The month is June and yet another academic year has come to a close as the Class of 2021 are ready to enter the jobs market. As members of the Class of 2017, we’ve had five years to look back on since we’ve left university — with each of us having very different experiences during that time.

The benefit of hindsight has enabled us to start thinking about what we might have done differently and what advice we would give to our younger fresher-faced selves. With that in mind, for this week's blog we've put together the 4 most important pieces of advice that we wish we’d known when we were starting our own careers.

1. Find out what sets you apart 🙋🏻‍♂️

The number of students enrolled in higher level education has increased by almost 17.5 per cent over the past six years, according to new data released by the Higher Education Authority, as enrollments increased in third-level institutions from 209,000 in 2014 to 245,000 in 2020. The total number of undergraduate new entrants to third-level in 2020 increased by 6 per cent on the previous year, the largest annual number of new entrants to date.

Additionally, more students are now achieving first-class honours than ever before, the annual statistics reveal. The proportion of honours degree graduates achieving a first-class honours or equivalent increased from 16.8 per cent for the class of 2014 to 24.3 per cent for the class of 2020. There was a 3.6 per cent increase in firsts from 2019 to 2020.

What this means for you as a graduate is that you’re entering a highly competitive pool of candidates who are all applying for a limited number of entry-level jobs. It’s not enough to just be good at what you do or to have achieved high grades — you also need to think about what makes you special. What is on your CV that isn’t on anyone else's? Are there activities, hobbies or volunteer work that you do that you’re passionate about? Do you have other life experiences that set you apart?

Define what your value proposition is and focus on the traits that separate you from others and if you don’t have any — start working on them now. It’s never been easier to pick up a new skill or hobby that will make you a more attractive commodity in the job market.

2. Adopt a growth mindset 🧠

You might be forgiven for thinking that having just completed nearly 20 years of education you are done with learning. However, this could not be further from the truth. The reality is that you’re at the beginning of your educational journey and the only way to guarantee that your career will not only be a long but successful one is to maintain a curious outlook.

Learning creates knowledge. Knowledge creates expertise. Expertise creates value. Figure out how to add value to other peoples’ lives, and the money will come — irrespective of what path you take. Read books, do online courses, listen to podcasts. Do whatever you can to ensure that you’re constantly challenging yourself and growing.

The rate at which technological change takes places means that skills that were crucial ten years ago, while not completely outdated, are less relevant than before. As Alvin Toffler put it:

“The illiterate of the 21st century are not going to be those who cannot read or write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

3. Grow and nurture your network 🌐

Who you know matters. Often, you won’t know the importance of having a good network until you need one, at which point it’ll be too late. In time, a great network can prove to be the difference between landing a job and not — so make sure you invest in yours by focusing on building long-term relationships. LinkedIn is the most obvious resource you can use to expand and leverage your network but there are also countless other opportunities too such as signing up for Gradguide (shameless plug) or seeking out communities of people in both an online and offline context.

You can create lasting relationships and help other people by going into each interaction asking, ‘What can I do to help?’ as opposed to ‘What can this person do for me?’ Treat people how you’d like to be treated yourself. Not because they’ll always treat you well in return, because they won’t, but because it’s the right thing to do. If you need to step on someone to get to the top, you’ll likely meet them again on the way down — and people tend to have long memories.

4. Study successful people 🔍

Your definition of what a successful person will look like will vary depending on what field you’re in — so it’s your job to find these people and try and learn from them. They’ve obviously figured something out to get where they are and have undoubtedly made mistakes along the way.

Seek out those whose work or lifestyle you’d like to emulate and connect with them. It’s nigh-on impossible to be prepared for everything that comes your way. In fact, trying to be prepared for every eventuality traps a lot of people at the beginning of their careers.

Oftentimes, people are more than happy to help out those who were once in their shoes. Try to find yourself a mentor, be it a family member or a colleague, who you can ask questions to and seek advice from. It’s crucial to also ensure that you’re being a good mentee. Respect the time of those who are helping you by asking intelligent and thoughtful questions and be open to feedback, learning, and criticism.