Category Archives: Career profile

Starting your career – top tips from three recent graduates


Our
Careers Network is bursting with inspirational stories from our graduates about how they found their first jobs after university. It’s a great place to start researching your career options! In our online library, you will will find tales of adventure, wise words and even a love story…

Tales of the unexpected

Even if you think ahead, sometimes life doesn’t go to plan. This was the case for Raven Swaine, who had planned to go straight into work after graduating, but instead took a year out.

Having left university without securing a graduate position, Raven travelled and volunteered, building up evidence of skills that employers are looking for. She applied speculatively to companies, resulting in a paid placement with First Actuarial – and six weeks later, a permanent job! So when life doesn’t go according to plan, use it as an opportunity to make a new one.

Memoirs of a graduate

It’s never too early to start thinking about your career. Whilst at university, you are surrounded by experts who can help you get to where you want to be when you graduate.

Jennifer Hoare made the most of her time at university by engaging with the Careers Service early. After completing the Bristol PLUS Award, she applied to graduate schemes, using our interview skills workshops and CV writing resources to help her prepare. Her hard work paid off, and she received two job offers through this highly competitive process! If you want to stand out, start now.

Love story

Craig Simpson met his employer, Newton Europe, for the first time at a careers fair and knew they were right for him. He moved fast, and within a month had a role with them!

To find the right employer for you, Craig advises that you do your research. He started by following our top tips for researching employers. He also attended our careers fairs, using this fantastic face-to-face opportunity to ask company representatives more about what it’s like to work for their organisation. True love could be just a conversation away!

How we can help

Recent graduate Brooke Theis told us that she learned not be afraid to start talking to people about what she wanted, because people want to help. That’s us!

We understand that no two stories are the same, so can help you with your research and questions. If you haven’t already, visit the Careers Service today!

Thinking about life after graduation? Our graduates can help!

Have you ever wondered what University of Bristol students go on to do after they leave university? Are you looking for inspiration? Take a look at our Case Studies – real life accounts providing a fascinating insight into the world of graduate employment. In our profiles, Philip details his experiences as a graduate trainee at The Guardian, Ciara describes her role as a Consultant at EY, Elinam talks about entering further study, and Gowrishanker outlines his experiences of setting up his own business.

Hear from the graduates themselves about how having a degree from Bristol helped them to get where they are now. Did they start out with a clear career path in mind? Was the degree subject helpful in getting the job? Did they decide to pursue further study to improve their chances of finding the right job? How are they practising and developing the knowledge and skills they acquired whilst studying? How did a degree from the University of Bristol help to open doors to the career they were looking for?

Perhaps you feel as though you no longer want to follow the path that your degree naturally leads you to? Many of our case studies show how there are various alternative career paths out there where the skills and experience you have gained from studying for your degree can be put to good use: Greg, a Mechanical Engineering graduate who works as a Patent Attorney, Hannah, the Experimental Psychology graduate working as a Business Consultant for IBM, and Rosie, a Politics graduate working in the charity sector.  

All of our graduates give excellent hints and tips for students that are exploring their career options – start thinking about your next steps early, make use of the careers service, never stop learning and “Network! Network! Network!”

Join our Careers Network to access more case studies and get in touch with Bristol alumni.

Interview with Kate Blythe, Editorial and Content Director at Matchesfashion.com

For all those aspiring to work in the Fashion Industry or to go into Journalism, Kate Blythe from Matches Fashion has kindly taken part in an interview which will be a very useful read!

Why did you decide to work in the fashion industry, and how did it start?

I always wanted to be a fashion journalist from the age of 10 or 11. I collected American and British Vogue magazines for years and fell in love with the beautiful images and inspirational features.  From that age onwards I had my heart set on a  fashion journalism career and so I focused on English literature and Language as my speciality. I took English, Psychology and History A Levels and then I went to Leeds University to study an English degree. Before university, however, I set up work experience at my local paper and then went to IPC to intern at various magazines such as 19 magazine and Just 17. As a post-graduate, I went to Time Out magazine in London where I worked for 6 months as a freelance writer, and from there I went to ELLE magazine where I worked for 4 years as fashion features writer before moving into the digital world after that.

What does a typical day for you look like at Matchesfashion.com?

I start work around 8.30am and have 30 minutes before the team arrive to get through my emails and answer any queries. I sign off, approve and commission all content across mens and womens digital and print titles so my day is a constant stream of questions from my team and proofs to sign off. I also oversee all video content, along with marketing emails, social media and all fashion. I can be approving a fashion rail full of clothes for a cover shoot one minute, then sitting in the executive team meetings discussing forward planning the next. It’s non-stop and very varied, which is why I love my job! I leave work at 6pm to get home to my three children before bedtime which is also when the US markets are up and so I then deal with talent agents regarding celebrity cover stories and shoots.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlight of my career has been building a world class team here at Matchesfashion.com and rebranding all of the website and content in a short space of time. It has been an exciting 18 months and the best is yet to come.

What do you enjoy the most about working in fashion?
I love all aspects of fashion – from the incredible talent of the designers behind the collection, to the beautiful product that is created to the editorial stories we pull together from the collections we stock.  It is fast moving, exciting and inspiring.

What made you choose English as your degree, and what was your best experience whilst at Uni?
I have always been passionate about writing and would love writing essays at school and sixth form college. There is something about story telling that is very exciting to me and so there was really no other degree that I would have considered, other than fashion journalism. University was wonderful and I loved meeting great friends, learning new skills and knowing that I was preparing myself for a future in journalism. I couldn’t wait to get started!

Do you have any advice for students on how to stay creative and keep coming up with new ideas?
Read as much as possible – the news, websites, blogs, fashion commentary, magazines. Arm yourself with information and never think that you know it all. I am learning new skills every day and that triggers ideas in my mind for new ideas. Never plagiarise, always be original and stick to your passions rather than follow the pack. Then you will have the potential to be hugely successful!

Do you have any motivational words for students aspiring to make it in this very competitive industry?
Take on as much work experience as possible and when you are in a company doing a placement or internship, throw yourself into the role and make yourself indispensable. That is what I did and two months later I was offered a full time job. Never say no, always say yes to whatever task is given to you and your positive attitude and can-do nature will go a long way in impressing the right people.

What key skills do you need to get into fashion?
Great personal taste, passion for the subject you are working on and digital knowledge. Nowhere is purely print these days, so digital skills are a necessity for being a future fashion leader.

If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice whilst you were a student, what would it be?
I used to have to read a whole pile of books every week yet I never allowed myself enough time to really enjoy them. I would have told my younger self to enjoy the time I had and to absorb the literature I was reading, rather than racing through it all. I never have any time these days to read a good book, so that was my perfect opportunity.

Career profile: IT Consultancy

A University of Bristol graduate talks about their experience of IT consultancy: 

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It’s a fact that Computer Science students in general enjoy excellent job prospects after graduating, with University of Bristol graduates being particularly sought after in the industry. All modern businesses require staff who understand how to fully exploit technology. In fact, many businesses will pay a handsome sum to anyone who can prove that they have the skills to unlock potential in their organisation using technology. So why is it that so many Computer Science students choose to apply for ‘safe’ graduate jobs (a.k.a. coding and development) instead of exploring all the different opportunities out there?

 I graduated from the University of Bristol seven years ago. Unlike many of my peers, I was not looking forward to the prospect of sitting in a dark room cutting code all day. Instead, I opted for a career in IT consultancy. Consultancy firms essentially get paid by other organisations to take on their most difficult projects as they have the expertise to resource and deliver the most challenging IT programmes. As a consultant working for one of these firms, I am kept constantly on my toes. Engagements tend to be short, meaning the next challenge is always just around the corner, and I rarely wake up knowing what my day is going to be like or where in the country I am going to be working tomorrow.

After graduating and accepting a junior role in a large consultancy firm, I spent nearly four years as a consultant analyst working for the British intelligence services. Although the work I did is classified, I can say that working on the most complex projects these organisations had was both challenging and rewarding. More recently I have been able to adapt my skills to work in the private sector, where I have helped around forty different companies across a variety of sectors. I mention this to illustrate the sheer diversity of jobs out there for Computer Science graduates.

The one thing I have learnt in this time is that there is a desperate lack of graduates applying for the more niche, highly skilled technical roles that companies need, and an overwhelming abundance of graduate coders. I believe this is purely down to Computer Science graduates undervaluing their skill sets and focussing on what they believe they can do best – coding. However, the harsh reality is that coding is often done better, faster and more cheaply by teams of offshore developers. Outsourcing has changed the landscape of jobs available to Computer Science graduates and it’s time to adapt!

 UoB Graduate

 The University of Bristol Careers Service adds:

Our ‘My degree…where next’ pages offer an introduction to the many different options available to you with a Computer Science degree.  It is useful to consider the destinations of previous Computer Science graduates, and read other case studies.

Career profile: NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme

A University of Bristol graduate talks about her experience of the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme:

ImageImage: Alex Proimos [flickr.com/photos/proimos/]

When I started as a Geography student at the University of Bristol in 2009 I had little idea of what career I wanted. I knew I wanted to be in a job where I really felt like I was making a difference to people’s  lives and I had always had an affinity for the NHS but not being a clinician,  I struggled to see where I might fit in.

After attending various careers events, courses and undertaking work experience, I learnt more about management in the NHS and was completely sold on this being the career I wanted. Somewhat putting all of my eggs in one basket,  the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme was the only job I applied for and, fortunately, I was accepted on to the General Management stream of the scheme,  which I started in September 2012. Eighteen months on, I can wholeheartedly say this was the best decision I could have made and I am enjoying a challenging but hugely rewarding start to my career.

The scheme is comprised of 3 placements over two years: one in a hospital (a more ‘operational’ role concerned with the running of services); a more strategic role involving project management; and a shorter two-month placement where there is more choice of where to go, inside or outside of the NHS, in order to develop knowledge or skills that will be useful to the NHS. At the start of the scheme there is also a month-long ‘orientation’, where I spent time in a variety of departments and organisations to get a better understanding of the different components that are part of the health and social care system: spending a day on an ambulance was definitely a personal highlight!

One of the elements of the scheme I have been most impressed with is the amount of responsibility I have been given from the very start. Despite having no previous experience in the NHS, I have now managed a department in a hospital, line-managed staff and led service-improvement projects, and worked collaboratively with patients and staff from a wide variety of disciplines. Being afforded this amount of responsibility, whilst at the same time being well supported, has allowed me to develop a huge amount of new skills and knowledge in a really short space of time and I have relished being able to make an impact from day one.

In addition to the work placements, I am currently studying for a Masters in Leadership and Service Improvement as part of the scheme. I have enjoyed being able to put some of the theory I have learnt from this, as well as skills learnt during leadership development courses provided by the scheme,  into practice during my placements.

The fast-track nature of the Scheme has given me a mass of opportunities I would never have otherwise had and I would highly recommend it to anyone passionate about improving patient care and ready to offer the commitment and dedication needed to become a leader in the NHS.

                                                                                                Siobhan Heeley, University of Bristol Graduate

The Careers Service says:

You can read more about what options there are with a Geography degree on the Careers Service website.  We also provide a helpful overview of careers in healthcare, which links to the really useful ‘What can I do with my degree’ website from NHS Careers.

Career profile: costumier

Jo Sims has provided the following profile with lots of hints and tips about how to get into the exciting industry of freelance costume making.

Job titles: costumier / costume maker, costume assistant, costume trainee, costume supervisor

Employer: freelance, but have worked for Hackney Music Development Trust, Red Production (Scott & Bailey Series 2), Scottish Opera and Sheffield Theatres.

Education:

  • Theatrical costume making – a non-accredited 15 week intensive practical course (Northern College of Costume, York, 2011)
  • MA Design Innovation Strategy (SheffieldHallamUniversity, 2001)
  • BA (Hons) Surface Pattern Design (University of Huddersfield, 1998)
  • HND Graphic Design (Nene College, 1993)

1880s bustle gown by Jo Sims

1880s bustle gown by Jo Sims [Image from www.miss-sims.com]

 What does your role involve?

My work as a costume maker involves making up costumes under the guidance of the pattern cutter, assisting on costume fittings, and making alterations in time for the dress rehearsals. I’m also experienced in pattern drafting, draping on the stand, and some costume design (done on the course). As a freelancer I also have to be able to manage my time and be constantly looking ahead for the next project.

How did you get your job?

I did a two week work placement at Scottish opera in Glasgow straight after finishing a 15 week intensive costume making course. While there the ladies cutter/workshop manager gave my details on to a friend (a costume designer) who was working on an ITV drama in Manchester. I got in touch and met the Designer (Rhona Russell) after my placement and was offered a 16 week contract as costume trainee on the drama starting the next day! I think it was very much about having a direct contact and being in the right place at the right time. Following on from this I was recommended as a costume supervisor for Shadowball, a touring jazz opera, working with children aged 7-9 (by the Head of Wardrobe in Sheffield, where I’d volunteered one day a week for two months in 2010). I was then contacted by Scottish Opera who wanted me to work for them for 12 weeks, after being happy with me on my work placement. I also secured more work with Sheffield Theatres in November 2012 for pantomime and with Scottish Opera in 2013. So my few contacts have gone a very long way.

I do hope to gain work in New York though, so that’s where I’ll really have to push marketing myself.

How did your degree help?

Having a degree has helped me gain all my organisational skills (as well as the 10 years that I worked for e-learning companies after my Masters). It has helped time management, project planning, developed specific technology skills (Adobe PhotoShop, Illustrator, Flash, Dreamweaver).

The intensive costume making course taught me historical costume construction, pattern drafting, draping on the stand, sewing techniques, tailoring. The course covers a lot in 15 weeks because by the end of it I’d made an 1820 gents eveningwear costume – consisting of pantaloons, shirt, waistcoat and tailcoat; 1880s bustle gown – consisting of underwear (combinations, corset bustle cage, petticoat), foundation skirt, bustle apron, bodice and additional gloves and bag; 1940s ladies eveningwear. Because the course was practical we only had one day per project to research and come up with the designs. It was much more focused on practical skills rather than design and development skills.

What advice would you give anyone else wanting to get into costume design?

Placements are so valuable. At the time it seems really difficult working for nothing, but it has paid off so much with how much work I’ve got from 8 days volunteering (over 2 months) at Sheffield Theatres in 2010 and 2 week work placement (unpaid) at Scottish opera in Glasgow. Costume making in particular is such a small industry in that everyone knows everyone, so it’s really important to make the best possible impression rather than taint your career with a lack of enthusiasm.

Due to the nature of the work, unless you live in or near London, you’ll have to do a fair bit of travelling to get work, but once you’ve made your few initial contacts they do call you back for more work.

For more information see Jo’s website.

Career profile: Educational Psychologist

child photo

 

A 2010 DEdPsy graduate Cardiff University, currently working as an Educational Psychologist for a local authority provided the case study below about her current role and how she got there.

How did you get your job?

The initial step was to get my first degree in Psychology- I graduated from Aston University in 2001. During that degree I worked as a clinical psychology assistant for the NHS for 12 months. After graduation I worked as a mental health support worker for a year, and decided that I wanted to pursue the Educational Psychology route and taught in a primary school for 2 years following a PGCE.

At the time, 2 years of teaching was a prerequisite to be accepted onto the DEdPsy course, and whilst it no longer is, the classroom experience gave me a firm foundation to then apply for an Assistant Educational Psychology post which then led to successful acceptance onto the Doctorate course.

The course consisted of placements working as a Trainee Educational Psychologist in three different local authorities, a number of research projects and a thesis. I graduated and have been working ever since for a local authority.

What does your role involve?

I work with children and young people between the ages of 0-19 and the systems around them (school, family, community) using a consultation approach in order to facilitate change. There is a lot of multi-agency and liaison work, which involves working collaboratively with school staff, parents, and a range of other professionals (e.g. Social Services, Speech and Language Therapists, Youth Offending Service, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) to identify and support any wellbeing or additional learning needs.

Adaptability and the ability to communicate with others is key. I work with 15 schools including primary, secondary and pupil referral units and work one-to-one with a child using psychological assessments, individual therapeutic work and observations. I also undertake more proactive group interventions to help the children and young people develop social skills, self-esteem and self-regulation. I also work at a systemic level, supporting schools to develop policies and interventions, and provide training to teachers, LSAs and ALNCOs on topics such as self-regulation, anxiety management, psychological approaches and attachment. There is a lot of administration too- I have to research and analyse the effectiveness of interventions, write reports and ensure that I keep up to date with the latest research in order to provide evidenced based practice.

How did your degree help?

If you want to become an Educational Psychologist having the Doctorate in Educational Psychology is an essential requirement by the British Psychological Society (BPS). My DEdPsy involved 3 placements which were invaluable in finding out the variety of approaches which are used in different local authorities. My 50,000 word thesis explored the impact of teachers using Solution Focused approaches in schools.

What advice would you give anyone else wanting to get into educational psychology?

With fewer assistant educational psychology posts available due to funding cuts, you will have to work harder to evidence your motivation for the DEdPsy course.

Tips:

  • Experience of working with young people and children is essential. Get into a school and classroom setting to get a better understanding of the educational and school systems. Experience beyond the classroom is also invaluable e.g. in youth clubs, sports clubs, playgroups, voluntary agencies. This will give you a holistic insight into what children deal with on a daily basis and some of the challenges they face. It is vital that you gain experience of working with children from all backgrounds with a variety of needs and will be key in being able to demonstrate your communication skills and your empathetic nature.
  • Always consider the link to psychology in what you have done e.g. if you work as a learning support assistant or volunteer with a play scheme, think how you have used psychological principles to deal with challenges successfully.
  • Demonstrate your enthusiasm and initiative by asking to shadow professionals that work with children and young people- social workers, clinical psychologists, therapeutic workers. If they can’t spare the time for you to come out for the day, ask if you can at least speak to them – try to gain insights wherever and whenever you can. Ask questions and demonstrate that you’ve gone the extra mile with additional research- contacts can be key to professional development in this field.
  • Get research experience during the summer- seek out psychology research projects and get involved.
  • Consider choosing a dissertation topic related to children or young people. This will not only help demonstrate your interest and increase your knowledge but could also bring you into contact with a range of other professionals who also work with children.
  • Keep up to date with the latest research- journals such as Educational Psychology in Practice, Educational & Child Psychology, developments in the profession through the BPS and if possible attend any appropriate training courses.

Final note from the Careers Service:

For further advice and information about psychology careers see our ‘I want to work in healthcare’ pages. If you miss our ‘Careers in Psychology’ event, don’t forget you can find content on our Careers Downloads page.

Image from: http://www.morguefile.com

Career profile: assistant clinical psychologist

Image of child's brain

Are you interested in a clinical psychology career?

A 2007 psychology graduate from the University of Manchester, currently working as an assistant clinical psychologist for the NHS, provided the case study below about her current role and how she got there.

How did you get your job?

Since leaving university I have held several jobs. My first was working as a sales advisor for an insurance company – completely unrelated to the career that I wanted. In the meantime I joined an assistants group at the university, got involved in writing articles, and worked as a locum support worker for women that had suffered domestic abuse.

Eventually I plucked up the courage and contacted several clinical psychologists and got an honorary research assistant post at the University of Manchester.

I then started a part time Research Psychologist post for UCL which gave me great experience of conducting research. I also started volunteering as a research assistant one day a week on a project looking at obesity and managed to get paid work on an ad hoc basis at the University of Nottingham which eventually resulted in some publications.

What does your role involve?

My current role as an assistant clinical psychologist consists of conducting neuro-psychological assessments on children with queried autism/learning disabilities or a social communication disorder. I score up and interpret performance and write reports. I also visit children within their school environment and carry out direct/video observations. My post has enabled me to sit in on and assist in formulations and intervention/treatment plans. Spending time around clinical psychologists has allowed me to gain a sense and clear understanding of the work that they conduct.

How did your degree help?

If you want to become a clinical psychologist having a degree is essential. My degree gave me a great foundation of knowledge, improved my writing and research skills, and confidence to pursue a career in clinical psychology.

What advice would you give anyone else wanting to get into clinical psychology?

Gaining a place on the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Training is not an easy process. It is important to fully research and understand what Clinical Psychology is.

Tips:

  • Contact clinical psychologists and ask to talk to them – they tend to have a lot of knowledge that can be helpful for you. Whilst at University this should be easier as you may have clinical psychologists that lecture you.
  • Try and get involved in support work / Nightline / Samaritans / mentoring etc. whilst at university.
  • Join an assistants group (it is not always restricted to assistants).
  • Get any experience you can which you can show is relevant. I was involved in Nightline, worked as an ambassador for the university engaging those from disadvantaged backgrounds, worked in India and Romania with people that had disabilities etc.
  • Offering to work on an honorary basis on a research project during holidays is a good way of getting experience.
  • Opt for a research project (normally in your final year) that is as clinically relevant as you can get.
  • Be willing to seek out experience and to deal with rejection.
  • Do not allow it to consume you – it is only a job at the end of the day.

 Final note from the Careers Service:

For further advice and information about psychology careers see our ‘I want to work in healthcare’ pages. If you missed our ‘Careers in Psychology’ event, don’t forget you can find content on our Careers Downloads page.

[Image: by IsaacMao via creative commons on flickr.com]

It’s not what you know…using the Careers Network.

We’re all connected

A really common query from students and graduates is how to get ahead when you don’t know anyone in a specific organisation or industry.  That is exactly why we started the Careers Network – a database of Bristol graduates from a huge range of backgrounds and industries who are happy to help with advice and information.

With over 700 volunteer networkers it can be used in all sorts of ways to:

  • Gain inspiration about what to do after your degree
  • Get an idea of which jobs exist within specific organisations
  • Learn about the paths that people have taken to get to where they are today
  • To get advice and information about specific industries or companies

So how do you get started? Here are some key tips to get the most out of the Careers Network:

  • Always start the initial message by introducing yourself and explaining how you found their details.
  • Pay attention to spelling and grammar and think about presenting yourself professionally. This is your chance to make a good first impression and your attention to detail will increase your chances of getting a positive response.
  • Start by asking for advice. Even if your end goal is to get work experience, people are much more successful if they cultivate a relationship first through less direct requests- perhaps for information or advice about a specific role, or the company culture. Once you have proved your enthusiasm and interest in an organisation or job, asking how you can apply for experience can then lead to a favourable response.
  • Be specific. It helps the person you are contacting if you can be clear about what you want help with. For example one alumni who works for a large engineering firm commented that […]students seem to be well informed and often come forward with specific things they’d like advice on”.
  • Be patient. The networkers are volunteers and will inevitably juggling your request with their work and may not get back to you immediately. However, please contact us if your emails are returned to you as ‘undelivered’ or ‘non-deliverable’ or you have not had a reply in more than 28 working days: careers-resources@bristol.ac.uk
  • You can contact a maximum of five Careers Network members per day.

We spoke to one student recently who had had particular success with the Careers Network, securing a placement and several informal meetings with people from different sectors.

Arthur Mitchell, an MEng student in his penultimate year, used the Careers Network initally when he needed a placement for his course, after hearing about it in a careers talk in his department. He used the network to research possible individuals to contact in the companies he was interested in, knowing that they had volunteered to help Bristol students with career development. He then contacted them using a carefully targeted approach. He was subsequently invited to interview and finally accepted a placement with an engineering consultancy.

The following year, wanting to explore the finance sector, he contacted more alumni on the Careers Network which resulted in a phone call and a meeting in person in London with some Bristol graduates. “The Bristol connection was really useful – it was instantly something to start a conversation with” says Arthur.

So what was the secret to his success? “Have a clear goal in mind when you are contacting somebody” suggests Arthur. He had used the Careers Service and got feedback on his CV which he had found really useful.  However, he also believes that there was another tactic which played in his favour – he believes he made himself stand out by sending paper copies of his CV and a covering letter to the Careers Network contacts. His theory was that they would be much less easy to delete than an e-mail.  “This definitely got me noticed and it showed that I was willing to put a bit of effort in”.

This worked for Arthur but would you go this far? How much effort are you willing to put in? 

The Careers Network is available to all Univeristy of Bristol students, staff and recent graduates who have registered with the Careers Service.

Sara Whittam, Careers Adviser

Career profile: freelance foreign correspondent

Pile of newspapers

Sara, a 2005 English graduate from UCL, has spent the past year working as a freelance foreign correspondent in Cairo, Egypt. Below she tells us more about this and answers questions to help Bristol students and graduates considering a similar career.

After leaving university, I first completed a six month internship at the press office at UNICEF, the United Nation’s Children’s Fund, where I helped to organise events and campaigns and worked to boost media coverage of the organisation’s work. After gaining work experience at The Sunday Times, I became a trainee at the paper and later gained a job on the world news desk where I worked as a reporter and researcher for four years.

In my current job, I am based in Cairo where I write news and feature articles for several UK newspapers and magazines. It has been an amazing experience to live abroad, learn more about Egyptian culture and follow the aftermath of the Arab Spring here, particularly witnessing the country’s first democratic elections and all the changes that has brought with it. Being a freelancer has given me the chance to work for many different organisations and develop new skills, such as getting into radio broadcasting. It also allows me more freedom to work on stories that I am interested in.

How did you get your job?

I realised that in order to progress within my chosen career I was going to have to take a risky move and quit a stable desk job in London to brave going it alone. I arrived in Cairo with very few Egyptian contacts or resources, it was a scary but invigorating experience and within a matter of weeks  (to my relief!) I gained a fairly substantial amount of work.

How did your degree help?

Having a degree helped improve my writing style and my ability to analyse and use information I gained to form a coherent argument – both essential skills for my current job.  I also feel I benefited from having read widely during the course of my literature degree both in terms of the greater overall cultural and historical awareness this has given me as well as learning about different styles of writing. I think that no one can really become a good writer without reading widely.

Did your time working for a newspaper help you to set yourself up as a freelance correspondent?

I think having worked at The Sunday Times before coming to Egypt helped me a great deal by ensuring I had a deep understanding of what news stories would be likely to interest the British press. I also built up relationships with journalists and foreign correspondents at the paper as well as freelancers that we used living abroad and I was lucky enough to be able to ask their advice about starting out and for tips on who to contact about freelance work  opportunities at different publications.

Are language skills essential for foreign correspondents?

People often assume that language skills are a must if you want to be a foreign correspondent, but that’s far from true. Many people become successful overseas reporters without ever speaking much of the local language – the key is to find a proficient translator. I do speak Arabic as well as some intermediate Spanish and French and there’s no doubt this has helped immensely, particularly during my time in Cairo, if only in terms of cutting down on the cost of a translator but that means often working alone and often being accompanied by a local who is familiar with the area and regional customs can be a great advantage.

What advice would you give anyone else wanting to get into foreign journalism?

As getting into journalism is so competitive you need to make sure you get lots of work experience to prove your dedication to the profession.  During a work placement pay close attention to the types of topics that interest that particular media outlet so that you can pitch ideas that will impress them. If you are thinking of going abroad, choose somewhere newsworthy, where there is likely to be a lot going on, investigate where most papers have staff correspondents and where they might be able to use a freelancer. It also helps to choose somewhere where the cost of living is low. Before choosing to go freelance, I set up meetings with editors at several newspapers and magazines to discuss what kind of stories they would be interested in taking from me. It also helps if they can put a face to a name when you call in from thousands of miles away!

Any work experience tips?

Many journalism work experience opportunities are advertised on websites such as journalism.co.uk  and GorkanaJobs.com. It is also worth contacting newspapers and magazines directly by writing to the managing editor or editor of a particular section including details of why you’d be interested in working for that section.  If you do not hear back, do follow up with a phone call, newspaper offices can often be somewhat erratic. While daily newspapers are often oversubscribed, Sunday newspapers and regional publications are sometimes less busy.

Final note from the Careers Service:

The Guardian Careers Blog has a number of useful posts with tips for aspiring journalists. See, for example, ‘Working in journalism: what I wish I’d learned at university’ and ‘Finding journalism work experience and opportunities on Twitter’.