There's no place like the perfect job, but finding it can be tricky. You might expect the right career to dawn on you sometime between freshers' week and your finals, but unless you dedicate some quality time to thinking about your future, chances are it won't. With an increasingly competitive job market, and graduate applications up by as much as 140 per cent in some sectors, the earlier you figure out what you want to do after graduation, the more time you can spend building up your application - and enjoying university life!
The Gateway thought it was about time to give you our advice to help you through the decision-making maze and onto the path to career success.
Know your options
As soon as you walk into an interview, potential employers are poised to grill you on your skills, and might even dish out the classic question: "What can you bring to the firm?" Asking yourself what you've got to give, and also what you enjoy, is a good place to start when thinking about your career.
Write a list of your skills, taking into account everything from pulling pints at the union bar, to being captain of the netball team, to scoring an "A" on your last essay. Think also about what type of work you might be suited to. Are you eager to get to the bottom of complex problems, but tremble at the thought of giving a presentation to a room full of executives? Can you handle an unpredictable environment, or do you prefer routine working hours with weekends off to spend with family and friends?
"What do you want to do when you grow up?" You probably had a long list of answers when you were ten, and don't be afraid to think about how you could make your childhood dream part of your job, along with the other skills and interests you now have. If you wanted to be a rock star and are still fascinated by the entertainment industry, you could explore your interest in business while working in music management, or use your finance acumen to create a new TV channel and negotiate exciting programming deals. Or, if fashion's more your thing, could you devote your technology skills to building a website devoted to the latest trends?
Finally, ask yourself what you can do with your degree. Some subjects lend themselves to particular jobs, but it's worth noting that your options are rarely limited: banks, law firms and professional services firms recruit graduates from all degree disciplines, and all backgrounds.
Do your research
When you've done a bit of soul-searching, it's time to get acquainted with what careers are out there. The good news: if you're reading The Gateway, you should already have a pretty good idea. Doing your research isn't just about checking out who's recruiting, but finding out more about the companies you're interested in, what roles are open to graduates, and the various application processes.
Look beyond glamorous job descriptions and find out what day-to-day life is really like in the roles that appeal to you, and also how your career could progress at different firms. Also, make the most of opportunities at your university to attend company presentations, where you'll learn more about their culture and values, and discover which ones best match your career aspirations.
Network, network, network
Dorothy wouldn't have got anywhere without building connections, and, love it or hate it, networking is key to both deciding what you want to do, and getting the job. It's daunting at first, but building relationships with people in the know can be your ticket to the honest information and advice that'll help you choose your career.
On-campus networking events are great opportunities to chat to company representatives and ask them your burning questions, but networking doesn't have to be limited to formal environments. Join societies related to the sector you're interested in, and get to know students who've done first year programmes and internships. They'll be able to share their experiences, shed some light on the good and the bad, and pass on some helpful advice. And, don't overlook your own extended network. If you find out that your aunt's neighbour's sister works in the area you'd like to go into, ask if they'll put you in touch. More often than not, people will be happy to help and answer your questions - after all, they've been in your shoes!
Test the waters
It's all well and good getting advice from others, but when you've narrowed down your options, it's worth getting some first-hand experience in the area you'd like to work in, because trying it out is the only way to be certain that you've found the right career.
Participating in insight days offered by banks, law firms and professional services firms is a great way to learn more about an industry and get a taste of what it would be like to work there, without making a big time commitment. You'll get to go behind the scenes, perhaps do some work-shadowing, and meet junior and senior employees.
If you're serious about a career in the Square Mile, you should make applying for an internship your top priority, as it's often an important step on the graduate recruitment ladder. If you've picked an industry, for example investment banking, but you're still uncertain about which particular area you'd like to work in, shop around for an internship and look for a rotational programme where you'll have the opportunity to spend time on different desks and get a flavour of different roles at the bank.
Take the plunge
If you've followed the steps above and found the career for you, it's time to submit your applications. There are no ruby slippers necessary, but be prepared to do the legwork to make yourself a strong candidate by building up the right skills, tailoring your CV to each firm, showing your knowledge and enthusiasm for the role, practicing your interview technique, and keeping on top of what's going on in the business world. But remember, if you try something out but can't shake the feeling that it isn't the right path for you, don't be afraid to retrace your steps and change course - like Dorothy, you deserve your heart's desire!