What can I do if a Graduate Degree is insufficient in today’s job market?


University is approaching fast and for many students, the prospect of entering the final year provides graduates with a variety of prospects and opportunities as they become available on the job market. The undergraduate degree is undeniably a component part in kick-starting a career in any given field.

Is the undergraduate degree enough anymore? Does it set you apart from other candidates? According to the Telegraph, ‘almost half of people aged between 25 and 64 will have a degrees or higher level qualifications within the next eight years.’ This is a ‘10 per cent increase which will see Britain rise from 11th in the international rankings to seventh.’ These statistics are an indication of the fierce competition that graduates should expect when applying for specific roles and jobs. If so many people are qualified, how do we set ourselves apart in the build up to final year or, from what many employers will see as another pile of CV’s from successful graduates?

Your Options

  1. Conjoined Study and Work Experience


Positives: The ability to juggle a job alongside your studies takes considerable organisation (particularly if you are already part of a society or sports club!). Potential employers like to see evidence that you’re actively developing core work skills and building your CV alongside your studies. A job outside of university would be a more ideal place to test, hone, and understand what your specific strengths are in the work place. It will also help you what makes you tick and what doesn’t as a career option.

Things to Consider: Testing your strengths and weaknesses is crucial. Go outside your comfort zone and once you find your strengths focus on them. Too often people tend to jump into internships, jobs and career paths that they unsure of doing. That or they may have originally thought that a specific career path suited them only to find out that it wasn’t their cup of tea. It is also useful experience in that you are less likely to be overwhelmed by applications, cover letters, interviews, and adapting to a particular working environment.

  1. Further Study


Positives: Undergoing a postgraduate or even a PhD is a significant way to bolster your C.V credentials and developing a more specific career path. Research carried out by LSE and Surrey University has revealed that those with a higher degree earned an average of £5,500 more a year. A postgraduate degree should be the chance to make internal and external connections (which you may have missed as an undergraduate) who can provide you with references, job links and opportunities through individuals, societies and specific institutions. A post graduate also allows you to focus your into academic studies relevant to a specific career path. I chose to do a postgraduate degree on the basis that it would bolster my CV, be more career orientated and would help give me an edge over other competitors and graduates in the market.

Things to Consider: There are naturally downsides to doing a postgraduate. The increase in student debt (already an excess of £30,000 – 40,000) to £60,000 is unappealing for anyone seeking to avoid extra payload on educational qualifications. Another consideration you should ask yourself when applying for a postgraduate or PhD is whether it is career relevant? Are you making the most of opportunities provided by your specific university institutions? Another question to ask of a postgraduate (much like an undergraduate) is whether or not they have a balanced CV with an array of work experience and activities to go alongside their educational qualifications. Have they maximised (within reason) their time outside course modules, exams and dissertation?

  1. A Year Out


Positives: Taking a gap year before or after university is a rewarding experience for anyone has the opportunity to do this. I took a year out after completing my undergraduate degree for various reasons. Firstly it gave me a necessary amount of breathing space to consider my options. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and lacked work experience. The gap year allowed me to develop a road map for the career that I really wanted to do.

Secondly I felt that my C.V needed development whereby I would use the year away as a ‘testing ground’ to find out what jobs and working environments suited me and which ones didn’t. Finally it helped me develop work skills that I lacked on graduation. Societies and clubs are useful, but they are no substitute to working in and gaining insight into a professional working environment.

Things to Consider: Have a strategy for the year especially if you are taking one after graduation. Make sure you actively develop your work skills and boost your CV in the ample time you have. Gap years can range from 9 – 18 months, rarely come around often and will be wasted if you haven’t used it advantageously to develop key skills employers will look for, work experience and dipping in and out of part-time roles and jobs. Be sure to have some time off but don’t lose focus of the big picture.

Be willing to work various jobs and some of them for free. This can range from internships to programming or to simply creating a weekly or monthly blog. If you cannot afford to travel or work abroad for that length of time make the most of applying for and securing useful summer jobs and opportunities. Sign up for courses that can help your development in areas you aren’t comfortable with in the work place.

The part-time work experience does not necessarily have to be a commercially orientated or a major company to utilise it.  For example if you are a sales assistant working in a shop but interested in finance- ask your manager to talk you through the accounts and reporting. If you’re interested in HR and work in a bar- ask the manager to talk you through the hiring process and see if you can sit in on any interviews.

If you find your passion in the duration of the year, work on it. However if you don’t exactly gauge what you want to do the average person taking a year out will have gained valuable life skills, developed some expertise in a working environment and diversified their CV by experimenting in various part-time jobs. This will make them more flexible in the eyes of potential employers as they are not always guaranteed talent through their company-run graduate programmes and internships.

Matthew Williams

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