Debate: Early preparation is key to future career success

Ronan Marron 23 November 2016

I went to three careers events in two days this week alone. Overkill? Maybe, but it was definitely worth it. I did the whole ‘I want to stay single and let my hair flow through the wind as I ride through the glen’ thing during my undergrad. I was then faced with the reality of writing a CV and getting a job within weeks of graduation- without having done any internships or placements or even having a clear idea of what could be found beyond the river-bend (in my case the Ivory Tower of postgrad studies). 

Let’s face it, most jobs are very competitive. A mid-ranking City law firm would get around 1000 applications for their 40 or so training contracts per year. And that’s the smoothest course, steady as the beating drum. The events I went to earlier were on Arts and Heritage management, policy making and think tanks and the Bar. Out of those three, the Bar was by far the least competitive. Let that sink in. The ‘at best 400 pupillages per year across the entire country, and most applicants have a first from Oxbridge’ Bar was the least competitive in anything. The other two required an array of volunteering positions, internships, getting your foot in the door, networking and an occasional postgraduate degree to just maybe get a first position, and no promise of career development. In this atmosphere, anything that gives you an advantage, be that a relevant internship or just some insider knowledge on the application process and how to draw the dreaded commercial awareness out of your ballet practices comes in handy. And the earlier and the more you know, the more opportunities for gaining that advantage you have.

Cambridge has fantastic resources for those opportunities. The Careers’ Service puts on events for all sorts of sectors, from finance and consultancy to charities and teaching. There is a presentation from a specific employer almost every day. Their library and friendly but realistic staff members are there to help you to figure out what you want and how to get there. The vast majority of universities do not have these opportunities, and it is very easy to take them for granted when you have nothing to compare them to. Take advantage of all of this while you can. 

Besides, the earlier you start the more time you have to explore. It is possible to try out more Open Days, discussion evenings or even short placements in a variety of sectors to find exactly what you want to do if you start as early as possible. For example, the aforementioned presentations surprised me, because one of the sectors was significantly more commercialised and reliant on financial initiatives than I had assumed, and that is not something I would have associated with it. The more events you attend and the more proactive you are, the clearer sense you have of what you could be getting yourself into. And, given the amount of preparation and dedication some sectors need, these experiences might inspire you to redirect your efforts elsewhere and not waste time and energy.

Three or four years go very quickly, and by the time you start thinking about these things the advantages you could have had to get an internship through being involved with a particular society or gaining specific skills may already be out of reach, just because you don’t have enough time to climb the food chain to a ‘leadership position’, which would enhance your ‘teamwork skills’. Although it is possible to catch up with these things (unless you desperately need a graduate job straight after graduation), it does require more effort and better planning. Why not take advantage of something that is so conveniently placed right in front of you?