You’re leaving uni or college and entering into the working world without a clue where to begin. 

For your whole life, everything has been structured around studying. Suddenly, you’re in this new phase that nobody really prepares you for. Where do you start looking for jobs? How do you even know what you’re interested in? 

This guide will give you an overview of how to kick-start your career - from how to develop awareness in your areas of interest to tips on how to get the job you want. 💼

Stage 1 - How to find your dream job

Research areas of interest

First, look into careers that pique your interest, see what it would take to work in those industries and try to get a feel for what your day-to-day work would be like. 

You may find that what you think you’re interested in has a very different lifestyle to what you thought. For example, maybe you’re interested in law but didn’t realise it would involve more paperwork than the courtroom drama you see on TV. 

Attend careers fairs

Career fairs are a great way to get a look at careers you might not have considered. They give you the chance to ask specific questions to people currently working in an industry.

Often, universities and colleges will have career fairs at the start of the year. You can also speak to your student services career advisor for tips. 

Stage 2 - Develop awareness of the area you want to work in

Get industry aware

Start getting clear on the sector you’re interested in and the job you want. Make sure you take your skills to a growing sector, not one that’s dying. That way, you know you’ll have a longer career path ahead of you. 

Plus, there are a lot of job titles that you may not know even existed! So do your research and start to get a sense of what’s out there. 

Talk to people in the space

What do they love about it? What do they hate about it? What advice do they have for breaking in? Hearing from people working in the job you want to do will give you a much better idea of whether or not it’s for you.

Network online

Set up a LinkedIn profile and start to engage with people working in the careers that interest you. Try to learn from them but also try to provide them value - any relationship should be beneficial to both people. For example, you could offer to share relevant industry articles or resources that you've come across. Or, you could offer to connect them with others in your network who may be able to assist them professionally, which would then help expand their connections!

Don’t be afraid to ‘cold message’ someone on LinkedIn asking for advice. Most people have been in your shoes before and are willing to talk to you about their career journey. 

Try to get work experience

It seems like companies these days advertise for an entry-level position but still want 3-5 years of work experience. 🙄

Consider looking into an internship or apprenticeship for the role you’re interested in - it’s a great way to build experience and learn about an industry when you’re just starting out. 

Lean on AI 

If you’re struggling with where to start, try using ChatGPT to help generate ideas. You can use prompts to ask about different job roles with certain skills or qualifications. For example, you could ask: ‘what career could I go into with a biology degree?’ 

You could also do a career aptitude test - it will help give you an idea of what you might be good at based on your skills and interests. 

Check out UCAS’ free Career Quiz.

Stage 3 - Build up your employability skills

Employability skills - also known as soft skills or transferable skills - are the non-technical skills and personal qualities that are essential for success in the workplace.

These may include: 

  • Communication skills 

  • Teamwork

  • Problem-solving

  • Time management

  • Creativity 

  • Critical thinking

  • Leadership skills 

Here are a few ways to build up your employability skills to help you get your dream job: 

Be honest

Would you hire you? What skills are employers looking for - and do you have them? Getting clear on this will help you work out where you need to improve. 

If you’re not sure, try asking a friend or family member who will be ‘constructively’ honest with you. Or ask a previous employer or mentor to help highlight your strengths and weaknesses. 

Get proactive

Attend employability skills workshops and events that will make you a better employee: presentation skills, CV workshops, cover letter writing, public speaking events, etc. 

There are lots of free options through LinkedIn or Google. You can earn a certificate, which is a great way to demonstrate your knowledge to future employers. YouTube also has a lot of more informal free resources for learning!  

Seek out mentor opportunities 

Through networking - online or in-person - you may be able to find someone willing to mentor you in your career search. 

It’s a great way to learn from someone who has experience in the working world - regardless of whether or not they’re in a field you’re interested in. 

Create your CV

Relate all your previous experience to the job you’re applying for. Include any qualifications you have. 

If you have any kind of work experience that isn’t in that industry specifically, you can tailor your CV to speak about the soft skills you learned on the job. Think about any non-work experience you have that stands out. For example, if you’ve been part of a university club, if you’ve organised an event, or have done any freelance work such as blog writing. 

Writing a CV with AI? Read our blog on tips for using AI when writing applications. 

Volunteer or part-time work

Volunteering will enhance your CV and allow you to gain valuable skills (e.g. people skills). Volunteering can also be a really meaningful experience, for you and those you’re helping. 🙏

Even part-time work on weekends can help show you’re reliable and organised. It can also provide you with character references for jobs going forward and set you apart from other applicants. 

Consider alternative experiences 

Maybe you’ve decided to take a year ‘out’ to go abroad, whether that’s for travel, volunteering or working. A year of doing something different is never a year wasted! 

These kinds of experiences can offer new perspectives on life, open you to a diversity of thought and help you meet new people from all walks of life. Plus, you may never know who you meet along the way - networking can happen in unexpected places. 

Stage 4 - Tips for how to get the job you really want

  1. Understand your industry. Different industries require different approaches. Networking won’t get you a public sector job but may get you into media. How does your industry work? 

  2. Get yourself out there. Attend employer presentations, careers talks and make connections. Talk to people - you never know where a valuable connection might come from.

  3. Practise interview skills. Interviews will always be a nervy experience. The more you practise, the more comfortable you’ll be.

  4. Research the company. Do your due diligence beforehand and research the company and the person who’s interviewing you. This will show you’re proactive and curious about the job. 

  5. Be yourself but be professional in an interview. If you’re unsure of the dress code, always go for the smarter outfit (suits or work trousers or a skirt). And make eye contact! It helps to build trust without over doing it. 

  6. Check your CV. Make sure your resume is great. Get a few people you trust to read it and double (and triple) check spelling.

  7. References. Have a couple of personal and professional references available from previous roles or university who will help confirm the impression you are trying to make and vouch for you as a professional.

Stage 5 - Always be learning & improving

There’s always something more you can learn about your chosen career or a skill you can get better at. Keep trying to improve and you’ll get even closer to landing your dream job.

Learn from rejection

Lots of people and companies will say no to you, and lots won’t even respond - that’s part of the process. Instead of letting this get you down, try to learn something from every unsuccessful application, and use this to help you succeed next time.

You can also always follow up to ask for feedback. They may not always reply, but the ones that do can offer invaluable insights into how you can improve going forward. 

It’s okay to change the career you want to work in

Just because you previously said you want to work in a certain industry, doesn’t mean you have to stick with it! Be open to what’s out there and have the conviction to change when it feels right. 

Did you know Vera Wang was a figure skater and journalist before becoming a fashion designer at age 40? Or how about Arnold Schwarzenegger who went from bodybuilder to movie star to governor of California. And no, we’re not all going to become celebrities, but it goes to show that it’s never too late to change careers, or find success. 

Choose the career that’s best for you

Don’t follow the crowd. Just because your friends want to be investment bankers, doesn’t mean you should be too. Carve your own path - that’s the only way you’ll find fulfilment.

It’s okay to not be certain

Lastly, it’s okay to not know exactly what you want to do with your career. The most important thing is to do what you can to be ready for the opportunities that do come knocking. 

Luck = Preparation + Opportunity  

And you will almost certainly change your mind or job as you go along. Getting your foot in that knocking door is just the first step.

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