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As students, we often feel that career development is a challenging and arguably intimidating journey to embark on. However, what we seldom realize is that every decision we make, from our course selection at university to the societies and friends we engage with, can influence our future careers. Even the choices that lead up to a chance encounter with a professional who may become a mentor or valuable connection later on, can emerge as a pivotal moment in our journey. This article aims to provide guidance and structure to these choices to make them more informed and calculated decisions that line up with a broader vision.
High Fliers Research published a report in early 2021 which found that employers in the UK were increasingly seeking applicants with relevant work experience for graduate-recruitment. According to the report, a shift in recruitment strategies also made it more likely for UK employers in the post-pandemic job market to hire candidates directly from their pool of interns. This is exactly why we should be more mindful of the importance of taking a proactive approach towards career development, and building a robust portfolio that can give us a competitive edge during our job applications and interviews.
Constructing the groundwork for a fertile career path can be boiled down to four simple categories: networking, internships, volunteer work and professional development. We will cover not only what each involves, but also their benefits and the different avenues from which these opportunities can be approached by anyone.
Networking, at its core, means associating with individuals who share your interests and passion, in the goal of forging professional and social contacts. Although it can demand your time and dedication, forming a network is an invaluable tool. It makes you visible in the eyes of industry-leading experts and enables you to make connections with like-minded individuals.
If you want to start networking right away, you can consider signing up to industry events on Eventbrite and applying to attend Early Insight Programs offered by a host of elite companies, like JP Morgan Chase, Deloitte, and HSBC. These taster sessions are designed for first-year undergraduate students and are truly enriching, because they allow you to get a feel for the work life and culture of a firm. While you may find yourself naturally gravitating towards the private sector – I know I did! – you can think about exploring the public side as well. The Early Diversity Internship program, offered by the UK Civil Service, is an award-winning opportunity as it is specifically geared towards those from ethnic minority backgrounds.
However, to really put yourself out there, you got to have some real talk, which means actively holding meaningful conversations with professionals to pick up some of the latest insights and trends of the industry. This can be immensely beneficial when seeking internships within top UK companies, because it will bolster your interview performance and in some cases, can lead to referrals. Personal recommendations are sort of like gold-dust in the competitive job market and can be the Tinkerbell to your aspirations.
Still, fret not if you don't get a referral or aren’t accepted into a taster program. There are several other available routes to networking. Reaching out to your college’s career center, forming connections on LinkedIn, and talking to experienced seniors are equally rewarding ways to grow your network.
Following on from this, internships are another crucial investment into career development, as they lay down opportunities to gain practical work experience. The crux of their value lies in being able to – and I’m sure you’ve heard this many times before – put theory into practice within a professional setting. Through working on real projects, with real customers and real outcomes, while interacting with numerous stakeholders, you will also be able to grasp the daily business activities of the company.
Moreover, internships help foster new skill sets or refine pre-existing ones. By placing yourself in a stimulating and productive environment, you will be able to improve qualities such as critical thinking, project management and problem-solving, which are greatly in demand.
We can come to see internships as the engine by which individuals develop their career prospects, and contrary to what you might expect, it is quite easy to search for them. For example, college fairs are a great option – close to home and with a lot of familiar faces, they can be a useful platform to meet recruiters. Further, easy to access job boards like LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Indeed, also contain relevant opportunities that students can take advantage of.
Another neat online tool is career pages on company websites. They list all the winter and summer positions that are being offered and usually have a lot of details like in-depth work descriptions and grade requirements. Namely, Barclays includes internships in fields such as investment banking, quantitative analytics, and technology, while PwC centers on areas like tax, audit and assurance. It is always a good idea to scout a host of different companies before you start applying!
Remember: You will probably have to apply to a range of different opportunities in order to secure a position. This is natural given the competitive nature of internships. What is important, however, is that you aren’t disheartened by any rejections and come to accept that success and failure are two constants within peoples’ journeys, in keeping with the arguably sadistic sense of dualism in the universe.
Volunteer work with startups, charities or organizations is also necessary, as it shows a commitment towards social responsibility that is fairly appealing to future employers. Again, you are likely to develop crucial team working and leadership skills through volunteering, this time with the added benefit of having a positive impact in the community. Not to mention that it feels pretty good, too!
This is especially important when it comes to bulking up your resume and giving you talking points during interviews for graduate level jobs. Something you can keep in mind: large volunteering projects can also act as an alternative in the event that securing an internship proves a little tough – it happens to the best of us.
While volunteer work can be found through societies at your college, or online sites like Do-it, you can also sign up directly with organizations, such as charities like Red Cross and Oxfam. Public events like the London Marathon, World Aids Day and the Battle of Ideas Festival are all on a lookout for eager volunteers, too.
I find that volunteering is also a rather wholesome way to partake in specific activities but avoid their visa restrictions. As a UAE-based student, you will most likely be granted a Tier 4 UK visa which doesn’t permit freelancing. So instead of paid tutoring, for instance, you could volunteer in virtual programs offered by charities like Coachbright, to teach small sessions with underprivileged students. A more noble endeavor, wouldn’t you say?
Lastly, working on your professional development is an additional aspect to focus on. You can increase your knowledge in certain spheres of expertise by completing online courses or workshops. By doing this, you show employers that you are keen on learning and have taken the initiative to enhance your skills.
Luckily, there are a lot of approachable and free options out there. LinkedIn Learning, for one, presents a wide range of paid and free courses, with the option of a one-month free trial, while Forage offers free virtual work experience programs created by premium companies.
But my personal favorite has to be Coursera! They provide an expansive selection of subject matters and I’m an avid fan of their certification courses. I highly recommend you check it out, and although the cost might be off-putting, don't worry I’ve got you covered. As a student, you can easily apply for full financial aid on the course page and access the teachings for free. Having personally used this feature multiple times, I’ve found it very effective and reliable.
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To wrap up, I think we can all agree that career development is vital for the dynamic landscape of the UK job market. So, it would be quite logical for UAE-based students to be strategic in the way they capitalize on opportunities related to it. To summarize: networking serves as a stepping stone for gathering professional contacts, industry insights and help acquiring internships, which itself impart relevant experiences that give you a preview of your chosen career path. Volunteering showcases your personal values and ethics, while acquiring credentials through courses increase your marketability.
Prioritize these cornerstones and I bid you good luck on your future journeys.
Khushi Nagpal is a second-year History student at the London School of Economics. When she isn’t off gallivanting in fictional worlds, Khushi spends her time writing and self-studying data analytics, which she hopes to pursue after college.