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About this book

Written by experienced careers advisor Steve Rook, this indispensable guide will help readers to develop the skills they need to land their dream job. It breaks the career planning process down into manageable steps, from researching roles and gaining work experience to crafting a first-rate CV and impressing at interview. It also includes practical guidance on networking, entrepreneurship and responding to job offers. Packed with reflective activities, top tips for successful applications and real life case studies, it contains everything students need to develop their skills, get their foot in the door and set themselves up for a fulfilling future.

This text will be core reading for students on a wide range of career-related and employability modules. It will also be an invaluable resource for students researching their career options independently.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Help! Where do I start?

Getting into a graduate career nowadays can be more daunting than ever before because there are so many directions to take and factors to consider. Nevertheless, you shouldnt be overwhelmed. Once you work out a plan and take your fi rst steps, things tend to take care of themselves and become a great deal easier. Careers encompass so much more than just fi nding a job and clocking on for the next 50 years, but it very hard to come up with a universal defi nition because we all have our own unique hopes, plans and aspirations. Therefore, before you can plan your career, you need to identify what the term specifi cally means to you. A good way to do this is to refl ect on what you personally think differentiates careers from jobs. Try this in the two-minute test below.
Steven Rook

Finding Your Way

Frontmatter

1. Introduction: Help! Where do I start?

This chapter defines employability and career planning and establishes a theoretical foundation and framework for the rest of this guide. You will quickly see that the career journey is both an intellectual and an emotional process, which everyone can master by getting out there and taking control. Therefore, employability is down to three factors - your knowledge, commitment and especially your skills. Whether you want to be a publican or a politician, you need an understanding of what youre doing, the desire to succeed and the ability to perform. You can develop these qualities throughout your experience and qualifi cations. All experience gives you a chance to promote yourself but paid employment is especially attractive to employers because the knowledge, commitment and skills you gain are easily transferable. You will need both technical competencies related to your specifi c post and transferable abilities that can be used in a range of fields. These classifications are outlined below.
Steven Rook

2. Choosing a role

As a graduate you have a wealth of career opportunities. You can go into roles linked to your studies and employment experience or try something completely new. However, many students and graduates are daunted by this choice and just dont know how to start. This chapter helps you resolve this dilemma by showing you how to systematically research all your choices and fi nd a fulfi lling role. About two-thirds of new graduates go straight into full-time work, many others go travelling, take up some sort of postgraduate study or just take some time out from all the hassle. They go into a massive range of careers and find work in every part of the country, but over 60 per cent of vacancies with larger employers are based in the South East. Some new graduates on training programmes take home over 30,000 but many will only earn about 15,000 for the first few years after leaving university (but afterwards their salaries tend to rise quicker than those without degrees).
Steven Rook

3. Planning your journey

Now you have an idea of what you want to do after university, you can start planning how to get there. At fi rst, this can be quite a challenging process because your journey could take the form of a thousand different routes and steps depending on your unique attributes and aspirations. However, by breaking the process up into a sequence of discrete manageable tasks you can set yourself achievable goals as you progress and get to your destination before you even realise youve left. The career journey starts with research into the skills, knowledge and commitment required in your chosen role and identifying the various paths to get there. Whilst the following chapters go into detail about crossing each of your specific career stepping stones, this chapter focuses on planning ahead.
Steven Rook

The Stepping Stones

Frontmatter

4. Introduction: Help! Where do I start?

Experience is central to the employment process because it helps you confirm your career decisions, prove your skills and identify your particular strengths. All experience is benefi cial whether or not it relevant to your chosen profession because you will have the chance to develop your key transferable skills. There are certain things you can do to maximise the impact of all your hard work: Reflect on the skills and knowledge you gained during your experience. Look for opportunities where you can develop your skills in a similar environment to your chosen career. Proactively look for extra opportunities to develop the requisite skills within your existing activities. Find opportunities that put you in touch with professionals in the field you want to enter so you can get advice and practise what you learned.Getting into a graduate career nowadays can be more daunting than ever before because there are so many directions to take and factors to consider. Nevertheless, you shouldnt be overwhelmed. Once you work out a plan and take your first steps, things tend to take care of themselves and become a great deal easier. Careers encompass so much more than just finding a job and clocking on for the next 50 years, but it very hard to come up with a universal definition because we all have our own unique hopes, plans and aspirations. Therefore, before you can plan your career, you need to identify what the term specifically means to you. A good way to do this is to reflect on what you personally think differentiates careers from jobs. Try this in the two-minute test below.
Steven Rook

5. Effective networking

Ever since Julius Caesar became a Roman general on the back of his family link to the goddess Venus, contacts have been crucial. Today, this is as true as it ever was. Graduates who have grown up in a professional family with infl uential friends are far more likely to succeed, because they have what is called social capital. This means they are comfortable and confi dent around professional people; aspire to great things and expect them to happen. They can also call on favours from people in high places. Whether or not you were lucky enough to grow up in a privileged position, it is imperative that you feel comfortable around professionals in your chosen fi eld and are able to dream of a successful future and make it happen. This is where networking comes in. For most students, networking is an ugly word that conjures up images of cheap suits and greasy handshakes, but it actually just about getting to know likeminded people with whom you can build longstanding friendships.
Steven Rook

6. Further study

This chapter is designed to help you decide whether further study is right for you and plan your next steps accordingly. The first key factor to appreciate is that postgraduate study does not automatically increase your chances of getting into a new career. Further qualifications can certainly be a great way of developing your career - but only if they are part of a well thought through plan and strategy. If youre considering further study on the simple assumption that its bound to help you get on, youre probably misleading yourself. For example, a Postgraduate Certificate of Education will help you get into teaching, or a Masters in Risk Assessment may help you find a relevant role in the City, but extra qualifications will not automatically improve your chances of gaining entry into many graduate training programmes. This is simply because, as stated throughout this guide, employers are generally more concerned with your grades, skills and employment experience than what you know. Typical motivations for taking up further study are outlined below along with advice on what you should consider in each situation. Once youve read through the list, identify your personal motivations in the exercise provided and list the specific factors you need to consider in choosing whether further study is right for you.
Steven Rook

7. Taking time out

A good general guide would be to plan ahead, keep track of how things are going, look out for new opportunities and make sure you return at the right time to kick-start your career. For example, if you decide to apply for a graduate training programme or further study on your return, you probably need to be in the country from October onwards with plenty of time on your hands. In more specific terms, it can help to clarify why you want to get away and to plan your trip accordingly. Various motives are discussed in the table below; see which ones relate to you. Many of us develop strong interests as we grow up but can never devote enough time to them because we caught up in the rat race. This is your chance to cast off your shackles and focus on yourself for a while. Who knows - you may even find a really fulfilling career or a business idea. For example, you could learn French by working in a cafe in the French Riviera, develop your Taekwondo skills at an internationally acclaimed school or learn to fly a plane. Any one of these activities could lead to thousands of fulfilling roles.
Steven Rook

Getting A Job

Frontmatter

8. Searching for graduate jobs

Many of the larger graduate employers recruit graduates into organised training programmes. These schemes are very popular because they provide a secure route into work, good prospects and a relatively high salary. They are offered in a range of sectors but are especially prevalent in traditional professions and finance or business management roles such as accountancy, law, banking, investment banking and management consultancy. Graduate training programmes are widely advertised and typically offered to candidates with excellent potential, as demonstrated by good grades, relevant skills and a burning commitment to succeed. They are available throughout the year and positions tend to start the following summer once students have graduated. However, youll find that vacancies usually peak over the winter months from September to February. Therefore, if youre still studying, you need to be ready to apply as soon you start your final year. If you left university in the last two or three years then you are also usually still welcome to apply, especially if you have made the most of your time since graduating.
Steven Rook

9. Promoting yourself effectively

Commitment is about your genuine interest in the specifi c career, organisation and vacancy. This is absolutely vital to employers because they are looking for passionate candidates who are able to proactively take control of their own careers and make a difference. Knowledge is clearly related to your potential success in the recruitment process but, as shown in the diagram above, it is not as important as your skills and commitment. This is because, if you have the ability to do a job and you want to do it, then youll soon learn whats required. Nonetheless, many employers still call for a relevant degree or a particular technical understanding, such as computer-aided design.
Steven Rook

10. Targeting your CV

In my experience as a job hunter, applying for fewer jobs, but tailoring each application to the specifi c role and employer in question, is a far better approach. Doing this results in a greater number of interviews than the scattergun approach of applying for anything and everything with the same CV and letter. Another somewhat linked point is about attention to detail. Always check you are referring to the right person, job title and organisation. It may seem obvious, but as an MEP I have received job applications where the letter was addressed to another MEP from a different political group! I have also received job applications where the role referred to is incorrect, probably a result of amending another application. When I worked in a consultancy fi rm with a female MD, we sometimes received applications addressed to Mr X, indicating that the person had not bothered to visit our website, which included a message from the MD along with her name and photo. This may sound harsh, but applications with such basic errors end up in the bin. Rebecca Taylor, MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber
Steven Rook

11. Tip-top application forms

Employers use application forms because CVs are too vague. They hope that forms will force candidates to uniformly answer specific questions and promote particular skills. However, just like CVs, most completed application forms fall well short of the mark. This chapter shows you how to successfully complete application forms and stand out from the crowd. Highlight the most relevant aspects of your studies. For example, if the recruiter asks you to include the individual units that make up your degree, list the most relevant ones first. If you haven achieved the UCAS points or degree level required, dont just send the form off and hope for the best because it will probably be discarded. Contact the organisation, give them a good reason why your grades werent as good as you hoped and ask them to look at your application anyway.
Steven Rook

12. Cover letters that open doors

Cover letters are short introductions to your application that should whet the readers appetite and encourage them to delve deeper into your CV or application form. Therefore, they need to highlight your key attributes as outlined in depth throughout your application. Traditionally, cover letters were your chance to tailor your generic CVs or application forms to specific positions. However, when youve already targeted your main application documents, it can be difficult to know what to add. The answer is to highlight the key points in your application and establish your unique selling points. Cover letters are, in effect, your elevator pitch, i.e. your chance to promote yourself to the recruitment manager in the time it would take for you to travel with him to his fl oor in an elevator.
Steven Rook

13. Impressing at interviews

If you have secured an interview then give yourself a pat on the back - this is a major achievement. Employers would not go through all the hassle if they didnt think you were up to the job! Getting interviews is good news even if you dont get the job, because you can practise your technique and make valuable contacts. Furthermore, if you can secure one interview then youll probably get more. Each new interview is unique so you cannot plan for every eventuality but there are many common practices and techniques for which you can prepare. This chapter takes you through the whole process from start to finish, so you will be able to confidently sell yourself in a range of different situations. Since the dawn of time employers have almost always interviewed the best candidates for vacant positions. This is because its human nature to want to see what youre buying before handing over the cash. Recruiters also want to make sure they like you and you have the potential to quickly build rapport with colleagues, customers and managers.
Steven Rook

14. Psychometric tests

All sorts of graduate recruiters use some kind of psychometric test during the application process, but you will generally find that the bigger the employer, the greater the chance they will test you in this way. The main questionnaires used by graduate employers are verbal and numeric reasoning tests. Recruiters increasingly set online verbal and numeric reasoning tests very early on in the application process, sometimes even before you are asked to complete an application form. This is because it is a cheap and convenient way to sift out large numbers of candidates who dont seem to have the high level of skills required. If you pass the tests at this stage you will probably face them again at the firms assessment centre, just to make sure you havent cheated! Other tests may also be conducted at assessment centres, such as personality profiles. These tests appraise your vocabulary, comprehension and ability to identify relationships between words. They can involve a range of questions, but typical graduate tests comprise several passages of text which are each linked to a handful of statements. Your job is to identify whether these statements are true, false or you cannot say, based solely on whats been written in the text. In other words, youre not being asked whether you think the statements are true, false or you cannot say, but whether or not the text confirms this. Its absolutely crucial that you appreciate this distinction. For example, the following passage describes how internal combustion engines work and asks you to identify whether Internal combustion engines are used to power most cars. The correct answer is Cannot say because the text does not confirm or deny this fact (even though it is actually true!).
Steven Rook

15. Passing assessment centres

On the day, arrive in plenty of time so youre not in a big panic. Smile as soon as you get through the door and dont stop until youre back on the bus. Warmly greet everyone you meet, try to remember their names and laugh at their jokes. Also, ask intelligent questions and stand out from the crowd without being too overbearing. Finally, establish your passion for the fi rm and the industry through your questions and your body language. This positive approach will be easy for some people, but others are less demonstrative, especially when they get nervous. If this sounds like you, prepare for the day by envisioning yourself during the assessments and focusing on how you will practically and clearly convey the key messages you want to get across.
Steven Rook

16. This job’s for you

Accept the first offer you get but keep looking for better roles. The advantage of this approach is that you will have a job to go to and you might even get a better one before you start. The advantage here seems to be that you have nothing to lose, but you should be aware that employers tend to be very well connected and the one you signed up for may well hear about your other applications. Not good Delay formally accepting your original offer until you hear if you been successful with any other jobs you seeking. It can be diffi cult to delay things for very long using this strategy but you could keep your options open by negotiating your original offer whilst waiting for any other offers to come in. The advantage of this approach is that you can responsibly secure your favoured role whilst keeping your options open. The downside is that you may lose everything, i.e. the original offer may be withheld because of your delay and no other position may come through. Take up the original job offer and withdraw from your other applications. The advantage here is that you have been honourable to yourself, the employer and the other candidates with whom you competing. The disadvantage is that the job you get may not be the job you want.
Steven Rook

Entrepreneurship

Frontmatter

17. Becoming an entrepreneur

I decided to run my own business and came up with an idea when I briefly returned to the UK for a few months in 1999. I had been a supply teacher in London for many years and understood the ins and outs of the industry. I also knew that agencies relied on teachers from countries like South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Therefore, I figured out that I could procure teachers for them in Western Australia, where none of the existing agencies had offices. I approached a range of organisations and my old employer agreed to work with me. I spent the next two years sitting on the beach in Fremantle finding teachers when I felt like it. I enjoyed being my own boss but I hated all the paperwork and the worry over not knowing if I could pay the rent each month. I didnt plan this venture in any way and relied on my creativity to face any issues when they arose. After about six months I figured out that my future relied on building a closer relationship with the universities in the area and recruiting new graduates. If I had just thought about things a bit more deeply when I started I might have worked this out much sooner.
Steven Rook

18. Getting your business started

It may seem counterproductive to narrow down your planned market before you even started doing business but this will allow you to design something that attractive and sellable to a specific audience. You need to consider aspects such as the age of your potential customers, their sex, social class, race and level of education, as all these things will affect how you market your product. Try to be selective without being too limited. For example, it may benefit you to focus on young male Asian Muslims in Bradford, but not single white females from Brighton called Jenny! In the exercise below, define three characteristics of your target customers for one of your own business ideas. Marketing comprises everything involved in getting your merchandise to market and selling it. Therefore, the process is traditionally outlined in terms of the following four elements: product (an exact description of what you selling), promotion (publicising and advertising what you have to offer), price (what people will pay) and place (where the product is made and how it distributed). You need to ensure that each of these four Ps is appropriately developed with your specific customers in mind. The following sections outline how you can do this.
Steven Rook

19. Troubleshooting

Some of the more common problems faced by students and graduates are outlined below with advice on what you can do in each situation. Further frequently asked questions related to each chapter in this guide can be found on the companion website. Self reflection like this can be very challenging, but you should persevere because it usually the best way to get back on track. You may also want to discuss the issues involved with a careers adviser from your current or former university careers centre (or your local university) - just give them a call. The number of graduates has increased tenfold since the early 1960s but so has the number of graduate jobs. Therefore, there are still plenty of opportunities. The recession has recently slowed things down but not appreciably. However, the route into graduate careers has changed markedly. A far smaller percentage of students go directly into traditional graduate training programmes and graduates often have to tread long and circuitous paths to get to their career destinations.
Steven Rook
Additional information