University is a time for exploration. As you work your way through your degree you’re not just gaining course-related knowledge, but are also learning about yourself. Whether it’s through your classes, extra-curricular activities or the people you spend time with, your time at university allows you to explore where your interests truly lie, what your strengths and weaknesses are, how you see the world and the part you want to play in it.
On the other hand, university can feel like a bubble. Every year is planned out for you as you work towards the end-goal: graduation. Everything after that – like starting your career – can feel like the distant future. So why bother worrying about it now?
The truth is, that future is very much dependent on what you’re doing at this moment and when it comes to thinking about your career, you can’t start too early. The more time and effort you spend on preparing yourself for the job market the easier your transition will be.
If this seems like too much – because how are you going to juggle planning your career with course deadlines, friends, part-time jobs and club socials? – it really isn’t. Becoming more employable, or developing employability, is already part of your everyday uni life, you simply need to be conscious of what you’re already doing and start seizing the many other opportunities that are right in front of you.
Starting to think seriously about career options and employability doesn’t mean you have to have your whole career path planned out before the end of your first year; it’s about building a picture of yourself, your strengths and your preferences, being able to pinpoint relevant skills and experience, and really understanding the possibilities.
University is a great time to gain valuable experience, so get involved by joining societies, volunteering, or taking up part-time or summer jobs, work placements or internships. Any work experience, paid or unpaid, is an opportunity to develop vital employability skills such as leadership, team working, networking and problem-solving, and to familiarise yourself with interviewing and workplace practices.
To determine your strengths, simply start taking note of what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing in all aspects of your life: working, studying, participating, or socializing.
If you’re really struggling to find a sense of direction, visit your career service. Not only will they be able to give you a list of all the core employability skills you should be aware of, offer access to useful career tools and vital one-to-one advice, they’re also likely to be organizing career fairs or networking events.
Practical (and fun) things you can usefully do at any stage at university include taking personality and competency tests to assess your skills and personality type, practicing your interview skills and developing your elevator pitch, as well as learning how to create your CV and cover letters.
There might be any number of reasons why you’re not thinking about your career right now, but you may regret it later. Understanding yourself better now will build your confidence while you’re still at uni and give you the confidence to convince potential employers when the time comes that you’re the right fit for the job. Stop thinking about your career as a future thing, separate from you today, and recognize that it’s all, entirely, about you: who you are now and what you will become.