Still not found a graduate scheme yet? Alternative ways of finding work after university

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Written by Sarah Warburton – Careers Educator/Advisor

Spring term has ended, you’re cramming last minute work into completing your dissertation and all the while it’s at the back of your mind “I still don’t have a job for when I graduate!” As a careers consultant working with a variety of students, I sometimes hear this at this time of year. If this describes you at the moment, then try not to panic at this stage. There are still a range of “out-of-the-box” ways for you to find your first step career move once you’ve taken off your graduation gown and your end-of-degree celebrations are over.

The grad scheme option

Each year, thousands of final year students apply for the more structured “graduate scheme” or “graduate development programme” across a wide range of employment sectors such as finance, banking, marketing, HR and many others. Whilst it’s great there are such a mix of roles, it doesn’t take much to work out that there simply are not enough grad schemes available for everyone! Through campus events, promotional campaigns and advertising through student/graduate recruitment websites, employers invest a lot of time and resources in attracting graduates. As a result, students often have a higher level of awareness of these employers and their graduate opportunities.

The alternative to a graduate scheme…a graduate job

With high levels of visibility on campus, it could be easy for you as a student to think that graduate schemes are the only choice for a career after university. However this is not the case… In 2013, in the UK there were a recorded 4.9 million businesses, of which 99% were small and medium size enterprises (SMEs). SMEs employ less than 250 people. Whilst these companies may not have the resources to implement a structured programme of employment for graduates, many do offer “graduate jobs” to university leavers. A “graduate job” is a defined role requiring the successful candidate to have obtained a degree.

“Isn’t a graduate scheme the better option for me?”

It very much depends on you as a person, your preferences, motivations, values, and what you are looking for in the early stages of your career. You may like the thought of working for a large company that can offer a more structured programme of work and development, where you are perhaps rotated around different departments. Alternatively you may find it more appealing to work for a smaller company that may offer visibility of work and projects across the business, potentially resulting in greater exposure to a variety of work early on, and with a good dose of responsibility. Whether a graduate scheme or a graduate job, both offer a mix of great chances for new graduates to prove themselves in the workplace, to develop key skills, and which can open up career opportunities later on.

“Where do I even start in finding alternative career options or jobs?”

There is no one website where you can find out about all the shiny job roles available with employers outside the typical graduate scheme structure. This doesn’t necessarily mean there are no jobs available (remember that 99% of businesses in the UK are SMEs, and they have to recruit employees so that they can run successfully!) It just means that you need to get creative when seeking opportunities. I’ve read articles which suggest that between 60-70% of job roles are not advertised. This “hidden jobs market” is something students and grads could really start trying to tap into when exploring career options and searching for a job. The following list provides suggested practical steps to help final year students and recent grads explore alternative options to graduate schemes, and to start thinking outside the box when it comes to career planning and job searching. These approaches involve getting out there, speaking to people, creating contacts and not just applying for job vacancies online.

1. Find companies you may never have heard of and research…

You may already be aware of a company but they don’t have a “careers” or “jobs” section on their website. Maybe you have little or no knowledge of companies in a certain sector, outside of the larger well known graduate employers. For example, organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce or Local Enterprise Partnerships may hold regional events, talks or networking opportunities where you could meet employees who work for companies that you may not have been aware of beforehand. Sign up, go along, talk to people and make a note of who you speak with.

2. Build your professional network…

You may think you don’t know many people in the workplace, but you probably have more connections to the professional world than you think. Consider course colleagues, other friends, family members and course lecturers. Many academics have previous experience working in industry prior to teaching (or may still do work but lecture part-time). Speaking with contacts can be really valuable as they may have worked, or know someone who works in a career area or company of interest. Become a student member of the professional body that may be linked to your degree specialism e.g. “Chartered Institute of….” or “Association of…”. Many professional bodies may organise guest lectures, or specific events aimed at students. The easiest way to find a relevant professional body is to find the one with which your degree is accredited.

3. Informational interviews

If you are keen to learn more about certain job roles, career areas, company cultures etc, try and meet/speak to a professional/employee of a particular company/career area. This may appear daunting, but through a more informal way, it gives you chance to ask questions about the work that they are involved in, what it’s like working for the company of interest, how they got into this career field, could they offer any valuable advice to someone looking to get into that field? By taking this approach, you should be prepared to talk about yourself e.g. skills/strengths, motivations, what you have learnt during your degree (subject knowledge as well as key transferable skills), and what interests you in terms of your next career step. This approach may or may not lead to an immediate job opportunity, but can be a good way to access the “hidden jobs market” and get you “out there” in front of employers and meeting other professionals.

4. Create a LinkedIn profile and build your network online

This can enable you to build a profile online and connect with other professionals e.g. course colleagues, previous/current work colleagues etc. You can follow companies of interest and update your knowledge of what is happening in various sectors, as well as join groups and forum conversations that include other people with similar professional interests. You can even search for vacancies that are posted on the website.

5. Search for graduate jobs via national job boards or recruitment agencies…

Job boards are where a range of employers advertise their job vacancies online. They may be more general, advertising jobs across different levels and employment areas. Job boards may advertise job roles internationally, nationally or regionally, and some may even specialise in advertising vacancies for specific employment sectors. Recruitment agencies work to match suitable job candidates to job roles. Acting as the “middle-man” they can potentially put you in touch with a variety of companies that may not be advertising their job roles elsewhere.

So there you have it, a whistle-stop tour of possible alternative ways of finding graduate opportunities. These do not necessarily offer a “quick fix”. They will require effort, persistence, following up, and sometimes moving out of your comfort zone. Whilst trying them alongside more traditional ways of graduate job hunting, you may just surprise yourself in what you may find out there.

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