The University of Sussex recently ranked 8th on the Complete University Guide’s leaderboard for top graduate prospects, which is “a measure of the employability of a university’s first degree graduates” as reported in this Business Insider article.

This is, of course, great news. As university becomes increasingly accessible to everybody, graduate career prospects are fast becoming another major priority for the country’s top academic institutions. Universities and department-run careers centres forge links with the country’s top employers in a bid to secure special relationships, and promote their talented graduates via careers fairs or ‘meet and greets’. The University of Sussex ranking in the top ten suggests some forward thinking and prioritisation on the part of the University’s management team.

However, there is perhaps a little more to the trial of getting graduate jobs than cutting loose your xox_babygurl email address and the ensuing mountain of applications or cover letters. Most of us will have heard the questions ‘what are your ambitions?’ or ‘what can you bring to our team?’ and frozen, fear striking deep, before giving a carefully rehearsed review of your potential and that 3-month temp job in your local supermarket in the midlands.

Not every graduate manages to leave university with 3.5 years’ experience and a fully mapped out 10-year career plan – often they find themselves still growing, deciding where they want to put themselves and struggling to understand the breadth of opportunity before them.

It is here that the Catalyst scheme, a programme run by Sussex Innovation on the University’s behalf, comes into its own. Purposely taking in graduates from all corners of the University, forming a team with an eclectic mix of skills, a broad range of degrees and various passions, the Catalyst Team supports hundreds of members with work on a variety of projects including research, marketing, business development, design, account management and more.

Leah Dennison is a postgraduate student reading for an MA in Digital Media, and has been with the Catalyst Team for 8 months. “The Catalyst experience has not only taught me a variety of practical skills, but has offered me an insight into a plethora of different industries that I wouldn’t have been able to experience without this unique type of work placement,” she says. “Through my work here, I have garnered a network of contacts from many different business areas, which will prove invaluable in helping me to carve out my future career path.”

This environment helps Catalyst Team members to find what work they have passion for, and just as importantly, find out what they never want to do – furthermore, it provides access to ambitious businesses, and a senior support team of business advisors, who have taken every kind of journey imaginable to end up where they are today. This senior team provide mentoring and support across all of the projects that Catalyst work on – it is liberating to readily take on more responsibilities, safe in the knowledge that you will always be across the office from the project lead.

The senior team also provide an incredible sounding board for advice regarding job searches and career paths – the conversation of ‘where next’ is not taboo. Indeed, Sussex Innovation derives great pride from the fact that the Catalyst scheme is a stepping stone to ‘the next chapter’. Several team members from last year’s intake have stepped into permanent roles at the companies they have worked with, or have been recommended to local businesses after demonstrating their aptitude for particular areas of project work.

The businesses that the Catalyst Team work alongside provide a source of knowledge and inspiration too. Team members gain confidence in themselves by talking to experienced industry professionals, managing directors and chief executive teams – as well as providing their own help and understanding to support their ambitions – and the effect this can eventually have is second to none. The benefit can truly be seen as you sit down in interviews and conduct yourself with more assertiveness and confidence in your abilities.

Overall, the year spent in the Catalyst Team is absolutely brilliant for providing real, tangible experience. Not only are there the projects you directly work in, but also the opportunity to see how these affect the future of a business. That core understanding of strategy, and your relevance to it, really brings a touch of authenticity when answering those ever-vague interview questions. Perhaps most importantly, it facilitates a better understanding of the career path you want to take, and gives some strength to your ambitions – which in the cold light of day, outside the higher education bubble, has been brilliant for this graduate.

If you’d like to hear more about how the Catalyst scheme could support you, or are interested in joining the Catalyst Team, contact Lucy Paine.