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As a university student, when should you start thinking about your career?

All university students should start thinking about employability at the start of their courses, not the end. Here are some tips on how to ensure you start preparing for a career early

    Richard Carruthers's avatar

    Richard Carruthers

    Deputy director of the careers service at Imperial College London
    August 19 2021
    when should university student's start to think about employability?


    I’ve worked with many international students over the years, helping them to develop career plans, research career sectors and take control of their career future. An international education can open many opportunities, but you need to make the most of the experience to really benefit. 

    Ensuring that you start to think about your career from the very beginning of the time you’re at university will ensure that you maximise all the opportunities available to you.

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    Plan ahead

    Don’t leave career planning to the final months of your studies. Instead, begin thinking about your career early and fit it in alongside your studies. Your time at university will be busy and it will go fast, but you’ll have many opportunities to develop skills, explore career paths, meet with graduates and hiring managers, and ultimately develop your career plan.

    Start exploring career options in year one. It’s hard to secure an internship early in your degree but many organisations offer insight days during the spring vacation and you can find virtual work experience.

    As you move through university, start to think about what you want from work. Do you seek intellectual challenge? Do you want autonomy? Do you want predictability? A motivations quiz can help you to better understand yourself and develop a sense of direction to your career planning.

    You could also apply for internships, placements, projects and study exchanges. All can help shape your future and will look great on your CV.

    As you enter your final year, be ready to act. It’s important to be aware of early deadlines for graduate jobs so you don’t miss out. Big companies often recruit in the autumn term, while smaller organisations hire later in the year. You’ll also find that many funded postgraduate courses have application deadlines, too. To be prepared, make sure you’ve spent time preparing your CV, developing cover letters, and getting ready for interviews and other selection events.

    Document your abilities

    Keep a record of your achievements during your time at university. At the end of each month, or academic term, reflect on what you’ve learned, what activities you’ve been involved in, and what skills you can now evidence.

    This may include academic content and technical competency along with “transferable skills” such as the ability to deliver presentations, work with others, and write reports. Documenting your skills can help you identify what you’re good at and can help you think about career paths that would match your abilities.

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    Research your career options

    Your university will provide many learning opportunities and networking events to help you explore different careers. Keep up to date through newsletters and check out what activities are available to you from your campus careers service.

    Most universities will host employer presentations, job fairs, mentoring schemes and talks from graduates. You can also search online job boards and company Twitter feeds for job and internship opportunities. 

    Get involved

    A strong academic performance should be your priority; that’s the whole reason for going to university. But employers look for a range of skills, and work and extracurricular experience in addition to your degree.

    You’ll have access to a massive range of clubs and societies giving you the opportunity to meet new people, try new things and take on additional responsibilities. Your university will also advertise internships, part-time jobs and project work through job boards and newsletters.

    Challenge yourself

    It’s natural to feel a little homesick and to gravitate towards students from your home country, but try to start conversations with other students, too. You’ll find your language skills improve and you’ll develop a better understanding of the local culture. You’ll probably also make lifelong friendships. 

    Get your CV ready

    When you apply for a job, you’ll need a CV and it should be tailored for the role. Get familiar with the UK style and format of a CV early in your studies so you’re ready to present yourself to employers.

    The key rules are to keep it to a maximum of two pages; use a consistent format and font; evidence relevant skills for the role; and be direct with your writing style. Your university careers service will have resources to help you.

    Work while studying

    A part-time job or an internship can help you develop skills, build networks, improve language and earn money. Before you apply, it’s important to know of any work restrictions stated on your student visa. The student visa team or careers service at your university will be able to advise to ensure you’re working legally.


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