Job Guidance for Uncertain University Students
It can seem impossible to navigate through what career to pursue after completing your degree. For much of your time in secondary school and sixth form, you’re focused on the short-term, trying to decide what to study at university.
But when it comes to what job you want after you finish your education, it can be even more overwhelming. As you come to learn more about the job industry and the types of roles and further training available to you, you may just realise that, in fact, there are unlimited options for you to choose from as a graduate.
It’s never easy to answer this question on what career you want to undergo. For students that don’t have a definitive answer, you need to start by knowing that’s okay. You don’t need to know 100% of what you should pursue as a career. In fact, there are many students and even adults that have finished their education, tried a career, realised that working in that field was not right for them, and decided on changing their careers completely - and that is okay. It is never too late to change your career.
If you are getting ready for your final few terms at university, thinking “I don’t know what job I want to do,” then fear not - you’re in the right place. To help you get an idea on how to find a career that interests you, here are our tips and advice on what you can do to gain clarity on your future.
What if I Don’t Know What Job I Want?
Struggling to know where to start job hunting as a university student? Below, you’ll find our top pieces of advice to help you find a graduate job that’s right for you.
1. Visit your university’s career centre
Universities offer plenty of helpful resources that can open your eyes to all the opportunities available to you, including career prospects and information about further training/specialisms. Usually, this is available through their dedicated careers centre, which you’ll have access to during your time as a student.
From the moment you arrive on the doorstep of your first year to the day to even a few years after you’ve graduated, your university can make the process of deciding on your future career easier for you. But you have to have the confidence to approach them. It can feel overwhelming asking for help, and as though you are the only person that isn’t sure about their future. But this is not the case, and chances are, many students are in the same position as you.
If you are looking for advice from your university career service, universities usually have a section on their website detailing how you can get in touch with them. Some universities give you options to have 1-2-1 appointments for students in whatever stage they are at in their higher education. This can range from CV coaching, interview/assessment centre preparation, PhD career guidance or even business coaching.
A great way that your university career centre can start helping you decide on your career is that they can map out your passions and interests and understand what you excel in if there is a particular module that you thrive in. If you have been at your university for more than a year, they can look at your overall performance and work out your strengths and weaknesses.
Once the career adviser maps out your strengths and weaknesses, they can advise on how you can build on your experience to make your application stand out when you do start applying to jobs. An example of what a university careers adviser may recommend is for you to take part in clubs and societies as this will help build on your social skills and even organisational skills - all of which you can mention on your CV.
Another way your university resources can benefit you is by putting you in contact with key contacts within their network who can offer you advice, share their story, and help you start crafting your own network for future prospects. Networking is an extremely beneficial skill to have for students, and you should start building connections as early on in your career as possible.
Approaching your university career advisors can open your eyes to many opportunities and alumni that you may not have had the chance to speak to without attending your university. Having a direct link to the alumni and professional network, your university can connect you with someone who may be within a field of your interest. This can give you the opportunity to get to know more about the career they’ve gone on to have since graduating; what jobs they have had and are currently doing; the day-to-day responsibilities; and they could even give you advice on how you can make sure you are best prepared for the role when you come to apply for a similar job.
In contrast, if you are someone who is thinking more about starting your own business and becoming an entrepreneur, universities can also provide you with an opportunity to learn more about the different aspects and how to think like an entrepreneur. Many universities offer student enterprise programmes which can give you a head-start on building your business however, you will need to reach out to your university to find out about any specific programmes they can offer you.
2. Spend some time doing some self-reflection
When you don’t know what career you want, one of the best places to start is to take some time to think about your interests, strengths and skills. That is, taking some time for some self-reflection.
Spend some time writing down all the things that you’re good at; what your strengths are and the areas that you tend to excel in. You can approach this manually by writing lists, or, if you are someone that wants to be creative, you can create a document on your tablet, laptop or whatever you want to use and create something that aligns with you. Make it as creative and visually appealing so that you can have fun doing it, don’t make it feel like a chore. Reflecting should be a process to discover who you are, what you like doing and knowing what you could be good at.
As well as understanding your strengths, it is also important to not forget about you as a person. What do you like doing? What are your interests? You can write down pretty much anything that you take up as a hobby or something you enjoy doing in your free time such as writing blogs or volunteering your time at a charity close to you.
Knowing what your interests are is really important in helping you narrow down your future career. It’s great to be mentally motivated to get out into the real world, working, earning your first salary, but in the long term would you just be happy with this? There are a lot of sayings about finding a passion which you can fully delve into rather than being money focused. Sometimes money doesn’t always equal a happy career. By narrowing down your interests, you can find a career sector that doesn’t just help you earn a living, but one that really does best suit you. For example, if you enjoy volunteering your time at sporting charity events, you could look into companies that host charity events and see whether they may have any vacancies within their management or event teams.
With the career world evolving faster than it ever has before, it is more than likely that if you have an interest in a particular aspect in your life, then there is probably a job out there that focuses around that, or that soon could be. Take social media as an example, no one would have thought that influencing would become a full-time career - vlogging your day-to-day life or reviewing products and posting it on social media has become a common career for some.
So how do you get started with mapping out your strengths?
If you just want to gain an idea of what sort of work environment you would thrive in, then there are many personality tests out there that can help determine what personality type you have. The 16Personalities test has been a popular site that many students use to find out about their personalities. More to their site, they also can access your job preferences, career values, leadership style and more - so take some time to take these tests as a way to get your head around how to get started.
3. Research your careers
If you did decide to complete one of the tests from 16Personalities or any other provider, take note of your results. This way, you can use the information you’ve gained about yourself to research careers that align with your personality. Combine your results with the knowledge and skills you’re gaining from your degree and you can now start to think about how you can relate these to a potential career.
Think about what course you are currently pursuing and what other graduates may have been doing since graduating; is this something you would also be interested in? Maybe go back to the very beginning when you applied to your university for your specific course. Think back to the reason why you applied - did you have a specific career path that you wanted to pursue? Was this degree going to help you get to a point where you could start thinking about a specific career?
If that doesn’t help or maybe you cannot remember why you decided on applying to that course, we would recommend that if you still have access to your personal statement, have a read through it. Your personal statement is a document that you most likely had to write as part of your application to university, explaining why you specifically wanted to study that course. Reading this can jog your memory of what your intentions were before you started your degree; however, we are aware that your perspective towards a particular career can change over the years you are studying, and maybe you’ve found a passion somewhere else - that is completely okay.
These are only a few suggestions for you to start to get you thinking about the future and what you like to do. Once you’ve got a few ideas, then you can go away and research specific industries and job roles that you may be interested in. Keep in mind that just because you, for example, studied Law does not mean you are confined to finding a traditional career in Law. University is the perfect place for you to discover things, network with a whole range of people whether they are studying the same course as you or people that are studying something completely different - what they’re studying could be something you may have never thought about.
If you are still struggling to think of career options, consider hopping on the internet, conducting some research, and creating a career list of everything that’s available to you (within reason) with the skills and training you’ve had. There are so many jobs available on the modern job market, and you’ll be surprised to find jobs that you may not have even thought about. Many websites can direct you to many different career opportunities; however, these are the websites that we would recommend as we believe they provide you with a range of careers as well as detailed descriptions of what they are, and how you could potentially pursue a career in that particular field.
The first site that we would recommend is the UCAS career explore list - this site is great as it categorises different sectors into possible careers for you to explore. Once you click onto the category you want to explore, it will give you details of possible jobs and their average salary, the skills needed as well as the daily responsibilities of the role. What also makes this site quite helpful is you can take a quiz that analyses your personality and will then recommend a sector that matches your answers.
The other site we would recommend is Prospects. This site is similar to the UCAS site we have just covered, but the main difference is this site can offer you both job advice as well as course advice and how to tailor your learning towards a career path. They also offer you the chance to look at live vacancies after browsing what career path you may be interested in, so you can see some real-life job adverts and be prepared for future applications. Take a note of everything that you have researched. Hopefully, this can help start your journey.
4. Try work experience (a placement year) or volunteering
Something we would recommend to students (if you have the opportunity) during your degree is to take up a placement year. Some degrees offer you the opportunity to take a year out of your academic studies to complete some work experience and gain perspective on your future career.
Having the opportunity to participate in a placement year or other forms of work experience is a great way to put yourself in a real working environment and try something completely new. As we mentioned early in this article, you do not need to find something related to your degree, you just need to find something that you find interesting and want to learn more about as a potential career.
During your search to find a placement, you may have moments you feel like giving up; it won’t be easy to secure a placement as it is highly competitive but nevertheless we will always recommend you to try, as during your placement you will gain valuable experiences that can not be replicated by anything else. It can become a real eye-opener to what you could be doing in the future, confirming your interests and possibly, dislikes too.
This is your chance to try something new without the commitment; an opportunity you may never have again in your working life. Even if after trying something you decide not to follow that career path, you would have been able to gain both soft and hard skills which are all transferable to the next job you decide on. It’s an invaluable experience.
To help you get started on your search or to help you start thinking about this opportunity we would recommend you to visit your university career advisor to understand their network of companies they may have partnerships with as well as provide you with more information about what a placement year is.
Even if a placement year isn’t a possibility within your degree, you can always try gaining some work experience during your free time. Universities tend to have long summer breaks; the perfect time to spend a few months working on an internship, volunteering your services, or shadowing professionals. Again, your university’s career centre will be the perfect place to start looking for internship or summer work opportunities, so you can start applying ahead of time.
5. Explore your options with a summer school
The last piece of advice we have to offer is; why not try a summer school? There are many advantages in deciding to attend a summer school, but for students unsure about their career prospects or further training opportunities, joining a summer school can bring career benefits.
If you are someone that wants to gain a better understanding of a different subject you may not have studied at university or are worried about committing to as a Masters degree subject for the year or so, then a summer course can help make that clear for you. You can spend 2 weeks exploring a particular subject that you are interested in, learning from a top academic. After that, if you are still unsure and want to venture onto a different subject, you could choose to study another subject for another 2 weeks to help make your decision for your future career easier for you.
During your summer course, you’ll be supported by a dedicated team of on-course staff (many of whom are also students/recent graduates), as well as an expert tutor. These individuals are there to not only help you have a great time and learn lots, but also provide insight about being a student in their city and country, and find out more about different opportunities available to people your age. Again, they’re great connections to have to learn more about what your future could look like.
When you attend a summer course you can also add this venture to your CV to help any future applications shine. You can start by listing some of the skills which you develop during your course, such as independent study skills (a good indicator of self-motivation), or critical thinking. Plus, when you choose to study at Oxford Summer Courses, once you complete your course you will receive a letter of recommendation from your tutor which can become a very valuable asset to your CV.
Having this letter of recommendation can provide you with an edge over your peers. With such high competition in the current employment market, it is important to find ways in which you can stand out from other applicants - something that can make your CV stand out from the crowd. Attending a summer school demonstrates your commitment to learning more, trying new things, and challenging yourself - big ticks for potential employers!
Gain clarity on your future with a summer course
If you are still unsure how to gain clarity on your career, why not get in contact with our admissions team to help find a summer course best suited to you.
You never know until you try something just how valuable it could be for your future potential. So, what are you waiting for?
Ready to apply for Oxford Summer Courses?
For a once in a lifetime experience, join us for summer 2023 where you can discover over 40 academic subjects taught by expert tutors. You’ll also meet other like-minded individuals from around the world and make friends for life! Apply today and choose from 3 stunning locations; Oxford, Cambridge and London.
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Choosing a career after graduation is overwhelming. Visit your university's career centre for guidance. Reflect on strengths and interests, research potential careers, gain work experience, and be open to change.