If you are a final-year student, this time of year can be particularly fraught; not only are you starting new modules (and very often a dissertation), but there is the added pressure of thinking about your future, something which, although over the past three years it may have seemed very far away, is now looming large and can seem overwhelming. There are so many choices, so many people giving you different pieces of advice. Is it better to dive straight into a graduate job or give yourself a well-earned year out and use it to decide exactly what you want to do?
The application process for graduate jobs can be long and arduous. If you want to go for the big schemes, applications open in September (and some even earlier) and often involve four or more steps including verbal and numerical reasoning tests, application forms, situational judgment tests, e-Tray exercises, interviews and assessment days. Considering the fact that these must be done in strict time frames, many people will find the stress of this alongside their degree work too much to handle. Remember that as important as applications seem at the moment, they are not worth letting your work slip; you’ll need the 2:1 for that job you worked so hard to get. Another mistake people make is to spread themselves too thinly and apply to anything and everything they can think of in a panic that they should have secured a job already. This can mean that the individual applications suffer and they end up wasting valuable time.
So should you instead ditch the applications for now and concentrate on getting the best grades you can? It’s worth thinking about the real reason why you are applying for jobs now. Is it because you are passionate about your chosen career path (be that consulting, retail or law) or because all of your friends are applying and your parents think it’s about time that you should get a ‘proper’ job? If the latter is true, think about taking a year off and re-evaluating what it is you really want to do.
When you think of how long your working life could be (perhaps as long as 50 years), will one year make much of a difference? By not worrying about applications, you leave yourself free to both concentrate on your work and, more importantly, enjoy your final year of university. Giving yourself a year off also means that when you do come to applying, you have more energy and time for those applications and so will (theoretically) have a better chance of success. The year off itself can be anything you make of it – teaching English in Austria, Vietnam or India, learning a new language or just working in a bar to earn money to go off and see the world. After all, when are you next going to be young and free of ties, able to go wherever you’d like, whenever you want?
For some people, however, the siren song of the working world is just too appealing. If you feel like you’re ready for a steady job and, even better, a real salary, then there is a lot to be said for launching straight in. If you go into a job straight from university, you can start building up your career immediately. Even if you do decide you’d like to take a year out later, this isn’t necessarily impossible. Yes, it may be difficult to leave a job once you’ve established yourself for a couple of years, but you have the added advantage that you’ll probably have been able to save up some money. Going straight into a job also means that your future is, for a couple of years at least, more certain.
Most importantly, remember that just because it’s an office job that doesn’t mean that it won’t be fun or interesting. If you manage to secure a place on a graduate scheme with a top employer, it will most likely be well-structured, sociable and give you amazing and balanced experience. Often forgotten are jobs in smaller and less well-known companies, and even start-ups. These roles can often give you more responsibility than you may have in a larger organisation, as well as the chance to gain seniority more quickly. Even if you decide not to remain in the job, or even the same industry, it could be the key to bigger and better things. A graduate job does not have to be a lifetime commitment.
Our parents’ generation had on average more than 11 jobs before the age of 45, and many were entire career shifts. Nothing is set in stone; nobody is going to force you to stay. So what’s my point? Everybody is different, so remember that there are more options avawilable to you than you may think. Your life won’t end if you don’t have a job next September, and it’s not a life sentence if you do. Besides, if all else fails you can always do another degree… or seven.