It’s the now almost cliché dilemma: you can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job.
This apparently vicious circle makes navigating life as a recent graduate, or soon-to-be recent graduate, all the more stressful. How do you, after years of focusing on studying to get a degree, enter the job market with the experience employers want?
You can apply for internships and write email after email to people working in the industry you’re interested in asking for a week’s work experience, and those things are definitely worth doing. But if you’re struggling to land something that way, or want to boost your CV further, don’t overlook the opportunities you’re surrounded by at uni. Opportunities that don’t rely on someone to respond to your work experience requests or give you a chance on a summer internship.
Most university students’ unions in the UK have a diverse range of societies and sports clubs students can join, participate in and even run themselves alongside their studies. With some exceptions, you can do so for a relatively low membership fee. Many also run no-commitment taster sessions, so you can effectively use the broad range of societies at your uni to try different things and find out more about what you’re good at and truly interested in.
Societies certainly allow you to demonstrate desirable skills to employers. If you’re interested in a career in media, and have spent years at uni working in the student newspaper office, you can show how committed you are to the line of work as well as having some relevant experiences to draw on and discuss at interview.
More importantly, though, talking about your society involvement allows you to make your job application more personal. You’ll be competing for roles with grads from similar level universities to you, who’ve studied similar courses and attained similar grades at the end. But have all of them set up, for example, the first ever TEDx Talks Society at their uni?
Speaking to GradTouch, Kate Birtwistle, Senior Client Manager at Capture, said that when she hires grads she’s looking for “something different on a CV”. She wants to hire graduates “who haven’t just sat around. People who have gone out and done things”. She added, “I get a lot of instances where there’s loads of fairly decent education and work experience, but not a lot to say. There needs to be something extra.”
Joining and committing long term to a society or sports club is a great way to add that something extra to your CV and tell the employer more about who you are as a person. Being part of a sports team, for example, suggests you’re a team player, you’re competitive, driven and committed to showing up and competing every week – especially if you’ve made it to a high level in your chosen sport. In fact, many hiring managers for jobs in recruitment and sales look favourably on sports team membership and leadership over the uni you went to or grades you got.
Increasingly, employers aren’t looking to have a conversation about your grades and where you studied – and they know you don’t have all the experience you need straight out of uni. But the societies you were part of allow you to tell a unique story about yourself as a job applicant, and just might make the difference between you being hired or not.