Why starting university is the first step towards your career


Well congratulations. You’ve passed your exams, secured a place at university and you’re off. Away from home, into three or four years of study, fun, self development and independence.

For many of you, the link between this stage of your life and your career is obvious. 

‘’I have always wanted to become a doctor. It’s just something I knew I had to do. So my A level choices and hard work has been in the knowledge of what I need to do for a place at medical school’’. Thankfully for Erika this hard work has paid off, and she is now embarking on her journey towards a career in medicine.

For others though, the link may be less direct. Ellen has secured a place to study history at Nottingham. ‘’I really don’t know what I want to do yet. I know that I love history and want to explore it further and learn more, but at the same time I know that it doesn’t lead into an obvious career. For now I just want to settle in, have fun and enjoy my subject. I expect to start thinking more about my career in around a years time when I want to look for summer internships’’.

Ellen’s view is a very common one, and many subjects do not lead naturally into a specific career. After all, university is also all about getting an amazing academic, social and extracurricular experience and should be enjoyed to the full without worrying about year 3 on day 1. 

But there are some compelling reasons why it’s best not to go for the ‘burying your head in the sand' approach to your career for too long. 

1. Careers fairs and milkround

Virtually as soon as you settle into University, there will be Careers Fairs and recruiters presenting at and sponsoring Freshers Fairs. These are vital opportunities to find out more about different careers and recruiting companies. And not just what’s on offer, but what they are looking for. By taking an early look around these Fairs you can start to narrow down your options and learn as much as you can about the skills and attributes you’ll need to demonstrate once you start applying. Leave this too late, you may not have time to do the preparation, research and planning that will put you in a great position.

Then into your second year, the milkround will start for apprenticeships and graduate jobs. If you think one of these milkround companies may be for you, Then’s the time to start applying and interviewing. Even if it turns out not to be the job for you, the interview experience may be invaluable to your future performance in an application process.

2. Early networking

As Career Coach Dave Cordle says, ‘’it’s never too early to start networking’’. If you’ve made contacts within certain industries nice and early, you’ll be ahead of the game. A lot of people think networking is all about selling. But actually, it’s about connects and relationships. And the more connections and relationships you make with graduate recruiters, the better.

This means, attending events. Joining career websites. Asking questions of recruiters. Making an impression (an awesome one!). And just like in business, by doing this you’ll be noticed, remembered, visible and approachable – exactly what you’ll want when it comes to finding your perfect career.

3. Internships 

Working an internship during your university course is now more important than ever. 

Do not underestimate the important of internships; not only the amazing development opportunities they offer, but the connections you’ll make (networking!). On a serious note, according to High Fliers Research almost half the recruiters who took part in the research repeated their warnings from previous years – that graduates who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer for their organisations’ graduate programmes.

This is a stark warning and shows how in some industries, the taking of an internship can simply make or break your career.

The good news is that the High Fliers research also showed that three-quarters of employers provide paid vacation internships for penultimate year students and at least half offer industrial placements for undergraduates (typically lasting 6-12 months as part of a university degree course). 

So there’s no need to worry about having to find yourself through one of these placements, you’ll gain valuable experience, contacts and earn money too.

4. Work experience 

In addition to, or in place of, a more formal internship, you may want to consider work experience. Work experience can be a valuable way to decide what you want to do, as often only by doing a job and being in that environment can you be sure. Just like internships, work experience can have the added advantage of enabling you to make contacts and gain valuable skills.

The High Fliers Research reported that more than 90% of the UK’s leading graduate employers offered paid work experience programmes for students and recent graduates during the 2015-2016 academic year – with an unprecedented 14,058 places available. And increasing numbers of employers now also have work experience places for first year undergraduates – with two-fifths of employers running introductory courses, open days and other taster experiences for first year students.

These are truly valuable opportunities to define your ambitions and learn about different roles and working environments, so make the most of them.

One graduate, Elizabeth, said ‘I did work experience in hospitals in one of my holidays to understand NHS management, a law firm in another holiday and an advertising agency in another. I discovered what I really loved was the creative buzz of the agency environment, so this is where I pursued my career’.

5. Developing your skills through extracurricular activities

If you have some idea of what you want to do in your life, it can help you pick the extracurricular activities and clubs that will equip you with relevant useful skills. Of course, many activities you may do will be personally fulfilling and demonstrate all sorts of skills, whether it’s leadership through captainship of a sports team, or creativity through music or drama. But if you’re set on an accountancy career you may want to put yourself forward as Treasurer of a society, or if media and writing is in your blood you may wish to write for a college newspaper or apply for a role in the university radio station.

Don’t forget that everything you do has value, will embellish and develop your skills and attributes as a person and therefore one day, an employee.

So have fun (lots of fun). Work hard. Take up opportunities. Keep an eye on the future. And you’ll soon be on the brink of success.