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How to graduate with your dream CV

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It may seem a long way off, but employers are increasingly looking to recruit first and second year students. The plethora of career opportunities available to university students can seem overwhelming, but here’s the heads up on how to make the most of them. While a degree equips you with invaluable skills and knowledge, employers will always be impressed by internships, work experience and any other placements which demonstrate your passion and initiative. My experience was very law-centric, but this advice applies across the board!

Work backwards

Picture this: you’re about to graduate, you’ve got your degree under your belt and you’re ready to embark on the next leg of your journey. If you want to go straight into the world of work – rather than doing a master’s degree or having a year off – what your CV, LinkedIn and cover letters are looking like at that point will be crucial. Having some idea – however vague – about what you want career-wise in time will help you make decisions between matriculation and graduation. I would recommend writing a list of extracurricular and work experience opportunities that you know would help you get where you want to be, and then organise your time to accommodate as many of these pursuits as you feel able. If you want to have travelled, or experienced working in different countries, then knowing from the get-go that you should be researching and pursuing college travel bursaries and opportunities abroad will set you in good stead. Or, if you want to have demonstrated your initiative and drive beginning a new society or fundraising campaign in your first year would be a great way to demonstrate these skills to your potential employer years down the line. Essentially, use this exercise in visualisation as a template.

Do your research

So, you know where you want to be – whether it’s the general industry or a specific job – but how do you get there? My top tip would be to find the online professional profiles of the people who have managed it. This will give you an idea of what is expected in terms of experience, degree grade, career progression and competition. If the last three people to be hired by a company that you’d love to work at had four years in the industry beforehand on top of a master’s degree, you know it’s competitive and you know what further accolades you might want to consider pursuing. I am in no way telling you to be something you’re not. But consider what the modal success story in your chosen field looks like and see how you can make decisions which broadly align your CV with theirs. For example, if having leadership is clearly valued, consider running for a role on your JCR or getting involved in student politics.

Network, network, network!

The old idiom ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ should not be as true as it is. Building bridges at university and beyond is important personally and professionally, and at Cambridge there are so many ways to do this. Join relevant societies, attend events hosted or funded by potential employers and use your college’s alumni relations. An often-overlooked way of networking is that with the people in the year above you. I found their advice about applications and exam technique invaluable. When they go out into the world of work, especially if it’s at a company you would also like to work at, it’s useful (but not necessary!) to have some friendly faces. Formal networking events can be really interesting, and get you talking to big names in the industry, so remember to ask for business cards and don’t shy away from a follow-up email. If that wasn’t reason enough to attend, the food and wine provided at these networking events is often divine and you’ll get to meet plenty of other students with the same interests as you.

Balance is key!

When I was shadowing a barrister in London, he extolled the importance of having ‘interesting hobbies’. His, for example, was smoking his own salmon. This particular eccentricity probably isn’t achievable in most university accommodation, but what I would take from this nugget of wisdom is that having an interest or experience that really makes you stand out can only be a good thing. More importantly, having hobbies that are in no way related to your career path shows that you’re well-rounded, able to manage your time effectively and, in a competitive job market, makes you stick in the recruiters’ minds – for example, as the ‘salmon guy’. So, if there’s a society or committee that you want to be involved in but you’re worried it won’t add anything to your CV, think again! Pursue what energises you, however niche.

You can never be too proactive when laying the foundations of your career. Email your college alumni office, go to talks and email the speaker afterwards, and most importantly see the bigger picture. This will all contribute to your personal ‘brand’ and having the ability to shape this from the first term of first year is an exciting prospect! Something that can never be overstated when talking about careers is that you should believe in yourself and know why you can and should get the opportunities you’re going for. At several networking events, I heard stories about people ‘just needing a job’ and, twenty years later, leading a large department at a multinational firm. Everyone has to start somewhere and all experience is a valuable stepping stone to where you want to be!

Author
About Rebecca Wright
Rebecca is a recent alumna of Murray Edwards College, Cambridge where she read Law. She is particularly interested in tax law and her dissertation explored the possibility of inheritance tax reform. Rebecca was awarded a first in her dissertation and is hoping to pursue a career in commercial law. Alongside her studies, Rebecca was the Treasurer of the Cambridge Society for Women Lawyers and the Cambridge Law School Challenge team. She also took part in mooting and was an intercollegiate debating coordinator. While working at Cambridge's Watersprite Film Festival, Rebecca was starstruck after meeting Lord Varys from Game of Thrones!

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