Getting onto the career ladder: Tips for A-Level/Uni Students

This is a presentation I gave to students at my former college (Runshaw) on my path through A-Levels, university and the skills/experiences needed to secure a graduate job.

The presentation by itself won’t make too much sense – I’ve expanded on the information provided with the notes below.

3. The Long Term View

I was asked to come and give a presentation on internships, but hopefully I can fit in the wider picture of WHY you need the internship in the first place.  I also wanted to give a little more information on internships within startup and SME companies around the UK.


4. Stand out from the crowd?

The 2.1 is almost irrelevant. Without work experience and extracurricular activities, you WON’T be looked at. I have lots of friends with 1st class degrees who are now looking for a little experience – it’s really hard unless you’ve done something extra WHILST at university.

Consider: Joining a sports team; careers society; student union; academic club; dance group; acting society; doing DofE; volunteering to get noticed and (incidentally) add points to your CV.

If anything, I’d say your degree should take up no more than 1/3 of your time (though you should still be aiming for your 2.1/1st class!). The other 2/3 should be focused on extracurricular activities (societies, newspaper, volunteering) and socialising. The reason is, most graduate jobs aren’t limited by degree title – you can become a financial analyst with a history degree, lawyer with an English degree etc. Employers are looking for a minimum level of academic achievement, but far more important are the soft skills you have, and the opportunities you’ve taken whilst at university to go above and beyond the level of other students.

Join Twitter and LinkedIn, companies are using social media, but students aren’t really taking advantage of it fully. Read up on the latest internship opportunities and industry news. You should know the implications of law changes, new product launches and be able to explain them in a simple way.


5. Play the Game:

Learn the rules: How to research companies, quickly fill in application forms, prepare for and answer interview questions correctly, how to come across well in assessment centres, actually benefit from networking events.

One of the ways you can achieve this is though a careers society – Bright Futures is one of the best and offers:

  • Personalised careers events
  • Coaching/mentoring
  • Improving soft skills
  • CV Reviews
  • ‘Dinner with Industry’


6. How I did it?

– As a fresher at the University of York I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do after university and, like most people, I didn’t care.

– I was vaguely aware of the milkround and some companies that came onto campus to present, wanted to do something involving business and technology – not economics!

– What I wanted to stress is that you can learn a lot about internships/careers with MINIMAL amounts of CONSISTENT effort. Go to an event once every few weeks, spend 10 minutes on AllAboutCareers etc per month – It all adds up.

– Careers service wasn’t great – too much banking stuff, so I decided to go it alone – created my own society with the help of the national Bright Futures partnership

– Starting creating events with big graduate recruiters and learning more about different types of careers: consultancy, finance, technology, marketing, advertising,

– The point was to find out what I DIDN’T like, so not to make mistakes when I wanted to apply for real.


7. Getting an internship

Unfortunately, the biggest graduate recruiters usually only do summer internships in your penultimate year. This doesn’t mean you can’t get some experience before then! Startups (I’m sure you’ve heard of Facebook/Twitter/Spotify/Soundcloud etc) are always in need of young, talented and ambitious people to help and grow their companies.

Enternships was started by someone who thought the same (Rajeeb Dey, Oxford student) – It lists hundreds of internships from exciting start-ups [Many are venture capital backed] where you can gain some awesome experience and work with fun people, doing things you really wouldn’t get a chance to do in a normal job. Freelance students is up and coming, providing much the same service.

Inspiring Interns is a service you can use whilst at university to get an internship without going through the standard recruitment procedure.

Escape the City is more for experienced people, but also lists great volunteering opportunities.

I’d also recommend the International Citizen Service – speak to me about that later if you’re interested in volunteering.

So, I didn’t have much luck in second year getting a ‘proper’ internship, and still didn’t really have a clue what I wanted to do. Cue logging on to Enternships and looking through a few different postings. One that really caught my eye was called LeBridge, and it was based in Paris – how many more reasons did you need to take the opportunity?! I applied online, then had a Skype interview with two of the co-founders. Found out a few weeks later (around May 2011) that I was through! Packed my bags and set off at the beginning of July to Paris for 2 months.

I interned with another student from Brown University in the US, and worked on LeBridge creating relationships with other startup hubs around Europe (Berlin, Prague, Krakov) to arrange English speaking startup pitching events and hopefully drive more venture capital funding over to Europe. During this, I was pitching the idea to company founders at events in Paris and writing funding proposals to the EC. My work also involved sketching up plans for the website, strategising our key selling points to investors and working on the social media side.

In my spare time I did a LOT of sightseeing, looking at museums and managed to get fairly fat on cheese and wine.

Once back I started applying for graduate jobs and was able to leverage the experience doing something completely different into a number of interviews and assessment centres (which I failed!), tried again this July and succeeded in getting a job with Ernst & Young 3 weeks later.


8. Books for Economics

If you’re studying economics, these are a few of the books I found genuinely interesting and the least full of maths.