Nobody dreams of starting work in the middle of a pandemic. But, even though times are tough, you can still find your way onto the first rung of the career ladder.
Careers expert Professor Tristram Hooley explains how college students can make the most of their qualifications and secure a good job:
One of the great things about taking a career-focused college course like a BTEC is that it develops the skills that employers are looking for and moves you down a particular career track. A couple of years ago you had a strong chance that once you had completed a BTEC you would be able to move straight into a high-quality apprenticeship or a good job. But, Covid is currently getting in the way of everything and so the path from college to work might not be as smooth as you hoped.
Despite the headlines about Covid and the recession, there is still lots that you can do to give yourself the best chance of finding a job, course or apprenticeship once you finish your BTEC. Depending where you are in your course you will need to think about different things, so I’m going to look at what you can do before, during and after a BTEC before finishing off with some 'dos and don’ts'.
Before: Choosing the right course
Choose your BTEC course carefully. You should definitely pick a course that you are interested in and that you think that you could do well in, but you should also think about where it is taking you.
Some key questions to ask are:
- Who is teaching the course? How up to date are they? Are they well connected to local employers?
- What have people who studied this course gone on to do? Did they go to work or on to further courses? Can you speak to any of them?
- What employers are involved in the course? Will you be able to undertake work experience or a placement during the course? Having direct access to employers will boost your chance of getting the job that you want.
During: Making the most of the opportunity
While you are studying you need to try and grab all of the opportunities that the college offers you. Studying a course is not just about getting a qualification it is also about building your knowledge and making some useful contacts. Key things to ask yourself are:
- Can you attend any trips, talks or other extra activities? Taking the opportunity to find out more about the area that you are studying in will improve your knowledge, build your profile and allow you to meet employers.
- What area do you want to specialise in? Most BTECs are fairly broad, but you should be thinking about where your interests lie within the subject. This will help you to clarify what apprenticeships and jobs might be suitable.
- What additional careers support can you get? Colleges will usually have a careers advice department and may offer a range of other support and activities. Book yourself an interview and make the most of this support.
After: Making your next move
- As your course starts to come to an end you should be thinking about your next move. There are lots of options and opportunities, but you should think about the following things.
- Don’t leave it too late. Ideally you will have your next move set up before you have finished the current course. Whether you are going to progress to another course, start an apprenticeship or move into a job, you can be putting things in place for at least the six months before your course ends.
- Don’t be afraid to change direction. Most people studying a BTEC are still at the start of their career. If you decided that you want to move in a new direction, that is fine. Sometimes it can be just as useful to learn what we don’t want to do, as figuring out what we do want to do.
- Keep in touch with the college. The college, the teaching staff and your fellow students are some of your biggest resources in finding a job. Keep in touch with all of them after you leave and tell them what you are looking for. One of them will probably be able to help you. Contact employers and apply for jobs. You will only find a job if you actually start applying. If you aren’t successful make sure that you ask for feedback.
Dos and Don’ts
- start thinking about your career as early as possible.
- be flexible and consider a range of opportunities.
- meet as many employers as you can.
- apply for jobs, even if you aren’t sure that you’ll get them.
- ask for advice and support from the people around you.
- procrastinate or tell yourself that there is no point in trying.
- fixate on a single job or opportunity to the exclusion of everything else.
- send off hundreds of applications for every job in the world. A few well-crafted applications will serve you better.
- give up when you get rejected the first time (or even the tenth or twentieth time).
- blame yourself if things don’t work out straight away. It’s not you, it’s a global recession!
Tristram Hooley is Professor of Career Education at the University of Derby. He writes the Adventures in Career Development blog.