Shh…Cambridge careers secret revealed

It’s a closely-guarded secret amongst Cambridge students. There is a conspiracy of silence. But it’s important for everyone’s wellbeing to break the silence: not every student gets the first job they apply for…

This is the time of year where students start to get those dreaded emails: “Thank you for your application. We regret to inform you that we will not be progressing your application on this occasion“. Having worked hard, you got great GCSEs and A-Levels which got you into Cambridge. You kept working hard, you’re on track for a good degree and you managed to fit in some work experience as well, which gave you skills you know you needed for the jobs you’re going for. And now you’re working just as hard at job applications and, for the first time, it just isn’t working. For some students getting rejected from graduate schemes or applications for jobs is the first time that the hard work hasn’t paid off, and it can feel as if everyone except you has a job lined up after graduation.

The Careers Service has these tips to stay positive and help you get through this challenge:

You are not alone

Students who have got a job or internship offer are excited and relieved, so they’re talking about it. The majority of students at this point in the year haven’t got anything lined up yet – so they aren’t talking about it.  Many career areas don’t recruit in Michaelmas Term – a lot more opportunities will be coming up next term. Entry-level jobs in many areas are only advertised when the person currently in them leaves, which could happen at any time of year.

Be kind to yourself

Recognise that this is tough. Take a breath and work out a strategy of where to go from here. The Careers Service can help you with this if you get stuck. We know that taking rejection is tough, particularly if it’s repeated.  Do the things you enjoy (sport, friends, student societies) to keep yourself strong emotionally. If applying for jobs and getting your degree at the same time is just too much, be aware that you can use the Careers Service after you graduate.

Be kind to each other, too

If you’re one of the lucky ones that has a job lined up already, spare a thought for those who haven’t. Can you support them somehow? Or help make sure they have a good level of work-life balance?

Far better to spend your time drafting a small number of well thought-through applications, for jobs that you are well suited for

Quality over quantity

As panic sets in the temptation to fire out dozens of applications in the hope that one will come through can be huge. Rushed, untargeted applications will only result in further rejection, and this is likely to make you feel even worse. Far better to spend your time drafting a small number of well thought-through applications, for jobs that you are well suited for.

Don’t take it personally

Employers don’t know you, so rejections are not personal.  Sometimes it’s just statistics – they have more great applications than there are jobs to offer. Or sometimes it’s that your application could have been better, so…

Learn from the rejections

Was your application as well drafted as it could have been? Were you applying for things where you did not have the experience they required? Did you demonstrate that experience with evidence? Download our CVs & Applications Book or listen to our Successful Applications talk so you can make better applications next time.

Perseverance can lead to success

If you know you really want to work in certain field but the few applications you’ve made haven’t been successful, don’t give up yet.  Work out why – do you need more experience? Are you only applying for the big names in that field which will be the most competitive? Don’t assume that a graduate scheme is the only way in and give up if you didn’t get on one.  Make a plan for improving your applications or trying a different route – smaller organisations, taking a gap year to gain experience, or maybe going for an administrative role in an organisation with a view to moving on and up within a year is a good plan for some career areas.

Only about half of Cambridge graduates know on graduation day what they’ll be doing next

Celebrate the smaller successes

If you weren’t getting through a first round but now you aren’t rejected until interview, that’s a huge step forward.  You’ve learned at every step along the way and you will improve at interviews as well.

It will be ok

“Easy for you to say” you may be thinking, but we have proof! Only about half of Cambridge graduates know on graduation day what they’ll be doing next.  But within six months of graduation, 96% will be employed, interning, travelling or in further study. This is one of the top employability ratings for any university worldwide.

Ask for help

The Careers Service is always busy in Michaelmas Term, but as we near the end of term there will be more free appointments. If you’ve used all our online resources (many linked above) and you think you need some further help, do book an appointment. If you want to leave this until the Christmas vacation we can do appointments by Skype or phone before Christmas.

So the secret is out… it is common, normal and expected that even highly employable Cambridge students will not necessarily get the first wave of jobs and internships they apply for. Spread the word and help your fellow students feel better!

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