What have you done in addition to your degree to enhance your employability and what do you feel you have gained from this?
I joined the university Symphony Orchestra in first year and was a member of its committee for two years, which gave me lots of interesting opportunities to take on responsibility and to help bring about improvement. Because it is entirely student-run and involves a large group of people, my unique and creative experiences from this time have been the most important in securing graduate employment.
While it’s been difficult to balance a part-time job with my degree, being able to write that I have 5 years retail experience on my CV has definitely been worth it. This has given me a whole other set of skills that impress private sector employers in particular and demonstrates self-sufficiency and time management.
Living in France for 4 weeks last summer while completing an intensive language course really helped me to clarify certain things about my preferred career and lifestyle.
Making use of Careers, Employability and Skills at Queen’s
During my second and third years in particular I made use of career guidance appointments, attended as many employer presentations as possible and took part in some Skills for Success workshops (e.g. Assessment Centres with PwC and Leadership Skills with Deloitte). This gave me the opportunity to hear from employers themselves what they are looking for. I also took the opportunity to have a one-on-one meeting with a graduate recruiter from PwC to go over a draft of my CV, which was invaluable in helping me to pick out my most employable competencies.
The Career Connections programme was the most useful experience for me; it helped me to realise how many graduate programmes are open to all subjects, even music, which I had always assumed was a niche area.
I also took part in Enterprise SU’s ‘CREATE’ Creative Business Idea competition in 2014. I thought I’d be completely out of my comfort zone but I ended up winning! This allowed me to present a music-related business idea to representatives from Invest NI and to get great feedback, and some money towards carrying out market research in the future. This gave me the confidence to consider starting my own business in the future.
Any advice for other Queen's students?
If your degree does not lead to a clear cut career, take every opportunity you can to explore activities and jobs you hadn’t considered before; it’ll be really difficult to do this once you graduate! Sometimes we try to stick too closely to hasty or seemingly logical plans we made for ourselves at school; give yourself the freedom to consider things that are completely different or that seem way out of your league. If you’re feeling lost, arm yourself with information; you don’t have to have it all figured out to make progress. Because employers now focus on competencies, a good placement, internship or part-time job (even if seemingly irrelevant) can make up for lacking sector-specific work experience.
Committing more to fewer clubs, societies or jobs packs more of a punch on your CV than being a jack of all arts. Finally, you might have the best parents in the world but that doesn’t mean their careers advice is necessarily good! Getting away from home (e.g. by living in another country for a while) can help you clarify a lot about yourself and your career preferences.