What career advice would you give to your undergraduate self?

I appeared on a career advice panel for History students at LSE last night. I was asked to answer questions like “what skills do History students possess that are attractive to employers?”, “what key bits of advice would you give for the job search?”, and “what can students do to make themselves more attractive to employers?”

Reviewing my notes I realised that the majority of the advice mentioned on the panel is applicable to people at all stages of their careers. So I’ve written up some of them below.

Career thoughts for undergrads (for anyone?)

You don’t have it all ‘figured out’ at this stage (or at any stage in fact). Many people with successful, interesting careers didn’t execute career master plans. They just pursued work that interested them and some of those interests turned into passions / careers. We are all just trying to figure it out.

Your next job doesn’t have to be your ideal job. It just has to be constructive in some form. Don’t worry about the role itself. Is it beneath you? Is it too easy? Work with smart people, in organisations that interest you and if you’re good you will be able to change your role faster than you expect.

As a freshly minted graduate (or as a career changer) you can’t necessarily point to previous work experience that proves you can do the job you’re trying to get. Don’t collect depressing unpaid internships. Start something. A business, a side-project, an adventure, a blog. Talk about that.

You don’t have to spend thousands and commit to more years of study to set yourself up for a job. Realise that some of the most employable skills today are acquirable outside of traditional institutions. Code, design, video editing, digital marketing. These skills are needed in many sectors.

Hunt differently. Applying with a CV and cover letter to advertised vacancies is a tough game. Go direct where you can (i.e. approach interesting organisations who aren’t advertising). Don’t just cold-email / cold-call though. You have to build genuine relationships. Events, blogs, social media.

Stop comparing yourself to other people. Whether at uni or 10 years into your career. There is no one-size-fits-all. Ingredients like salary, seniority, responsibility, pace of progression vary massively. Give yourself a break. Stop unhealthy comparisons. There is always a sacrifice. No one has it all.

What would you add?

What would you have said to your undergraduate self if you could speak to them today?


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