With UK graduate vacancies as high as ever, the infamous ‘war for talent’ rages on and employers are engaging with great undergraduates at every possible opportunity.

Which is good news for you, right?

Absolutely. Internships are no longer the preserve of the penultimate year student but often first year students too.  There are also Insight days, Spring weeks, Work-shadow days and competitions …the list is endless and the actual number of opportunities never been higher.

But think carefully.  These opportunities are now less about offering you an insight into the job and more about filling talent pipelines as early as possible.

So what can you do?  How can you best navigate your way to the right experience for you?

Take your time

It may sound counter-intuitive but securing a first year internship or Spring week place is unlikely to make or break your graduate employment prospects.  In fact, with more and more employers offering good first year interns a guaranteed internship the following year, a first year internship may unwittingly send you down a career path that just isn’t right for you. Into a role that you could do but perhaps won’t love to do.   But remember employers do want to see evidence of meaningful activity of some sort during your undergraduate years so tempting though the beach is, keep it to a couple of weeks after exams!

Find out more

Use the opportunities now open to first years to experience as many different employers as you can. Even if you think you’ve nailed your career choice, try something completely different though an insight day or sponsored event for example. Long gone are the days when careers fairs were limited to final year students only and they remain a risk free way to see what is out there.

And let companies such as Futureboard, help you out.  Many of our clients are household names that prefer to take a more bespoke approach to their graduate recruitment so we pride ourselves on really getting to know our candidates and our clients. We focus on finding the best role for you not hitting our targets.

More than just a job

Good employers engage with good university societies. Some employers focus on those societies  directly relevant to their industry such as the investment or law society, but others spread the net more widely and connect with societies such as Enactus in their search for undergraduates who demonstrate the values and attributes that they are looking for. Participating in societies can be a great way to broaden your search.

Remember there are other ways to fill your time

Employers are aware that ongoing paid employment is essential for many undergraduates.  Likewise they appreciate that many would like to pursue voluntary work.  A good employer will give you credit for these experiences but it’s worth being prepared to ‘make up’ for your lack of directly relevant experience in other ways.

For example, being able to demonstrate your commercial awareness through a solid understanding of the business/industry in which you’ve worked.   I interviewed a great candidate who talked eloquently and accurately about the commercial challenges associated with running a ‘Pick Your Own’ fruit farm having spent the summer employed as a casual labourer.  And commitment to a particular employer over a period of time says a lot about you too. Likewise, voluntary or charitable work, particularly for a sustained period is a rich source of examples to illustrate your values, attributes and skills.

Use your placement wisely

Once you have secured some experience, get planning! If you are there for several weeks, you will be able get a real feel for the role and importantly the culture of the organisation. Think ahead as to who you might be able to speak with to deepen your understanding. You never know where a chance conversation might lead.  Search out opportunities or publications only available to employees which will broaden your network and insight as well as perhaps your industry knowledge.

And if your experience is a day or so, the same applies but you will need to be more focused. Write down the questions that you’d like to ask remembering that this is a golden opportunity to ask those ‘obvious’ questions that you might not want to ask during an interview.   Remember the names of everyone you meet with and if appropriate, connect with them after the event.

However long your placement, time preparing how to make the best impression on all you meet is time well spent!

Don’t be afraid to move on

Deciding that a particular career or employer isn’t right for you is just as important as deciding on one that is.  If you are offered a further opportunity and somehow, it just doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to say ‘no thanks’ and look elsewhere.  Any placement or insight day will add value to your CV and your own experience bank so it will not be time wasted.


Written by Emma Judge; Associate Director at Futureboard (maternity cover)

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