By Hilary Whorrall, Careers Adviser at University of Sheffield
1. Careers advisers can help you take the first step to plan your career
By the end of the first year or the beginning of the second, most students have settled into university life, engaged with their studies and begun to establish a social life in this new environment. However, unless you’re enrolled on a directly vocational degree programme, or have had a very clear career focus from the start, as time progresses and you might find it unsettling if your contemporaries start applying for summer internships, or talking about their plans for future postgraduate study and you’re still ‘clueless’.
If you’re a disabled student, have a dyslexia assessment or mental health condition, the transition from the relative security of a well-supported educational setting to the relative unknown of the graduate labour market may seem even more daunting.
Having worked as a University Careers Adviser for many years I’m aware that taking the first step to engage with career decision making is the hardest! However – that’s exactly why we offer you support and access to a wide variety of career planning resources right from your first year. A good place to begin is simply to look for a link to your University Careers Service webpages. These will signpost you to materials to get you started and explain how you can book an appointment for some individual and confidential careers advice. It’s also likely that if you’re receiving DSA (Disabled Student Allowance) you’ll be in contact with your University’s Disability Services, that your Disability Adviser or Mentor can put you directly in touch with a member of staff in the Careers Service.
2. They can inform you of the current job market, offer you tailored support and disability-specific advice
In principle the process of career planning is different for each person, however, if you are managing a disability or long term health condition at university, the effort of keeping on top of a full-time degree programme may be more draining and the time available to undertake part-time work, placements or to volunteer might be more limited. The result of this is that you may have had less chance to ‘sample’ different types of work and to increase your awareness of what’s important to you in a job and to identify your natural skills and strengths.
If you feel that you have a limited knowledge of the broad range of options open to you in the graduate labour market and with your specific degree subject, or if you are concerned about whether and how to inform a prospective employer of your disability, you can always speak to a careers adviser. A Careers Adviser at your university will be able to offer you impartial, informed and confidential advice. Initially, they will talk through what’s important to you in your future career and to explore how you have developed through your academic study and your broader experiences. They’ll help you to identify potential areas of work which might be of interest and signpost you to vacancy sources, as well as put you in touch with other external agencies that also may be able to assist you.
A Careers Adviser can also answer any questions which you have about the recruitment and selection process and ‘reasonable adjustments’ which it may be appropriate to request at interview and in the workplace. It’s also worth noting that most university Careers Services will offer on-going support for up to 3 years after you finish your studies.
3. They can help you find a placement or connect you with a network of industry contacts
Although you’re free to use the Careers Service at your university at any stage in your course, my advice is don’t leave it until near the end of your final year! At University of Sheffield where I’m based there are a variety of ways in which we work with disabled students. In some instances we’ve been able to arrange a brief work placement such as the ‘Taste of Work’, a half day placement on one of our university departments. For students who are required to undertake a longer placement as part of their course, we can advise on issues such as informing a potential employer about your disability and identifying what (if any) additional support they might find useful in the work place. We have an e-mentoring scheme, where we can put students in touch with alumni of the university who can provide tips on entry to their occupational field and give them a deeper insight into their day to day responsibilities.
So – if you haven’t so far made use of the Careers Service at your university, maybe it’s now time to do so? If you’re about to graduate and to move away from the city where you studied, they may be able to offer assistance by telephone, email or Skype. If you’re in the earlier years of your study or a postgraduate student it’s also worth noting that Career Service staff will be available during the summer vacation period.