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Going the extra mile: Working beyond the constraints of your course

What’s this all about?

As any employer or postgrad student will tell you, getting good qualifications or a university degree under your belt is a fantastic achievement. It shows you’ve committed yourself to something and come out on top. You’ve achieved your goal!

I don’t want to put a downer on things, but sometimes it’s not quite enough!

In 2010, a poll of employers revealed that the number of applications for each vacancy surged to nearly 70.* That’s 70 (SEVENTY!) university grads going for every available position.

Consequently, it’s more important than ever to get off the couch, cut down on your Pro Evo habit or X-Factor obsession and hone some extra-curricular skills. This can mean anything from taking up a new hobby and getting involved with university clubs, to getting your foot in the employment door by gaining valuable work experience.

Listen up and we’ll tell you how you can go the extra mile without putting your studies and your social life at risk.

What sort of thing can I get into?

The Fresher’s Fair is a cracking place to start. It’s not just a place to get free condoms, pens and posters. It’s good for that too, of course, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to network and put your name down for absolutely anything. If it’s related to your course, that’s great. If not, it still shows you’re not just a bookworm or a dosser.

If you want to be a journalist, write for the student paper. If you want to go into physiotherapy, offer your services to the university sports teams. Have the confidence to get your face out there and people will take notice.

Think long term. Any activities you take on aren’t just to put down on your CV; they could benefit your actual career. During a work experience placement you learn how to network, which will allow you to maximise future opportunities and meet people who may be able to give you a leg up. Be cheeky. Ask for advice and help. They can only say no. The employer could even be weighing you up as a potential employee after you finish your studies.

Displaying a passion for a specific career path, even in unpaid positions, will put you head and shoulders ahead of people with a similar degree to you.

Volunteer work is a perfect way of showing that you don’t just have your head buried in books all day. Even if it’s just a couple of hours a week, it can make the world of difference and show that you’re able to multi-task, plan your time effectively and push yourself.

I’m already pretty busy, how am I supposed to make time?

No matter who you are and what course you do, you can always make time. Even if it’s something as simple as starting up a personal blog about your time at university, you’ll be showing initiative to do something a little different.

There’s even the option of taking time away from your studies to do placements, a year in industry, work abroad and so on.

All universities offer what they call a ‘sandwich placement’. This is a year of paid work experience, which is ‘sandwiched’ between your second and third year at university. These opportunities give you a fantastic chance to get an extended period of work experience and will actually be part of your course too.

You’re not going to earn a ton of cash, but you might get paid a tidy little salary (you might also still be able to get your student loan too!) Sandwich placements can be fairly straightforward to arrange, especially if you get help from your university’s student services department. Some institutions may even have a designated ‘placement tutor’ who will facilitate the application process.

Using your summer holidays wisely gives a key indication to employers that you’ve got something about you. Don’t worry, you’ll still have time for Glastonbury (and maybe Ibiza too) but a ‘vacation scheme’ could give you the edge over students with the same degree.

Many employers offer schemes during the Easter and Christmas holidays, as well as the summer. These schemes tend to be around a month or two months long to coincide with university holidays. You’ll get a refreshing taste of the world of work, develop a bunch of new skills and make some pretty good contacts too.

* http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/jul/06/graduates-face-tougher-jobs-fight