Click on the image to access our very easy guide to making the most of your masters in the next step in your career.
“Yesterday was my birthday. So completely has a whole year passed, with scarcely the fruits of a month. – O Sorrow and Shame…I have done nothing.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s words open a New Yorker article wondering why writers stop writing, one that I came across because I was wondering what was blocking my blogging (I could have been introspective, but surely Google has all of the answers?). The poets, novelists, Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners in the New Yorker article suffered profound and life-changing writer’s block. A fascinating, enlightening article – a valuable contribution to my writing avoidance strategy – but it didn’t get me much further ahead. Self-reflection it is, then. So, I ask myself…
What blocks me (us) from doing things – be it writing (or career planning)?
1. Procrastination – The causes of procrastination are many and complex and in Are you putting off dealing with procrastination? I looked at causes and ways to tackle career planning procrastination.
2. Fear of failure – All of us fail – probably more frequently than we are successful. Even the best baseball players – the highest paid, most sought after batters – fail around two-thirds of the time. Fear is a natural (and good feeling) – but not immobilising fear. Immobilising fear may prevent us from engaging in the sorts of activities that help ours careers – we avoid trying novel situations and challenges, we procrastinate, we self-sabotage – “I’m not good enough.” – until we actually believe it, we don’t attempt to do something until we can do it perfectly. Career planning involves risk and failure (Ask me how many jobs have applied for in my life that I didn’t get?!) – we need to develop strategies to persevere (this resource is good for masters and PhD students).
This article in Forbes has 5 very good suggestions for conquering your fear of failure.
[As an extra, only slightly related bonus Daniel Cohens’ TED talk For Argument’s Sake reveals the benefits of losing arguments.]
3. It’s overwhelming – “Hypervigilance” is the word Janis and Mann (1977) use to describe the stressful condition of being overwhelmed by the need to make a decision but having little time in which to choose from many possible courses of action” (Lock, 2004). Does that feel like you? If you are feeling overwhelmed, that is probably the time to seek support. Talk your ideas through with friends or family, use the resources on the University of Manchester Careers Service postgraduate pages, come into the Careers Service and talk to our information specialists or make an appointment to see a careers consultant for a personal one-to-one support.
4. Making one choice closes the door on any other possibility – making decisions about your career now doesn’t mean that your future is now permanently carved in stone. History and English Literature graduates who have done medicine as a second degree; a retired career soldier who completed undergraduate and masters degrees in Anglo-Saxon; a political science graduate who now owns their own market gardening business; a mature graduate embarking on a successful career as an education administrator in their 50s; PhD graduates starting their own business, selling it and becoming venture capitalists. None of these options may be relevant (or appealing to you) – just to reassure you that stepping through one door doesn’t mean all others are closed to you forever.
Back when I was writing for my own blog my most popular post was Read this if you don’t know what to do after graduation – because students and graduates all over the world were entering ‘what should I do after graduation’ into Google’s search box. There’s a lot of information to be had from Google – but only self-reflection, the motivation for change and the support of people around us (in my case of writer’s block, colleagues bearing cakes), can turn that information into action.
Janis, I.L. and Mann, L. (1977) A psychological analysis of conflict, choice and commitment. New york: Free Press
Lock, R. D. (2004) Taking charge of your career direction: Career planning guide Book 1. Cengage Learning.
So we hear this term banded about by employers or recruiters at fairs, online and in articles and even in class but what does it really mean and what do employers really want? It is not as complicated as it sounds, simply put commercial awareness is understanding the business as a whole that you are applying to. This includes understanding the company culture, values, objectives, the businesses competitors, the sector as a whole as well as business/sector trends.
Now you might be thinking this sounds like hard work, how much time do I need to research all this? The answer again is simple, you are investing in your future and only you can do it so it will take as much time as it takes. This is YOUR Career and your responsibility. For some of you there may be several decades ahead of you for your carers so investing time and research in to what you want to do next is crucial. If you are looking to become successful and get a career here in the UK or back in your home country you need to firstly understand what is commercial awareness and how do I demonstrate it?
When speaking to students and young professionals I hear the following complaints more often than I would like: “I have sent off several applications and I haven’t heard anything back” or “I get as far a the assessment centre/group exercise and don’t get any further what am I doing wrong?”. The feedback when I go to employers with the questions is the same time and time again, applicants are failing to demonstrate commercial awareness in their application, the initial phone interview and at assessment centres.
So here are my tips on where to start!
1. Research, Research, Research!!!! Google the organisation you are applying to before you even submit the online application. Why you may ask, well in most cases as soon as you submit that CV, cover letter or form you may receive an initial phone interview 10 minutes, an hour or a week later so it is better to be prepared!
2. Demonstrate on the application your motivations for wanting to work for the organisation and this is generally done through a cover letter. Your motivations will be based on your knowledge of the business, what it does, how it operates and what it has to offer you.In addition to your motivations, you need to demonstrate through your cover letter what YOU can bring to the business in terms of skills or knowledge and a strong understanding of the business can help you formulate this.
3. Phone interview as I said before be prepared, have your documents in front of you including the notes you made about the company. Go beyond the “About us” section of their website, Google trends, company projects and accounts if applicable. Demonstrate your passion and knowledge through the research and this will make a big impression with the recruiters. They need to know that you aren’t looking for just any job you are looking for a career with them. It costs a lot of money to recruit and train a person into a role so demonstrate that you are worth their time and money!
4. Assessment Centres & Group Exercises are an opportunity for you to show an assessor in person this is how I can contribute to your organisation. In the majority of recruiters I have spoken to in the UK and overseas they need to know you are passionate about their company and brand. Don’t be afraid to show this, remember the group exercise is not a competition it is a chance to show you can work as part of a team and contribute ideas while valuing other members. That being said do take this opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the company and its competitors depending on the group exercise topic. Be prepared for anything but don’t hesitate to speak up and be heard. Commercial awareness will get you points as well as contributing ideas, and time keeping.
Even with these hints, tips and employer feedback you would still be surprised how many people turn up to interview with no preparation and expect to wing it. In some cases applicants arrive for an assessment centre and know nothing of the organisation. In simple terms it is like arriving for an exam having never opened a book – would YOU do that? Certainly not so why do some graduates think it is OK to do this when applying for a job? The only thing I can say in this instance is no matter how many years you studied or what your grades are it is important to know the business you are interviewing for and more! Give yourself the best possible chance, don’t gamble with your career, be smart and make the right decisions from the start.
It’s the morning after…my first Pathways – and what a great introduction to this event. The panellists were informative, inspiring and full of good advice. As ever, meeting research students and staff is interesting, thought provoking and fun. So much so, we’re offering 3 workshop to keep the conversations going.
Workshop 1 (face-to-face)
18th June, 2015
Who are you and what do you want?
• The skills, experience and qualities they can offer employers
• What they are looking for in a job
• How their values, interests and lifestyle choices influence available opportunities
The session will provide time and space to consider what you have to offer and what you might want in more depth, discuss your ideas with peers and benefit from their insight, as well as introduce reflective resources and tools that you can use now – and wherever your career pathway takes you.
Register on eProg
Workshop 2 (webinar)
24th June, 2015
Job hunting strategies
Google ‘jobs for people with PhDs’ and you get 110 000 000 results in 0.45 seconds. There are job sites like Indeed, Guardian jobs, jobs.ac.uk, environmentjob.com. There are recruitment consultants. You could send out speculative applications. And what about Linkedin?
The possibilities can be overwhelming. This post-Pathways webinar will help you learn to manage your job search productively by examining the importance of having a job-hunting strategy, as well as practical steps to take to develop your own.
Register on eProg
Workshop 3 (face-to-face)
1st July, 2015
From the career stories at Pathways, you can see that PhDs and research staff have an enormous range of skills and experience that is highly valued by employers in a range of sectors. It’s important that you interpret what you have to offer so that your audience – the employer – can easily understand how your academic experience translates into real value for their organisation.
This last of the post-Pathways workshops will use practical exercises and activities to make sure you are able to market yourself effectively in the recruitment and selection process.
Register on eProg
UPDATE: Although registration for the main Pathways event is now closed, if you would like to attend the Guangdong University of Technology presentation, please register online. The presentation is 12 noon in Room C9 of the Renold Building.
On Thursday, June 4th at 12:00 pm as part of Pathways, Professors Bao Hong and Liu Yijun of the Guangdong University of Technology will be hosting a panel for Chinese PhD students and post-docs interested in the Associate Professor opportunities they have through their One Hundred Young Talents programme. The linked PDF describing the programme has a list of areas of research interests – and as you will see they are many and varied! The PDF also contains details of salary and other useful information. What better way to make things happen than by coming to talk to people who are interested in recruiting you?
The Professors will also be on hand later in the afternoon, taking part in the What do employers/recruiters look for in PhD applicants? session.
Rosalinda Quintieri, a doctoral researcher in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, has come up with a fantastic new way to help our current doctoral and post-doctoral researchers to get real consultancy training, skills and experience of implementing solutions. It’s in collaboration with the University – and you’ve still got time to apply to take part.
Over to Rosalinda to tell you all about it:
There is a new Program at the University of Manchester, REALab, designed to promote PhDs and Post-Docs’ employability through tailored training in consultancy and freelance skills and through a program of collaborative projects with external organisations.
REALab is supported by Manchester Doctoral College, artsmethods, SALC and Manchester Enterprise Centre and it is aimed at researchers across all faculties interested in pitching a project proposal in response to challenges presented by external partners. This first year’s challenges call for interventions on strategy approaches and research regarding: Open Access, technology development, food sustainability, community engagement, museum galleries and archives valorisation and more. The challenges opened for intervention can be seen at www.uomrealab.wordpress.com/projects.
The Program offers to its participants tailored training in consultancy skills and project management – designed in collaboration with Manchester Enterprise Centre and Manchester Doctoral College – and the possibility to ‘pitch’ their project proposals at a final dragons-den style event and to receive a first award of £1000 and a second and third award of £500.
The idea at the foundation of REALab is to offer a real-life opportunity to practice as consultants, working in collaboration with local major organisations and being trained in all the aspects of the consultancy process, from analysis of the ‘problem’ to ideation and delivering of the ‘solution’. It is becoming more and more evident how within the current economic climate and an ever-challenging work environment, as doctoral and postdoctoral researchers we need to develop these vital freelance and project management skills and doing this soon in our career means that by the time we conclude our doctoral programs we will have:
- accumulated practical experience of managing projects on our own, from ideation to delivery
- developed collaborations with external partners and across different departments and disciplines which can prove to be vital for future job opportunities
- demonstrated how our research and knowledge can positively have impact on key challenges faced by important sectors of our economy
Sam doesn’t have to put everything on his CV – but he has to put on the stuff that’s going to get you to interview.
You may notice that Sam has some gaps on his CV. He left school in 2008 – but didn’t start university until 2011. Did Sam make a mistake? Or are there things missing from his CV? Sam didn’t make a mistake, he did one thing applicants commonly do:
- He forgot some relevant experience that took place several years before – 9 months as an English teaching assistant in the Chilean primary school.
To prevent this from happening in the future, I’ve suggested to Sam that he keeps a diary, a portfolio, or simply takes time to update his CV every few months.
Something he did that is less common, but I have experienced several times with students from countries all over the world:
- He left off 2 years of work experience because he was working for his brother’s landscaping business to save money and to decide what he really wanted to study before going to university. He left excluded this experience because he was concerned that other employers ‘won’t take working for family seriously’.
We discussed Sam’s concerns and established:
- It was a real and demanding role – in fact, Sam’s brother hired someone to take his place after he left.
- He had crucial responsibilities, including effectively running the business for several weeks while his brother recovered from knee surgery.
- Several key achievements during the 2 years
- The possibility of getting a former client to give a reference, as well as his brother, to alleviate any worries about ‘favouritism’.
Many people work with the family business – Lego, Bechtel, Hermes Group are just a couple of high profile organisations which are still in the family. It doesn’t matter if you are working as part of a family business (or volunteering: “I wasn’t getting paid” is another reason students give for excluding or minimising this sort of experience) or an international conglomerate – potential employers are going to be focusing the skills, experience and evidence that you are marketing to them.
Speaking of gaps on CVs – it’s best if you don’t have them.
Your university qualification – whether undergraduate, Masters or PhD needs ‘translating’.
University study takes up an enormous amount of your time – even if ‘only’ a year for a Masters or Diploma. Employers need to know what, if anything, that gives you in terms of relevant skills and experience. In terms of this role, Sam:
- Has relevant course work with high marks.
- A dissertation topic which enabled him to gain some experience in community biodiversity projects and working with volunteers.
- There’s much more Sam could probably draw attention to, but he can probably include some of this in his covering letter, as well as talk about it at interview.
If Sam’s experience had been less directly relevant, he could have drawn extensively on transferable skills from group work, research, writing, presenting and more.
Drawing out the relevant experience
Elsewhere in Sam’s CV, you may notice where not much seems to have changed except for a few tweaks in language. You can see from the highlighted version of the job advert where we’ve identified key criteria Sam needs to link to his CV: Enthusiasm, communicating excitement, working on the ground and online, developing activities, working with volunteers/mentoring, eye for detail, relevant subject area.
As with many students, Sam’s recognition of his own accomplishments only emerged when he came to a careers consultant to talk about his CV for a specific job.
I’ve suggested to Sam that he ask for some feedback from friends and family to get a more rounded picture of his skills, abilities and achievements – as well as areas to think about improving, or ideas for filling any gaps that emerge.
Is this the end for Sam’s CV?
Probably not. Arguably, there may be more that Sam could do to get his CV in shape for this role – and let’s not forget his covering letter (which we haven’t looked at. Yet.). Are there further suggestions you’d make?
The most important thing is whether or not Sam feels his CV is now telling the story about his experience that he wants to tell the employer. Prior to seeing this advert, Sam hadn’t thought much about his CV, and it’s all been a bit of a rush trying to pull it together. Discussing his application has helped recognised his achievements, identify some of the gaps he has in relation to the role and helped him develop a more nuanced perspective of the application process – it’s hard work, requires self-awareness, critical thinking and time.
Sam recognises now that a CV is a living document – it will need updating, as well as tailoring to specific vacancies in order to be effective.
Actually, is Sam even a real student?
You may come across Sam in other University of Manchester Careers Service resources. I’ve based my version of Sam on several students I’ve been acquainted with over the years to highlight critical areas of CV writing.