How to Get on the Careers Ladder

Abi Collings_Blog PhotoI spent most of my degree in a state of panic, worrying about my future as an English graduate with no relevant work experience. I knew a degree alone would not be enough.

While trying to keep up with my peers in seminars, I also tried to build a portfolio of work experience to offer future employers.

I applied to every English-related firm in my area, covering publishing, journalism, and communications. I spent hours on my applications, consulting everyone I knew and asking them to check over my words.

‘Yep,’ they said ‘you’ll smash it.’

But I heard nothing. Not even confirmation that I had applied. What was I doing wrong?

Out of nowhere third year arrived. I was just about to submit my last ever piece of coursework when I came across a university writing internship advertisement. It combined writing, editing, proofreading and communicating, all in a student setting. It was perfect and I knew I could do it. I didn’t just really need this job, but I really wanted it.

Knowing there was clearly something wrong with my application writing as I had not been successful in my jobs thus far, I decided to make use of the careers service at university. I wrote the application for the internship and then booked an appointment with an advisor to go over it with me.

My advisor, Rachael, began by asking me about the role and whether or not I thought I had met all the requirements, such as essential skills in written and oral communication, a good attention to detail, an understanding of social media, basic editorial, writing or journalistic experience and excellent time management skills.

‘Yes,’ I said ‘I’ve stated I’ve gained all those skills through my university and working career.’

We then read each sentence of my covering letter out loud. This made me realise I wasn’t quite getting the point. For instance, I would say I have excellent communication skills and great attention to detail, but not say how or why. Nothing was backed up with evidence, so how could the employer know I could do all these things?

We then focused on my opening statement, and she asked why I wanted the job.

‘Because I want to work with young people in a literary environment.’ I replied.

But that wasn’t enough. I needed to state why I wanted to work with young people. What was it about this particular role that really excited me? I needed to show my passion, because they weren’t going to know how much I wanted it unless I really told them.

As for my CV, I thought this wouldn’t need much improvement. I’ve had a number of stable jobs, such as working in manufacturing and in catering, and I have a very good education. Again, we went through each statement reading aloud my previous job responsibilities, but I hadn’t stated what skills I could demonstrate from them.

‘But I’ve already said that in my covering letter, won’t it look stupid if I just repeat myself?’ I asked.

Evidently not. Rachael advised me to state a skill gained for each responsibility. For example, working in a giftware factory as a quality control assistant meant I was responsible for constantly checking products for faults at every stage of production. This showed my attention to detail, and therefore my ability to edit and proofread work. Working in a bakery I was responsible for answering the telephone and taking food orders. This showed my excellent communication skills, and therefore my ability to effectively communicate between project managers within the internship.

Listening to her advice I couldn’t believe I’d been sending all my applications without considering all these important factors. I actually felt embarrassed. I went home, made the changes and sent the application.

Lo and behold I’d got an interview. Both excited and nervous, I booked another appointment with the careers service for interview practice. A different advisor this time, Wendy asked me what I wanted to gain from the session and if there were any particular areas to focus on. Having never had a proper interview before, I firstly wanted to know the general procedure.

She looked thoroughly at the job advertisement and from this explained how she thought it might go. For example, there would be an interview panel of no more than 3, it would last no more than 30 minutes, I would be expected to allow around 3 minutes to answer each question, and I would be asked if I had any questions at the end. I then asked what kind of questions they might ask. She wrote down everything she believed they could cover, such as ‘describe a time when you have had to show good communication skills’ or ‘describe a time when you have had to organise yourself well’. She then informally interviewed me. She scribbled down my answers and we went through them afterwards.

Her feedback was fantastic. She outlined in detail the strengths of my answers and then how they could be improved. She advised me of what to avoid, such as drawing attention to the skills I don’t have, and told me not to be afraid to take time in thinking about the best possible response. There was no rush. She told me not to worry about asking the interviewee to repeat questions if they were unclear. There was also no harm in taking a notepad and pen to scribble down ideas. They don’t intend to trip you up but rather to make sure you make the most of your time in order to successfully sell yourself.

The session lasted over an hour and I left feeling confident that I had a strong chance of nailing the interview. I went home, wrote down all that I had learnt and revised my answers. Four days later I went to the interview. I screamed the house down in excitement when they rang me only a few hours later to say the job was mine. My housemates were equally as excited.

I am certain that I would not have got this internship without the help of the careers service. My application was completely transformed and my knowledge of the interview practice was ultimately broadened. Rachael and Wendy guided me every step of the way offering professional and friendly advice. And guess what? It was completely free.

With my internship coming to an end I have already begun my search for a permanent graduate job. A publishing and communications assistant position at the University of Lincoln grabbed my attention, and I have already had 2 advisory meetings with Adrienne regarding my application. I’ve managed to bag another interview and hopefully, with the help of the careers service, the job will be mine once again and I can begin my working career.

About Abi:

Abi Collings is an English Literature graduate from UEA who is passionate about pursuing a professional career in writing and communications. She is particularly keen to develop her skills in content-production, editorial process, project management and marketing.

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