I have a degree, now what?

I have a degree, now what?

If you don't know what to do with yourself now that you have graduated, then you can read our helpful guide to get some ideas. If you are lucky enough to still be studying then this should give you some ideas you can work towards now.
'A lot of valuable time at university is spent schmoozing around and drinking coffee, and finding out about other people, about who you are and what you want. It gives you three years of space.' - Al Alvarez

Even if you don’t know what the practical applications of your degree are, many graduate employers do. They recognise that in those three years you will have developed as a person. You will have matured, gained independence and learned how to manage yourself.

Skills that a graduate has

There is no hard-and-fast rule that says that having a degree makes you a better employee. However, there are some generalisations that can be made about the kind of employable traits that graduates should have acquired during their time in university.

You should have gained a certain amount of emotional intelligence. This may be partly to do with the difference between an 18-year-old and a 21-year-old. But it may also be because you have lived with a bunch of people you didn’t know and have had to establish some sort of social order. This means that you should have a certain degree of tact and empathy. In employability terms this makes you good at communicating and a capable team player.

You should also have learned how to plan and file a document. Whether a lab report, an essay, a research paper or a scrapbook, you will almost certainly have had to put together written coursework for assessment. By the end of uni you will have written significant amounts of paperwork. What is more, you will have written for a specific audience, whether an examiner or a tutor. Involved here are research skills, planning and organising notes, time management, independent working and critical analysis, not to mention the ability to clearly get your ideas across in writing.

In a similar way you should have learnt how to present information and structure a persuasive argument. Most courses have some form of seminar content, even if it is only a token measure to ensure that different learning styles are covered. In these classes students are encouraged to share opinions, lead discussions and even present topics to the class. If this is the case then you should know how to present information orally and visually, as well as how to debate a topic. It should also be a good indication of how you perform under pressure.

You should also have learnt about ‘deferred gratification’ or careful investment. With the increase of student tuition fees to anywhere up to £9,000 a year, you will almost certainly be graduating with a significant debt. The fact that you have chosen to continue learning for three years instead of working suggests that you were willing to make a significant investment because you saw the potential benefits. Recruiters are aware of this commitment and see this as an ability to manage and work towards long-term goals.

Jobs any graduate can do

Regardless of which subject you studied, employers know that you should possess a good degree of all the above skills.

A brief look at the graduate jobs listings on TARGETjobs reveals that, while many employers need candidates to have a 2.1, relatively few specify an area of study. Even fewer require a specific degree.

Typical areas where all degrees are considered include:

  • Management: management training schemes can be found in the public sector, for example, the health sector and in more buoyant economic times, local and central government (Civil Service). Many graduate employers in the private sector also run ‘general management schemes’. Consumer goods companies, manufacturing, logistics and supply organisations, utilities firms and retail-focused organisations all look for bright, organised graduates to train in different areas of business, commercial development and supply chain management.
  • The information technology business: it’s not only for those with computing and programming backgrounds. IT services organisations and technology consultancies often recruit graduates from non-technical degrees for business analyst, consulting and commercial opportunities – these essential midfield roles are the interface between those who focus on the hardcore development work and clients and end users of technology.
  • The finance and professional services sectors: Yes, you can work in finance with an arts or humanities degree, or any other ‘-ology’ for that matter – but, you obviously need to be happy with numbers. If you want to work in the City you will need experience, enthusiasm and a high level of numeracy. But the finance sector is more than the City. It includes accountancies (large and small), financial services (retail banks, insurance, pensions, financial advisory) and professional services (firms that bring together audit, accountancy, advisory, consultancy, legal services and supply them to other organisations). As with management training, many large employers also run finance graduate schemes within their own finance departments.

Jobs that need conversion courses

There are some careers where additional training or postgraduate study will help. Conversion courses are typically postgraduate courses (masters or graduate diplomas) that facilitate the transition into a particular profession.

This course of action is obligatory for careers where, ultimately, you will have to ‘qualify’ professionally, for example: law, teaching, surveying and medicine (though the latter requires a bit more than a conversion course). For these careers it will be important to look at the qualification path so that you can choose the right, ‘accredited’, postgraduate course.

For careers in surveying (building surveying or quantity surveying) you do not necessarily have to do the extra qualification before joining a firm, as some employers support graduates gaining the conversion qualification while they work.

If you are considering teaching, be aware that with a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) you can only teach your degree subject at Secondary or Sixth Form level. If you want to teach a different subject, you may have to gain the relevant degree.

Other career areas that typically have conversion course options include IT, business and finance. However, the additional layer of qualification isn’t always necessary for getting a graduate job in these areas. You will need to weigh up a couple of considerations:

  • Do you need particular specialist knowledge or technical skills to help you get into jobs you have seen advertised that interest you?
  • Would it make you feel more comfortable if you had completed some formal learning in the area before applying for jobs?

A conversion course can be seen as a statement of intent, a way to show your potential employer that you are interested in their subject. Having one under your belt can also boost your confidence when surrounded by candidates who have the ‘right’ degree.

Now explore your options

We have put together a series of guides for confused graduates seeking career ideas and options. In them we outline some key skills that are gained in each degree, and what you can do with them.