You've Graduated: What Next?

Josepeh O'Brien

Going to university is one of the most formative experiences of a person’s life. You make friendships that can last a lifetime, learn new things and develop independence. But it can still be incredibly daunting when you graduate. Where do you go from there, and what choices do you have?

Take a Gap Year

Taking a gap year can sound like a very attractive prospect if you’ve just graduated and have no idea where to go, or what you want to do. The most important thing if you do choose to have a gap year, is not to waste it. It might sound ideal doing nothing for a year after working so hard to get your degree, but when it comes to you being interviewed for a job, they might ask you about the gap between earning your degree and your interview. Unfortunately, answering “I took a gap year”, just won’t cut it.

So what should you do on your gap year? You have multiple options:

  • See the world. If you’ve always wanted to travel, and you have the funds, doing it now while you’re young could be your best opportunity. You’ll also develop many transferable skills that employers value, such as independence and the ability to budget (whether that’s time or money!) You can even combine your travels with an internship or some volunteering in another country.
  • Improve your language skills. Whether you do this on your travels, or prefer to stay in the UK, you can still take the time to learn a new language. You could do this independently or take classes, but with so many companies trading globally, having employees who can speak multiple languages is highly desirable.
  • Earn some work experience. Just because you don’t want to start your career straight away, doesn't mean that you can’t spend the time earning some valuable work experience. Consider entry-level jobs that allow you to develop a wide range of skills. Many are transferable no matter what industry you want to work in, and should you ever decide on a career change later down the line, they might be more valuable than you think. You could even use the time to volunteer with organisations or companies you care about.
  • Do an internship. An internship can last anything from a couple of weeks to a year. While some are paid, the vast majority of them are not, but the skills you can develop from them are priceless. Many big brands and companies with a global reputation offer internships, so they can be a great way to jazz up a sparse CV. There are opportunities in most sectors, and they’ll allow you to gain hands-on experience of what life’s like in a certain company, or doing a certain job role.

Taking a gap year can give you some much needed time to recharge your batteries after handing in that all important dissertation, and can let you live life on your own terms before you get stuck into your new career, but it’s important to have a plan in mind from the beginning to ensure it’s time well spent.

Further Study

So you loved uni so much, that you don’t want to leave? Why not enrol onto another course? Depending on what you want to do, there are many Masters programmes available, and these will help you further specialise in your chosen career.

In some sectors, such as law, teaching and psychology, you’ll need to undertake further study to become fully qualified, but even with other subjects, completing a Masters is still a viable option. However, unless you’re enrolling for the pure love of your subject, you’ll want to make sure that the skills and knowledge you’ll learn will help, rather than hinder your ability to get a job at the end of it.

Is a Graduate Scheme Right for You?

Graduate schemes are a great way to earn work experience with a company, as their entry requirements specify that you must have a degree. Businesses realise that graduates have a lot of skills to offer, as well as the determination and mindset to succeed and learn new information quickly. They typically last for a year but, unlike internships, are paid programmes.

Depending on the organisation, you might work in a specific area, or you may rotate throughout the duration of the scheme, allowing you to try out a variety of different roles and see what type of work suits you best. The benefit of graduate schemes is that if you hit your targets and prove your worth as a hard-working employee, you may be recruited full-time at the end of the programme. And if not? It’s valuable work experience that you can use on your CV and emphasise in job interviews to give you a better shot of impressing your potential employer.

Getting a Job

You might be looking to get a job immediately. Great stuff! But first, let’s debunk one myth that tends to plague some graduates:

“Was my degree worth it?”

You might at times wonder “have I wasted my time and money?”, especially when you jump into applying for jobs and employers are looking for a certain amount of experience. Here’s why you shouldn’t worry:

    • Finding a job is hard for everyone: That’s right. It’s not easy for anyone to find a job, especially in today’s climate, where in some areas, unemployment is at a high. But finding a job is even harder for those without a degree.
    • Everyone has to start somewhere: You might be thinking “but I don’t have enough experience!” While you’ve been spending the last three years earning your degree, there will be a dozen more school leavers going into the world straight away and getting their first job. So when you leave, you might worry you’re a bit behind. Consider this: those same people managed to get a job with fewer qualifications and likely little, or no work experience. You have the added benefit of a host of skills, including communication, research, teamwork and self-management, plus a qualification, to offer employers.

Getting Your Foot in the Door

Never underestimate where an entry-level job could take you. If you would prefer working with a smaller company, it’s likely that what seems like an entry-level role, doing basic administration or reception duties, could actually evolve quickly into taking on a lot more responsibility.

Even in larger companies, where there’s a much more rigid promotion ladder, if you work hard, you could end up with multiple opportunities to progress. We’ve all heard that story about Simon Cowell, who started out as a runner at Elstree Studios, before going on to become one of the world’s most successful music producers. Still not enough to convince you? Check out these titans who worked their way up through the ranks from entry-level positions all the way to CEO of some of the biggest firms in the world.

Taking the next step as a graduate is both an exciting and terrifying time; it’s a defining moment at the start of a new chapter in your life. Many graduates find they don’t know what to do once they’ve finished their course, but there’s a lot more choice than you might realise. By using your time to earn as much work experience as possible, as well as staying on top of interview techniques, you’ll place yourself in a great position to get the job you want, whether that’s now, or once you’ve taken time out to do the things that you want.

Raj Mistry is a partner at Top Suffolk Jobs, a jobs board dedicated to helping recruiters and job seekers in Suffolk. Having worked in the corporate world for over 30 years, he was involved in recruiting people both internally and externally. This brought challenges of finding out how individuals learn, identifying their strengths and developing their potential.

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