GradClub job hunting case studies
Sabrina Field is a policy officer with the Department of Health.
I’m really enjoying my new job but the period of unemployment after my Masters was one of the most difficult in my life. I had a degree in Anthropology and an MSc in Social Development (broadly ‘international development’) – both from UCL. Between the degree and the Masters I did some international voluntary work on micro-credit with an NGO in Guatamala organised through Project Mosaic I also did some more international volunteering in Cambodia after my MSc which was organised through 2Way Development. It was a really good and valuable experience. I came back to the UK job market a changed person
I had joined GradClub after I finished my MSc and used it for help with CVs and applications. I remember attending one forum which brought back UCL alumni in different careers – Whilst the event provided an introduction to the job market I wondered how long it would be until I was like one of those employed graduates who came to talk at the event. The event also only had graduates from the financial sector and therefore although I learnt some important interpersonal skills, such as how to introduce myself to an employer, the scope of the event was rather narrow. It was only when I got back from overseas that I started using it more intensively.
I then started using the service more regularly and not just to have my applications checked. A key conversation I had was when the Consultant got me to have a different perspective on myself and the interview. I’d normally get very anxious around interviews – (though I was pretty good at getting to the interview stage.) The consultant helped me see that I was approaching the interviews as if they were a stressful test - with the result that I was showing up in interviews as an anxious, unconfident, stressed individual. After the exercise with the Consultant though I was able to be much more relaxed around interviews and saw them as an opportunity for a conversation with potential future colleagues. I think it was after only the second interview after this careers discussion I was offered a job.
In the exercise with the Consultant – which was all done over the phone – I was asked to come up with a few different ways of potentially seeing the job interview. At one point I was asked to look in the mirror – what I saw looking back at me was an anxious, stressed person. When I imagined a different perspective – through everyday things like the garden at home, or even a book I liked, it really helped me manage the anxiety and, in fact, feel very positive and relaxed about the interview. In my experience the applicants that are most relaxed tend to be the ones that get offered the job. During the interview itself I remember consciously invoking the ‘garden’ perspective to remind myself of what I had to offer. This is a technique I have used on myself in other situations since - including meetings with senior managers that I have attended in this current role. I think it is something lots of people could benefit from.
From my experience I would pass on some tips to other GradClub members
· Obviously, use GradClub. I didn’t use careers at all when I was studying but it really helped me afterwards. I even saw my current post advertised on JobOnline, the UCL careers vacancy service.
· Use Careers before you finish your course. Actually I’m not sure about this. I know in one way it really makes sense. Although you have study commitments once you are officially unemployed the anxiety levels go sky high and it feels like a lot more pressure. You worry about your income, you worry about creating a gap on your CV and unemployment can erode your confidence. Having said that I consciously didn’t engage with careers because I was really enjoying my course and because my parents live in London I knew I wasn’t going to be in too terrible a spot.
· Things will get better. I remember looking at the alumni panel the GradClub team had arranged for us to meet – previous students who were working - and thinking it could take a long time for me to get started. It was a really tough time but I think I would tell myself to get less stressed.
· Be reflective. Once I got beyond just ‘saying the right thing’ I think employers were able to see the real me. Being more thoughtful and relaxed really made a difference for me.
· Keep busy. I volunteered with the Red Cross while I was job hunting. It looks good on your CV and, frankly, adds some variety to your day. Applying for jobs full time is really hard work.
· Choosing your course of studies. I do wonder whether I would have been better off applying for a more vocational Masters – something like a PGCE. Masters courses are very expensive and I’m not sure I needed one to get the job I have now. Having said that I really enjoyed my course and a lot of the skills I use in my job are vocational ones that I developed on the MSc. For example my analytical skills, writing, presentation, independent thought and being able to see the big picture about things.
Having graduated with an Economics degree from UCL, a 2.2, made it more difficult for me to apply to graduate schemes in most investment banks since their minimum requirement is a 2.1. I thought my future was doomed and couldn't figure out what to do next. So in a desperate bid to get at least something, I started to visit various recruitment websites and attended 1 to 1 sessions with GradClub. It was there that I was advised that I should emphasise my language skills, in my case that would be Russian. So therefore I specifically concentrated on the jobs where my language skills and my degree would be beneficial, while also going around high street shops and dropping off my CVs.
With a bit of luck, I came a across a job advertisement that required Russian speakers with a minimum of a 2.2 in a finance-related degree. Having had experience in applying for jobs and never having heard any response, I decided to apply for the advertised role without high hopes. After an hour I received a phone call from the recruitment agency who said that I was exactly what they were looking for. They invited me for an interview which went really well. They then told me that I was going to have an interview with the employer. It turned out that the company that was employing was Shell Trading. I was over the moon and couldn’t believe my luck.
So, there I was all dressed up and happy at the Shell Trading office ready to have an interview. To my surprise I was interviewed by two people, I also had to complete a 45 minute test. At the end of it, they said that the interview went very well, they considered me to be intelligent, but they had only one concern being that I would get bored and that I might leave the job. My heart dropped to the floor. After a few hours, I received a call from the recruitment agent saying that Shell Trading had rejected me, but that they were very impressed and that if another role were to come up, they would definitely consider me. I couldn't stop crying. I couldn’t understand how the concept of the possibility of me being bored in a job could work against me because I felt I showed no evidence to that effect during the interview. I was confused.
Shortly afterwards, out of desperation, I went back to dropping off my CVs in high street shops. I then managed to get a job in door-to-door fundraising with a charity, but I didn't last there for very long, since it soon became evident that persuading people to give their credit card details for monthly donations wasn't one of my talents. I then had an interview at Clarks shoe shop for a shop assistant role. Somehow I managed to get it, probably more due to the sympathy of the kind hearted interviewer, who could see my desperate desire to have a job. Luckily, on the same day I received a call from the recruitment agency and they told me that a new role at Shell Trading had opened up. They were very keen to employ me. Brilliant! So now all they wanted were my documents to prove that I am eligible to work in the UK. I thought to myself: “here we go again!” I didn't have what they needed because I had applied for a post study work visa, 2 weeks ago, and my documents were still with the Boarder Agency. There was a long saga about this, so to cut a long story short, they decided to employ me regardless of the possibility that my visa might be refused. Luckily, I got my visa after a week and had a blissful 7 months at Shell Trading where I met some very nice people and made friends.
This fairy tale, unfortunately, had to come to an end because our jobs were in the process of being out-sourced to India, so we were all going to lose our jobs in a couple of months. In other words, I was back on the job market, but this time with Shell Trading work experience under my belt. My friend recommended me to a recruitment agency specialising in finance and banking. I went there, dropped off my CV. It was accepted because I needed to show previous finance related work experience. Lucky me! Within about a month they sent me three possible job opportunities that I might be suitable for. One of them really appealed to me, because it was in operations banking which was getting closer to what I really wanted to do. And the icing on the cake was the fact that the recruiter was the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
I went there for an interview very excited about the opportunity. The location and place was amazing. I thought this is it, I really want to work there. Then I had three interviews with three different people. I thought that the interviews went really well.
After a few hours I received a phone call from the recruitment agency and they told me that they really liked me but I didn't get the job because they thought I would get bored and that I wouldn’t stay in the role for long. I thought to myself: “Here we go again! This sounds familiar. What is wrong with me? They all seem to like me and yet I always get rejected”. I didn't cry this time. I just came to a conclusion that there is no justice in this world. But a few hours later, the recruitment consultant told me that the head of department was keen to get me into his team.
After a couple of hours, I received another call and learned that they wanted to consider me for another role. He emailed me a job description and it turned out that this was for a senior officer position that required 4 years experience, it evidently involved a lot more responsibilities. I knew I wouldn't get the job, I thought it was a cruel joke, but went for an interview nonetheless, mainly to practice my interview skills. This time I was interviewed by two people. It wasn't too bad.
At the end of the day, I received a phone call from a recruitment consultant at the agency. The first thing I said was: "Ok, I didn't get the job. I want to know why". He pretended that he didn't hear what I had said and continued saying that he had received feedback from EBRD. They wanted to offer me a role. “How do you feel about it?” he said. I couldn't believe my ears. And the best thing was that I was going to start a new job in a week’s time.
I consider myself very lucky to have had the chance to work for these two large organisations. The interesting thing was that initially I was rejected from both jobs that I had applied for, but later received offers for better roles within the same companies. So, the moral of the story is never to give up hope and rejection might mean that something better is waiting.
My journey to the graduate programme I am on now began a long time ago. I had my first taster of investment banking at the tender age of 16 whilst at school, with a week’s work experience at JP Morgan Cazenove. Following that I was able to get a temporary role there in the summer the following year, and then I went on to do a variety of temp roles in Barclays Wealth and Dresdner Kleinwort and gain huge exposure to the world of investment banking. It was from that I decided that this was where I wanted to work, and I then went on to apply for internships in my 2nd year of university. This was a rather lengthy process which began with going to careers fairs/ open days/ panel talks/ talking to people in the area. I then went on to send off numerous applications which involved answering questions, cover letters, C.V’s. The careers service was helpful in checking my cover letter and C.V and I also used them for mock interviews which I found useful. Sometimes having another opinion and getting feedback is what you need to guide you in the right direction.
Another part of the preparation was for online numerical, verbal and logic tests, in which I would say practice, practice and more practice is the key. Research on the area and the banks I was applying for was also vital as each one has a different work ethic and culture, and it is a good idea to spend some time researching this and speaking to different people to make sure you are applying to the right companies/roles to suit you.
After a fair few rejections, my luck turned and I was successful with getting an internship in Finance at Credit Suisse. Here I had to prove myself and show my capabilities and ability to perform to the highest standard I could. During the internship I endured some hard work (but fun at the social events too) and I was able to get a real taster of the work that is done here. 10 weeks is not nearly enough to fully know about the area, but you do get a good sense of whether the role and the culture of the bank is suited to you. One of the things that attracted me to the finance grad programme was the fact that it is rotational, so we get to work in two different areas before being placed into our permanent role, as well as the fact that we get sponsored to do a financial qualification (CIMA/ACCA).
After the internship I had to go to another interview and I went into my 3rd and final year of my degree having successfully secured a graduate job. I was told I had been successful in getting a grad job around a week or two after the Lehman’s collapse, so was skeptical about how secure my job and the industry was. Needless to say I am still here, and the banking industry is getting better so I am positive about the future. Things are definitely looking up from last year, so if you are interested in investment banking don’t be put off and definitely apply.
Companies are looking for a well-rounded candidate with more than just academic achievements, so some sort of relevant work experience is advantageous, especially when talking about your skills etc in interviews. Join agencies to get temp/ part-time jobs, email companies directly and ask about paid/unpaid experience, look into graduate schemes, placements and internships. Keep an open outlook on jobs, even if it is not exactly what you want to do but is related, don’t dismiss it so easily, any kind of exposure is good. If a role comes up, even if it's not the one that you ideally want, you should still try and go for it. Then you can start to build up your transferable skills and, just as importantly, you will have a foot in the door.
These are tough times so you have to be constantly looking and speaking to people as to what jobs are out there. Its going to take hard work and determination, but the main thing is don't give up. Don’t take rejections badly, we don't get anything without a bit of hard work, so remain motivated and keep trying!
The hard work doesn’t end once you get the job, you have to continuously show you are up to the job, but a challenging work environment is one which we all relish.
Good luck to all in their search!
I had an interest in investment banking before I started my course but it soon dawned on me that with the financial crisis in full swing, a career with greater job security was more important to me. On that note I decided to leverage the experience I gained working in a small accounting firm during my gap year and pursue a role with one of the Big 4 in audit and gain an additional qualification in the form of the ACA in the process. In the second year of my undergraduate course, I applied for an internship with Deloitte but made no use of the careers service mainly because I wasn't aware of the extensive help offered. While I did well in some elements of my assessment, passing the interview and written exercise, I failed the e-tray exercise and I didn't get the job. In the final year of my course, I applied for a graduate role in audit with Deloitte again and this time I didn't even pass the first round interview.
After my course finished, I applied for a role with KPMG in audit and was offered a first round interview. This time I decided to find more help with my interview technique and looked to the careers service through GradClub. The interview coaching service was extremely helpful in helping me learn to focus my responses to the questions being asked and developing my ability to answer concisely. It was by coincidence that my coach had gone through the graduate audit scheme with KPMG and gave me a greater insight into how interviews appear from the point of view of the interviewer. I felt a lot more confident approaching the real interview after this coaching session.
The interview itself took place a week later and I performed well enough to get me through to the final assessment. It so happened that the careers service were launching their 3-day graduate scheme summer school program to take place in the week before my final assessment, so I grasped this opportunity and booked a place. The graduate summer school sessions prepared me to approach the final assessment confidently. The feedback indicated that I failed the e-tray exercise however the strength I showed in the partner interview and group exercise were enough to compensate for it and I got an offer 2 days later. In October, I began my role in the Financial Services sector auditing insurance companies.
I think my case was a little different than that of most people who use the Careers Service, because I had already built a career in the business sector, but wanted to change direction and work for a charity. This, as I would find out, is not so easy to achieve.
Having worked mostly in management roles for IT companies, I decided to move to London and do a part-time degree in human rights, which I completed last autumn. During this period I worked full-time and volunteered quite extensively, however the jobs were in the business sector, as before.
It seemed to me impossible to find a paid job in a charity if you hadn't worked in one before, or couldn't afford a volunteering year abroad. And since I had been successful at securing some very good jobs quickly, and actually managed recruitment often, I was under the impression that I knew “how things worked” and that my new human rights degree should help me find a position relatively soon.
It didn't. After 6 months of applying I had not received a single call to an interview, and I hadn't been sending dozens of CVs a day to just any jobs – I was taking my time adapting everything for each job. Soon I became aware that something was amiss with my approach, and I was right. I decided I needed some insight into how charities recruit people, but was aware that my personal network was too small to help me get it.
When I came across the UCL Careers Service I thought 'okay, why not' so I signed up for Grad Club and went for a meeting – but in all honesty I did not expect to find a solution to the deadlock. Their adviser, in retrospect, was the key to getting the job I wanted. He asked a lot of challenging questions and personally facilitated an opportunity to carry out two information interviews with industry contacts (one of them with a charity recruitment manager) which effectively opened my eyes to how applications should be made, but also gave me a clear idea of the type of position I could aim for and get at least an interview. I also realised I had overlooked two important elements – the job research, finding out more about the sector and how it works from the people that work in the sector, and personal networking, both of which have helped me considerably later on.
I went back to the drawing board and put my newly found knowledge to work, taking even more time with each cover letter and resume to make them exactly what recruiters would be looking for. Three months later I was invited to two interviews, and managed to secure a full-time, paid position in a well-known international development charity. The job is proving to be challenging and I am learning a lot about what it means to work in the third sector – in short, mission accomplished.
I would definitely recommend the UCL Careers Service and GradClub to anyone looking for a job – not just fresh graduates. Their approach is methodical, customised and professional, which at the very least will leave you better equipped to tackle your job search.
I finished my MA in Cultural Heritage Studies at which point I was optimistic about landing a museum job, given my experience as a volunteer. However, it soon became apparent this wouldn’t be as easy as I thought. For a start, I was surprised by how long each application form took to fill in, and then even more surprised by the lack of response I had to my applications. This became quite depressing very quickly! I mainly used job seeking websites such as the Guardian (a popular choice) and more specific sites to target the cultural sector. Throughout all of this I regularly attended GradClub sessions and arranged slots with the career advisers. They were important not just for the advice they gave (checking through CVs and applications) but for that bit of a boost. I would happily admit that it was really helpful to be reminded that I was a good candidate, with good experience and good qualifications because looking for a job can be dejecting.
I scored an interview in November at the V&A…my dream location, the interview went better than I could have imagined (again I had booked myself in for a practice interview session at GradClub!). I was turned down, and to make it worse, received no feedback (even with my pursuing them with follow-ups). During an informal ‘networking’ coffee break with a woman at a museum I started volunteering at, I found out that her friend, who had much more experience than me, had also been interviewed and turned down.
This all sounds quite depressing doesn’t it? Well, the good news is that I am now working for an excellent land owners organisation in Belgravia. I had, very flippantly sent my CV off for a job advertised on the Guardian website. I hadn’t realised that the advertisers were an employment agency. They called me because they liked my CV (shock horror!). I went for the interview, but turned it down (even more shock horror) because of the commute. However, through this opportunity, I signed up with the agency, who then found me lots of good vacancies. Just over a week after sending my CV off for a job I wasn’t overly keen on, I had been offered a job! I'm not working for a museum just yet, but this role is similar to one I would like to do within a museum in the future, its what the careers adviser called a ‘stepping stone’. So, I suppose, the main message here is, that good things can be around the corner, and you just don’t know it yet.
I began studying at UCL September 2008 having completed my undergraduate in Psychology at the University of Birmingham and taken a second gap year to volunteer abroad. I chose a postgraduate which I felt would help my career progression by showing interest in more than just a medical/research paradigm.
Like many of my peers left university unsure of what they wanted to do. After searching online I began research in the careers library. The first thing I noticed when I used the library, was the sheer number of careers I had never even considered, so would never have searched online. I felt that having UCL Careers service still available to me beyond leaving UCL (the time at which I was actually look for a job) was invaluable, opening my options up. Using resources such as ‘Dude, where my career?’ and ‘prospects.ac.uk’ which I had not heard of prior to using exposure to the careers service, helped me expand my horizons and rapidly whittle down my options quickly based on my eligibility.
The one thing I did know after UCL was that I wanted a ‘respectable job’ with rapid career progression and plenty of training as I felt I was falling behind my peers given my two gap years: I wanted to ‘catch-up’ the time I had spent volunteering. After researching the various schemes in the careers library I was aware that they were highly competitive. The level of competition was making me hesitant to even apply for many schemes. It was at this stage that I attended the “Graduate Summer School Event”. This course, took me through the various elements of the applications process, de-mystifying a lot of the jargon, teaching me ‘tricks of the trade’. Not only did I leave this with a new version of my CV and a better understanding of the graduate recruitment processes commonly used, I also was given confidence from knowing that I was no more or less likely to get a position than other people. Also, through the networking at this event I made contacts at Procter & Gamble which helped me get to the penultimate round of their graduate scheme.
I was unsuccessful in my application to P&G at the core competency interview stage. I had followed the interview preparation plans and ‘STAR’ strategy taught but evidently needed a little more work on my interview technique. I booked in for a one-to-one session with a careers adviser, helping me select the best examples to best showcase my competencies and gave me practice in constructing responses. In the end I applied to four graduate schemes, three of which followed the ‘traditional’ pattern of application forms, online testing, assessment centres and interviews. I got through every round of the other two schemes, ultimately securing a place on the Civil Service Fast Stream.
A big problem for me, wasn’t that I didn’t have the right experience (as I was only applying for jobs I had checked that I was eligible for), but that I wasn’t confident that I would be good enough compared with other graduates. Embarking on your job search is daunting especially given the negative outlook the press is presenting. I would say that it is the best advice I can give is to give yourself a step above others by knowing how to present the skills you have in the right was, and understanding what employers are trying to gain from each stage of an application process. To me, each stage in an application was like another assignment at university, and by coming to careers service it felt as if I was being given a look at the mark scheme, albeit a generic one.
While it only took me 9 months to secure my position I found the process demoralising. I can not imagine how it must feel for those seasoned in applying; it is very easy to lose motivation. However, each event I attended at the careers service really gave me an extra push, meeting others in the same position as me as well as giving me new or improved ‘weapons’ in my arsenal to go back and try. I would say the best advice I can give. Stay motivated and keep trying. When you are feeling lost try going to an event connected to your career, or careers search. It can only help put you back on track.
I arrived at UCL to read an MA in Hispanic Studies, just after completing my BA degree in Modern Languages at Cambridge. I had no experience of work in the UK other than the odd vacation job, but had done volunteer teaching in Mexico and worked as a language assistant for the British Council in Argentina. My concerns about the job market were much the same as most grads or penultimate year students: would there be any hope for finding a job at all on leaving UCL? This was made even more challenging by the fact that I had not worked to what I would dedicate my career. I turned to the GradClub at the UCL careers service for some guidance. Here I was able to air my concerns about my uncertainty and I gained lots of positive feedback which boosted my confidence and kept me motivated in my search.
I initially looked at advertising, but after getting through to an assessment day, I realised I could not thrive in a purely commercial environment and needed something different. I also looked at law as a means to use my languages, but soon came to my senses and accepted that this structure was never going to be for me. I decided to apply for anything that required language and public facing skills, which was where my strengths seemed to focus.
I completed a short internship with an online editorial while applying to a charitable organisation for vulnerable London children. The Chief Exec is incredibly high profile and I admired her work, so though charity work had always been more of a voluntary interest, I applied and got a rather decently paid position in the charity. This took lots of chasing, emails, 3 interviews. Not due to any formal process, but because when I didn’t hear from them I emailed and followed up. When I was told there may not be a position for me, I challenged this and asked them if they would reconsider. This is the great thing about a non-grad scheme job: it can be created for you if you are tenacious and can convince them to take you.
I kept applying for something every day after I had completed my MA course, and knew that this was the only way to keep going. The minute one stops trying, the energy diminishes and that seems to be where confidence is lost and with it, a potential opportunity. And importantly, go to the UCL careers service, you will always get help and support from them.
The careers service can work around you, and understands that looking for a job needs to be an integrated process. It’s about finding what you love and they can help you unravel this as well as support with applications and interview preparation. I had a job while visiting the service as I needed help while going for other opportunities. It’s a necessary resource for all students, and was a brilliant support network for me after I left UCL.
I have always been interested in working in the city and had applied for internships back in my penultimate year – I was unsuccessful. The following year, I had applied for some graduate schemes, but again I never got through the application stages. So after I graduated in June 2010, I decided to find out what was wrong with the way I marketed myself to potential employers.
I joined the UCL GradClub almost immediately after I completed my studies and began attending a few coaching sessions with a careers adviser, where I was suggested to review my motivations and also match my strengths with those required to be successful in certain jobs. I also attended the Graduate Schemes Summer School where I met many people who were in my position which gave me the social support. We were also given tips on how to succeed in various selection processes such as interview and assessment centre, covered good CV-writing techniques in depth, and even how to make the most out of a networking session.
Having carried out research such as attending career fairs and presentations, I began to apply for graduate schemes in some Investment Banks in the city, not forgetting to ask a careers adviser to check my CV and each application form before sending them off. I was ecstatic to be invited to several interviews but having had no such experience whatsoever I soon became very anxious. So I booked myself to see an adviser for a mock interview and was asked to complete a form indicating the employers and also the roles that I had applied for. A careers adviser then compiled specific questions relevant to these roles and asked them during the mock interview. I was given constructive feedback on how to improve my answers and techniques. In addition, I also attended a GradClub Workshop on Interviews. We were given the chance to role-play as both the interviewer and interviewee and hence obtained the two distinct perspectives in an interview situation. This helped me to understand what an interviewer looks for in a candidate’s answers.
After a few months of hard work, I managed to
obtain my dream job as a Technology analyst at an Investment Bank in the city.
I realised that whilst I did persevere in searching for a job, the advice I
received from the careers service was also instrumental in helping me to secure
this job and hence I would urge those wishing to obtain a job to seek help and
advice from the careers service.
I studied architecture and had work experience in South America but when I started my Masters, I realised that getting a job in the UK would be a new and undoubtedly tough experience. Before I finished my studies, I looked around for jobs without any assistance and I wasn't getting anywhere fast. I had odd jobs but nothing related to my studies and what I really wanted to do (although these jobs helped me to develop skills I would need later (even if I didn't realise it at the time).
I began looking for an architectural job when I finished my thesis but the job market was extremely competitive. The recession was hitting hard everywhere, students and graduates were not the exception and my prospects were not good. I started engaging with GradClub before getting my qualification, and with workshop sessions on interviews, aptitude tests and presentations as well as 1 to 1 coaching, I managed to make the best of my academic and work experience.
Really practical advice I benefited from included knowing how to target and structure my Cv to really make an impact with a recruiter . I ignored important elements of some of my experiences but gave acknowledgement to others that were more irrelevant. The coaches are really good at picking this out plus they make you aware of enhancing your qualities. After hard work tuning my CV and making it impactful, multiple sessions with the coach plus attending plenty of events, I finally got offered a real employer interview. It was not as formal and harsh as I thought, but it was clear that they wanted to assess my suitability and know what I knew about them and the position. Finally I got a good job in a small construction company.
After a year and a half of working for this company, I am back meeting the GradClub coaches again to see how I can improve my Cv to allow me to apply for bigger companies. Now I have work experience and through the careers service, the right support to make the next step.
I would like to thank the Careers Service because I had a good opportunity not just to improve my CV and covering letter but to really understand what potential employers are looking for in graduates. On my own, I think I might have got there but with GradClub’s help, I got their much faster. Moreover, what I have learned will be invaluable for my career development in the longer term.
After graduating, I began to apply for many jobs and internships, without having much luck. As soon as I had started my job–hunt, I attended a UCL Careers Service GradClub appointment on my colleague’s recommendation and took some seminars. The help I received from the staff was invaluable; in fact, at the beginning I had no idea how to write good CVs, cover letters and applications, not to mention getting ready for face–to–face interviews.
Eventually, after two months of persistent work with the staff, I started to get positive feedback and in the third month I got the job I really wanted.
What made the difference was a combination of professional and specific advice from the staff and the personal manner in which they treated me. The staff took my specific background and aspirations into consideration in order to teach me how to present myself to employers in the most effective way. That is why I would strongly encourage any job seeker to take advantage of the support offered by UCL Careers Service and to remain persistent and determined in their search.
My experience as an international student applying for jobs in the UK has been a difficult but an interesting challenge. I graduated with a Masters in Electronic and Electrical Engineering and I decided to pursue a career in engineering and technology related fields. I consulted with the career service 2 to 3 times a week updating and refining my CV and application forms as well as meeting with representatives from industries (this takes place every Friday at the careers service). I focused mainly on various engineering graduate schemes. I was able to get to interview stages and this is where I stumbled.
I realised from the feedbacks that for about 50% of the time, I was rejected due to my immigration status. The 2011 immigration law reforms limit the work permits quota available that drastically reduced the hiring of international graduates by several engineering firms.
This calls for a change of plan and I booked 1-to-1 sessions with the GradClub careers coaches where I was able to openly discuss my situation and my long term career plan (which is to work/set-up subsidiary in my home country). The outcome was that I should be focusing on my strengths which are my foreign language skills and cultural knowledge of my home country. I used this as a platform in selling myself in my future applications – I sent out several speculative applications as well as applying for short and long term internships and I finally made a breakthrough. I was interviewed by an IT/e-commerce company which is undergoing expansion and was interested in expanding into my country, Burma! It was a great fit and I was offered an initial 6 months rotational internship with the aim of helping them set up the subsidiary as well as a potential full time employment.
My advice is to remain positive and try to focus on what you can offer and what your USPs are rather than on your weaknesses. Also, do make sure that you read the FAQ of to check out the work permit requirements before applying especially for international students with visa issues. Further, UCL careers service has been a great support network for me in addition to useful and strategic career advice. My final advice would be to try to get as much work experience as possible and work experience at UCL HELO Programme is a good place to start.
I knew the area of work I wanted to get into – something around policy work for think tanks, NGOs or government bodies. (I’d also considered party political work and did some volunteering in the Labour Party Headquarters but decided this wasn’t right for me). These kinds of organisations don’t tend to recruit huge numbers of people and don’t have high profile recruitment campaigns so I wasn’t totally surprised that, come the end of my course, I hadn’t got anything lined up.
I was able to go back to my old stand by – working in a pub – but I realised I needed to get fairly professional about getting into the sector so I made a point of using the GradClub facilities in the Careers Service two or three days a week.
It really helped to get the time set aside for this and I was able to use certain sites like W4MP that had lots of opportunities. It also helped to have the careers consultants available. They can help with information and advice on applications, interviews and CVs. In my case it wasn’t my CV as such but after a couple of sessions with the consultant I was able to talk about my CV and experiences in a much more confident way than previously.
I knew the sector I had chosen didn’t provide a straightforward entry point so I was prepared to put in the time, effort and patience I thought I would need. One of the things that this awareness helped me with me was in resisting the temptation to travel. Not going off travelling also made sure I stayed surrounded by friends who were working rather than people who weren’t – this kept the pressure up on me. Even so there were moments of despondency - even though I had told myself to expect it. Eventually after three months I landed an internship with Civitatis. Again the careers consultant made sure I was as prepared as I had ever been. This was a really good experience and took my CV to a new level.
As this internship came to a close, I again touched base with GradClub and started to get more job interviews. Some jobs were ones that I realise in retrospect weren’t really right for me and one of the things I have learned when interviews don’t work out is that there is probably a good reason for it. For example I ended up going for marketing and PR positions that I knew weren’t really right for me.
Right now I have landed a great job as the Europe Middle East and Africa Project Manager with the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) in London and organisation that brings together leaders from different fields to innovate new solutions and policies in the field of online safety. After my Masters it took me about six months of fairly dedicated effort but I’m glad I stuck with it
I suppose my job search started with a doubt. A doubt that I had chosen the wrong path, the wrong degree subject and that even when I graduated from UCL and started to search for internships within the political field, that these also would turn out to be the antithesis of my envisaged career. Everything that I had done until this point has been politically focused. I had been lucky in that regard; that I had a perceived ‘focus’. I thought that I may have wanted to work in PR with a public affairs agency. But was this what I really wanted?
I had interned for Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC MP, on three separate occasions, campaigned for several leading MPs leading up to the general election in 2005, interned for the Conservative Party Headquarters, interned for think tanks, attended some very high profile lectures at related institutions and had the opportunity to network with the great and the good from the political world. I have to say I knew what was at fault; it was my own free will and my (lack of) planning that led up to the problems I had in finding a suitable path.
My interests were scattered and like a butterfly I was prepared to dart onto anything that came my way. I left UCL in September 2009 and I was offered a job at a security firm in Old Street (they prevented empty properties from being squatted and charged remarkably cheap rents to employ property ‘guardians’).
How is that connected with anything that I had previously done, you say? Well my role as project manager was to use some of my local knowledge of creative East London and utilise some of the incredible spaces we had on our books (warehouses, old schools, tower blocks, residential properties, mansions etc.) for photo shoots, launches, gallery space, performance space, pop ups and the like. This was the time that new initiatives were constantly being innovated. London, like anywhere else, was hit with recession and people were creating small cottage industries, reinvigorating the creative and trying against the odds to make things work. There was money making potential in this new avenue for the business and when I joined, official structures weren’t yet in place and things still operated in a fairly informal manner.
I received a phone call to tell me the director was interested in what I had done and would I pop round to see him. After a brief coffee meeting I was offered a paid job, then and there.
At the same time, however, I had also secured an internship at Reuters. This too, was gained in rather an unconventional manner; I had attended a lecture at Reuters HQ in Canary Wharf. I managed to speak with one of the lead journalists after the lecture and gave him one of my cards. Lesson number one; get some cards printed with your contact details - invaluable when networking and scouting. It transpired that I had a week booked with them and I had some interesting assignments laid out.
One of them involved going to the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square and interviewing a Reprieve campaigner who was there to aid Linda Carty in her mission to prove herself innocent against her impending death row status. I was also instructed to go to a press conference given by Germaine Jackson in the aftermath of Michael’s death. I was, however, working simultaneously (two days a week) for the security company, whilst also finishing my thesis. On this particular week I had also been instructed to provide and arrange a lunch for eight directors the next day, do some additional PA duties (transport/hotels etc.) as well as do my own job. It took precision logistics and a lot of balancing but I somehow managed all tasks within time! I was exhausted by the end of that week though! I learnt so much from the experience and I have been truly grateful for the opportunities given by both those companies since then.
I made use of UCL Advances by applying for some of the opportunities that they were advertising. In this manner I ended up with two offers, one paid internship was for a graduate school offering qualifications in Journalism, and another was for an entrepreneurial arm of a social networking site. I chose the latter and promptly started the two month long internship. This gave me an insight into how the company functioned, to observe working relationships in a stressful atmosphere and gave me the opportunity to demonstrate my entrepreneurial spirit at the same time.
In between I was offered some work with a charity fundraising agency and I also did some ad hoc work for a property firm. Again both experiences were useful. One thing GradClub taught me was that any experience was worthwhile. Almost any scenario and skill set can be transferable and however bad it may seem at the time, some positivity will emanate from it.
For me, the charity fundraising work proved to be a very useful source of information and skills. However, as in the vein that had preceded, I continued to ignore my inner pleas to follow a path that might really suit me. Instead I applied for yet another internship (unpaid, this time) to work with an MP in the House of Commons. I got it and promptly embarked upon it. But I wasn’t happy; it wasn’t what I wanted to do, and furthermore I was a bit fed up of working for free. Throughout this time I had kept on the charity fundraising which provided me with some remuneration. It was flexible work, decently paid and although it could get monotonous at times, the benefits outweighed the negatives. Lesson Number 2; always have some paid work on the go, even when doing unpaid internships, as having money lessens the frustration that the job search process can bring. It almost doesn’t matter what you do, any job will add bonus points to a CV and bring colour to your application, even if not related to your eventual field. N.B. Some investment banks do occasionally employ the student that has been a Christmas elf at Santa’s grotto the previous Christmas. It really can bring colour and light to an otherwise dull application. Think about the poor recruiter…!
I decided to be super-targeted in the applications that I sent out and avoided my past approach of simply ‘falling into things’. I used the Graduate Talent Pool website and I used the lessons that I had learnt from past experiences to really secure that full time paid job that I really wanted. I didn’t want to limit the fields that I was applying to; rather, I made my consistency lie in the skill set that I thought I could offer. My fundraising work had given me such a valuable set of skills; something that almost any company, in any field, would highly regard.
I sent out carefully thought out and extremely tailored CVs and cover letters which really got to the heart of the companies that I was applying to. I was offered several interviews to different companies. Some were only temporary positions; others were permanent.
One invited me for an initial interview and they said they liked me. They wanted to see in the second stage. This involved delivering a presentation. They were to be my pretend client and I was to represent them.
I had my presentation professionally bound and I had business cards printed up with my name, my business title and the company’s details there too (quite presumptuous…)! I had to answer questions from my ‘client’ at the end and I really enjoyed the way they chose to interview me. I think it’s worth bearing in mind that interviews differ hugely across fields and thetype of company it is. This process is also affected by the vision and creativity of the people involved etc.
This particular method got the best out of me, whereas another method may not have been suited.I am happy to say that I recently accepted an offer with them.
I can only say that you have to remain focused and directed throughout the process. Even in these perceived hard times there are lots of opportunities out there, but you have to be creative and hard working to find them. Sometimes you might meet someone in the strangest of circumstances but a job might materialise out of this interaction, other times you might create a role for yourself. Or you may decide to freelance and ride the recession wave out by offering your expertise to a number of companies. Either way, opportunities always turn up and if you are hard wired to spot them and utilise them to your advantage you will be successful.
I have made use of the UCL Grad Club in various ways. I used it extensively for CV and cover letter advice. I have also used the extensive library as a great starting point for finding out about different sectors. I also made use of the alumni careers mentoring facility that UCL propounds to great effect. It enabled me to speak to, and arrange consequent meetings with, a lovely law graduate who was then working for the Centre for Public Scrutiny; so still connected to my original political beginnings. It was great to chat with him, and I would certainly recommend information interviewing as a method, whether it be through a UCL contact or elsewhere. People always like talking about their jobs especially if they are passionate about them and any insider information you might glean is always going to be a useful tool.
The methods and resources that UCL Grad club place at your fingertips is invaluable; even the seminars on how to cope with ‘unemployment depression’, or how to get motivated, speculative applications or even being able to discuss things with people in a similar boat to yourself is really enlightening.
It can be a bad time for some people but if you keep your life going at the same time, things always happen. Life has a strange way of producing opportunity at very short notice and I would say to anyone to go with the flow!
Page last modified on 01 mar 12 15:45 by Martin Brown