The last year of college is intense. You have exams, final projects, a thesis or a thesis, all while the ever-looming worry of wondering what to do with the rest of your life creeps into the back of your mind.
For those in career-specific degrees, this transition can be a little easier, according to Mary Quirke, a careers guidance counselor and PhD researcher at Trinity College Dublin.
“If they’re moving on from college and they’re coming from professional courses, probably people coming from nursing, dental, medical, engineering, they tend to try to feed into that area of work,” she said.
“If they come from more general degrees, they can often be confused about what they can go to now.”
However, Quirk said this is actually an “exciting time”, as education has changed to allow individuals to retrain, retrain or specialize.
“Back in the day you had a crack at 18 and you couldn’t go back again. [Now] they can also choose to pick an area that they may be particularly interested in and focus on that,” she said.
“For example, if you come from business, you can look at professionalisation in accounting, professionalisation in law, or go into HR, or different aspects of the business. For every single general course, there are so many fallout areas now and they are growing.”
According to Peter Lewis, careers coach at TU Dublin, there are questions that soon-to-be graduates should ask themselves when trying to determine their desired career path.
“They should ask themselves what are their motivations, what are the drivers, what are they excited about and what makes them give 110 percent in a role,” he said.
“Think about the organizations they work with, what values that organization has, how they work. They need to explore what work environments companies offer and whether it is a good fit for them.”
Finding your interests and passions and seeing if you can apply them to a job is also important, he said.
These questions can often be answered through the career events that universities and colleges organize for students.
“All colleges run graduation fairs and recruiting fairs, and it’s amazing how many people think it’s not for them,” Quirke said.
“You should go, meet, talk. Every single business requires a number of different types of skills and you can find yourself in the right place at the right time.”
Lewis added that throughout the year government ministers announce job opportunities as companies expand or arrive in Ireland.
Students should get a notebook and keep track of these companies, he said, so when they’re ready to apply for a position, they have a list of companies they know are hiring.
Students should also talk to course alumni and those working in their desired field to hear some first-hand experiences of what the job is like, he added.
Ms Quirke said careers events are also a great opportunity to network in companies you may want to work for, but for roles you may feel underqualified for.
“Some employers just want a degree and they don’t care what your degree is in. They choose you because of your personality, your skills, your ability to think critically, your ability to write. That’s how you learn to do Irish folklore, or get a degree in geography or history,” she said.
Mr Lewis agreed, adding that there are many online courses available if graduates felt they needed to brush up on a particular skill before applying for these jobs.
“Students need to put themselves in the best possible position and get the best grades they can. For many roles out there there can be a grade requirement. Sometimes people lose sight of that, so make sure you do as well as you can on your course,” he added.
While academic results are important, so are the extracurricular activities on your resume, according to Ms. Quirke.
“A lot of people tend to just focus on their degree or qualifications, but if you look at someone’s CV or LinkedIn profile, it only takes up about two sentences,” she said.
“It’s very good to get involved in clubs and the community, to do volunteer work. It’s what makes you different, it’s your personal selling point. The variety comes in terms of what they did during the summer months, what they did during their downtime, what they did on their evenings and weekends.”
Work experience is also highly meritorious when applying for a job. Not only is it something you can add to your CV, but it also gives you insight into what areas of a sector you work in or don’t like.
According to Mr Lewis, many companies offer structured graduate programs with rotations, allowing graduates to try out a few different roles before deciding which one is best for them.
“During this two to three year period, the student rotates which is a really, really valuable tool to get exposure to different parts of the company. So definitely a good way to help students who aren’t sure what subsection of a company or industry they’re in interested in working in,” he added.
Speaking of resumes, they need to be sharp, concise and tailored to the job you’re applying for, the two career advisors said. Ms Quirke said preparation for the interview itself is also critical to success.
“I don’t think you can go into an interview without preparation. First of all, you have to prepare for the company and the employer: what are their values, you have to know who you’re going into, what is their customer base,” said she.
“The next paragraph is about being ready to talk about yourself. That’s something, culturally, in Ireland we’re not very good at. You have to put your best foot forward and really sell yourself.”
[Panel of] Five best tips
One of the biggest downfalls potential employees have is not researching the company they are applying to. You should know what they do, how they work, what their business base is and how you can contribute to its business.
To really stand out from other graduates, you should try to get as much work experience as possible. Many companies offer summer internships every year, or allow job shadowing. Calling a company you’d really like to work for is another way to get your foot in the door so they know your name before graduation.
Everyone is a potential contact. Lecturers, study advisors, employers, alumni. Reach out to anyone and everyone you think might be a good contact to have. While they may not be able to help you land a job initially, they can certainly prove useful in the future or offer insight.
It seems obvious, but a clean, concise resume is what most prospective employers want. They don’t want reams of information they will never read. Keep it short and to the point, make sure your contact details are up to date and proofread all your spelling.
5. Leisure activities
Although grades and academic performance are important, many potential employers want to know about you as a person. Joining clubs, societies or doing volunteer work can show interviewers a bit about your personality and interests, helping you stand out from the crowd.