What on Earth do I do now?

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Congratulations! You have reached the end of the conventional educational ladder - the end of your first degree (BSc/BA). Hopefully you have been awarded the grade you deserved, but one thing is sure, it 'am what it am'!

Now what?

Graduates have a number of options to choose from, and you should consider carefully which one to take. You should talk to your college tutors, your parents, and anyone else whose opinion you trust, to guide you to this decision.

Broadly, the list comprises:

  • Continue with your studies (MSc/MA or PhD)
  • Find a job
  • Unemployment

The first option is only likely to be open to a small proportion of students who have achieved a 2.1 or 1st degree (there will be exceptions to this generalization). The third option is undesirable from everyone's point of view, so that leaves number two!

It is an extremely rare young person who knows what they want to do in life, and most people only find their true niche in life later, if at all. So the best plan is to get cracking on something (anything!) and plan changes as you go along.

The advantages of getting into employment as quickly as possible are:

  • Start earning income! You've probably got a student loan to pay back, and your parents have probably got plenty to spend their missing millions on, rather than their 'boomerang' offspring!
  • Employers are more impressed by people who have shown commitment to work.
  • Gets you in the habit of getting out of bed in the morning - the work routine.
  • You're more likely to encounter people who can help you in your career, than in your own bedroom!

Don't make the mistake of thinking you should wait until a job in your chosen field comes along: it may never do so, or maybe not for quite a while. There's nothing wrong (and everything right) with getting a job that gets you started, and continuing to look out for 'a proper job'. You could change jobs several times over the first five years of your working life before you acquire the label 'job-hopper'. Employers understand that it takes a while for young people to find their feet.

The vast majority of people 'fall into' long term careers by this process of trial and error, and never end up in what seemed like 'the proper job' at the outset.

OK! So you've decided to take this advice and get cracking. Now, what exactly should you do?

Be as flexible and open minded as you possibly can be! If you are willing to take any job, anywhere, for any (reasonable) money, then you are more likely find a job than if you are not!

Prepare a CV. Separate advice about how to do this can be found on our website (How to Write a Good CV, and Mock CV).

Obtain permission from two people to use them as referees. Ideally, these should include your college tutor and someone who employed you in an industrial placement during your degree, or a vacation job for example. Failing that, use a family friend who holds a professional position: doctor, lawyer, employer, for example. Include the names and contact details of your referees on your CV.

Obtain professional help. Agencies exist to help people across the entire employment spectrum, so you should register with two sorts:
Find an agency that specializes in your chosen field and register with them. Depending on how specialized your chosen field of work is, there may only be one or two agencies that can help you in the UK.Tell them you are completely flexible about where you work, what sort of job you are offered, or how much it pays. You don't have to take the jobs you are offered, but you must have the option.

As an interim measure, register with two or three generalist agencies in your home town. It is probably best to tell them that you are really after a job in your specialist field, but that you are willing to consider any job as a stepping stone. Alternatively, you could register for temporary work, which would give you more flexibility to change jobs if you don't like the work you are given, and to go to interviews in your specialist field.

Subscribe to professional magazines/journals relevant to the field of work you are interested in. If possible, obtain back-issues. If you cannot afford to do this, you may be able to find the publications in your local reference library.

Apply to every job that interests you. Do not worry if the advertisement asks for more experience than you have to offer. The employer may not be able to find an experienced person, and by applying you will be saving him the expense of re-advertising for a trainee in a month's time. Secondly.they may have another, unadvertised job for a trainee. Thirdly, what have you got to lose by trying?

If you have been able to obtain back issues of publications, apply to every organization that advertised the sort of jobs you are interested in, in the last year (or in fact, as far back as you like!). Write a slightly different covering letter to accompany your CV:

Dear Sir/Madam, I noticed that in last January's issue of The Widget that you were advertising for a Widget Engineer. This is exactly the sort of job I am looking for. If you have any current or forthcoming vacancies for Trainee Widget Engineers, then I would be very interested to meet you. I enclose a CV for your consideration.

Do not worry about doing this: they might not have filled the job, or they might have filled the job, but the new person didn't work out very well, or they might have a new position. Again, what have you got to lose?

If you have access to the worldwide web (preferably on broadband, with unlimited access), scour the internet for information and potential job opportunities.

Cold Calling!
Either using the internet, your local library/reference books, or your own knowledge of the field you are interested in, identify all the organizations you believe might have job opportunities for you. If you can, find out the name of the managing director. Failing that, find out the name of another departmental manager, or as a last resort, the Personnel/Human Resources Manager. If you cannot find the name of any of the managers on the website or the literature, you could telephone the switchboard and ask for the name of the managing director. If you are asked why you want to know, explain that you are looking for employment and you would like to send him a letter. You may be told that there are no vacancies; don't be discouraged, send your CV with a covering letter to The Managing Director anyway. He may have plans to hire, that the switchboard person is unaware of! Send your CV with a covering letter to (if possible) a named manager.

Dear Mr Jones, I have graduated this year in Widget Engineering, and I am looking to commence a career in this field. I have identified your company as one which operates in this market, and I would be very grateful if you could consider me for work within your company. I am completely flexible about the nature of work that I do, as long as it helps me develop my career in widget engineering. I am keen and enthusiastic, and a very hard worker. Please contact me if you have any opportunities for me, otherwise I will telephone you in two weeks if I haven't heard from you before then.

If the last line seems a bit pushy, don't worry! Employers much prefer people who are willing to push themselves forward, and demonstrate some strength of character and the determination to succeed. You will get much better results from this approach than from the 'I look forward to hearing from you.' method.

What you don't ask for.!
If you do not hear from the person you wrote to, telephone them precisely when you said you would. If you are told 'No vacancies.' don't despair! Ask when further recruitment is planned (and put such dates in your diary to follow up on later), and ask if the person you are speaking to if he knows anyone else who might be recruiting staff. In most cases you will be told 'No', but every now and again you will be given a valid lead!


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