Help to uncover the secret of career success

We’re currently asking hundreds of University of Manchester undergraduates – all levels, all disciplines – to complete a questionnaire about the things they’ve done at university which could help them get a job after graduating.

If you’ve been asked to complete the questionnaire
This is what it’s all about and why we’d love to get your help.

If you’ve already completed the questionnaire
and are wondering “what was that all about and what’s in it for me?” – here’s the answer.

If you haven’t completed the questionnaire, and you’re a UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER UNDERGRADUATE
Read this, and click on our survey (survey now closed) to play your part in a major new project to help University of Manchester students get into the careers they want.

What’s this project all about?

It’s trying to uncover what makes the difference between

  • graduates who move quickly into the kind of jobs they really want, shortly after graduating, and
  • graduates who struggle or take longer to get on to their career track

We also want to know what you can do to try and make sure you’re in the first group.

What we’ve found so far

We all know that different jobs need different skills, knowledge or work experience, but we’ve also found that how students approach their careers makes a big difference – not just applying for jobs, but all the things which lead up to it, starting from day 1 of your degree.

We’ve found 5 common factors which seem to lead to speedy career success. Graduates who move smoothly and swiftly into the jobs they want:

  • RobertsonCoopermodelExplore – keep their options and their eyes open; stretch themselves by trying things ‘outside their comfort zone’; take every opportunity to gain lots of varied experiences;
  • Connect – build their network and maintain contacts (peers and social contacts as well as experienced professionals); use information from their contacts to research jobs and career paths;
  • Communicate – adapt their communication to different audiences; learn from others how to engage audiences; introduce themselves effectively; practise;
  • Reflect – recognise their own skills and can illustrate with examples; differentiate themselves from the competition;
  • Persevere – learn from setbacks and constantly adapt; start their job search early, learn from any knock-backs and approach the next opportunity positively.

What’s different about this approach?

  • These 5 factors are all “behaviours” – things you do, rather than who you are. What’s great about this is that anyone can learn how to do these things, or at least learn how to do them better, in their own way. You don’t have to change your personality to be successful.
  • They seem to cut across a wide range of careers – we talked to graduates in good jobs which included science, the creative/arts sector, teaching (humanities), engineering and business.
  • It’s not simply a shopping list from employers – it’s come from students like you, the things students have done and what’s made them successful (although the employers we’ve spoken to have also been very positive about this approach)

Of course, you’ll still need specific skills and probably experience to get into those plum graduate jobs, but this gives you clues about how to build up those skills:

  • Start to explore possible careers in your first year and push yourself to try new activities throughout your degree.
  • Reflect on where you’re great and where you need to improve.
  • Practise getting your message across to other people, including employers.
  • Talk to friends, family, employers and other contacts (face-to-face or online), learn from them and keep in touch.
  • Keep going when things don’t go right – if you’ve really pushed yourself to try new stuff, some of it won’t work, but that’s when you learn.

By your final year, you’ll have picked up some great skills (backed up with evidence to convince employers), and quite probably found some useful work experience along the way, whatever career you end up going into.

Why should you fill in a questionnaire?

We’re trying to develop a tool to help you understand where you’re strong and where you could improve on these behaviours.

We think the kind of scores you get will probably change from your first year to your final year. We also think the scores for those who have got a good graduate job lined up before they graduate will probably be different from those who are about to graduate without a clue what they’re going to do next.

But we can’t be sure – and at the moment, we can’t tell you:

  • what’s a “good” score, which puts you on course for a fabulous career in something you want to do, and
  • what, frankly, is a bit of a dismal score, which could lead to you starting your glorious graduate life, still pulling pints in a student pub to pay the rent – if you don’t do something soon.

However, if we can get around 1000 University of Manchester undergraduates to fill in the questionnaire (survey now closed):

  • from all disciplines
  • from all years
  • whether you’ve got a job or placement lined up or whether you’re struggling

– then we’ll be able to tell you how you match up, and what you need to focus on to improve your chances of career success.

In future, once we’ve got that data, the questionnaire will give you a report showing where you’re strong and where you could improve, and how you compare with other students. We’ll also be able to direct you to practical actions you can take and resources you can use to improve.

Want to know even more about this project?

Have a look at this recent post on the postgrad blog, including details of how we came up with this approach and the consultants, Robertson Cooper (led by Prof Ivan Robertson), who’ve done the detailed work for us.

Got any comments or suggestions?

Current students and recent graduates have been at the heart of this project. None of this would have happened without the help and views of people like you.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project, the findings so far, and your suggestions for what should happen next. Just add a comment to this post, or get in touch at

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