Some Alternatives to Graduate Jobs

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The gradsingapore Team
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Whether you want to take a break, go traveling, pursue further studies, or start a business, you have options aside from just jumping into your first job.

Contrary to what your parents and friends have been telling you, you don’t need to feel obligated to jump into a job right after graduation, if you can afford not to.

It’s not about slacking off or avoiding reality, but more to do with taking time to explore your options, to learn new skills, gain experience, and finding your true direction.

These are all things that are much easier to do right after graduation, while you are still free to do as you please and not tied down to any obligations. If you’re curious, here are three possible options for you to consider:

Time out – and travel! 

There’s nothing wrong with taking time out, traveling a bit, or doing something different before you tie yourself down to a job. But, as appealing as this may sound, bear in mind that this option does require careful research and planning.

Many students say they want take a break after graduation, but very few actually do – in part because taking time off to kick back and relax ironically requires quite a bit of forward planning.

You’ll need to find answers to the following questions in advance:

  • Where will you go, and what will you do?
  • Do you want to travel, work (paid/voluntary), or go overseas to study?
  • Will you need to raise some money to afford it?
  • Why do you want to do this?
  • What will other people (i.e. potential employers) think of this decision?
  • Will doing this help you land the job you want afterwards?
  • When's the best time to return?

In general, employers tend to be positive about graduates taking time off to travel or work abroad. However, this is only if you can do a good job selling the experience, personal growth, and skills you gained through it.

Extended holidays without an aim are a big turn-off to employers. If you want to start a graduate job right after you return, make sure you investigate application deadlines for the graduate jobs that interest you before you go.

You don’t want to return only to find yourself stuck outside recruitment cycles.

Aside from travelling, consider also these other options that you can do during your gap year:

• Relevant / Additional work experience:

Your dream career might need you to get a certain variety of experience or professional course before you can apply for it. Take this time to pick those up, or you may even want to consider paid temporary work that can help you earn money to fund further study or travelling!

• Voluntary work:

You can find opportunities locally and overseas. These can range from working with your local social work organisations to global entities.

In some cases, voluntary work can be sold in your résumé as professional experience, depending on the nature of the work and the skills that you need to apply on the job.

• Short courses:

You may want to gain new skills or brush up on existing ones. Learning a new language is a popular option, as are IT-related courses such as smart phone app development and web design. 

Start your own business

More and more Singaporean graduates are considering self-employment – and why not? If you have ambition and a decent product idea or service to sell, why not give it a shot right after you graduate?

At this point of your life, you’ll have less to lose, more energy to spare, and an existing habit of working odd hours. Plus, for some people, working for yourself beats working for someone else.

Start off by getting hold of good advice. There is plenty of free information available to those keen on starting businesses here in Singapore, so make good use of it. 

SPRING Singapore can provide practical advice and some basic funding schemes, while the Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) can help you connect with mentors and network with other young entrepreneurs.

The major local universities also have enterprise centres, providing advice to help you explore your start-up ideas. Some universities will also offer available “incubation” spaces (free or subsidised work spaces) for business ventures by alumni.

Be advised, though, that starting your own business will be a lot of hard work. It’s a great option to consider if you’re a driven individual who can work autonomously, but bear in mind that there is the very real risk that your venture can fail. The first few years in particular will be especially hard.

Before you embark on anything, think about these factors:

Yourself

  • Do I work well under pressure?
  • Would I be a good manager?
  • Do I have sufficient accountancy skills to complete my annual returns?
  • What support is available to me?
  • Can I sell my product or services?
  • Do I understand the basic principles of good marketing?

Your customers

  • What makes my product or service unique?
  • Do I know what market I am targeting?
  • Do I understand the demographics of my market?
  • What advertising strategy will I implement?
  • What competitors do (or will) I have?

Your business

  • What premises will I work from, and how should I brand my products and services?
  • Will I need to recruit others?
  • How much finances do I need to get up and running?
  • Do I need to borrow?
  • What about housekeeping matters, such as book-keeping, HR, filing taxes, etc? 

Further study

While postgraduate study can be an interesting and fulfilling option, remember that further study doesn’t suit everyone, so be sure to think it through.

It’s not just about getting a master’s or a PhD – postgraduate study can also include vocational courses, professional development classes, or portfolio schools.

People generally choose further study right after gaining their first degree in order to:

  • Gain more advanced or specialised knowledge in an area of their interest (Useful for certain career tracks such as engineering, but less so for others).
  • Convert to a new area of work, or to add vocational skills to a non-vocational first degree (e.g. studying law even though you graduated with an English degree)
  • Attain required accreditation for a specific profession (e.g. Accountancy – ACCA, ICAEW, or CIMA; or education – the NIE PGDE).
  • Gain practical skill sets (e.g. Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) or basic programming and accounting skills – useful if you plan on setting up your own business)

Whatever you do, don't fall into the common trap of believing that a postgraduate degree is a definite plus to your career. Collecting loads of qualifications or skills without relevant working experience will not look as good on your résumé as it may sound.

When you get down to it, most employers hire for relevant experience and good attitude, not for fancy academic certifications.

The important thing is to work out what career doors further study will open or close – before you start. If the new opportunities outweigh the lost ones, there’s certainly no harm in giving postgraduate a shot.

Don’t forget, though, that even non-vocational courses (e.g. classes on search engine keyword marketing) can have a vast impact on your future opportunities.

If you’re definitely sure that postgraduate studies is the thing for you, then start by preparing a shortlist of courses that you’re interested in, and book an appointment with an advisor at your careers services.

Your careers advisor will help you work through the key considerations involved in your choice, and will also give you advice on preparing a strong application.

Consider also:

  • The content and length of the course
  • What past graduates have gone on to do
  • Sources of funding
  • Application dates

Don’t limit yourself into thinking further study simply equals  to a Master’s degree or a PhD.

If pursuing a postgraduate degree just seems like overkill, you can always consider making the transition to your desired career sector through a postgraduate conversion course instead.