Life After University: Is Anybody Out There?

Co-authored by Tom Davenport. Tom is one of the Co-Founders at talent tech startup, TalentPool. Launched in 2013, the business is seeking to change the way that businesses find and hire talent, and is currently focused on the graduate sector.

So you finally made it. After many sleepless nights and junk food, you finally hold your newly acquired polished undergraduate degree. Was it worth it? That's up to you and how you're going to handle the next phase in your life. It's a frustrating place to be, I know. Here you are, being educated and all, like your parents, your teachers and your local newspapers told you to and yet you still can't find the job you're looking for. What's wrong? For starters, when it comes to graduates, the job market can be over-demanding.

To all the employers out there, how do you expect someone to have 2 to 3 years of work experience at a graduate level? I'm not saying there aren't cases as such (and I tip my hat to all the students who managed to combine work and university through their years) but usually university life is a form of full-time employment itself. I talked to Tom Davenport from Talentpool, a graduate recruitment platform, who was kind enough to share the top tips he would give to recent graduates.


Keep an open mind & don't believe the spin.

It's a little known fact that over 80 percent of graduates in the private sector end up working for companies they hadn't heard of while at university. A typical graduate would be forgiven for thinking that the figure was the other way around. So the vast majority of graduate jobs are at companies that don't advertise on national platforms and aren't famous brands. The smaller employers don't have any less exciting opportunities -- they just get squeezed out by the massive employers. Remember, university careers departments are normally funded by big employers, so they too present a warped perspective. In fact, very often the best opportunities are at the smaller companies. They are livelier, more dynamic and allow junior staff to have a greater impact.
A (largely arbitrary) list of the 'Top 20 graduate employers', isn't a list of the best opportunities. It is simply a ranking of the size of the employers' marketing budgets. That's why you shouldn't believe the spin and look beyond the headlines. The pressure on graduates to join a well-known grad-scheme is a relatively recent phenomenon and is, thankfully, losing momentum. The SME sector is meanwhile gaining increasing interest across the board as the engine room of the UK economy and driver of innovation. This is, by its very nature, a fragmented sector, so the best approach is to do your homework (see below), follow the less mainstream jobs boards, join the SME-focused platforms, like Talentpool, and have an open mind to pursuing SME opportunities when they present themselves (they are there, just easily missed amongst the corporate brands).

Do your homework.

Doing your homework remains as important as it ever has been. This applies to investigating a sector just as it does to preparing for an interview. We are increasingly used to quick fixes in our digitally enabled age. Don't let this distract you and don't seek 'efficiencies' like you might in everyday life. If you're unsure whether knowing additional details about a company's product range will help you, assume it will. Devour information and do your best to retain it. Why is this important? Well, it has very little to do with actually knowing that specific information. It's much more about demonstrating to an employer that you are serious. An employer will not be concerned by the prospect of hiring someone on account of them not knowing the business had just opened a Paris office per se -- that's quite easy to fix. However, they will be very concerned by the idea of hiring the sort of person who didn't make the effort to research the business in sufficient depth to inevitably discover this fact. It's not the facts themselves -- it's the attitude that's important, and knowing the facts is a sure-fire way of showing you are serious.


Keep your chin up and get stuck in.

Don't underestimate the challenge of finding a job after university. Some people know what they want their 'thing' to be, are lucky and find (what they think is) the right job apparently without too much trouble -- but those individuals are in the tiny minority. If you find the process confusing, worrying and weirdly difficult (especially given how much time and money you just spent getting yourself a degree) then don't worry -- you're in the majority. Finding a graduate job is very often somewhere between a challenging experience and a crushingly difficult process. So keep your chin up and keep pressing on -- dynamic, with an open mind and positive attitude.
Most people don't work out what they really want to do until late in life -- and, of course, many never do. So don't be concerned by starting with a job you aren't 100 percent sure is right for you in the long term. Getting stuck in is the only way you can truly learn about the full breadth of what is out there and ultimately work out what it is that you want to make your 'thing'.

A related comment is that you shouldn't confuse university applications with job applications -- companies have fewer obligations, move faster and change more frequently than even the most dynamic university. There very often is no official 'process' and certainly not a date by which you will have a definitive answer. Don't let this distract you. At TalentPool, we are working on addressing this. But in the meantime, be as resilient and proactive as you can.

Put yourself in the employer's shoes.

This is very hard to do, especially when you have very little or no lengthy work experience. But always do what you can to think about what the employer wants to know about -- and what they are looking for. If an SME is looking for a trainee account manager, do they want someone who will redefine an industry in 20 years' time? And do they really care whether you played the guitar or the piano? To both, the answer is probably no. What they want is someone who will make an excellent account manager for the next few years. You may well have ambitions to found a multinational or invent the next game-changing gadget.

But remember to focus on what the employer is looking for. Playing the piano or guitar, to an employer, doesn't mean that you are skilled at plucking strings or tickling the ivories. It means that you have the focus and dedication to develop and hone a skill -- and that matters.

Sofia Katsali is a Social Media & Online Community Manager, Co-Founder of the non-profit organization Echelon Donates & has a BSc in Computer Science. She has been interviewed by MTV Act for her online charity work and has a great passion for all things digital, entertainment and design. You can find her in Linkedin and Twitter where she occasionally shares her personal experiences.