“Twenty years ago you could tumble out of college and find a profession, a good job that took almost no training. That is not true today. Jobs for college graduates are shrinking. That’s the reason we have to start teaching strategic thinking.”

Scary… I was of that generation. Careers ‘happened’– you stumbled out of university or school and found a job which led to a career, and the rest is history. Not so true today.

Competition for jobs is far greater. Seemingly, everyone that you are in competition with has 11 GCSEs at A*, 3 A Levels at A* and tonnes of extra curricular activities (or so you’re led to believe).

Even if your academics aren’t quite at the A* standard, there are plenty of ways for you to differentiate yourself from the crowd. It is never too early for you to start to ‘build’ your CV. Some schools are talking to their pupils as early as Year 8, as they recognise how important extra curricular activities are.

Please join clubs. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.” There is something for everyone.

I am a parent of a non-sporty child, and she has discovered art – our local art club has been a revelation for her. She didn’t enjoy roller skating or trampolining, but at least she tried… Her very sporty siblings both belong to several local sports clubs, and her brother has progressed to County and Regional standard through his clubs.

Activities to consider:

The majority of secondary schools offer a diverse selection of clubs – from the ever present sports clubs, through to Chess or even DJ Club.

Sports clubs – there will be a local club for most ‘traditional’ sports (football, rugby, cricket, hockey, netball and swimming are typically available in most areas). In my local area, we also have a climbing club, a scooter club, roller skating, gymnastics, trampolining, mountain biking and ten pin bowling clubs. Even an unsporty child can find something they would enjoy in that list!

Duke of Edinburgh – if your school doesn’t participate in the scheme, there are external providers, and it doesn’t cost the earth. You will volunteer for between 3-6 months, undertake a sport for 3-6 months, and undertake a skill for 3-6 months. You will also participate in a 24 hour expedition which involves trekking, camping overnight, map reading and cooking on a campfire – all very character building.

Some schools have the Combined Cadet Force (CCF). The focus of the CCF is to provide adventurous and active training, which gives young people the opportunity for personal development outside the classroom. If your school doesn’t participate, there are Sea Cadet, Air Cadet and Army Cadet units in the local community.

Consider volunteering – there are plenty of old people’s homes, charities, schools, conservation organisations that need volunteers to help out. You can volunteer at Brownies, Guides, Scouts, at your local sports club (helping younger children learn your sport). Universities and employers are very keen on volunteering but remember to consider what you have learnt from their experiences, what have you got out of your experiences. 

Even making YouTube videos can be a rewarding experience – it encourages you to practice ‘public speaking’, devise interesting content, edit videos, select music (without contravening copyright!). My daughter gains endless pleasure from it, and through it, practises her talent.

In short, please don’t turn into the student who said to me, “Mrs Bell, I don’t have anything to say. All I do after homework and dinner is play Xbox!” He would have been in my ‘Reject’ pile when I was a Graduate Recruiter for some of the world’s largest companies. You don’t need to be!

Carol Christen, co-author Kirsty Bell, Author

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