Graduates: What’s your University Exit Strategy?

Aug 27, 2014

UCAS announced earlier this year that university applications have risen by 4 per cent in 2014 – an all-time high in the UK. It’s a promising sign that young people still have faith in higher education, following some of the toughest years for job-seeking graduates. However a record number of applications means the job market is about to get even more completive, with no sign of extra support for students finishing their studies.

A massive 35 per cent of graduates fail to find work within their field and either end up disillusioned, in a job that has nothing to do with their degree or unemployed altogether. Which is a sad way to end an expensive three years of study, with the average debt reaching £60k for students in the UK.

So if you’re one of the 580,000 with pending applications, it’s time to start thinking about how to insure yourself against unemployment with a university exit strategy.

What’s a university exit strategy?

A university exit strategy simply means you are thinking long in advance of graduation about the steps you plan to take to find a job. You need a plan because more applicants mean more competition. With more graduates competing for the same jobs, students have to work harder than ever to stand out and impress potential employers – which means you need to start preparing for the job market as soon as you start university, if not before.

A job interview is about much more than qualifications and technical knowledge; it’s your chance to prove you have the kind of soft skills that employers are looking for, like communication and teamwork. So take an active role in your studies, immerse yourself in group activities and get used to speaking in front of a crowd. Make the most of team projects where you can give and receive feedback – don’t just see them as routine.

Experience is graduate gold for job seekers

One thing many students lack when they leave university is the experience they need to land a job in their field. The fact is a degree isn’t enough any more and you need to show future employers you have working experience to back up your qualifications.

Naturally, time is an issue for any student and money can be tight too, but do what you can to show future employers that you have the initiative to grab any opportunity that comes. Whether it’s paid work, an internship or personal projects to boost your portfolio, the more evidence you have of your skills in practice, the better.

Although unpaid internships may not help you financially in the short-term, they give you a chance to prove you can make it in a working environment, develop skills that you can’t learn in the classroom and add vital experience to your CV.

Understand the skills graduate employers are looking for 

Regardless of what you study at university, you will be expected to posess a range of key employability skills.

You will need to demonstrate evidence of your employability skills throughout your entire application process.

Get yourself a copy of The Student Book to get a deeper understanding of the skills graduate employers are looking for and how to demonstrate them.

We have also put together a list of books for graduates who want to excel in their careers.

Use your summers wisely

After a long year of study, exams and coursework you probably want to spend the whole summer relaxing with your friends. It’s important that you do relax as well, but think about using your summers to boost your chances of landing a job after graduation.

Summer is the ideal time to get yourself a full-time internship and prove you can cut it in the working world. If this isn’t an option for you, get creative and find another way to bolster your CV. Organise and promote an event, start a blog or online community. At the very least, show potential employees you have the initiative and drive to progress your own skills in a practical way that will make you a benefit to their business.

Tip: If you are in your second year of university, strongly consider applying for summer internships. Check out our post on how to get a summer internship

Know when to apply for graduate schemes and jobs 

Firstly, it is important to understand the difference between graduate schemes and graduate jobs. We explain this in our post called: what is a graduate scheme?

Knowing when to apply for graduate schemes and jobs is vital.

If you are in your final year of university, you can start applying for graduate opporttunities.

It may be difficult applying for multiple graduate jobs whilst studying. However, you won’t regret it if you land a graduate job before you graduate.

Coaching to build confidence

Coaching is a fantastic way to build your confidence. A good coach will help you to practice interview skills such as asking and answering questions and displaying good body language – he or she can help point out the areas you need to work on in the safety of a risk free environment. You get the best of both worlds: someone who is rooting for the best outcome for you but is honest enough to point out any flaws in a nice way. After a while job interviewing becomes second nature, especially with one to one coaching.

However, not everyone can afford one to one coaching but there are plenty of free or affordable alternatives, such as the videos and articles that you will find at They cover everything you need to know about getting a good graduate job, from CV writing to researching a company; from making a great first impression to knowing what to do after an interview. Use these articles and videos to coach yourself to job success and insure your self against future graduate unemployment.

If you have already graduated, read our post on what to do after graduation from university.

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