Deciding the next step after your degree

Some of you will come to university knowing exactly what it is you would like to do after you graduate. I suspect however that the majority of you will either have some vague ideas but are still unsure, or you may be someone who hasn’t a clue. I can safely say that I am somebody who fell into the latter category. Almost two years down the road however, I have a much clearer picture on the route I want to take after I graduate.

It really is common for students to begin university not knowing what they want to do after they complete their studies. After all, you probably found it hard enough picking what A-levels to study, and what university to firm, so picking something that you may do for a large chunk of your life is very difficult. I feel that it’s hard to expect students to be certain of what job they want, especially just after starting university life. Fortunately, no one at the university is expecting this from you, so do not feel rushed into making your career choice, something that is frankly a big decision.

What I have learnt is to not spend too much time thinking about what it is you want to do after your degree. Rather, focus on your studies and achieving the best degree classification possible. Even though it’s perhaps not wise to contemplate too heavily on your aspirations, this is not to say that you shouldn’t immerse yourself to gain as many valuable experiences as you can whilst at university. As I have mentioned, I did not know what I wanted to do after university, so I made a strong effort to attend a variety of careers-based events and talks which give me insights into different industries, and opportunities to ask questions to those in the world of work.

I would also recommend trying to gain some work experience in fields that you are even partially interested in working in as this will help you to learn more about what industries you may enjoy working in. I feel that the way that I have gained most knowledge regarding my future goals after university is through a combination of work experience and attending events at Lancaster University. I hope you recognise the importance of gaining these experiences in helping you decide what you would like to do after you graduate, as I think that my experiences over the last two years have in a way made my mind up for me, or at least have heavily contributed to my decisions.

I have learnt that employers are less concerned with your degree title, and more about what you can bring to the company. This has implications in two regards. Firstly, do not see your degree as a limitation or barrier. By this I mean, just because you have chosen a Marketing degree does not mean you can only go into marketing. Of course, some roles will require particular degrees such as Medicine to become a Doctor, but on the whole, you will have the opportunity to work in almost any sector. So, when you do come around to thinking about what you do after you graduate, be sure to consider opportunities beyond your degree scheme.

The second implication is use your time to build yourself up the best you can over the course of your degree, rather than using your time worrying about not knowing what to do. Your ambitions will come naturally to you, don’t feel obliged to go out of your way looking for them.

Where are they now?

From the very beginning of the course, I have always enjoyed Employability weeks. These are special events designed by the Careers team in order to prepare us for life ahead. Over the two terms, there have been many events, such as Networking day, Team Building away days, and one-on-one sessions with Martine and Peter (Career Mentors). In such a demanding course as ours, these weeks have been a source of relief, when we don’t have to think about the theories of HRM or the concepts and mathematics of Economics.

One event that stood out to me the most was “Where are they now?” It was basically an event where MSc Management alumni came and told us about their experience while pursuing the course and journey after they had finished and had gone on to pursue jobs. Some of them had over 10 years of experience now, and some of them had graduated just last year. They all had the different opinions and yet in many ways, they were all the same. One alumna, who had graduated in 2002 and had a work experience of over 10 years under her belt, told us to persevere while applying for jobs. She suggested websites which she found relevant when she was applying for placements. Listening to her story rejuvenated us and filled us with hope. After all, failure is not the end and success is not all. She was an international student and I could relate to her story as in many ways, I am going through a similar phase, the confusion of whether to go back to India to work or to keep applying to get a job here in the UK. She chose to go back to China and returned after a few years of experience.

Another alum from the 2012-13 batch, who is currently working in Rapid7, described his learning from the course as a stepping stone to the future. He mentioned that the course taught him the essentials but working life had much more in store. He mentioned that he did not have a technical background, but the knack for learning. He also mentioned that it is essential for us to figure out our strengths and be honest while applying for jobs.

Another alum from the same batch, who is currently working in DHL, mentioned his struggles while applying for jobs. He mentioned that he applied for 27 jobs and got rejected at some stage or the other before landing the job in DHL as a consultant. His will to not take no for an answer made me wonder. I am going through the rejection phase myself, where most of the companies do not provide VISA sponsorship. When they do, they don’t like my application form. If I clear that round, I get rejected in the situational judgment test and if all goes well, there is absolutely no way I’m clearing the video interview round. So far, zero success rate. But what is life without struggle? To have a good story, we need failures and the will to fight back. (Luckily, I am not scared of failure so bring it on, Life!!!)

The session was not just inspirational but informative too. All the alumni gave us insights, not just into the struggles they faced, but how we can apply to the companies they are currently working in. I connected with most of them on Linkedin and asked for their advice on my CV and on whether their companies provide VISA sponsorships. I feel that this event was a good opportunity for people like me who felt they were lost. Getting rejections is not easy but knowing that others have faced the exact same thing and have still made it work somehow, makes it a lot easier.

Is an Industrial Placement for me?

I have known since the day I decided that I wanted to study a business related degree that I wanted to complete an industrial placement as part of my time at University. I knew that the experience this would offer me would be invaluable, not only for furthering my understanding of my subject, but also when it comes to applying for graduate jobs when I leave Lancaster. But the decision isn’t always so easy for everyone.

Applying for a placement year can be incredibly scary. Because it divides your degree into two segments (first and second year, the placement, and then returning for final year), this means that everyone else completing a three-year course will have graduated by the time you return. This is something I am absolutely not looking forward to – leaving my friends behind during what would have been my last year with them.

Not only that but during first year I felt completely unprepared for a real life, real responsibility, real workload job. As much as I was loving University life, I wasn’t ready to take the next leap on my career path. These are the fears that often prevent people from applying for a placement year as part of their degree.

I cannot stress enough how valuable a placement year is. This is especially true in industries like mine (Marketing) where not just graduate jobs but the job market in general is fiercely competitive. A placement gives you the upper hand over other candidates – you already have a whole year of work experience in your field, working on real projects with real people in a real company. That is something that makes you stand head and shoulders above your competitors when it comes to finding a job at the end of your degree.

Not only that, but the beauty of getting a job in-between your degree is that the support on offer to you is unlike any you will experience outside of University. The dedicated LUMS Careers Team is always on hand – during term time and holidays – to offer you support and guidance, look over your applications, and put you in touch with previous Lancaster students who can guide you through your application with first hand experience themselves.

I myself am already feeling the benefits of a placement year, and I am still only in the application stages. I know I am more confident and independent, and where last year just thinking about a placement year make my stomach churn, now I am excited by the prospects and the opportunities that lie just around the corner. Yes – I am still out of my comfort zone, and each application poses a new challenge, but that is exactly what an employer wants to see. The entire process improves your resilience, self-confidence and ambition.

So if you’re considering a placement year as part of your Lancaster degree, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Though there are sacrifices involved, and some of your friends won’t be here when you return for your final year, the benefits more than outweigh the costs.

How to earn money while studying

How to earn money

Students have different incentives when they start searching for opportunities that could help them earn some cash: someone wants to add this experience to LinkedIn/CV, someone wants to meet new people, someone wants to buy a new pair of shoes… Here are some tips how you can fund yourself at Lancaster University.

Find a job: Lancaster University
Lancaster University has an Employment and Recruitment Service that offers wide range of jobs. You can apply for a temporary job that is usually designed to cover needs of a particular project – for example, conference assistant, or burger maker at a music festival. The spectrum of such jobs varies – they could be either intelligent or physical, either on campus or off campus, etc. The payment rate usually starts from £7/hour, but bear in mind that you will be required to provide a CV and a Cover letter of yours, so there is competition and selection process for any of those vacancies. Permanent jobs are designed for those who want to become a part of Lancaster University staff, so mainly such jobs are suitable for those who have work permit in the UK. For those who approached the UK with a visa, your working time must not exceed 20 hours per week. I took one of those, and it brought me £70.

Find a job: Lancaster
There are plenty of part-time jobs in the town centre, so just google them. Alternatively, while walking in the downtown keep an eye on any vacancies announced on the doors/windows of the business premises. Many of my friends used to work in the restaurants that specialised in the cuisine of their origin – Thai people worked in Thai cafe, Chinese – in Chinese restaurant, etc. Personally, I did not take any of those jobs.

Take part in research activities
There are many PhD students studying at Lancaster University, and most of them conduct experiments required for their dissertations. They often advertise those experiments either online or through the traditional paper advert on campus. If you participate, you will be rewarded in two possible ways – cash or voucher (usually Amazon voucher). For instance, Psychology department even has its own online research system, so you just need to register and monitor availability of studies. I took part in more than 50 experiments during 2015-2016 academic year, and it helped me earn more than £500. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend that you keep your academic studies number one priority.

Become a Postgraduate Student Ambassador
Read this post for more details. Being a PG ambassador helped me earn around £1,000 a year.

Win business challenges
Read this post for more details. I earned £100 through winning a 3rd place in one of the challenges.

To sum up, I managed to earn around £1,670 throughout my academic year in Lancaster University doing some extracurricular activities. There are many opportunities, so it’s entirely your choice what to do. Good luck!

What is it like to be a Postgraduate Student Ambassador?

LUMS Ambassadors Welcome Event

Many people ask me, what it is like to be a Postgraduate Student Ambassador. I tried to answer this question in the post below.

Every year undergraduate and postgraduate offices hire a bunch of Student Ambassadors, which can literally be considered as a part-time job. The application process runs in November and pretty much resembles applying for a real job in a company. In the first round, you will be asked to submit your CV and a cover letter, so treat it seriously if you want to pass a screening stage. I would suggest that you contact the Career Services in LUMS and ask them for advice with regards to your CV and a cover letter. People who work in the Careers are real professionals with first-hand experience, so they can give you valuable feedback not only about applying for a PG Ambassador role, but also when applying for graduate jobs in different companies.

Once you successfully pass the screening stage, you will be invited for a group interview. This activity takes place on campus and there can be more than one interview set. This depends on the number of applications – for example, in 2015-2016 there were 2 sets, so it was possible to choose between two dates. People who come for this interview are split into small teams of 4-5 people in each. I will let you fully enjoy this experience and will not tell what you will be asked to do – let it be a surprise. However, I can advise you to remain yourself, stay natural and confident, open-minded and be willing to communicate and listen to other people.

After that… congratulations, you’ve become a Postgraduate Student Ambassador! Alright, what does it mean in practice? Firstly, it means opportunities. There are a lot of educational and extracurricular projects running every year – and you can become a part of them. While working on those projects you can develop some of your skills and eventually add them to your CV or LinkedIn profile. For instance, one of my assignments was to write news for LUMS blog on weekly basis. It helped me improve my English and present information in a readable and attractive way.

Secondly, being student ambassador increases your network. This is a chance to meet new like-minded people from all over the world, work side by side and achieve successful results in the end. For example, during postgraduate open day another ambassador and me were assisting prospective students in getting feedback and more information about the programmes of their interest. We managed to persuade 4 prospective students that Lancaster would be there cup of tea – and they submitted their applications.

Lastly, it’s a significant contribution towards your work experience. Student ambassador is a part-time job, which you get paid for. You will have a group of project coordinators who will be responsible for projects allocation. There will also be a manager you’ll have to report to. But make no mistake, studies comes first, and you will definitely not be forced to do the job you don’t want to or can’t do.

The world is your oyster, isn’t it? Do not hesitate and send an application to join a friendly gang of student ambassadors! For more information, procedures and deadlines contact Postgraduate Office. Good luck!