By Kayleigh Gray
When I was younger I wanted to be a vet.
After I gained work experience in pet shops and a veterinary practice, I quickly realised that regularly castrating animals was not my thing. My dream of the perfect (if not poorly researched) job was ruined by my own discoveries, but your more reasonable dream of the perfect job may be prevented by organisations wanting the same thing: more experience to know that you are capable of doing well in that position, your passion and degree knowledge may not be enough.
Job searching can be a laborious and disheartening process if your applications continue to be unsuccessful; it feels like a personal critique, and you begin to believe that you’re not capable of working in your dream graduate job. Don’t fall into the dejected graduate trap and start working in a bar or a shop, instead find an imperfect graduate job and ensure that you get the most out of it.
Due to the competitive job market, graduates often need relevant work experience and a detailed knowledge of their career area to get ahead of the game. If you do not have this then it can prevent you from securing employment in the sector, despite any relevant qualifications and enthusiasm you may have.
The key at this point is to keep that perfect job in mind, remind yourself of why you want it and look for any paid or unpaid additional involvement that can prepare you for that future job. Identify the skills that you’re missing for your perfect job and fill the gaps through volunteering. Suitable jobsites for any degree discipline include do-it.org, volunteering.org.uk and reach.
So, now you’re getting that essential work experience and gaining the specialist skills for your career sector, but how will you pay the bills and have the money to relax with friends? My advice is to take on a professional role and leave the café and bar work in your teenage years.
Find an administration or support role and you will discover the importance of transferable skills. This may not be your dream job but it does take you through that transition from casual to professional work. You will gain communication, teamwork and commercial awareness skills at the very least, thereby gaining great examples for the generic interview questions, such as ‘Tell me when you’ve experienced a challenging team and how you dealt with it?’ or ‘When have you used excellent communication skills at work?’
Prepare yourself for the general competency-based questions through regular reflection of your achievements and challenges in your day job, which will then perfectly complement the specialist skills that you’re developing in your voluntary or casual work. If you’re unpaid work isn’t developing the skills that you need then ask to work on a project that will: one of the advantages of voluntary work is that you will have a flexible role.
Meanwhile, in your day job you will be encountering situations that are more respected by employers than one that maybe similar to the bar work you did during your A levels. They need to see that you have responsibility at work, that you can adapt your working style to fit the company culture and that you have matured professionally since you started your degree.
I’m not saying take an unsuitable job, certainly don’t take a job working with numbers all day if you’re a people person, but the benefits of working an administrative or support role vastly outstrips the positives of working in a bar or shop; that is, if you want to gain that perfect professional graduate role in the future. Do that and organisations will value your transferable specialist and academic skills and appreciate that you are more employable.
If you’re not sure what career to take then ring your university’s Careers service because they often offer graduates access for a few years after leaving or try the Prospects Planner to determine which jobs fit your skills and motivations.
Author Bio: Kayleigh is a recent English Literature graduate from Sheffield Hallam University and currently works in their Careers and Employment team. All views are her own. Her roles include assisting the team, working with students on employability project, and building relationships with prospective students, employers and other Sheffield Hallam University staff.