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Boosting your graduate career opportunities

Epigram reached out to the University of Bristol’s Careers Service to shed light on the most important things to keep in mind when entering the graduate job market.

By Sayoni Ghosh, MA English Literature

Getting your dream job may seem an overwhelming prospect, but it isn’t impossible. Preparing for your career with small, foot-in-the-door efforts can pay off well when you eventually start applying for graduate roles. Epigram reached out to the University of Bristol’s Careers Service to shed light on the most important things to keep in mind when entering the graduate job market.

There are many paths you can take to kickstart your graduate career, from internships to working for a startup or SME (small and medium-sized enterprises).

Some sectors, like media, are incredibly competitive or simply don’t offer graduate schemes. Instead, internships can give you a foot in the door, to gain relevant experience and build up a network in your sector of interest. The Careers Service advertises internships on mycareer, and recommends  students to use their free events and online resources, such as support with writing CVs and cover letters, and how to prepare for an interview, before applying.

Working in an SME means you could be working with really small teams, which offers both flexibility and the ability to make a significant impact in the company. Hard work will pay off – you can progress more quickly and take on more responsibility in a small business than in a graduate scheme. Last academic year, over 35 per cent of SME Interns were offered further work because of their internship, boosting their graduate opportunities.

Alternatively, put your networking cap on and seek out your own graduate work experience! If you want to get experience in a sector without committing years of your life to a graduate scheme, you can get in touch with organisations that interests you and reach out with a speculative enquiry. Gaining some short-term work experience will give you a taste of the role and an opportunity to develop skills and industry knowledge.

You can connect with alumni to see what career paths they have chosen by logging into Bristol Connects, an online platform for Bristol alumni, students, and staff. It connects you with your global alumni community and allows you to gain insights, share professional experiences, and make new connections.

Student entrepreneurs can gain support from Bristol’s Basecamp enterprise team, who provide workshops, 1:1 support and run competitions and challenges.

The Bristol Plus Award is another fantastic opportunity that rewards you for engaging in extracurricular activities during your studies, for example attending extra-curricular workshops and courses, undertaking a part-time job, internship, or volunteering experience, or taking part in an online course about global issues. Completing each of these components also encourages you to step outside of the University bubble, and the award is supported by a range of employers, helping you to develop your networking and communication skills.

PLUS Award achievers not only benefit from developing a range of transferable skills, but they also learn to articulate the value of their experiences to impress future employers during application processes. PLUS Award achievers will get their achievements recorded on their degree transcript. As a cherry on top, the PLUS Award is given to less than five per cent of Bristol students every year – so achieving it is a guaranteed CV booster!

Volunteering is another fantastic opportunity to connect with others and build a stronger sense of community. Students can gain a wide variety of transferable skills through volunteer work, depending on the organisation you work with and your role. Unpaid volunteer work also helps demonstrate to an employer your commitment, dedication and passion for a particular cause or sector. By taking on a volunteering responsibility, you are also showing employers that you possess the organisational skills to dedicate your time to volunteering alongside your studies.

You can find volunteering opportunities on mycareer and through the Bristol SU website.

Apart from technical abilities and industry knowledge which differ according to a career pathway, there are many common skills that graduate employers will be looking for in their applicants. The Future Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum in 2020 found that the top ten skills employers are looking for in their employees include critical thinking, complex problem solving, leadership and resilience.

Students can gain these transferable skills in a variety of ways. Alongside internships, volunteering and other work experience, it is important to remember that these skills can be gained through extracurricular activities and your course. You may have gained leadership skills as the team leader of a group project, or developed resilience by juggling a demanding course alongside societies or a part-time job. Remember to take all extra-curricular activities into account in your applications, as well as your experiences from the world of work.

The Career Service can support students in gaining these transferable skills using various online resources, including talks and workshops on presenting yourself on CVs, cover letters and application forms, as well as in person at interviews and assessment centres.

Whilst going through the rigorous application process, use your time and energy efficiently. Recognise the parts of the application process that you might need to prioritise based on employer feedback or areas where you feel less confident.

It is also important to keep applying for roles. There may be a particular organisation or role that you are keen on and want to focus much of your time on. However, do not let this deter you from applying for other roles. Keep your options open and apply for other roles that may also suit you.

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Most importantly, keep it all in perspective. Graduate schemes often have many applicants, so it may take time to secure a role. Facing rejections when applying for jobs can be challenging. Not all organisations will offer feedback, but wherever you get the opportunity, seek it out, and use it as a constructive way to learn how to improve the next time you go through the recruitment process. It is important to be patient and maintain your momentum — stay positive and use any feedback you get throughout the process to help you prepare for next time.

Featured Image: University of Bristol

The Careers Service is here to help. Look at their online resources and events, talk to them online via Live Chat or drop into the Careers Service at 5 Tyndall Ave from 10 am to 4.30 pm, Monday to Friday.