After graduation: alternatives to getting a job

Diving straight into work with an employer suits some graduates, but for others it's the last thing on their mind. Whether you want to be self-employed, take a break, travel or do further study, there is an alternative to getting a job.

Despite extended overdrafts and mounting student debt, many graduates consider the alternatives to getting a job after graduation. It’s not just about taking a break, but more about taking time to explore options, pick up extra skills, build experience and find your true direction – all things that are much easier to do when you are free to do as you please and captain of your own destiny. Start your expedition here with three of the main options.

Take a break and travel

Graduate gap years are more common than ever. There’s nothing wrong with taking time out, traveling a bit and doing something different before you get a job. But, like every other opportunity that you face, this one needs research and planning. Many students intend to take a break after graduation but very few actually do.

Taking time out requires a level of thought and forward planning that is slightly inconsistent with the notion of simply kicking back and relaxing. You need to find answers to the following questions:

  • What will you do and where will you go?
  • Do you want to travel, work (paid/voluntary) or study overseas?
  • Will you need to raise some money/pay off debts first?
  • Why are you doing it?
  • What will other people (potential employers) think of it?
  • Will it help you to get the job you want afterwards?
  • Should you try to get something organised (job/course) before you go?
  • When's the best time to return?

Employers are generally positive about graduates taking time out to travel or work abroad, but only if the experience, personal development benefits and skills gained through it are sold well. Extended holidays without aim are a turn off. If you want to start a graduate job on your return, you need to investigate applications timetables for the careers that interest you before you go.

Work for yourself

More graduates are considering self-employment – and why not? If you have ambition and a decent idea or skill to sell, it's probably worth a go soon after you graduate. You have less to lose, more commitment and energy, you're used to working anti-social hours and, working for yourself beats working for someone else.

Take advice first. There is a lot of free information available to those wanting to start small businesses, so take advantage of every scrap. Banks have useful information packs available and, generally speaking, helpful staff working in this area. The GOV.UK website also provides practical advice for those thinking of setting up for themselves.

Many universities and careers services also have enterprise centres, providing advice to help you explore your entrepreneurial ideas. Some universities make available ‘incubation’ or ‘hatchery’ facilities (work space) for their students’ burgeoning businesses.

The essential elements are: thinking about the customers who will want your goods or services, and be able to afford them; obtaining the financial backing; promoting your products or services, supplying the goods or services on time; and all the other logistical and administration headaches involved in running your own business. If you get it all together, maybe we’ll see you on Dragon’s Den soon!

Further study

Postgraduate study can offer an interesting and fulfilling option while you decide what to do next. Further study doesn’t suit everyone though so be sure to think it through. People generally choose further study to:

  • Continue with a subject of interest to gain more advanced/specialist knowledge.
  • Convert to a new area of work, or add vocational skills to a non-vocation first degree, eg IT, law or journalism.
  • Gain a professional qualification needed to enter a profession, eg law (LPC or BPTC) or teaching (PGCE).
  • Gain practical skills, eg teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) or basic computer, business and accounting skills – useful if you decide to go it on your own and set up a business.

Whatever you do, don't fall into the common trap of thinking that a postgraduate degree is an alternative to a career. Even non-vocational courses can have a vast impact on your future opportunities. Be aware also that collecting loads of qualifications and skills training without gaining supporting experience may not be as good for your CV as you might think. The important thing is to work out what career doors a course or training will close, as well as open, BEFORE you start.