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How to Build Your Career Foundations at Uni - And Still Have a Great Time!

University is a uniquely intense experience. You may believe you are there to study a particular subject - engineering or law, perhaps - but you also get an additional crash course in life. You learn how to negotiate living alone, build a new social network, become an expert at managing your own time and budget, overcome personal challenges and develop a world view that will stay with you long after graduation.

Clearly, university is about much more than attaining good grades, and positioning yourself to pass your course. It is also an investment, and how you spend your time there will profoundly influence the choices and chances you have during the whole course of your life.

To build a successful life for yourself, you will first need to build a satisfying and thriving career - and the foundations to this should be laid whilst you are still enjoying your university experience. This may sound daunting - another item to add to a very long 'to do' list - but it doesn't have to be.

Here I explore how you can build your career foundations at uni - and still have a great time!

Get to know yourself

University - for many of us - is a staging post between our high school, teenage days, and our adult life. Naturally, we change and develop enormously during this period; and key to making great career (and life) choices is understanding yourself. Take time regularly to think about what you are enjoying doing, what is bringing you satisfaction and energy - and use this knowledge to re-evaluate what you want out of your career. It is not at all uncommon for your career goals to shift dramatically during university - don't be afraid of this, but rather, embrace the opportunity to get to know yourself.

Explore your options

You will never have a better time than your university years, to explore what career options are out there for you. You may have a very clear view of the sector or broad field you are moving towards - in which case you can use your time profitably by seeking out contacts and insights, internships and work experience in your chosen area. Research the industry and the key companies and trends to watch. Ask your uni careers service for alumni contacts in the same field, and reach out to them, talk to family and friends who work in the area that interests you, read relevant business books and biographies, and follow thought leaders on Twitter and LinkedIn, to get a really robust understanding of the sector.

Of course, your future career path might not seem so clear at this stage. Don't panic! The joy of university is the broad range of interesting people you can meet, and the diversity of experiences you can choose. Keep your options open by embracing every opportunity. Ask everyone you meet about their work, read broadly to learn about different career choices, and you will gradually be drawn towards the right ones for you.

Focus on Transferrable skills

Of course, you want to graduate with a good quality and relevant degree. But so does everybody else. You can give your career a huge boost with the transferrable skills you pick up along the way - all whilst doing the things you love.

If you enjoy team sports, get yourself a position as captain, or social secretary to build your leadership abilities. Love the arts? Be involved in creating and putting on a stage show to demonstrate your aptitude for working in a team. For the socially and politically minded, take a volunteer role and grow your communication and organisational skills.

Don't only use your term time; during your holiday periods, take up internships and work experience, work in relevant sectors and businesses. Don't be afraid to think outside the box, taking opportunities to build a broad and transferrable skills base, rather than worrying too much about chasing down a specific company.

Build a great network

To really stand head and shoulders above your peers when you're looking for graduate roles, start building your network now. Join university groups and clubs, take part in competitions and events, and reach out to the people you meet, by email or with social media contact, to help you continue to build relationships. Networking is not a cynical or one way activity - look to talk to inspiring people, ask them about themselves and build long term mutually interesting relationships. You might be able to arrange a mentor through your college careers service, or meet previous graduates through your course supervisors - learning about the career trajectories of people following a similar route to you can be an especially useful way to develop your own thinking about your future. You might even have fun!

Every student has a full life - the study we need to do, the socialising we enjoy to do, and the activities that bring us personal satisfaction and pleasure along the way. But your uni years are also an investment, and the smart investor will have an eye to the future to ensure the maximum returns. By building your career foundations alongside achieving your degree and enjoying your university experience, you will make sure you have the best possible prospects upon graduation - and you're sure to enjoy the experience along the way!

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