13 January 2023

Planning Life after University: A 10-Step Plan to Land Your Dream Job

Steve Halsall

Red Tiger Consulting


This blog post is for undergraduates in their penultimate or final year as well as those who are due to complete their postgraduate studies in the next 6-12 months and are looking ahead to life after university. I was in your shoes in 1995 – I was about to complete my university studies and step into the world of full-time work. That is nearly 30 years ago, yet it seems like yesterday

This post forms part of a series of Red Tiger blog posts supporting undergraduates and postgraduates on planning for life after university. Paul has already written about how you can stand out from the crowd in his excellent blog post.

This blog post is focused on some tips and tricks in order to develop your plan of action for finding a role.

1. Don’t Panic

As I write this at the start of the calendar year and assuming, at worst, you are due to graduate in June or September (if you are a Masters student), you have plenty of time to create and execute a plan. If you are avoiding the ‘milk-round’ graduate recruitment process (I hope it’s still called that or I may be showing my age!) that large organisations tend to follow then your timings are about right.

2. Create a Plan

I would certainly advise creating and documenting a plan. This plan should have when you would ideally like to start work and then you work back from that with key targets and milestones. The rest of this blog post gives you some clear milestones that can support that plan – you just need to shape the timelines to fit around your studies.

3. Understand Your Strengths

If you are relatively new to working then you may not have a full picture of your strengths and what truly motivates you. Try to think about how you have performed at your best in any previous work experience or in your studies. At Red Tiger Coaching we are big advocates of the use of Psychometric tests to develop an increased level of awareness of an individual’s strengths.

Understanding these strengths can then help focus you on specific career choices as it is very likely that a role that plays to those strengths will enable you to perform at your optimum. These strengths should be front and centre in your CV narrative.

Our Research and Marketing Manager, Chloe, documented her use of the psychometric test Strengthscope® and how to Understand Your Strengths at Work as a recent university graduate.

4. Leverage Support

Finding a role is not something that you are expected to do by yourself. There are several people that can support you in your job search. Notably:

  • University Careers Service – most universities have an established careers service who will typically support with the practicalities of helping you find a role. They often have resources and materials and can help you in your research and application process.
  • Red Tiger Talent – this is a blatant plug for our services. Some recruitment agencies (such as ourselves) will invest the time in giving you advice regardless of whether you are suitable for roles they are looking to fill. I love speaking to university students and supporting them with advice and learnings from my own experience. This ranges from advice about career pathways, honing your CV, interview skills, to placing you in roles we may be looking to fill or introducing you to a relevant person in our extensive network. This support utilises my identified key strengths (see Stage 3!) around relationship building, collaboration, optimism, empathy and compassion.
  • Your own personal network – lean on family and friends of family to speak to people when doing your research or getting advice. It’s not always what you know but who you know, or even who your friends and family know. My son is thinking of a career in medicine for example, and I have facilitated several chats for him with experienced medical practitioners that I know.

5. Do Your Research

Once you have a good idea of your strengths and have spoken to your support network you can start to research what types of roles, companies, and locations you would like to work in. LinkedIn is an ideal starting place for this. Specifically it’s about finding out the following:

  • Types of roles/companies – have a think about businesses that you would ideally like to work for; large vs small, corporate vs public sector. If you have specific names of businesses then that is good. Also be thinking about job titles or functions you would like to work in.
  • How do they advertise? – visit the careers section on company websites, use LinkedIn to identify potential hiring managers and look on their timelines for evidence of vacancies. Most hiring managers will post jobs they are recruiting for. With larger companies it may be managed by a recruitment team or external recruitment agency. Try to follow the company’s LinkedIn page as well as they may post roles on there. If there aren’t any roles, contact the hiring manager to introduce yourself; if you are lucky they may be happy to have a 15-minute chat to talk about their team and future roles.
  • Size/structure of team – this is where you can do a bit of detective work; LinkedIn is ideal for trying to piece together team structures. You may also get some intelligence from department specific web pages. This research will give you a general idea of the scale of the team and the types of roles that there may be. Generally, the larger the team, the more variety of roles and specialisms there may be.
  • Skills required – university typically sets you up with a solid set of skills but there are always specific skills that may not be covered in your studies. Your research may identify skills that you still need to acquire, and these can be gained through several means (see the section on self-study below).

6. Develop Your Marketing Materials

There are two main things that need developing:

An interviewee holding her CV and sat across from an interviewer - planning for life after university
A well-crafted CV is crucial when planning for life after university
  • Your CV – this is usually the first thing you need to provide for a job application. This needs to be flexed for the role you are applying for; make sure you emphasise the strengths, skills and experience relevant to the role in question. Paul’s blog post on CV tips is worth a look for further advice.
  • LinkedIn – potential employers may also check in your LinkedIn profile; is it consistent with your CV and does it portray a positive picture of you? Paul has also written another post outlining how you can optimise your LinkedIn profile. If you are actively seeing a role, make sure your LinkedIn profile says that.

7. Hone Your Skills

Your research in Step 5 should have identified your own personal skills gap. If you are still studying, you may be preparing to do a dissertation; think about how these skills could be gained whilst working on your dissertation. If you still have skills that you need to gain then I would refer to the self-study section below in Plan B.

8. Build Your Network

Assuming your LinkedIn Profile is tip top there is no harm in trying to increase your network on LinkedIn. From your research earlier you may have identified key hiring managers and HR professionals – connect with them via LinkedIn. But make sure you send them a message clearly detailing why you are wanting to connect. This serves two purposes; firstly it will mean that if they advertise the roles, they are likely to land on your timeline, and secondly if you do speak to them you level up your relationship. If you apply for a role in their team, make sure you contact your connection to let them know you have applied.

Example introductory message when connecting on LinkedIn:

“I have researched your career timeline and the area of <insert specialism> really fascinates me. I am soon to be a graduate in <insert your degree> and am particularly interested in your <insert department/function>. I would welcome the opportunity to have a brief chat with you about how to start a career in this area.”

9. Apply for Roles

Now that you are clear on the types of roles you would like and you have your marketing materials in place, it is now a case of finding opportunities. Of course, you can apply for roles directly through company web pages, via agencies such as Red Tiger Talent, or through portals such as LinkedIn or Indeed.

Clearly we are missing a stage here about interviews but we are working to a 10 step process and I have previously written a blog post about how to win at interviews.

10. Life After University: Start Your New Role

Starting a full-time role after your studies can be very daunting. Red Tiger Coaching are able to support people into their new role (it’s called Transition Coaching) with the aim of ensuring that you land appropriately in the workplace, create a great impression and ultimately pass your probation.

Have a Plan B

This could be a step 11, but an 11-step plan doesn’t sound as good!

Sometimes the best laid plans do fail, so if plan A doesn’t happen then you need to work out what you are going to do if you don’t succeed in finding something within your desired timelines. Potential employers don’t take too kindly to extended ‘fallow’ periods on CVs where there doesn’t seem to be much activity. Try to be patient; in my recruiter capacity I have worked with candidates for up to a year before they have found the right role for them – sometimes it takes time. Here are some plan B examples:

  • Work – if you can’t find a role in your chosen profession you have two potential choices. Firstly, try to gain at least some work experiences, for example an internship or a period of work shadowing (which could be free) in a related field. Secondly, work in another role to earn but allow yourself some time to continue with your plan to find your ideal role. It would also be advantageous if you can find some role that may have some relevant transferable skills e.g. time management, sales, team work, customer facing, analysis etc.
  • Travel – some people will arrange for a period of travel around the world and this can also be combined with work. In times of economic downturn where the market may be particularly challenging, taking yourself out of that market for a period of time (up to a year) could be a viable option, depending on budget. Telling an interviewer about what you have learnt from your travels is a great opportunity to sell yourself.
  • Self-study – most of my clients like the idea of candidates seeking to develop any skills that they are lacking to get into their chosen profession. This could be brushing up on accredited technical skills (Red Tiger Talent do a range of excellent Excel training courses which are heavily discounted for students) or using providers such as LinkedIn Learning and platforms such as Udemy. If budgets are particularly tight there may also be a range of free courses, depending on what you wish to study.
  • Post-graduate studies – this is something I chose to do which served two purposes; one, it gave me a wider range of skills and a masters qualification, and two it gave me an additional year to plan my career strategy. Think about the types of courses that could be beneficial to getting into your chosen profession.

If any of this blog post piqued your interest and you would like to speak to one of our experienced careers advisors then feel free to contact us and arrange an initial career consultation.

Career consultation with Steve Halsall

Career consultation with Paul Halsall

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Published by Steve Halsall

Steve is the founder of Red Tiger Consulting. He has worked in Location Planning for over 20 years – both on the consultancy side and client side. His passion is building successful teams that evolve their capability (skills, software and data) to meet the ever changing requirements of analysis. In his spare time he is mainly kept busy with his two children, falling in and out of love with Liverpool FC and at some point he wants to re-start his golfing ‘career’.


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