By Catherine Alexander, Careers Adviser at Cambridge University
Autumn Term is always a hectic time at University for students of any year. If you’re a first or second year you’ll probably be thinking about, and applying for, work experience and internships. If you’re a finalist you’ll be heading into the main corporate graduate scheme period. Each year I meet graduates who are taking an unplanned gap year after finals just because they found they couldn’t manage their academic work AND all the work that goes into researching jobs and making applications in the Autumn. A post-finals gap year isn’t necessarily a bad thing but a bit of summer planning should make the Autumn a less stressful time – at least from a careers point of view. If you have a disability that affects how long it takes to research and draft applications, spending some time now could make the difference between getting through to interview or not.
Even if you aren’t going for corporate jobs and won’t be facing the internship and graduate scheme deadlines in October/November it’s still a good idea to get a head start while you have a little breathing space. It’s amazing how quickly a year goes and you will be making applications at some point!
Seven things you could be doing now:
Write a CV or update one if you’ve already got one. Use your careers service resources to draft/update your CV. Even if you end up writing application forms rather than sending your CV off, it’s a useful process to focus your mind on what skills you have, which you enjoy using and want to take forward into a job and what gives you job satisfaction.
Join LinkedIn. Work up a really good, full, LinkedIn profile. It doesn’t matter that it might not be full of jobs yet. Put in work experience, internships, voluntary roles, societies etc. Some employers, particularly in the corporate sectors, search LinkedIn for students to recruit. They even sometimes let you skip the application process and go straight to interview! They search LinkedIn using keywords so the more skills you mention the more likely it is that you’ll be found. It isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be headhunted but, again, it’s a good process to focus on what you have to offer.
Overhaul your social media presence – you’d be surprised how many employers across many sectors look up the candidates that get through to interview. Google your own name and see what pops up. If there’s anything you’d rather keep private to your friends and family then set your privacy settings accordingly. Social media can also be a good way to demonstrate your communication skills (blogs, twitter feeds etc) or your career interests (organisations can tell if you’re following them on social media platforms) so don’t block absolutely everything.
Plan your strategy for the autumn term and get some of the groundwork out of the way now – sounds dramatic but it’ll really help to reduce anxiety and stress in the heat of the term, and you’ll write better applications too.
Research online about whether they are positive about disability – do they have staff disability networks, are there any case studies or staff stories about working there with a disability?
If your careers service has an alumni network that you can contact, now would be a good time to ask a few questions to get the insights you need to write a better application.
Look up the application deadlines from 2016. It’ll give you a rough idea of when they’ll be this year, though obviously, these might change.
Do they tend to come to careers fairs and presentations at your university? You might want to think over the summer about the questions you’ll want to ask when you have the chance to.
Consider Reasonable Adjustments early – when you come to apply in the Autumn there is likely to be a point at which you are asked whether you need any reasonable adjustments for either application, interview process or the job itself. Many people freeze in the headlights at this point or worry about why they’re asking the question. You might not know what to say because you don’t know exactly what will happen during the recruitment process or in the job. Sometimes students don’t end up asking for what they need, therefore don’t do as well against the other candidates and so don’t get the job. The more knowledge and insight into the role and the working environment you get now the more you’ll know exactly what you need and can ask for it in a positive, confident way when the time comes. Talk through job descriptions and assessment procedures with the recruitment team, someone already doing the job or a Careers Adviser. They can help you visualise each part of the role, how you’ll be doing it and therefore what you may need to do it effectively.
Thinking about applying for postgraduate study this Autumn?
Use this time away from University to research the courses you’re interested in and draft your personal statement for the application.
Do some soul-searching – what are your motivations for doing this course? You’re fascinated by your subject and you aren’t finished exploring it; you need it for a future career path – these are good reasons for a postgraduate course. You’ve been flattered into it by an academic or it is very elaborate procrastination; you can’t think what else to do and it puts off the need for job applications – these aren’t great reasons and it’s very expensive procrastination! What’s more, you’ll be applying for jobs at the same time as doing a masters! When you do come to think about jobs you might find that you need a postgraduate course but a different one to the one you did.
Does the institution you’re considering offer the levels of disability support that you need?
Assessment Centre Test practice. If the last time you did maths was GCSE or your science degree doesn’t involve many essays, you might find numerical or verbal reasoning tests a bit of a surprise. It’s worth finding a few tests to practice online. If your disability means this method of testing these skills doesn’t work for you, you can ask employers to test you for these skills in other ways. It may take time for them to work out an alternative so it isn’t something to ask for at short notice.
There’s no need to spend all day, every day planning and preparing for Autumn applications. A few hours here and there will be enough but could make a huge difference to you and your job prospects later in the year.