You’ve probably heard lots about Employability. It has been a buzzword around universities for the last few years, used in the context of helping students to be both ready for work and desirable to graduate employers. There’s a huge range of ways in which your careers service can support your employability these days, and if it is anything like where I work, there will be dedicated workshops, focussed employability weeks, the chance to participate in an employability award and various other activities. In other words, it’s in your face and the opportunity is readily available for you to engage, should you wish to do so.
When I started out at UKC some 15 years ago, I was not very career-minded. As a placement professional, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that the Twitter dialogue which led to this article being written was the first meaningful exchange I’ve had with the University of Kent Careers team. I didn’t seek out their help when looking for part-time jobs or graduate roles. Back then I didn’t know that placements existed. I spent most of my days keeping the Rutherford bar staff employed rather than participate in the sort of opportunities attending university offers to students. If there was a stereotypical undergraduate who could have done with careers advice, I was that person.
So if I could rewind the clock to talk with the 18 year old me, what would I be saying?
Well firstly I’d be telling me to wise up. University is serious business and not to be taken lightly. With tuition fees now so much higher than they were in my day, there is little point in applying if you aren’t going to take your studies seriously. Even if your first year doesn’t count towards your final degree, discount it at your peril as it will count with graduate and placement employers. That 40 per cent pass mark achieved through minimal effort will not look good if you have aspirations for securing graduate jobs. Start as you mean to carry on, knuckle down and have some good grades to be moving on with.
Next, be strategic when picking your clubs and societies.
With all due respect to the UKC Rock Soc who I enjoyed both membership and committee involvement with in my time, in hindsight there are other things I could have done with my time that would have enhanced my CV and experiences beyond bar crawls and the occasional trip to rock clubs in London. Involvement with RAG, CSR and taking up the offer to play Offensive Lineman for the American Football team I would have both enjoyed and provided plenty of material for writing future applications. (Before I get an influx of messages from Kent metallers, I’d have still joined the Rock Soc!)
Without doubt if I knew then what I know now, a placement would have been high up on my agenda.
I make a living now out of promoting placements and work experience to my students, but it really isn’t a very difficult sell. Paid industry experience, increased graduate prospects, higher starting salary. Never mind the fact that most graduate employers will expect you to hold a certain amount of work experience. Placements are invaluable. I wish I had done one when I was a student and I can’t encourage UKC students enough to pursue internships or placements. If you haven’t already spoken to the Careers team, don’t delay in doing so!
Use social media to get ahead
While the class of 2013 undoubtedly face a more competitive graduate market than the one my peers and I had over a decade ago, one area that you do have in your favour compared to the old school is the emergence of social media. Through effective use of LinkedIn you have the opportunity to network with recruiters in a way that my class could only have dreamed of. Savvy students can engage in meaningful dialogue with companies through #PlacementChat or keep up to date with the placement schemes of individual organisations by following their Facebook page.
So in a nutshell, take advantage of the opportunities that university presents to you, speak regularly to the Careers team throughout your time at UKC and prioritise securing a placement. You will not regret it.
ThePlacementOfficer works in a UK University helping students to secure yearlong sandwich placements, co-hosts the fortnightly #PlacementChat with RateMyPlacement and writes about all things placements at www.theplacementofficer.co.uk