How can I make the most of graduate career support?

By Tristram Hooley and Korin Grant

It is easy to say that you should seek out help but it can be difficult to make that first step. Sometimes we worry that asking for help can make us look weak or expose our vulnerabilities. And that is not something you want to do at a time when you are doing your best to be positive and confident about your skills and abilities!

Consider for a moment how you might feel if a friend contacted you to ask for help? Are you likely to think badly of them or are you more likely to feel valued for the contribution your friend thinks you have to make?

In fact, being able to seek help and support appropriately and effectively shows a great deal of self-awareness and capacity for problem solving – two attributes that employers recognise and value.
Here are some key tips for making sure that you are using the support available to you effectively:

Get connected

There will be services and alerts that you can sign up for. Most careers services will offer an online job shop or some kind of email list that will inform you of new events and presentations in your area of interest. Employers will offer this as well, via social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. There might be student union societies and groups that will offer training, experiences and events.

Your university will send emails to your university account to make you aware of events, presentations and support sessions that they know might interest you. Open your emails regularly (daily) to make sure you don’t miss out.

Make sure that you have connected yourself to these services so that you are in the know. Don’t go mad and sign up for every graduate recruitment site going but do make sure that you are linked to those that are pertinent to you and your situation.

Be Prepared

Make sure that you do your research before you ask for help. Have you checked that where you are going is the right service or that the person you are asking is the right person? Have they asked you to complete some information in advance? Career guidance counsellors will often want to know something about you before they meet with you. This is to help them prepare and make the time they spend with you as useful and effective as possible. So take the time to do what you need to do before your meetings.

If you are meeting with a former employer or your Personal Tutor then prepare for the meeting by giving them some understanding of what you want to discuss. Check that they feel they are the right person to handle your query – this will help to ensure that your time (and theirs!) is well spent.

Part of your preparation should be about reflecting on your experiences to date. Have you had some feedback that you can act on? What have you learned since your last meeting with a careers advisor (for example).

Be clear

Along with doing research prepare yourself by thinking about what it is you are hoping to achieve. Are you looking for a sounding board, factual information or a longer discussion about your career aims? If you can be clear about what you are expecting from the service or person you are meeting then the chances are better that they will be able to help you. Being clear and specific will also help them to think of you the next time they hear about and opportunity or job opening that might suit you (“Oh look, there’s a new role in marketing coming up. Wasn’t my personal tutee Kevin interested in marketing?

This could be a good entry level role for him, I’ll email him the link.”)

Be persistent

People and services can get very busy. And the chances are good that you are seeking out their help at a time with other students are doing the same. So try to be understanding about waiting times and delays in responses. If your Personal Tutor has not replied within a couple of days to a message then send her another one reminding her that you are hoping to set up a meeting. You could ask if a telephone call would be more suitable for the time being or if they can suggest a good time to meet.

Be realistic about your expectations. What feels very important to you (“I need to see you about my reference today!”) simply may not be a priority for someone else. Try not badger your sources of support but don’t give up either.

Be open and flexible

Be open to events and activities that may not sound like they are exactly what you are looking for. You might not want to work for a particular employer but they may be presenting about a sector that you keen to explore. Attend and listen out for information that could be helpful. Talk to the employer about the sector and industry trends. You may be surprised about what you learn. And even if you don’t learn very much chances are it is worth an hour or two of your day to discover that you are already an expert in the field!

Being flexible about your employment aims is a good thing. If you are very rigid in your approach (“I want to work for this company in that location”) means that when something you thought you wanted doesn’t happen you feel that you have failed. Commit to your dreams and dream big but be ready for different types of opportunities and appreciate what they may offer. When you ask people to reflect back on their career paths this is a common story:

“I really thought I wanted to go to law school after graduation and become a solicitor. Just after uni I worked part-time for this company, just to pay the bills. It turns out I loved their ethos and the clients they worked with. It made me think about my priorities. What was I really looking for in a career? When a senior position came up I decided to apply. I’ve moved on to another company since then but I don’t think I would be in this sector now if I hadn’t had that first early work experience. I’m so glad I gave it a chance! I really don’t think law would have suited me.”

This is a much less common story (though not impossible!)

“After graduation I did exactly as I’d always planned…applied for a graduate position with my favourite bank and got the position I was hoping for in the midlands office. I started making my way through their trainee programme. Now I’ve been working in a more senior role in the same organisation for ten years. I love it! I’m proof that having a career plan and sticking to it does work.”

Return the favour

Take care of your networks and the people who have supported you. Make them aware that you would be happy to help them in the future. You might wonder how you can help an academic or a careers advisor but don’t forget that they need recommendations too. They might think of you the next time they are asked to invite a student to a meeting or event. They may ask you to help another student facing a similar problem or even invite you back as an alumnus years later to talk to current students about the world of work.

The point is that your relationship with these support services is two way. You don’t need to feel obliged to help them and they may never ask for your input, but you are more likely to retain a happy relationship if you nurture your support services.

Content from You’re Hired! Graduate Career Handbook (9781844556489), maximise your employability and get a graduate job.

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