This September, 425,487 students will enroll as freshers at British universities. Perspective alert: that’s roughly the same as the population of Bristol, and most of them will be joining you on the job market in a few years time. So while you wait for the ink on your Good Luck cards to dry, now is the time to set about giving yourself a competitive advantage. “CV building” is a phrase you’ll be hearing a lot of in the years to come so prick up your ears now, because we’re about to tell you how to use those precious hours when you’re not studying to go about it.
Leader in the field
There will be plenty of activities you can get involved in on campus to add kudos to your CV. Every university will have a plethora of clubs and societies for their undergraduates (Oxford alone has more than 400), meaning there are ample opportunities to get involved and gain valuable skills. The variety of societies on offer is phenomenal and they range from the sublime to the ridiculous (we were particularly tickled by Bath’s Rock, Paper, Scissors Society). But whereas any old fool can sign a membership form, it takes a bit more effort to make your involvement count. You’ll find that employers are more interested in the skills you acquire than the specific activities, so get involved in what interests you and, with a bit of luck, you’ll have a ball, while improving your CV. Joanna Anafu, campus relationship manager for Citi, says: “We always look out for students who have held leadership positions within societies. Have you been an active member on the committee? Perhaps you’ve been a president, treasurer or secretary? These kinds of roles especially appeal to organisations such as ours.”
It’s also important to get involved in activities that are relevant to the career path you’d like to take. Natalia Garland, the head of global graduate marketing and infrastructure for BNP Paribas explains: “The quality of applicant is getting better. It’s becoming more difficult for us to select candidates and so it’s increasingly important for them to make their applications stand out. We look for proactive applicants who have a genuine interest in what we do and would advise those thinking of applying to us to join the relevant societies at university and to attend as many events for students interested in banking as possible – they look fantastic on your CV.” Most City employers will have a scheme available to first years, so check out our application deadlines chart to find out which one is right for you.
But what if you’re not quite sure exactly what direction you’d like your career to take? David Langer, founder of GroupSpaces – a company that provides the technology to help real-world clubs and societies function – says it’s understandable that you may not have a single career in mind during the early stages of your degree, but this shouldn’t limit your involvement in career-related extra-curricular activities – joining sector-specific societies, going along to employer information events, and doing work experience are some of the best ways to find out what kind of role you’re suited to. David also recommends that all readers of The Gateway join their university’s entrepreneurship society: “If you’re reading this newspaper, you are probably interested in running your own business at some point in your life.” Even if you don’t see yourself as the next Anita Roddick or Mark Zuckerberg, doing so will augment your CV by showing you’ve gained some commercial awareness and give you some great insights into the world beyond your university’s gates.
Keeping it real
A taste of the real world, though, may come sooner to some than to others. The cost of living is rising across the board and students may feel the pinch particularly harshly. So rather than devoting your free time to leisurely pursuits, you may find yourself needing to take on a part-time job to fund your studies. Part time work is sometimes unfairly dismissed as a distraction, but there are plenty of recruiters who actively encourage it. Stephen Isherwood, head of graduate recruitment for professional services firm Ernst & Young, is a strong advocate of students entering the workplace.
“I’ve met people who can demonstrate all the qualities we need through the part time work they’ve done,” he explains. “I’ve interviewed people who’ve worked on checkouts, but who can demonstrate that they’re aware of the commercial decisions being made by their employer, showing their interest in business. Some have been promoted or have been asked to run teams.” Stephen’s sentiments are echoed by Jessica Booker, recruitment manager at City law firm Freshfields. She says: “Too many applicants think that the only work experience worth mentioning is work done in a law firm. This isn’t the case. I’m always impressed by a record of work, however low-skilled and seemingly unconnected to law. If you’ve stacked shelves since 16, I may be able to detect that you stick at things and can deal with all sorts of situations, which are qualities any law firm prizes.”
Getting the cream
As the old saying goes: “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”. There are plenty of options open to you at university, but it’s important to strike a balance between your academic and personal life. The unifying theme to your decision-making over the next few years should be “foresight”. Consider how your actions might look to an employer. Think about what skills you need and how you can go about acquiring them in the most efficient and fun way possible. Never again will you be faced with so many open doors, so make the most of what is a wonderful opportunity.