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6 Paths to Take After Graduation

Contemplating the road less travelled: student blogger Maeve McDermott

‘What now?’ is a question many of us will be asking ourselves this summer following graduation. Three+ years of lectures, tutorials, assignments, deadlines and structure that a post-graduation world doesn’t offer. Whilst this can be daunting and the post-graduation fear is real, it’s important to remember that there is no one right next step – there are a multitude of routes you can take after you finish your degree, and Prospects Student Career Guide 2020/21 takes you through just some of the options available.

  1. Graduate scheme 

Perhaps the most conventional route, a graduate scheme job or ‘professional level’/’high skilled’ job is a structured scheme whereby employers target graduates’ skills and experience and are normally available to those achieving a 2:1 or above. These schemes are run by many leading UK employers across all industries and often last 1-2 years, with many graduates offered a permanent role following this initial period. It’s worth doing your research if you have a specific company in mind – look at their website and social media channels to familiarise yourself with their work culture and values. Recruitment processes and timelines for graduate schemes vary from company to company so be sure to be aware of these well in advance.

More on graduate schemes

 2. Work for a small business

If working for a large company in a graduate scheme isn’t for you, you may prefer working for a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME). Roles in small businesses often offer you more responsibility and a wider variety of opportunities, as well as the opportunity to see first-hand how your work is making an impact on the company. These roles can offer greater opportunity to really develop your skillset, often making them a more appealing option for fresh graduates wishing to gain as much experience as possible. SME roles often aren’t widely advertised, and SMEs usually recruit via word-of-mouth recommendations/networking or through your university. 

3. Self-employment

If being your own boss is something you like the sound of, self-employment may be worth considering. A somewhat less conventional option, this route requires a great deal of drive and determination, but undoubtedly has its benefits. Currently, one seventh of workers are now self-employed, and include innovative business owners, using their own experience and skills to identify gaps in the market, and freelancers predominantly in professions such as writing, programming and graphic design. Whilst this route can be a more difficult one, with challenges such as unstable income and tax refunds, resources for self-employed people continue to grow, including British Association for Supported Employment and Centre for Entrepreneurship.

More on launching your own business

4.Work abroad 

Maybe you have your sights set on something further afield? Expanding your horizons overseas won’t just allow for adventure and fun – structured work experience abroad such as internships can be a great way to travel and improve your employability at the same time. This type of work experience is often organised by third-party organisations such as The British Council and Erasmus+. Additionally, many students opt for a gap year following their degree, and choose to gain international experience working in USA summer camps, summer jobs in Australia or adventure working holidays in New Zealand.

Find out more about work experience and gap year opportunities.

Discover Global Opportunities.

5. Volunteer for an international project

Another way to get meaningful experience abroad is through gaining experience by volunteering for an international project. Working with local people in foreign countries and making a meaningful difference to their lives is a truly unique opportunity allowing for personal development, and can also impress future employers, demonstrating a caring attitude and a strong work ethic. There are countless volunteering opportunities available – from wildlife conservation to teaching English.

Discover volunteering opportunities.

6. Postgraduate study 

If you feel that you’re not quite ready for the world of work just yet, postgraduate study might be a possibility. Relevant postgraduate study can set you aside from other graduates and accelerate your career progression, as many roles in fields such as law and clinical psychology require professional accreditation gained through postgraduate study. Perhaps you want to become an expert in your field and even become an academic? Moreover, conversion courses offer you the chance to pursue a career often completely different from what your undergrad may have prepared you for. These are intensive postgraduate qualifications that allow you to widen your range of skills, expand your professional network and increase your confidence in a subject and sector you previously may have known little about. 

Discover postgraduate study at Queen’s.

It’s important to remember everyone’s career path is different and the countless possibilities definitely make that post-graduation fear a little less intimidating. The options really are endless, and this time next year you could be flourishing in a Big 4 grad scheme in London, or volunteering at a wildlife conservation in South Africa. The best thing you can do is reflect on what is best for you, think about what you really want and consider all of your options. 

For more on your career options after graduate, visit our website.


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Careers Advent Calendar: Surviving final year in a global pandemic

Maeve in Madrid

In the summer of last year, I was adjusting to life in a new city having just started an Erasmus work placement in Madrid. I was enjoying my new independence, tapas, and post-work sunbathing. By March of 2020, a global pandemic had well and truly made itself known throughout Spain, and my international experience, like so many other things, came to an abrupt end.

Suddenly, I was back living at home, completing my final year online and coming to terms with the pending post-graduation panic. It was all a far cry from the pre-pandemic blissful ignorance I was enjoying this time last year. 

Final year is stressful at the best of times, with countless deadlines, exams, job applications and big decisions. Combine that with a switch to online classes and a global pandemic looming large in the backdrop, and it’s a recipe for final year fear.

Learning to adjust

The switch to online learning was something I, like many others, found very daunting.  Microsoft Teams classes and breakout rooms were not how I had imagined my final year of university to be, but I am learning to embrace the positives. For starters, I love avoiding early winter morning commutes to 9am classes. Moreover, I’m recognising that the skills I’ve gained by being thrown into the deep end of online working will be highly valued amongst future employers. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, the need for virtual work skills is no longer limited to telecommuters and global teams; it now extends to most office work. The virtual skills I’ve developed through being immersed into the world of online learning are truly indispensable and highly valuable to employers, so I’ll remember to show them off in my next interview. 

Maeve in Madrid

Looking to the future

And as I begin to look at interviews and how my post-university career path will begin to take shape, I’m aware that my comfortable student bubble is about to burst and real adulthood and responsibilities are looming. 

‘What are your plans after university?’ is a question that rings throughout final year, and while some have a five-year career plan up their sleeve, I count myself among the many who haven’t figured out what I’m doing at the weekend, never mind next year. 

If you’re in a similar situation, and are finding your future really daunting, fear not. Here are some tips that have helped me: 

  1. Don’t get caught up on what your friends are doing. It’s easy to feel that just because everyone you know is applying for Big 4 grad schemes, you should too. It’s important to think about what’s best for you, and understand what you really want. Queen’s Careers Service is on hand to help support you in deciding what to do next. You can book a 1-1 appointment with a Careers Consultant to discuss any aspect of your career management or even receive feedback on your CV/LinkedIn profile. 

Book an appointment in MyFuture

  1. Explore your options! Research, research, research. Graduate jobs are not the only option. Think about postgraduate study – maybe a Master’s programme will be the next step for you? Or, with vaccine hope on the horizon and a slow shift back to normality looking increasingly promising, why not think about working, studying or volunteering abroad? Queen’s Global Opportunities Team can advise you about programmes available. You can arrange a virtual appointment with one of the team to chat about the travel options available to you through MyFuture.

Search Global Opportunities

  1. Leverage the new skills you’ve developed. Although this year has not been the most ideal in terms of academic experience, think about the skills you have developed through its challenges. Not only will employers love those new virtual working skills, but also the adaptability gained by facing a having to suddenly adapt to online classes, resilience gained by facing and persevering through your studies during a very difficult period, and undoubtedly problem-solving in overcoming various issues and problems brought about by the challenges of this year. Think about how to showcase this new skillset, considering how this relates to your ‘selling points’ for your next interview. Queen’s Careers, Employability and Skills website has some great interview tips and advice to help you think about this.  
  2. Find comfort in the unknown. Be at ease with the fact that 2020 has been completely unprecedented. It is completely normal to feel anxious and unsure about what your next step is. It’s important to remember that your future isn’t a race or a competition, take your time and don’t be afraid to ask for help from your classmates or lecturers. If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed, there is support available in the form of Queen’s Wellbeing who are on hand to help those struggling through these very strange times.

Contact Queen’s Wellbeing Service

If you are unsure about your next step after graduation, there are lots of tools and resources available to you on our website. 

Explore your options by School or Sector.

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Degree Plus Five-Minute Explainer

Whether you are graduating this year or just want to bank the award early, Eimear Gallagher, who heads up Queen’ s employability programme, is here to answer all your burning questions.

What is Degree Plus?

“Degree Plus is about encouraging you to get involved in extracurricular activities in and around Queen’s, but also to give you the opportunity to get a reward for that; to get an accreditation from the University and have it recorded on your Queen’s QSIS record,” says Eimear.

She adds: “At graduation, in addition to your Queen’s parchment confirming your degree, you also get a Degree Plus certificate. That is confirmation from the University that you completed an activity or activities and it will name the specific activities you have undertaken as well.”

What counts towards Degree Plus?

“There are a large number of activities to choose from, the last count was over 180. There are two different routes – Provider Verified and Combined Experience,” says Eimear. 

View the Provider Verified menu

View the Combined Experience menu

Provider Verified is the most common and straightforward route – around 2,000 students each year gain the award this way.

Combined Experience offer an opportunity to put yourself forward for the award -around 300 students gain the award this way each year. 

Learn more about the two types of Degree Plus here

Who can apply for Degree Plus?

It’s open to all students, both postgraduate and undergraduate, and you’ll get a Degree Plus, Graduate Plus or Researcher Plus certificate at graduation, depending on your study level. 

For enquiries about Graduate and Researcher Plus, please contact The Graduate School.

“There is no compulsion to do it,” says Eimear. “It’s for people who want to differentiate themselves and to stand out from the crowd; stand out from others with whom you’d be competing in graduate labour markets.”

Eimear Gallagher is the Business Operations Manager at Queen’s Careers, Employability and Skills. To contact the Degree Plus team, email degreeplus@qub.ac.uk