridges

Perhaps you are studying Hotel and Hospitality Management and have a place at a reputable university. Many hotels out there are renowned for having a high turnover of staff and are always on the lookout for employees. You are probably studying hard so that you don’t spend the rest of your life changing sheets or waiting tables, but these jobs always need doing and you will be an infinitely better manager if you can empathise with your staff by having fulfilled these positions. In addition, by showing willing, you will win respect from senior management and make valuable contacts within the hotel. Don’t forget, it’s about who you know not what you know, so working from the bottom up and experiencing as many parts of the business as possible gives you a distinct advantage.

Networking and keeping in touch with the movers and shakers in your industry is the best way to get your face and skills noticed. Nobody likes a hanger-on, but creating networks might just lead to that happy-ever-after job you crave. When networking or meeting influential people, adopt an appropriate manner. Wear the right clothes, adopt the correct body language, and do some research into the area you want to move into. As they say, knowledge is power and you never know when you might bump into the person who could offer you the next step on that journey to your dream job.

Vive le difference

We live in a digital world and there’s no escaping the importance of social media. Your digital footprint can either be a thing of beauty, crisply defined in white sands or a dirty splodge in a muddy puddle. Set up a profile with LinkedIn and other professional networking sites to give yourself a better chance of being noticed and having a good quality head and shoulders photo will make iteven more likely that your profile gets viewed. You may find that you connect with people who end up on your interview panel or who have the power to shortlist you for a position.

Facebook and Twitter can also reap great rewards if harnessed correctly. Do note, though, that those “hilarious” pics of you and your mates out on the lash might not go down well with prospective employers. Neither do the amusing, but slightly risqué pseudonyms that are all too common. Clean up your profile – it’s a given that companies check social media these days. Use the internet to promote yourself and your talents. Don’t let stupidity scupper your chances of success. Using videos and Skype can be daunting for some, but it gives you the opportunity to stand out from the crowd. We’d draw the line at drunken Facebook photos from Fresher’s Week, but if you’ve got an active Twitter account or interesting blog don’t be afraid to shout about it. And for the more adventurous, setting up your own website to showcase your talents could be a shrewd move.

In the race for employment there is no false start gun. Every summer a new tranche of graduates hit the job market. Imagine the competition.

Now imagine you’ve already got a job lined up.

No brainer, isn’t it?

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