Always have a plan B

Mike Barnard explains why you need to have backup options when planning your career

Despite all the gloom surrounding reports about the jobs market and the outlook for the economy, theres reason to be optimistic.

When the University of WarwickÂ's Institute for Employment Research released a report this November into how graduates are faring in the jobs market, it made for grim reading. Two in five of the 17,000 who completed their studies in 2009 have yet to get a graduate-level job.

But donÂ't let the negativity overwhelm you: the same study also found that two thirds were hopeful about their long-term career prospects and 96 per cent were happy to have gone to university and gained a degree.

Take heart from this positive mentality. ItÂ's always been said that a degree is about more than just a qualification. At university, you gain life skills, new friends and an independence that canÂ't be obtained in any other environment. University is also still a great launchpad to a career, and you donÂ't have to restrict yourself to seeking just one before, during or even after your studies. ItÂ's always wise to have a back-up plan so if your dream graduate job doesnÂ't work out, youÂ've got alternative ideas. HereÂ's some guidance on giving yourself options and making the most of all of your skills.

1. Be open-minded about where you want to work. ItÂ's easy to be wowed by opportunities offered by top firms or to set your heart on working for a major global brand, but thereÂ's often more life in small and medium-sized companies than the corporate powerhouses.

Big employers can be slow to move with the times, offer less flexible working or have a frustratingly rigid structure. Be sure to research a few SME alternatives and apply to them too. You may find their approach refreshing and more personal Â- and it sometimes means you get a real say in the way the business develops. Work experience and internships can be easier to arrange with SMEs too, offering that vital foot in the door.

2. A back-up plan works best when itÂ's realistic, so think about alternative jobs you could do with your qualifications and strengths. Consider the transferable skills youÂ've developed, perhaps from your course, a part-time role or as a member of a student society. Where youÂ've got some job-related experience, think about how you could work it to your advantage or perhaps explore it further to make yourself more appealing to potential employers.

3. Write a CV template with every skill you have. ItÂ's impossible to write the perfect CV before you start looking for jobs, so donÂ't even attempt it! Your CV should be tailored to every role you apply for, but a template is a great way to ensure you donÂ't forget a vital skill.

Keep a CV on file that lists your every achievement, position of responsibility and qualification along with the skills they demonstrate. This will make compiling a CV for a specific role far easier as you can cherry pick the best elements, and not waste time trying to re-remember all your best moments. WhatÂ's more, it takes the sting out of starting to write a CV from scratch for every job application.

4. Be happy to speak to people about your ambitions friends, family, anyone. You never know who might be listening to your ambitions for the future, or who they might end up talking to. As a back-up plan, it can be working even when you arenÂ't.