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When to start thinking about your career

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At university, you’re trying to juggle studying, friends, extracurricular activities and a host of new experiences. You don’t want to neglect your work or miss out on the fun. So when should career planning really become a priority?

When to start thinking about your career

The easy answer to this question is: now.

It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at – the sooner you put your mind to it, the easier it will be to build a career you really want. Throughout university, you have a huge number of career opportunities you won’t have anywhere else. You can explore your interests, attend events, make contacts, and all the while hundreds of companies will be running around campus trying to recruit you.

The ideal career planning process is as well laid out and predictable as the modules of your degree course. Assuming you’re on a three-year course, here’s what you should do at each point.

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  • Go to careers fairs and start looking for inspiration and contacts. Not sure how to network? Read our bright advice for networking
  • If finance interests you, apply for spring weeks and insight programmes before Christmas. 
  • Whatever your interests, experiment with a couple of work experience placements over the summer.

Second year

  • Firm up your ideas, recognise your talents and decide on the career area that suits you.
  • Research summer internships and apply.
  • Over the summer, spend your internship networking and getting vital experience.
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Third year:

  • Research graduate jobs and schemes, and use your contacts to direct you to potential roles.
  • Polish up your CV and interview skills while you make your initial applications.
  • While you wait to hear back, focus your energy on your finals – you’ve done all you can.

If all goes to plan, your CV will get snapped up, you’ll ace your interviews, and you’ll have a job offer waiting before you even sit your first exam. Need some tips on writing your CV? Take a look at our general advice on CVs and cover letters for graduates.

That’s the perfect scenario. For a lot of people, it’s not the reality. There are a lot of reasons you might need to start later or situations that could throw you off course.

You just can’t figure it out

You have absolutely no idea what to do after university, and careers fairs leave you feeling baffled and horrified… So what can you do? Well, this is the fun part. Ignore the job sites for now, and use your career hunt as a push to try more new things and start exploring what you enjoy.

Join clubs. Get involved. Take on responsibilities. You’ll start to understand what roles will suit you best, and you’ll build up some great material for your CV.

Not sure what you want to do? Find out with Career Path Test

If you're going into university not quite sure about what you want to do, don't worry. Our Career Path Test matches you with roles and sectors that are in line with your values and interests.

You change your mind

Maybe you’ve always had a plan in mind – for example, to become an academic. But you realise it’s just not the right career for you. Your instincts are telling you that a publishing career is the better choice, but you don’t have any publishing work experience to back up a job application.

Changing your mind is a perfectly valid decision. While you might feel like you’re unprepared compared to everyone who started planning for this career in their first year, you can actually use the situation to your advantage. You’ve learned something about yourself and what you’re good at. Be honest about your situation when you apply for roles or work experience, and employers will make reasonable allowances.

Final year student? Don’t panic!

Preoccupied with studying or extracurriculars, you haven’t made your career a priority so far. Now finals are looming, everyone else has plans for the future, and you still feel just as clueless as when you were a fresher.

It isn’t the end of the world. You still have time to find your dream career. But as with everyone else, the sooner you start planning the better off you’ll be. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • You’re not the first. Plenty of bright, capable people need a little time after university to make up their minds about their direction.
  • Graduate programmes will still accept you. You may have missed the application deadlines for this year, but you should definitely research the options for next year. Use our handy application deadline list to view the available graduate schemes for your industry.
  • There’s no shame in an entry-level job. It won’t hurt your chances to do shop work or temping for a year while you set things up.
  • Career routes can be unexpected. Be outstanding at what you do, get noticed, and opportunities might just open themselves up.

For some finance roles, it might actually be too late to get in by any traditional route – investment banks generally expect you to start planning and gathering experience in your first year. But honestly, if you were really suited to being an investment banker you’d probably have realised it long ago.

And finally…

Let yourself be flexible. Just because you’ve been planning something all your life doesn’t mean you have to stick with it. Your dream career might be something you haven’t even heard of yet.

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