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9 things to do before you graduate

Completing your degree? It's time to start planning the next stage of your life. You may be busy socialising or networking, polishing up your CV or looking for a job. If you plan to stay on in your host country after you graduate, you'll also need to look into applying for a visa.

What else can you do to make the most of your time and propel you forward?

  1. Network, network, network!

    According to Charlie Lawson, author of The Unnatural Networker: How anyone can succeed at networking, networking can happen anytime, anywhere. The people you meet (and the people they know) make up your network. These are some of the potential relationships you might want to pursue and nurture. Know the reason you are networking and build your connections sincerely. Are you looking for a mentor, are you hoping to get to know the industry better, are you looking for a full-time job, or are you looking for an opportunity to work as an intern after graduation?

    Contrary to popular belief, networking is not just about attending events. It is also not just about working the room. It's about establishing positive, long-term win-win relationships which are mutually beneficial. Where to look for networking opportunities and events to show up to? The career services office in your school is a great place to start.

  2. Tap into your school's resources

    By the time you put on your graduation hat and gown, you should know everyone at the career services office on a first-name basis. A career counsellor can help you polish your CV, run through mock interviews and act as a bridge for networking opportunities. Some companies such as HSBC, host on and off-campus events for grads to mingle and interact with one another.

    Harvard University's Office of Career Services takes career counselling to a whole new level - the Ivy League institution even holds workshops to teach students negotiation skills to land better job offers and employment contracts. Remember, learning never stops!

    You can still tap into your alma mater's resources after graduation by attending alumni events and job fairs. No matter which stage of your career you are at, they have a vested interested in you and want you to succeed.

  3. Update and polish your CV/résumé

    So, what's the difference between a CV and a résumé? Even though used interchangeably, these are slightly different documents. A CV is a one-page summary of your work experience, whereas a résumé presents a detailed history of your academic and work credentials. Usually, employers in India, Australia, and South Africa will ask for your résumé (unless you're applying for an overseas or academic job). In New Zealand, the UK and Ireland, as well as most of Europe, you'll be asked for your CV*.

    What are the other key differences? CV, or curriculum vitae in Latin, means 'the course of one's life'. It's a detailed account of your educational and employment history, awards, publications, academic papers and other accomplishments, presented in chronological order. A CV is a lot more comprehensive than a résumé. For experienced execs, a CV can easily be 20 pages long. On the other hand, résumé means 'summary' in French and should be just 1 or 2 pages, max. A CV should be concise, and describe your skills and experience related to the job you're applying for. Your CV remains unchanged until you add more work experience and milestones to keep it updated.

    Don't give your potential employers any reason to toss your application aside. Use the preferred local format for CVs or résumés, and, be honest and truthful always. When companies run a background check, education credentials are the first and easiest things to check.

  4. Apply for jobs

    Other than to earn money, network and gain experience, applying for jobs lets you practice and hone your skills in handling interviews. You wouldn't go to an exam unprepared, or act on stage without rehearsing your lines, right? Preparing for a job interview is no different. An employer will not just look at your CV and qualifications, he will use the interview to assess your overall strengths and weaknesses. Are you organised? Are you confident? Are you prepared? Can you handle unexpected roadblocks and challenges? How well? 

    Be open. Don't restrict yourself to applying for full-time jobs only. Look out for internships, volunteer positions and apprenticeships. If you want to stand out against the competition, you need to customise your résumé to suit different types of jobs.

    If you get employed, congrats! If you don't, do not give up. It's all part of the process. Your objective is to keep crafting résumés and meeting with prospective employers (either in person or virtually), until it becomes second nature to you so that you will nail your interview and land your dream job!

  5. Collect references

    A reliable reference can make or break a career opportunity, so choose carefully. A recent survey shows that 70% of employers changed their mind about hiring a candidate because of their references. Almost half said it has left them with a less favourable opinion of the job seeker1.

    A reference doesn't always have to be your former boss. If you have left a positive impression on a mentor or colleague, ask if they can be your reference. They should be able to cite specific examples that demonstrate your strengths and competencies. Ask for permission before using someone as a reference, and make sure they have  your latest résumé.

    You can also approach your University professors (they are asked to write recommendation letters and be named as references a lot). If you do not wait until the last minute, chances of them saying yes are higher. If your professor doesn't know who you are, it's better to find someone who knows you better well to write you a recommendation.

  6. Consider a post-study work visa

    After graduation, are you going to head straight back home? Or are you staying on to look for  job? Do check what your visa restrictions are. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for applications and submissions before your study visa expires.

    If you are a student in the UK, you can work up to 20 hours on a student visa (previously called the Tier 4 visa). Only 6% of students are aware that. Beginning summer 2020, students can stay on for 2 years after they graduate, in accordance to the reinstatement of the post-study work (PSW) visa2. In Canada, graduates can apply for a PSW visa that allows them to work for up to 3 years.

    In the US, students can apply for the post-graduate Optional Practical Training programme. This allows them to work for 12 months in temporary employment in a field related to their studies. If you are an international student studying in Australia, Temporary Graduate visas allow you to continue to live, study and work after you graduate. You may even be able to work and stay in Australia for up to 4 years, depending on your visa.

    Like with any immigration or visa issue, do plan ahead. Remember to make your university's career services office your first stop for information.

  7. Start your own business

    If you still haven't found your dream job, fret not. Why not create it by starting up your own business? Bill Gates studied law at Harvard University. Two years later, he dropped out to start Microsoft (now a billion dollar corporation) with friend and co-founder Paul Allen. We are not asking you to drop out of school, we're just saying success doesn't always follow a straight line.

    Facebook, Google and Time Magazine and some of the other famous companies founded by college students. Yes, everyone dreams of becoming their own boss. However, it can be really challenging to work on a business from the ground up. You need to consider the employment laws (which also applies to entrepreneurs) and juggle your studies.

    Even if you're just a small enterprise, you need to get your finances in order before starting a business. Many banks offer personal financing or SME financing to help you get your business up and running. Add accounting software, business insurance and payroll management to your banking account, and keep track of cash flow from the get go. Want to launch your business overseas? Talk to your bank first - your requirements may be different.

  8. Build your portfolio

    Saying you have done a lot of work is one thing. Having actual work to show is another. If you're venturing into the creative industry, compile a portfolio of your best pieces of writing, artwork or designs (even better if this portfolio is online) to wow prospective employers. Who knows, they may even forward the link to someone who might have just the right job for you. You can even add relevant testimonials, a blog, photos, your social media links, or videos. This will speak volumes of your abilities and help you stand out among the competition.

    Your portfolio should be a constant work in progress. Keep the format simple, keep it up to date. Don't forget to keep it professional by checking for spelling and typo errors - make sure there are no 404 page errors!

  9. Create unforgettable memories

    You didn't think we'd leave this one off the list, did you? Going to university, overseas, is also about having fun and making the most of the experience. Get swept up in the school spirit, support your university's sports team, join a social club, go on a road trip, be curious about everything your host country has to offer, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

    Enjoy! These are some of the best years of your life.

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Important notes:

*In this article, CV and résumé are used interchangeably throughout.

15 Tips To Choose Your Best Job Reference

2UK: Just 6% of prospective international students aware of PSW extension

3Subject to host country/region's approval.

4Total Relationship Balance (TRB) includes any: Deposits in Current Account/-i, Savings Account/-i, Time Deposits, Term Deposits-i, and/or Investments in Unit Trust funds/Shariah-compliant Unit Trust funds, Structured Investments/-i, Dual Currency Investments/-i and/or Direct Retail bond, and/or Cash value from Family Takaful/Life Insurance products with investment-linked and savings components.

5Account Fee waiver until full and final settlement of home financing.

6Account fee waiver as long as you fulfil the qualification criteria.