Student Handbook: Career Development
Here's our guide to making your part-time job or internship work for you, and to avoiding getting ripped off in the process
It can be pretty hard to think about the future while you’re still at uni. When most of your time is spent stressing over exams and coursework or lying in bed hungover trying to decide if it’s OK to order a takeaway for the third day in a row, your career options post-uni aren’t always at the front of your mind.
But planning for the future isn’t as daunting as it may initially seem and, in the long run, you’ll be glad you got your shit together when you did. There are lots of things you can do to build up your CV or portfolio at uni, and you’re probably already doing some of them without even realising it.
You may think your part-time job in a bar/restaurant/supermarket/clothes shop is just a means to an end, helping to fund your newfound penchant for about six-too-many double vodka Red Bulls in da club followed by some late night chips and cheese on the way home. But student jobs can often afford you lots of transferable skills, which come in handy when looking for graduate jobs.
Simple things like time management, teamwork, prioritising tasks and using your initiative are just a few examples of the kind of skills all employers across the board look for in a suitable candidate, and all of which you learn in your part-time job. Make sure you stick these into the ‘skills’ section of your CV – they do actually mean something to employers, even if it may not seem like it.
“We don’t want the interns to start fainting again”
Yup, an actual quote from an actual person there. You’ve probably heard plenty of internship horror stories, and they’re probably all true. Interns sitting sweating in windowless offices with no fans or air conditioning during the annual two-week UK heatwave; being sent off on a whole day of returns from 9am-7pm without a break; transcribing, transcribing and more transcribing – all likely stories about the realities of interning.
Internships can often feel like a bank-breaking, time-consuming, soul-destroying necessity when it comes to gaining work experience in your chosen field, but there are things you can do to make them more bearable and to make sure you’re not getting rinsed.
Claim back your travel expenses: This is something most companies should offer, especially if you’re working for them for free, and if they don’t then quite frankly they’re taking the piss. It doesn’t hurt to ask, so make sure you do – every little helps.
Make your interests known: If your line manager asks you where your main interests lie, tell them. This often means you will get tasks assigned to you that are in line with your interests, rather than just being handed random things.
Be thorough: Always put a bit more effort into your work than you think you probably should. It will generally go appreciated and mean you will be able to progress on to more advanced tasks. It will also mean you’ll get a good review at the end.
Voice your opinions: If you have an idea or a suggestion, pitch it. It may result in you being able to carry out that pitch, so it’s well worth speaking up. Again, this also plays well into your end review and can result in continuing to work with/for the company again in the future.
If you don’t have the time, money or patience to slave away in an internship though, don’t tell anyone we told you but you probably don’t really have to. You can often gain just as much valuable experience from things like blogging, freelancing or starting your own projects as you can from interning, and the plus side is you can do it all in your spare time from the comfort of your own home or sitting in a hipster café, if you’re that way inclined.
Start your own blog: Wherever your interests lie, blogs are a really good way of exploring and expanding your knowledge on your passions, and they’re generally free and simple to set up – unless you really want to show off your web design skills, in which case you can jazz up a Squarespace or Wix site to your heart’s content for comparatively little.
Look for freelance opportunities: Keep an eye on websites like Creative Scotland, Creative Edinburgh, Creative Dundee and Mediargh, who often post call-outs or adverts looking for paid interns, short-term roles and volunteering opportunities.
Start your own projects: Get a group of friends together, assess your different skills and areas of expertise, brainstorm some ideas and get going; you never know, you could be the next big thing, or at the very least you’ll gain some hands-on work experience.