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Think Outside the Box: Why Students Should Look Beyond Grad Schemes

A simple tip to give to job-seekers, especially those who have been looking for a while, is not to restrict your opportunities. I’m a final year university student, so for the past few months I have experienced first-hand what it’s like to be a graduate looking for a job in 2016, and I’ve seen a lot of my friends going through the same thing.

Having worked with Touchpoint Resource alongside my degree for over a year now, I’ve picked up various recruitment hints and tips along the way. Thanks to this experience, I’m pretty sure that what I’m going to say about not pigeon-holing yourself – and being open-minded when it comes to job-seeking – is a good attitude whatever stage of your career you’re in. However, as I’m a final year student myself, I’m going to tailor this post more specifically to students and graduates.

As a final year student, the obvious place to start job hunting is grad schemes. These programs are often offered by big, attractive companies with names you’ve probably heard of, they often have a clear link to the skills you’ve nurtured throughout university, and they’re actually designed for students who don’t have a lot of experience in their industry. Everything about them seems perfect for a first job.

The problem is, everyone thinks they look great. I know I did, back when I was looking at them for the first time in the Autumn term. This means, as every final year student knows well, that they are ultra-competitive. You can expect to go through a long recruitment process, only meeting someone face-to-face towards the end.

The most important thing that I want to say is that these big grad schemes are not the only option – there are lots of exciting, smaller companies out there who might be perfect fits for you.

Granted, I’m a little biased. I currently work part-time for two small businesses: Touchpoint (a recruitment agency) and Impression (a digital marketing agency). I love working with both companies, and I’ve been fortunate enough to gain experience with two small companies that are both very different. What they have in common, however, is that right from the word go, face-to-face interaction is essential.

When I started talking to Impression back in December, it only took about a week for me to meet Aaron Dicks, one of the Managing Directors, and for him to discuss my CV with me in person. The bottom line for me was that even if I didn’t get a job at the end of it, I knew that my CV had been read by a real person at the company, and that there would most likely be a good reason for not getting a job. I would personally much rather not get a job and go away knowing that there are things I can improve on than have my CV rejected by a computer program.

Another benefit to small companies is that there is a lot of scope for personal growth. That’s not to say that in a grad scheme or a bigger company you wouldn’t grow (the whole point of them is to develop your skills in the right way), but small companies can give you a huge variety of responsibilities and skills very quickly. With Touchpoint, I started out doing data entry to smooth over the transition to our new online database, but as it transpired that I was looking to gain marketing experience, I soon took over the social media accounts to allow the other guys to focus on recruiting. As a result of this, I had to very quickly learn how on earth to go about running social media accounts, and gained a load of great experience in doing so.

So where do you start with all of this? Another great thing about grad schemes is that they’re easily accessible, with online applications just a few clicks away. Smaller companies might be similar, but it’s often harder to find the openings. My best advice to students is to get out there. Go to events where these companies are present, and talk to your university careers office. If your university is like mine, your careers department will probably already have links with local companies in place that you could benefit from.

Remember that smaller companies can be far more personal than bigger ones. There is no substitute for meeting the people that work there and make the hiring decisions. It takes a bit of confidence, but it will serve you well in the long run. Even if you meet people and don’t end up with a job, you’ll have made useful contacts, and likely learnt a lot of stuff that will help you improve in the future.

I’ll close by saying again that in any stage of your career, you’re only hurting yourself by closing yourself off to new, different opportunities. Think outside the box – see if you have any skills that could be transferred to a type of company or industry that you haven’t worked in before. You have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain by doing so.

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