This blog is contributed by Elaine Shak, our Careers Engagement Assistant in the Communications Team.
It’s that time of the year again (and no, I’m not just talking about Christmas): you’re now well settled into second term, juggling endless reading and assignments, trying to stay on top of everything. You speak to your classmates, hoping for them to tell you that they haven’t caught up on all the readings either, only for the conversation to steer to one of the most dreaded topics for a stressed university student: the future. What will you do after graduation? Have you secured an internship yet? Have you started looking into what career sector you will go into yet? What are your plans?
Some students will be able to tackle these questions with ease, driven and determined to secure that dream job of theirs, whether it is through a postgraduate degree or through a work experience programme. For many students though, the future still seems quite vague, and their answers to those questions will usually include panicked stares, nervous chuckles and a barely audible ‘I’m not sure’ under their breaths. It is easy to get caught up in the counter-productive cycle of spending hours upon hours online, looking for job opportunities, sending out applications left and right only to be rejected time and time again, and listening to peers sharing their summer internship can sometimes leave one feeling dejected and unmotivated. The pandemic has also rendered many jobs obsolete, further increasing competition within the job market; at this juncture, a question will often arise: What next?
Difficult as it might be to believe (especially if you’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time on Quora or Reddit with posts warning against certain unemployment if you haven’t gotten an internship or planned out every single detail of life after graduation), oftentimes an internship might not be the only pathway for one to secure a full-time job. There has been a widespread misconception that having an internship is the standard, or perhaps ‘best’ pathway to secure a job in recent times. In fact, the sheer number of internship applications as a direct result of this has meant that it is often easier to land a permanent job due to lower competition for the position. With internships so oversubscribed, many students have now turned to alternatives, which include volunteering, gaining work experience and joining external student alliances; having volunteered multiple times this semester, this is what I will focus on for now.
Indeed, many people volunteer to give back to their communities or support a cause they are passionate about, which are noble intentions that are completely valid, but oftentimes volunteering can also be a helpful transition into a particular career sector. For instance, if one were looking to be an early childhood educator, they can volunteer to help a child learn to read through BookmarkReading. Passionate about horticulture and gardening? ThriveUK has opportunities for garden support volunteers and maintenance volunteers. In addition to being able to experience hands-on what a career in a specific sector might look like, volunteering also allows for flexible schedules, where you can make decisions based on your own time commitments. Many such opportunities are listed on GOV.UK, so be sure to browse through the website to see what is available!
I would like to share one my personal experiences with volunteering, in the hopes that you will be able to obtain some insights from it and thus aid you in your volunteering journey. Around the start of my second year, I came across a volunteering opportunity advertised by KCL STAR (Student Action for Refugees). Volunteers were meant to spend around an hour or two each week, over a period of several weeks to converse with refugees in English and help them improve their conversational skills in the language. I thought it was a meaningful endeavour, and so signed myself up immediately. As this opportunity was offered during a period of lockdown, these sessions were made entirely remote. Before the sessions commenced, volunteers were briefed on how to structure the workshops and potential topics to be discussed. Indeed, before the initiation of the first workshop, I was a ball of nerves with a multitude of ‘What Ifs?’ running through my head- what if the internet connection cuts out halfway through? What if the topic I chose isn’t interesting enough? Alas, I am relieved to say that these worries were for naught- the conversations we had flowed quite smoothly, and we covered a range of topics: from daily activities and interests to interview skills. Though it was for a relatively short period of time, I feel incredibly privileged to have been part of this project, and to have met so many wonderful people during the process.
I hope this article has given you some clarity on the options that are available, and it is important to remember that you are not alone in this process; all of us are, in one way or another, figuring out what we want to do and how best to achieve our goals, so don’t give up and we will get there together!