Boost your CV this summer | Careers on The Gateway

Boost your CV this summer

No summer plans? Here are The Gateway's top five ideas for making yourself more employable over the holidays

After weeks of long hours in the library, late-night revision sessions and tough exams, you may be looking forward to a well-earned break. But with a three-month holiday ahead, it's the perfect opportunity to use your time to boost your career prospects, while having some fun too.

If you haven't organised a summer internship, don't panic. Although it's probably too late to apply for a position with the big graduate recruiters, there are still plenty of ways to earn money, develop your skills, build up contacts and learn from new experiences. Here, we share some of our ideas, and catch up with two students who have put their holidays to good use...

Work experience

You may have missed the application deadlines for summer internships in the City, but you can still organise your own internship or set up a few work experience placements in different sectors if you're not sure what you want to do after university.

Check with your university careers service to see whether there are any summer opportunities for students at firms nearby. If not, research smaller businesses in the industries you'd like to work in and approach them about possible opportunities. Call their office to find out who you should speak to, then send them a short email outlining a bit about yourself and why you'd like to work for them. Follow up with a phone call the next day to make sure your email gets attention.

Remember, an internship should be like a short-term job in which you carry out real work for your employer, and you should be paid at least the national minimum wage. Work experience placements are shorter, usually two to four weeks, during which time you'll work-shadow and perhaps do some administration, and the company has no obligation to pay you.

Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to do something worthwhile and fulfilling, and develop new skills that you can add to your CV. Whether you choose to volunteer at home or abroad, you should do something you feel passionate about in order to get the most out of your experience.

You could choose to put your existing skills into practice by working in a business-focused role for a charity you care about, or something completely different - from running summer holiday workshops for children in the UK to building a community centre in a village in Africa.

Whatever you choose to do, you'll find yourself working with a diverse range of people and you'll improve your communication skills. Most projects will also involve a great deal of organisation and teamwork, and you'll learn how to overcome challenges and deal with unfamiliar situations too. Giving your time to a cause important to you will stand out to recruiters, and it'll also make a great talking point in interviews, giving you a chance to show off your personality.

Part-time work

After a year enjoying university life, you may need to top up your student loan by the time the summer vacation rolls around. The good news is that taking on a part-time job in a shop, bar or office can be just as valuable as doing a work placement, even if it isn't directly related to the career you want when you graduate.

Start applying for jobs about a month before you're available to start working as a huge number of college and university students look for part-time work every summer. Make it clear from the outset when you're available from and until, and be prepared to be flexible with your working hours.

In most part-time jobs, you'll deal with the general public and learn important customer service skills that you can apply to a career in any field. You'll also demonstrate a professional attitude, work within a team and, if you make a good impression, you'll have someone to turn to for a glowing reference when you start applying for graduate jobs.

Set up a business

Have you got a great business idea, but find yourself too busy during term time to pursue it? Setting up a business takes time and effort, but working hard at it for three months over the summer could allow you to lay the groundwork, which you can then build on when you're back at university.

Do some extensive research into your market and potential competitors, and put your idea to the test: will it fill a gap in the market and do what your potential customers think? If you're convinced your business idea could work, then consider how you'll finance your startup. Remember, it's better to start small and build your business from the ground up than to seek big investments from an early stage.

If your business is successful, it could turn in to a full-time job for you when you graduate. But even if it isn't, launching a business as a student will look impressive on your CV and you'll develop crucial skills from professional communication and networking, to organisation and leadership.

Travel

If you're longing to spend your summer in the sun, you're not alone. But instead of going on a classic beach holiday, why not do something a little different?

Backpacking is a fantastic way to develop your independence and put your organisation skills into practice when navigating foreign transport systems, making hostel bookings and managing your budget. You'll also become more resourceful and brush up your networking skills when meeting new people at every stop along the way. You could also combine your travels with volunteering or a physical challenge, which will show employers your ability to set and achieve a target.

Alternatively, you could combine your travels with learning a new skill. With an immersion course, you can quickly become proficient in another language and put it into practice as you learn. Foreign languages are highly valued by employers - particularly those spoken in emerging markets, such as Mandarin, Arabic and Spanish - and having one on your CV could set you apart when you begin applying for jobs.

Case study: Travel and volunteer

LSE graduate James Cheung recently returned from a three-month volunteering project in a small, rural community in eastern Uganda with international youth-led charity Restless Development. Here he tells us about his experience...

"Ibegan my programme with an intensive training course with a group of 40 volunteers. We then split into ten teams, and I worked in a small team of four including two Ugandan and two international volunteers.

My project was aimed at raising awareness and promoting discussion of sexual reproductive health and rights, mainly with young people aged between 15 and 35. I volunteered as a peer educator to facilitate workshops on a range of topics, including HIV issues such as stigma and discrimination; STI knowledge and prevention; gender rights; and life skills such as leadership and communication.

Challenges that I came across included cultural barriers, for example attitudes that could limit women's roles in society. I also encountered a language barrier, poor timekeeping, domestic violence and corporal punishment in schools. There were environmental challenges too, such as seeing an 8ft cobra outside our house one night!

The experience taught me about the problems that so many still face on a daily basis. The other volunteers and I lived for three months without electricity or running water, but there were others who struggled to pay the school fees of their children, needed to bribe officials to get jobs, and who couldn't rely on government services like the health service and benefit system that we know.

Learning more about development issues and helping to improve lives will always make a difference. This doesn't necessarily mean volunteering or a making a big commitment, but everyone can do their part."

Case study: Set up a business

Regent's Business School student Marcus Ereira spent last summer setting up his second business, Student Eat, with his business partner Benjamin Shashou. He explains how he did it, and what he learnt:

"Student Eat is a discount card that gives students an average of 20 per cent off at a range of bars, cafes and restaurants in London. My business partner Ben came up with the idea, and I really liked it from the start and thought it would be fantastic to put together.

Last summer we worked all day, every day and I think it was much more challenging than a full-time job or an internship! Outside normal working hours we gathered research and put together databases, then during the day we'd phone companies, go door-to-door and arrange meetings with them. I improved my communication skills, because everyone you speak to has different experiences and people operate and communicate differently from business to business.

Setting up a business does take time and you have to put a lot of hard work into it before you start to see the return. So if you're going to start working on a business over the summer, you should be willing to to continue it during the academic year. I started my first business when I was just 17, and now I'm in a much better position than other graduates leaving university and looking for a job.

Setting up a business is also very rewarding. Student Eat worked really well over the first year, and we're looking to expand at a faster rate next year. We're expanding the offering to include online fashion retailers and plan to take the card nationwide by September."

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