Getting relevant career experience whilst at uni

By Ali
Category: Career | Date: Fri 17 Oct, 2008

It’s easy to get caught up in enjoying – or surviving – student life while you’re at uni, without giving much thought to the future. But your three or four years at university are a brilliant opportunity to get experience that can land you a job when you graduate.

Whatever stage of your studies you’re at, it’s not too late (or too early!) to start doing some stuff that’ll not only look good on your CV, it might help you decide what you want to do with the rest of your life.

Here are five ideas for getting relevant career experience now:

Think about what you want to do post-uni

If you really don’t have a clue about what you want to do after you’ve finished university, give yourself some time to think about this. That doesn’t just mean sitting down and daydreaming – you want to do some solid research on yourself. Talk to your careers service, and see if they have any quizzes or tests that help you to pinpoint areas you might want to work in. You could also try the online Prospects planner (requires registration).

During your remaining time in higher education you might want to think about enhancing your employability through voluntary work or other work experience opportunities.

Getting involved with student newspapers, radio stations, sports classes or taster courses might also help provide the kind of experience employers are looking for.
Life and work after graduation – from DirectGov.

University is a great time to just try stuff out. Don’t limit your thinking: maybe you wanted to be a teacher when you were eleven, but your dreams might have changed now. Get involved with lots of different activities, and see what you enjoy.

Write for university newspapers, newsletters or magazines

Even if you’ve not got any aspirations towards a career in journalism or publishing, writing for student publications is great experience. Having a portfolio of published clippings will look impressive to any employer, and helps to build up your profile in your field.

Report events from your campus, comment on current events, submit a feature article, write entertainments reviews or find out other ways you can get your work published… write to our editorial team.
The National Student (British-wide student paper)
There is nothing quite as exhilarating as watching someone walk into a lamppost because they are reading your front-page story in the student paper. A cheap thrill, perhaps, but it’s moments like this – and winning The NUS/Independent’s student reporter of the year award – that make up for all those late nights locked in the office until the news pages look just right.
Student Journalism Awards: All you need is a hunch – article in The Independent

Don’t forget about academic journals – if you’re planning on further study, getting a paper published in one of these will look great on your funding applications. If you’ve had a high grade on an assignment, try submitting it to a journal.

Choose an appropriate journal. This may sound obvious, but a good number of beginning scholars send their material to journals completely inappropriate for their paper. Make sure you choose a journal that publishes similar material to what you have written.
How to Submit to an Academic Journal – on eHow.

Take extra (often FREE!) courses

Most universities offer beginner and intermediate level language courses to non-language students. It’s well worth investing some time in these; many employers graduates who are able to speak a second language.

The Language Centre offers courses in Mandarin, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish within the Cambridge University Language Programme. The courses focus on speaking, listening and reading skills, and are open to all students and staff of the University.
Cambridge University Language Centre

Free IT courses are also common, and often take up no more than a couple of days or afternoons. Whether you’re interested in getting a start in web design or programming, or whether you want to brush up your Microsoft Office skills (another frequent employer request), check out what your university’s IT department offers. Attending similar courses in “real life” post-uni can run to hundreds of pounds, so it’s well worth getting the expert tuition while it’s free!

The Computing Service offers a range of training courses covering access to the Internet, the World Wide Web, electronic mail (email), and use of the main computer systems, wordprocessors, spreadsheets, databases and statistical packages. … Computing Service courses are free for current staff and students of the University, and also for college staff.
Cambridge University Computing Services

Find an internship, or do some work shadowing

In a recent KPMG report, 56% of employers said work experience was the most important quality a candidate could possess; only 9% voted for a relevant degree.
Follow your leader – article in The Guardian.

Whatever career you’re interested in, doing an internship will look impressive on your application. Some fields pretty much require prior experience – publishing, for instance, or teaching.

The challenges of starting a career in publishing can be daunting, but perseverance often leads to a very rewarding career. Our research shows that undertaking work experience placements while you are waiting for a permanent publishing role is good way to gain helpful experience and understanding of the industry.
Blackwell Publishing

If you can’t get a whole internship, try phoning or emailing round some companies asking about work shadowing. Even spending just a day or two in the office of a firm in your chosen industry will teach you a huge amount – reading about “a day in the life” of an employee just isn’t the same.

Sometimes, you might decide after your internship or work shadowing that the career really isn’t for you. No problem – you can look into different options. It’s better to find out now, though, than when you’ve landed that graduate position and realise you hate it…

Join societies – or start your own

Getting involved with a society or club – especially if you’re the president, secretary or treasurer – helps build up crucial employer-friendly skills like organisation, negotiation, running things, and teamwork. And joining a society related to your subject or your career ideas will point you towards useful leads and contacts. For instance, if you want to start your own business, see if there are any societies aimed at helping students who want to be self-employed.

If you can’t find a society that fits your interests, why not start your own? You’ll probably need a bunch of students who’re willing to join, along with a constitution. Your students’ union website will have information on how to start a society. Don’t be put off by it seeming quite formal or by any “legalese” – there’ll almost certainly be a contact listed on the website who can help you through the process.

Over to you

Further reading:

Are you taking on activities that you hope will boost your career prospects? Do you have a great way of getting relevant (and fun) experience whilst at university? Let us know in the comments…


3 comments:

  1. Your last point is important not only for future employers to see, but is also a great way to increase your self-leadership skills. I’ve never been much of a leader, but I’m starting a vegetarian club on campus and became vice president of the green party this year. It’s really helped me become more confident and able to lead.

  2. That’s a really good point, I also found uni was a great chance to build up confidence in organising and leading groups.

    Good luck with the vegetarian club — Goldsmiths (where I am) has one which holds regular cooking sessions to give people recipe ideas. And being vice president of the Green party on campus sounds fantastic — especially if you’re considering going into politics (even as a part-time thing) post-uni.

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