February 05, 2013

We've found a new home…

Moving house

We have moved this blog to a shiny new WordPress platform - come and join us!
If you are not redirected automatically, follow the link to careersblog.warwick.ac.uk.
Don't worry we've migrated all our existing posts so you'll find everything you need there.

We hope you like the new look and feel as much as we do.
Please note this blog will no longer be updated.

Happy reading!

January 31, 2013

A first night, not a dress rehearsal: acting professionally during a graduate internship

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If you are not redirected automatically, follow the link to careersblog.warwick.ac.uk/2013/02/04/a-first-night-not-a-dress-rehearsal-acting-professionally-during-a-graduate-internship.

Stripy sock manCalling all students and grads: before you step into the workplace, think about your behaviour and the impression you want to create. In this post, Kimberley from our Placement Learning Unit, tackles the thorny issue of professionalism in the workplace...

Your first forays into a professional working environment as a graduate can be unnerving. Leaving full-time education, where you are increasingly encouraged to consider yourself a favourite customer, entitled to all sorts of services and facilities, can be a shock. Even during the holidays, when many students perform the same role as full-time, permanent staff, there can still be a sense for both parties that this is part of the student experience. It is only after graduation that the familiar sense of context falls away, removing all of your usual cues and references for expected attitudes and behaviour. Insecurities can set in: How do I act? Will I be treated like an adult, or the “new kid”? Am I allowed to ask for help?

What is professionalism?

Professionalism, as a set of behaviours and values alongside your key employability skills is your armour against these insecurities. Acting professionally in a work environment is vital in order to uphold your organisation’s standards and brand and avoid potential embarrassment. It's also your key to gaining the respect and support of your colleagues, with the sense of understanding and belonging that these bring. Longer-term, developing a reputation for professionalism can benefit your career; in an environment with high stress or conflict - or where discretion is highly prized - behaving in an appropriate and professional manner will get you noticed. For the right reasons!

Monster, the career management portal, lists ten ways to be professional at work adapted below. Perhaps you’ve learned these the hard way, but it's worth checking in now and again to make sure you embody - and reflect - positive working values:

1. Competence. You have the skills and knowledge that enable you to do your job well. As an intern, your job may be to learn first, then do!

2. Reliability. People can depend on you to show up, and submit work, on time.

3. Honesty. You tell the truth and are upfront about where things stand. Careful not to be outspoken or rude, and make sure you’re ready for any repercussions if offering criticism.

4. Integrity. You are known for your consistent principles.

5. Respect for Others. You treat everyone as if they matter. Grasping the preferred level of formality when speaking to your managers is a quick win.

6. 'Self-Upgrading'. Rather than letting your skills or knowledge become outdated, you seek out ways of staying current. As an intern, showing you are an eager, self-starting learner goes a long way.

7. Being Positive. Avoid pessimism. Having an upbeat attitude and trying to be a problem-solver makes a big difference

8. Supporting Others. You share the spotlight with colleagues and work well as part of your team.

9. Staying Work-Focused. Not letting your private life needlessly impact on your job.

10.Listening Carefully. You check understanding and give people a chance to be heard.

In reality, professionalism could be dictated by company policies (e.g. internet/social media/mobile phone use), by the examples made by senior members of staff (it could be important to sense-check whether you have chosen the right person to emulate!), or by the more intangible “culture” of your office or organisation (e.g. dress-code). It’s important that you bring yourself up to date immediately with any company policies, as failing to uphold these could result in dismissal – ask your line manager or HR department if you are not sure what applies to you, or where to find it. Your team’s notion of professionalism will be more subtle – notice when colleagues make disapproving comments or display negative body language in response to someone’s behaviour, particularly regarding personal boundaries, communication with customers, or teamwork.

Think before you act

When you are on an internship, it’s important to run through a quick internal checklist that will immediately put you in the best position:

  • Who is my direct “boss”? Who else has control of my workload/line management?
  • Who will I work closely with?
  • What policies are in place that I might need to read through?
  • What are other people wearing, and how are they behaving in their work areas? (check dress code and food/drink/lunch arrangements as a bare minimum)
  • When will I need to actively demonstrate my professionalism?
  • Who or what might tempt me to behave unprofessionally?

Behaviours to avoid

CV blogger Kate Seidametova, writing on US website Resumark, notes some of her top behaviours to avoid:

1. Arguing or engaging in an open conflict with a co-worker. Disagreeing is OK (and can sometimes produce a more informed decision) but do it respectfully and politely and don’t cross the line. Use good judgment and watch your manners.

2. Dressing “too casually”. If you come to work sloppily dressed your looks will portray an image of a disorganized and messy worker. Dress professionally, especially if you your boss is on a conservative side

3. Making comments or jokes that could be offensive to others. Always avoid references to anyone’s personal characteristics such as nationality, race, gender, appearance or religious beliefs at work. (Be careful not to be lulled by “office banter” – you’ll still be responsible for your own words, should you be overheard)

4. Raising your voice or acting on emotions. If you’re an emotional person, try to take a break and calm down before an important conversation. People often do and say things driven by a spur of the moment that they later regret.

5. Lying. Being deceitful or dishonest will tarnish your reputation for life if you get caught. It is just not worth it.

Over time, you will begin to define your own idea of what constitutes professionalism, based on the behaviours you have seen in yourself and others, good and bad. You will be influenced by the cultures that you have worked in, their level of formality and the specific challenges of those environments. Wherever you go, and wherever you end up, Kate’s final words on the subject make a mantra worth repeating:

Professional behaviour is never having a need to prove that you are superior to anyone else

January 27, 2013

Thinking of a career in marketing or advertising…

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Light bulb...then you're not alone: marketing, advertising and PR are seen as attractive career options for many students, and this appeal shows no sign of abating. Katy Edwards, second year history and politics student, popped along to last week's 'Marketing and Advertising Event' to find out more.

As an undergraduate tentatively exploring the “real world” that exists out there and wondering what my career options post-degree might be, I ventured through the snow to the Marketing and Advertising Event hoping to find divine inspiration. Here’s some of what was highlighted by the industry experts.

You don’t need a relevant degree

Marketing and advertising are not sectors closed off to those without a strictly relevant degree, so don’t panic if you see yourself working in these areas but are studying something completely different. At the event there were graduates from disciplines as diverse as Medical Microbiology, Drama Studies, History, and English Literature.

Relevant work experience IS important

Marketing and advertising are no different to the general trend in graduate employment that you need relevant experience to secure that dream job. The industry specialists had gained invaluable experience in related sectors prior to graduating, working for creative media agencies, advertising agencies, and PR companies in order to understand what a future career might entail and whether it suited them.

Set yourself apart

Another obvious point, of course, but with a stack of CVs and one job, offering a unique selling point is vital. Extra-curricular activities and earning a First Class degree are two ways of achieving this, but there are other options to consider. Two Warwick graduates had taken an extra business module to improve their credentials, and there are initiatives like B-Hive which give undergraduates an opportunity to showcase their skills to a panel of experts in order to secure a paid internship. If this sounds tempting then find out more in My B-Hive experience: from creative brief to the NEC.

There are a wide range of job options

Marketing and advertising companies employ a wide range of people who undertake different roles and possess different skill sets. Don’t be put off if you think designing an ad campaign wouldn’t be your forte, you might be ideal for liaising with clients and organising a broader project.

Don’t expect an easy 9 to 5

Many were keen to stress that neither marketing nor advertising are 9 to 5 jobs, and invariably involve much longer hours particularly when crucial deadlines are looming. The Marketing Executive for EAT noted that his working day quickly became 8 to 6, and while preparing recently to launch a new initiative, 6 to 10 (‘the bad way’).

“The Recession” hasn’t destroyed all job prospects

Some spoke of a perception that the current economic climate signalled the end of graduate employment opportunities in these career sectors, but it was stressed that this is not the case. While there may be fewer graduates being employed than there was at the peak, there are still plenty of opportunities for the ideal, committed candidate who has all the requisite skills and experience.

The industry is evolving and adapting with the times

As one expert remarked, ‘Who’d have thought five years ago that we’d need a social media team?’ Both marketing and advertising have had to change with the times, utilising digital media, the internet, and social media to stay effective, and campaigns are now run across a variety of mediums. Those looking for a career in these industries need that same flexibility and the ability to role with the punches.

January 23, 2013

Will a Master's help you stand out?

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This view has taken firm hold and it’s easy to see why. Just call it confirmation bias. You think a Master's will confer a competitive advantage in the job market? Well, chances are you’ll find the evidence you’re looking for; a quick search on Google generates some pretty compelling and convincing headlines. Throw in some media hype about devalued first degrees, and high levels of graduate un(der)employment and suddenly postgrad study seems like a wise move.

Don’t drift into further study

There are very few ‘heart sink’ moments within careers, but there’s one scenario which tests the resolve of the most optimistic careers consultant: students who drift into postgraduate study, with no discernible motivation or career direction. It’s easy to see why this happens: job hunting takes time and the sheer weight of information, events and advice can seem completely overwhelming, and sometimes impenetrable. Maybe it’s just easier to defer your job search for another year? Perhaps you’ve yet to find your niche and think an extra year’s study will help you find clarity and if not, you’ve always got qualification to fall back on.

Does this sound like you? If so, stop and think. Everything we know about the current job market – and student behaviour – suggests that falling into postgraduate study, without understanding how and why it will benefit you, may compound your problems, and not alleviate them. A full time Master's is really intense, leaving little time to find work experience or further your job search. And when you finish, you'll be competing with a new batch of graduates hungry for work.

Postgraduate study can be a really positive, enriching experience, but it requires strong motivation and focus. Before you commit both time and money, ask yourself what you hope to gain.

A Master's can help, but choose wisely…

In some sectors a Master's qualification is almost a pre-requisite; you might get on the first rung of the ladder without one, but you won’t climb any higher - not unless you're seriously impressive, with publications to your name or a patent uo your sleeve. If you’re considering a career in museums, libraries, social work or R&D a Master's degree is almost essential. Chartership in both psychology and engineering is similarly dependant on securing a Master's level qualification. And for the budding social scientists out there, an MSc in Research Methods presents a sound investment of time and money.

For less vocational, more academic Master's degrees the career benefits are not immediately obvious. That's not to say it won't pay dividends later on in your career; strong academic credentials and substantive work experience combine in a pretty powerful mix. Just don't expect a graduate recruiter to fall over themselves in awe; for the most part, Master's degrees have little intrinsic value at the entry or graduate level.

Myths and the job market

Last year, along with my colleagues from the *AGCAS Postgraduate Students Task Group I conducted some research into the myths surrounding postgraduate study (many and legion) as well as recruiter attitudes. I confess up front to a small sample size and relaxed approach to research methodology, but the results seem to reflect wider trends and the experience of colleagues working in careers and graduate recruitment.

  • Most employers - across most sectors - will not distinguish between first and second degree applicants. Very few recruiters offer distinct recruitment streams for Master's graduates. In terms of a clearly differentiated market for Master's applicants, it seems the myth is well and truly busted.
  • Don't assume there's a financial premium attached to those extra letters. Salaries vary according to sector, role and organisation - rarely degree status. You might be able to command a higher salary if you are considered an 'experienced hire' and have pursued Master's study to continue your professional development, otherwise you will simply start on the same salary as a graduate recruit.
  • A Master's qualification will not (generally) compensate for a lower degree classification (<2:1). Most graduate employers are looking for a 2:1 or above, but don't career success doesn't start and stop with the Times Top 100. Why not be more creative in your job search and consider the SME route instead? SMEs are crying out for bright, capable graduates and may have a more flexible approach to entry requirements.

If you're looking for a more forensic analysis of employment rates for Master's graduates, then I'd certainly encourage you to take a look at Graduate Market Trends (Summer 2012). Charlie Ball, Deputy Director of Research at HECSU, labour market specialist and all round stats whizz has crunched the numbers from destinations data (2007-10) and found no evidence to support the (oft-repeated) claim that, "you need a Master's just to stand out". Charlie continues the theme on his HECSU blog, and manages to convey in one chart, what's taken me a whole post:
(All data from the HESA Destinations of Higher Leavers of Education 2010/11)

An informed choice is a good choice

Before you commit to further study and further debt, ask yourself this: what do you hope to gain? If it is career advantage, then make sure you have fully researched whether an MSc or MA is needed for your area of interest. Look at the destinations information for graduates from prospective courses and see whether this fits your (desired) career trajectory. The destinations data is not wholly reliable as it only captures graduates six months after graduation; nonetheless, it can still help you spot patterns and trends and weigh up the pros and cons of further study. I'm certainly not going dissuade you from studying at postgrad level; I took an MA in Contemporary History and Politics (hardly a recruiter's dream!) and loved every minute. My dissertation topic has proved to be an interesting talking point at more than one interview, and there's no question I developed skills I'm still using today in my current job. However, whilst there’s been a fair passage of time since my student days, one thing holds true: a Master's will not automatically fast track you to better, more satisfying, and more remunerative jobs.

* Postgraduate Premium: Fact or Myth, appeared in the October 2012 issue of Phoenix (AGCAS)

January 21, 2013

Making the most of an assessment centre

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If you are not redirected automatically, follow the link to careersblog.warwick.ac.uk/2013/01/21/making-the-most-of-an-assessment- centre.

Following our recent post, 'A quick guide to assessment centres', we've got another great student installment. This time Louisa Nefs, a final year history student, reflects on her experience at a Teach First Assessment Centre...

The anticipation is worse than the reality

The graduate recruitment process can seem like an endless stream of hurdles and an assessment centre invitation is often met with mixed feelings; relief and excitement, but also nerves. This was how I felt when I attended a Teach First Assessment Centre and despite many people’s assurances that assessment centres are never as bad as you think, I'm not sure my fears were wholly allayed.However, having come through the other side I can now say they were right; the day was actually quite enjoyable - or certainly as enjoyable as such an event can be! Try to be confident about your prospects and show your preparation - this will help you maximise your chances of success, by letting your strengths shine through.

Find out what's expected

When you’re asked to attend an assessment centre you’ll often get a brief description of what you will be asked to do on the day, if not this information will be readily available on the relevant company’s website. The tasks will vary according to the post but often they will include 3 types of activity namely a competency based interview, a case study and a presentation of some description. A good starting point is to try and find accounts from previous applicants. These are widely available on the web and my advantage also has a number of feedback forms from those who have been through this process. These can shape your expectations and help you to prepare.

Familiarise yourself with the core competencies

In the interview you will be questioned to see how far you match the company’s core competencies Companies and organisations are pretty transparent about this information and you can ususally find it on their website. It is essential to have a number of examples demonstrating your ability in these areas; for example, leadership or teamwork. That said, try not to make these answers too formulaic, yes, preparation is vital but sounding like you have rehearsed your answers or not being able to adapt your examples to fit the specific question is a no-no. The interview is also a time for the employer to assess your desire and motivation to work in your chosen field so try and stay up-to-date with the latest news stories or developments relating to the sector you are applying to. When I applied to Teach First I looked into how current government education policy might affect the profession and the company’s goals. This can show a real understanding and passion for the job.

Cracking the case study

A case study is difficult to prepare for but there are a few skills which are important to show. Firstly, you do not need to dominate the task. It is good to show your leadership abilities but be careful not to overpower others; be inclusive of those you are working with and remain focused on the intended outcome of the task. The case study generally takes place under timed conditions and so you need to show that you can process a large amount of information quickly while working collaboratively to deal with the task at hand.

How to approach individual tasks

Many assessment centres will also ask you to do an individual task, for example I was asked to prepare and conduct a lesson. Always keep in mind your target audience and alter your research and content accordingly. The most important part of this is to be concise and focused, delivering your message with confidence. No-one expects you to be an expert in any of the tasks you are asked to do on the day, but a candidate who is able to deal with the difficult questions or situations while retaining their composure will undoubtedly seem attractive.

Challenging - but a great experience

I won’t pretend that it is not a challenging experience. This is something I expected but while it was nerve-wracking, nerves don’t have to be a negative. Use and channel them to show a sense of drive or desire for the job. The assessment centres give you the tools to demonstrate the qualities they are looking for. Rather than feeling like I was waiting to be tripped up, the day had a supportive atmosphere and I did not feel it was a test but a mutual investigation to see if I would fit within their ethos and culture. You may encounter unexpected challenges but try and stay positive and remember they liked you enough to put you through the earlier application stages. Thorough preparation is the key as it is clear if someone is being disingenuous. Whether you are successful or not assessment centres are invaluable learning experiences with many companies providing some kind of feedback on your performance. Take this opportunity, make the most of it and most importantly learn from it.

And finally...

There is plenty of information out there to help you prepare for assessment centres but if you do spend time on forums (and there is a pretty good thread on Teach First in the Student Room), don't assume your experience will be exactly the same. We were asked not to go into too much detail about the Teach First assessment centre as this could mislead other candidates - the format stays the same, but the content will change. You have been warned!

*Louisa is a final year history student and Careers & Skills rep for the History Department

February 2023

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