Tag Archives: guidance

4 Top Tips for Landing Your Dream Job (and why I should know…)

Landing your dream job can feel like the stuff of fantasy, but it doesn’t have to if you take the right approach.

As an ex-lawyer turned career coach with experience in property, PR, teaching and copywriting, I know all too well how important finding the right job is and the frustrations of being in a role which doesn’t quite fit.

I also know how much you’ve invested in your studies, the time you spend thinking about your career and that fulfilment can hinge on more than a pay cheque.

So here are my top tips for securing a job which ticks all the boxes:

  1. Know Your Values

Knowing who you are and what you want is essential to positive change. Before considering what kind of company or organization you’d like to work for, ask yourself what gives your life purpose and meaning, in and outside work. Your values might range from money, work-life balance and family to meeting new people, travel or having fun.

If you’re unsure what drives you, ask yourself what you couldn’t do without in a dream day, what you’re doing when you’re happiest or what you’d love to be paid for. If you’re still struggling, ask yourself what you really dislike and turn this on its head. For example, if it’s working long hours with little time to socialize, it may be that work-life balance is top of your list.

Once you know what drives you, focus on organizations which meet these needs and maximize your chances of fulfilment.

  1. Harness Your Strengths In Your Search

If you’ve got into the University of Bristol, chances are you’ve got strong analytical and critical thinking skills – the perfect combination for identifying your dream job! The most fulfilled people are resourceful in harnessing their strengths, helping them narrow down their ideal workplace, prepare for interview and seal the deal.

If you’re struggling to find the time or perspective to research what kind of organization appeals, reach out to one of our career advisors. They’ll help you move from where you are now to where you want to be. Our applications advisor will also have top tips for how to craft a winning CV, covering letter or application form.

  1. Prepare For Interview

Whether you’re a rising star or a Mensa child, intellectual skill and charm are no substitute for interview preparation. The most common pitfalls are being unable to communicate what an organization does, why this appeals and how your experience and skillset set you apart.

Avoid this by thoroughly reading the organization’s website, articles published by key stakeholders and talking to any contacts you may have. Then identify questions you could be asked and practise your answers with a trusted friend or one of our careers advisors. Ensure you tailor your answers to the skills and experience required in the job and person specification. And if you’re asked a competency based question (tell me a time when…), structure your answer around the STAR acronym – check out this handy video for tips.

Finally, be sure to show-off commercial awareness by reading up on market and organizational developments.

  1. Trust Your Instincts

You can read all you want around the firm but there’s no substitute for face to face gut feeling. If you have a good gut feeling, trust it. If not, ask yourself which of your core values aren’t being met and if this is a deal-breaker. Good luck!

 

Stupidly busy? Be smart and manage your time effectively.

Sometimes it seems there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. With the competing demands of revising for exams, writing essays and applying for jobs, good management of your time is essential.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider if you are filling your time wisely. Are you putting off more challenging tasks by cleaning the house, doing the washing up, checking Facebook? My advice…..

Stop Procrastinating!

  1. Just start – do something (anything) to get the task under-way.
  2. If it’s big, break it down into smaller parts and do a little each day so you don’t feel so daunted by it.
  3. Do one thing at a time. Just because you can do ten things at once doesn’t mean you should. Focusing on one thing at a time means you’ll do better work, finish faster, and move on to other, more enjoyable activities.
  4. A cluttered desk is not helpful. Clear your desk of everything not related to what you are currently doing. This will help you concentrate and focus your attention.
  5. Identify your ‘prime time’. We all have a time of day when we are alert and attentive. The secret is to recognise when this is and do the tasks that require energy, concentration and thought when you’re at your sharpest.
  6. Plan ahead by creating a schedule including study, work, and your personal commitments for the next few months. Then…
  7. Prioritise: to be effective, you need to decide what tasks are urgent and important and focus on these. You’ll feel a real sense of achievement and satisfaction from ticking completed tasks off you list.
  8. Work in blocks of time: try a maximum of an hour before taking a 15min break, this way you’ll concentrate better.
  9. Minimise interruptions by switching off your phone, signing out of social media, turning off alerts and push notifications or asking friends not to disturb you. You can survive without knowing your friends’ latest status update for a few hours.
  10. Give yourself a reward once you complete a task to keep you motivated.

Some people believe they need the chaos of leaving things to the last minute and the pressure of a tight deadline to motivate them: ask yourself whether this is really effective or whether it’s disguised procrastination.

If you just do it now, you can look forward to some real leisure time later without the pressure of future work hanging over you. Breaking tasks down and scheduling work ahead of time also means you won’t get overwhelmed later on. It’s all about delayed gratification and you might actually find you produce better work under less stress.

Claire Wrixon
Careers Adviser

So you got a 2:2 – what happens next?

 

bannerDegree-560x280

It’s the time of year when degree results are announced and, amid all the celebrations, there are some of you for whom things may not have gone according to plan.  There seems to be a lot of pressure on students to achieve a 2:1 these days, but this is really only significant if you are aiming to secure a position on a graduate scheme, as recruiters often use degree classifications to screen the vast numbers of applications they receive.

According to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the percentages for those in full-time employment six months after graduation are actually the same for those with Firsts, 2:1s and 2:2s, so things do have a tendency to equalise over time.  Please do bear in mind that only a minority of graduates end up on these large grad schemes each year, so it’s important to take a deep breath and consider your options – of which there are many.  We also recommend taking a look at our previous post What If I Don’t Want a Graduate Scheme? to help you work out what your next step might be.

Some graduate schemes do accept 2:2s

You may be surprised to know that not all graduate schemes require a 2:1 for you to be able to apply.  Some engineering and accounting firms (not the Big Four) will accept a 2:2, and some well-known schemes run by HMRC, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the NHS are all still open to you.  Many firms will also consider applicants with a 2:2 if you contact them to explain any genuinely mitigating circumstances in advance of submitting your application; this will also avoid your being screened out by computer before you have had a chance to explain your situation.

Work your way up & gain experience

You can also prove you have the skills to do the job by taking on a graduate internship or placement.  This offers hands-on experience which will look great on your CV, as well as offering an opportunity to impress while actually doing the work; many internships can work as extended interviews.  Search company websites to see what’s on offer (internships are advertised throughout the year) and try our UoB Internship Scheme, which is open to graduates.  You can find opportunities advertised on the Careers Service website or find your own and talk to us about funding.

Work for a small business

Working for a small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) or a start-up could be the perfect way to get your career moving.  Small businesses place the emphasis on skills and work experience when recruiting as they need you to be able to make a contribution straight away and hit the ground running.  Some SMEs advertise with the Careers Service but you should also do your own research, make a shortlist and start calling them directly about what could be available.  These working environments may not offer structured training but you’ll have much earlier responsibility than in a grad scheme, if you can prove the quality of your work, and you will feel as if you are making a difference from the outset.

Think carefully about opting for a Masters

Many graduates immediately start applying for a Masters in the hope that attaining a higher degree will negate having a 2:2.  However, most recruiters will still use your undergraduate degree result for screening if you apply for a graduate scheme, even if you have bagged yourself a Masters.  If you’re thinking about taking the postgraduate study route, talk to the employers you’re interested in working for to find out which specific courses they might view as an enhancement to your profile.  A Masters degree does not necessarily make you more employable in the way that relevant work experience can, so do your homework before making an expensive mistake and taking another year out of the labour market.

What do you really want to do?

Sometimes, not getting what you want offers an important opportunity to take a step back and reflect on other possibilities.  There is a whole world of work out there that doesn’t require a 2:1 and a training scheme.  Come in and talk to a Careers Adviser about what you can do with your skills, what you enjoy and what your next steps could be; there are more job roles out there than you can possibly imagine.  You may decide to work for yourself, take a year out, travel or gain valuable experience before you throw yourself back into the graduate labour market and try again.  Just remember that there are many ways in which you can add value to your CV and impress a potential employer without the magic 2:1 on your transcript.

Dr Tracy Johnson, Careers Adviser

Image: http://www.gothinkbig.co.uk/features/

What if I don’t want a graduate scheme?

 

If you’re a penultimate or final year student, you may well feel that applying for a graduate scheme with a large recruiter is the only career option available to you.  This is because these organisations have very large budgets and can afford the kind of publicity that is probably appearing everywhere you look on campus.  It’s also possible that friends and flatmates are busy filling in the lengthy application forms required for these schemes, or that parents are advising you to apply as a ‘safe option’.

However, the truth is that only a minority of graduates secure these jobs. PwC reported receiving 30,000 applications for only 1,200 available positions and, while they seem like a secure option, you only have to look at the current problems with The Co-operative, for example, to realise that the graduates who started their training schemes with this group may now be reconsidering their position.  Realistically, your job is only ever as stable as the notice period you are obliged to be given before being handed your P45.

The most important aspect of career planning is choosing something that not only matches your skill set but that you will also enjoy.  So, if you think that a graduate scheme isn’t for you, here are a few alternatives to consider.

Working for an SME or start-up

A small to medium-size enterprise (SME) employs up to 250 employees, but you could be working with as few as two or three people in a small business, so it’s possible to make a significant contribution and feel that you are making an impact.  You could also gain responsibility much sooner than through a graduate scheme if you can prove the quality of your work.  Many graduates now run their own businesses and know first-hand the skills and talent that you could offer.  They won’t have the budgets to advertise any vacancies though, so you’ll need to get networking, search for opportunities via social media and approach businesses directly.  Make sure you’ve done your research into the company and be clear about how the skills and experience you have to offer match their requirements; remember that it’s about what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.

Taking a non-graduate job

There are sectors such as media where you simply won’t be able to find a graduate scheme.  You have to work your way up and make the most of work experience or internship opportunities to be able to make contacts and build your portfolio.  Taking a non-graduate job can be a useful way to get your foot in the door, but you need to network and build your reputation if you want to get ahead.  It is wise to have a Plan B if you take this route, in case your progress is limited.  If you opt for unpaid experience, make sure that the potential benefits outweigh the costs and that you are not being asked to undertake unreasonable duties.

Graduate internships and work experience

Recruiters have realised that graduates may not have committed to a career path by the time they leave university, so you will also find vacancies labelled ‘graduate internships’.  These structured programmes, often lasting six months to a year, are a great way to try out a role or sector and gain valuable experience before deciding what you would like to do more permanently.  You can also ask organisations that interest you about work experience opportunities even if they are not advertising specific vacancies; see our web pages on making speculative applications.  Have a look at the UoB Internship Scheme to see a range of current opportunities.

Postgraduate study or retraining

If you are considering this option, then be sure to check with potential employers if they need you to take a higher degree or postgraduate diploma in the first place and, if so, which particular courses they recommend.  Many students are surprised to find out, for example, that consulting firms don’t require a business Masters and that you can apply with a wide range of degree subjects.  If you don’t do your homework, further study can be a costly mistake as well as an extra year out of a very competitive labour market.  Don’t make assumptions about what might put you ahead of the game, given that many recruiters now see work experience as a greater enhancement to your CV than more qualifications.

Also, bear in mind that academic options are not the only ones available.  You can study more vocationally as a chef, costume maker or personal trainer, for example,  to move your career forward, and this could be more cost-effective and take up far less of your time.  Funding is challenging to find for further study, but Professional and Career Development Loans are worth a look, especially to cover shorter, more vocational courses.  We also have information on our web site to help you find potential sources of financial support.

Taking a year out

Many students ask us how employers view a year out after graduation.  Generally, employers tell us that they don’t mind at all, especially if you come back with new skills gained from work experience or travel and are now ready to settle down and focus on the job.  Better to get that urge to volunteer in Africa for six months out of your system now than to start work and realise that your next holiday won’t be longer than a fortnight.

Being self-employed or working as a freelancer

Finally, if you have a skill, product or service that you think you could sell, it’s always worth looking into being self-employed.  It’s not as hard to set up a business as you might think, but keeping things going could be a challenge unless you are very self-disciplined and are prepared to market yourself.  The University’s Research & Enterprise Development (RED) department can help students and graduates to set up their own businesses, provide working space and offer valuable advice on all the essentials such as developing a business plan and managing your accounts.  Get some work experience in a start-up (see above) to see if this way of working would suit you.  The Careers Service also has several books on self-employment in its library, including the very useful Brilliant Freelancer, if that option appeals.

And there you have it – a wide range of options other than graduate schemes to explore.  If you’re not sure about your next step, come in to Careers and speak to our staff about how to find the information and guidance you need.  Good luck!

Dr Tracy Johnson, Careers Adviser

(Image sourced from: http://suzanneevans.org/2014/01/the-choices-you-make)

I think I’m on the wrong degree course!

change course

The Careers Service sees many students in this particular situation every term, and an appointment with one of our careers advisers can help you to think about your career options with a change of subject, as well as the potential consequences of leaving your degree programme altogether.  Here is some advice for three of the most common dilemmas we help with related to this area.

I like this university but I want to change my degree subject

This is potentially trickier than you might think.  Being admitted onto one programme of study doesn’t mean that you can simply swap to another.  Each school or department carries out its own recruitment and has different numbers of places available on each course.  There may not be a place available for you to switch from Chemistry to Biology, for example, just because you are already a student in a particular university.

To clarify your options, find out who the admissions tutor is for the course to which you want to transfer; this information is usually found on the website for each school or department.  Ask if they have any available places and if they are willing to consider your case based on your existing academic performance and career plans.  Do bear in mind that if you are performing poorly in your academic work in your current subject, it may be a challenge to convince another department that you should be admitted to their programme.

If you want to make a radical subject change, such as moving from Mathematics to History of Art, a careers adviser will be able to help you consider your career options and any long-term implications. Do be aware that about two thirds of graduate recruiters don’t mind which subject your degree is in (unless you want to be something like an engineer or doctor!) as long as you have the right transferable skills and some work experience to offer.

I want to do the same subject but I don’t like it here!

As above, you need to contact the admissions tutor for the course in which you are interested at the university you want to move to and see which options are available to you.  Will you be able to transfer credits or will you have to repeat a year and maybe take some additional units?  Remember that degree courses in the same subject can be structured and taught very differently between institutions, so take the time to check and make sure that you are making the right choice this time.

If you need to repeat a year and this involves taking time out from study, then obtaining work experience could be a valuable addition to your CV and potentially make you more employable than if you hadn’t spent some time in the workplace.

I don’t know if I want to be at university at all

It could also be the case that being at university right now just isn’t working for you.   It’s perfectly okay to change your mind if you feel that you have made the wrong decision to start a degree.  You could go out and work for a while and then return to education later, if you like, although your funding opportunities may be affected by how long you suspend your studies. We have copies of the AGCAS publication Changing or Leaving Your Course at the Careers Service, for advice on these practicalities.  A careers adviser can help you to decide which route is best for you at the present time.  You will also need to speak to your Faculty Office and Student Funding about how to withdraw from your programme and what implications there are for your fees and loans.

Bear in mind too, that many people have successful careers without being graduates.  A lot of entrepreneurs and small business owners are self-starters who are good at marketing their skills and services.  Some of the larger corporations involved in graduate recruitment also now offer training schemes post A-Level for those who don’t want to go on to university for whatever reason, so it’s really worth looking for alternative routes into a career you would love.  The path may not be straightforward and progress may be slower, but your career will ultimately be based on how well you do a particular job and not on a degree classification, so you will eventually be on a level playing field with graduates in the same industry.

Whatever your dilemma, it won’t be anything we haven’t heard before, so do come into the Careers Service and ask if you can talk to someone about your options or start by looking at the advice on our web site on changing or leaving your course.

Dr Tracy Johnson, Careers Adviser

Image:http://www.itworld.com

Help – I’ve been forced to take a year out!

Help – I’ve been forced to take a year out!

It’s that time of year when many students receiving their degree results have to make a sudden change of plan.  We’re busy right now at the Careers Service seeing people who are rethinking what seemed like career certainties just a few months ago, either because they didn’t get the class of degree for which they’d hoped, or occasionally because they achieved a much higher degree result than expected and they hadn’t applied for any jobs.

Whichever position you find yourself in, it can be a daunting prospect to be graduating into months of completely unstructured time, but this doesn’t have to be a disaster.  Employers are very interested in how people cope with setbacks, as well as how they demonstrate resilience and move on, so the focus should be on treating the unexpected time out as one big potential learning experience.  It could even leave you with a stronger CV than the one with which you start your unplanned year out!

Try to maintain a sense of purpose

What employers will be looking for when you do start applying for graduate jobs is a sense of purpose: that you were able to set goals for yourself, plan ahead and structure your time.  It can be incredibly difficult to motivate yourself when you have empty days looming ahead of you after the bustle of university life, but it’s important to have targets both in the long term – the job you want – and in the short term.  What will you be doing each day to keep moving forward?  How will you organise your days?  It’s crucial to have something to aim towards so that you can maintain your motivation.  Staff at the Careers Service are happy to talk through your ideas and help you to plan ahead, and we are open throughout the summer if you would like to come in for a chat.

Get some work experience

A great use of a year out is to find work experience and sample some different jobs and organisational cultures, as this could help you to make much more informed career choices further down the line.  More work experience can also help to mitigate against the effect of a 2:2, as it can flesh out your CV and show that you are completely capable of doing the kind of work you want to do.  The media has done a great job of convincing people that there are no jobs out there, but we know from talking to employers that this isn’t true.  You will, however, need to be persistent to get your foot in the door.  You can start by looking at the vacancies advertised on the Careers Service web site, and there are several national newspapers that have excellent online job databases, such as the Guardian.

You will also need to make speculative approaches in person, by phone & email and in writing to employers that interest you.  To do this effectively, make sure that you have done your research before you make contact.  Read the company’s web site carefully and make sure that you are clear about the kind of person, skills and experience that they are looking for, as well as reading related publications and web sites to fill in the bigger picture of what is going on in the sector that interests you.  There is information on the Careers web site about how to make a good speculative application.

Finally, try to make use of any contacts that you have to find out about any work experience opportunities.  Talk to family and friends about who they know or get back in touch with any previous employers who could be useful to you.  You can also use the Careers Network of Bristol graduates who are all willing to answer questions about their work and career paths and, in some cases, may be able to offer work experience in their organisations.

Other options

Many students also consider volunteering opportunities, if finances permit, getting involved in a range of projects where you can develop and use skills that employers will value in your applications.  These can be local to your community or they could be an opportunity to travel abroad.  If you’ve always wanted to travel then this could be your ideal time to do it, as long as you can provide evidence of learning and development along the way by taking short-term work or getting involved in development projects.  However, don’t forget that applications for graduate schemes open in the autumn in the year prior to you starting work, and sometimes even earlier, so you will need access to a PC to submit yours on time.  You will also need to be available for interviews should your application be successful.  If you don’t get organised for this crucial period then you might be looking at even more unscheduled time out, so it will pay off to have a plan you can stick to.

Follow up and support

However you decide to use an unscheduled year out, do remember that you can continue to use the Careers Service for a further three years if you are a University of Bristol graduate.  We can provide advice, information and guidance in person, by telephone and also by email, so there is no need to panic if you are on the other side of the world and need someone to give you feedback on your CV!  Just remember to keep track of what you are learning from your experiences, and you should be a solid candidate for the jobs you start applying for in a few months’ time.  Good luck!

Dr Tracy Johnson, Careers Adviser