Universities offer a huge range of services to help you launch your career, both through the careers service and related bodies such as enterprise hubs. Some of these may surprise you – for example, did you know that, depending on your university, you could explore your personality, take free practice psychometric tests (and get help if you don’t do as well as you’ll need to), apply for funding to support a business idea or charity you want to launch, or speak to a business adviser? What’s more, there’s seldom a charge to use them (unless you want to, say, rent space for your start-up business).
If you're reading this during the coronavirus pandemic, it's likely that a number of these services will still be available to you. Many forms of help provided by careers services were virtual to start with and services are doing their best to offer things like one-to-one careers guidance remotely while staff are working from home.
I’ve already graduated – can I still get free careers advice?
Depending on which university you attended and how long ago you graduated, you may still be eligible to use your university’s careers service – or use a different university’s careers service, if you live a long way from your old uni. You won’t be charged for either.
Some universities allow you to use their services for a fixed number of years after graduation: for example, five years at the University of Strathclyde, three years at Bristol and two years at Edinburgh and Manchester. Others, such as Oxford, Durham, Exeter, Cambridge and Aberystwyth, let their graduates use their services at any point in their lives, albeit with the odd caveat (for example, Durham and Cambridge have some restrictions on when in the year alumni can have an appointment with a careers adviser, so as to avoid their busy periods).
If you live too far away from your old uni to visit in person, you can often arrange to speak to a careers adviser via phone or Skype. Alternatively, in some instances you can use the careers service of a university closer to home. This tends to be limited to those who’ve graduated within the past three years (one year in Scotland) and you might not be eligible to use all its services (for example, you might be able to use its information resources but not have one-to-one careers advice).
Job-hunting workshops, clinics and skills sessions – practical help
Careers services hold regular workshops, drop-in sessions and clinics to help you get a job. These typically include:
- CV and application clinics
- assessment centre workshops
- aptitude test practice sessions (under authentic conditions)
- presentation skills training
- business skills workshops (for budding entrepreneurs).
How careers advisers can help you
Key areas in which careers advisers can support you include:
- helping you to explore the types of work that you might enjoy and be suited to, and the typical entry criteria – this could involve a strengths analysis
- making your job-hunting approach smarter and more strategic – for example, by helping you to focus your job search and to make speculative applications where appropriate
- giving practical advice on succeeding in recruitment processes, such as improving your CV, applications, interview technique, performance in psychometric tests
- advising you on networking and making the most of social media accounts such as LinkedIn
- helping you to decide on postgraduate study
- providing information on working abroad
- understanding the UK job market if you are an international student
- pointing you towards further useful resources such as events, workshops, company information, alumni networks and work experience opportunities.
Alumni, employers and events – making introductions
Careers services have strong relationships with employers and often also with alumni. Here are some of the ways they can connect you with them:
- via alumni databases, which contain details of university alumni in different careers who are happy to be contacted for help or advice
- via careers fairs, work experience fairs and employer talks and presentations (sometimes specific to a particular career; sometimes not)
- via their knowledge of and relationships with employers that may be a good match for you – in particular, careers services often have close relationships with local companies, who might not advertise their vacancies widely
- via their relationships with other student services, such as part-time jobshops, enterprise hubs or volunteer hubs.
How an employability award can help your job hunt
Careers services often run employability awards, which can provide proof of the skills you’ve gained through extracurricular activities (such as student societies). They also typically help you to identify the skills you developed and to come up with examples of your skills – which is what you'll need to do when applying for jobs.
11 potentially surprising ways your careers service can help you
- Interview simulators. At universities such as Strathclyde and Oxford Brookes, you can practise your interview skills online. For example, at Oxford Brookes you can have a go at answering typical interview questions, record and review your answers, and find advice from actual employers on how to answer their questions.
- Podcasts on career-related topics. For example, the University of Glasgow has a fortnightly Sound Tracks podcast in which its hosts interview Glasgow graduates from around the world about their career journeys.
- Site visits. Meeting employers in real life and seeing their workplaces can provide useful insights. The University of Hertfordshire's Careers and Employment Service, for example, organises regular trips to different employers.
- Exclusive work experience and volunteering programmes. Many careers services run programmes designed to give you real-world experience that are only available to students at your university. For example, at the University of Oxford you could join the student consultancy (which involves working as part of a team of students to help a local organisation to solve a business problem or strategic issue) or join the agency (where you'll work in a marketing or advertising role to help a local organisation). Meanwhile the University of Birmingham offers overseas internships, and internships in start-ups, small businesses and social enterprises, that are exclusive to its students.
- Funding for business ideas. Careers services and enterprise centres sometimes offer funding to help you explore or develop an idea for a new business, charity or social enterprise. For example, the University of Hertfordshire offers a £600 summer award to try out a business idea over a summer vacation and an enterprise fund of up to £2,000 to help you launch your business.
- Mentors from your chosen career. Some universities run mentoring schemes that will match you up with a mentor who's already successfully working in the career you want to enter, and who's willing to spare some of their time to offer you information and advice. For example, the University of Birmingham offers an alumni leadership mentoring programme with mentors who've reached the top of their chosen careers.
- YouTube vlogs and tutorials. Careers advice and 'how to' guides are available to view from the comfort of your own room. For example, the University of Glasgow offers advice and inspiration via its fortnightly Coffee and careers vlogs and practical application tips via its Quick learn YouTube tutorials.
- Online courses and webinars. Your university may have opportunities to sign up for more formal online learning opportunities. For example, the University of Glasgow currently offers online courses in exploring and applying for careers and the University of Hertfordshire covers topics such as finding work as a freelancer, setting up your own business and for women in STEM and for international students.
- CV builder tools. Check whether your university does as Oxford Brookes does and offers a CV builder tool, allowing you to type details of your qualifications and experience in and get a professional CV out.
- Office space for your start-up business. Many universities offer dedicated services to help students and graduates with start-up businesses. Often this includes the option of office space, which can bring benefits such as informal networking opportunities with other student/graduate entrepreneurs and shared facilities such as printers. Be aware, though, that in some cases you'll need to pay for this office space.
- Face-to-face courses on a surprising variety of topics. Some careers service courses are rather more unexpected than, say, CV workshops. How about, for example, personal development for women (run by the University of Oxford) and mindfulness (run by Oxford Brookes)?