Category Archives: Career Advice

4 Steps to Make Your Graduate CV ‘Job Ready’!

After 3 or 4 years of (hopefully) hard work you’ve finally done it. You’ve managed to do what at times felt impossible and you’ve bagged the degree that you were hoping for. The next stage is selling that degree and your skills to an employer. It’s easy to assume that having the degree is enough, but most employers will need you to spell it out for them; why should they hire you?

Spell out your relevant experience

More and more graduates these days have built up a little professional experience alongside studying. If you’ve completed some work experience, a summer placement or a sandwich course, now is the time to shout about it from the rooftops (not literally, that would be weird), but do make sure if its prevalent on your CV. Remember, when writing your CV The most important information for an employer should be on the 1st page of your CV. If you haven’t got any directly relevant experience, don’t panic, there are other ways to show an employer that you’re worth employing.

Highlight any relevant extra-curricular activities

By extra-curricular I don’t mean the regular rounds of pub golf or the 247 hours you spent playing Call of Duty (if only employers understood that sort of dedication). Ideally I’m talking about an activity whereby you’ve picked up some relevant skills or experience that an employer might be interested in. If you’ve been a course rep you’ll be able to show leadership, public speaking and negotiation skills.

If you’ve taken part in any charity fundraising, that could help to give them a taste of your caring nature or motivations. There are many activities that at first glance might not even seem worth mentioning but they can sometimes make a difference. One of my friends included that he’d ran an end of year party (essentially a massive house party) but when he got to an interview he managed to show that he had organisation skills by discussing how he’d ‘booked acts’ and ‘organised the sound system’.

One thing to remember is that increasingly your online reputation is being taken into account. If you have a favourable online presence through social media activities or blogging, don’t be afraid to draw attention to them. Digital skills are a hot topic at the moment and it could help to set you aside from other applicants.

Emphasise the soft skills that you’ve gained through your studies

A recent survey of 198 employers showed that when employers are taking on graduates they are more interested in soft skills such as good communication, organisation and leadership skills.

Recruiters have known this for some time and often focus on hiring based on attitude and drive rather than technical knowledge. Technical skills can be taught whereas the right attitude is harder to teach, you either have it or you don’t!

The further you get into your career the more important technical knowledge gets. 2 years after graduating technical knowledge moved up the rank of importance from 24th to 2nd place.

I often find that employers are looking for critical thinking skills or the ability to analyse data, spot trends etc. Including information about your dissertation showing how you’ve investigated an idea, evaluated and presented the findings can help employers see how they could train you to be of use to their business.


Be selective in the information you include

It’s important to remember that in your CV you only have a limited amount of space to impress an employer. Choose the most relevant information to that specific employer. If you’re a levels aren’t quite up to scratch for example, don’t feel that you have to include the grades, the subjects will suffice. Unless your grades are essential for access to a specific graduate scheme, focus on your selling points and achievements to impress the employer in question.

Motivation, motivation, motivation!

Motivation, where fore art thou?

Motivation is a fickle beast and like the movement of the tides it can wither and wane with alarming speed. Without the careful nurturing much akin to the gentle caress of an attentive mother, motivation can become a fleeting memory leaving you bereft of drive and fervour.

So what I can do about this I hear you cry? What secrets can you bestow to help me lift above the squalid fortifications that are the post New Year bed and pillow?

Well …. come a little closer and I’ll begin.

Know your goals!

To know your goal is to understand it, to love it and eventually live it. It is not good enough to merely set goals and I’ll bet that most of us; even the least motivated have set a goal or two. The key (and here is the difficult bit) is to really understand your goal and to visualise it in all its glory. What does success look like? How will it make you feel when you achieve it?

One of the secrets of the ultra-successful, whether they are athletes or entrepreneurs is to visualise their success and the level of performance that it will take to get them there. This can lead to a change in mind-set and belief enabling you to remain motivated and driven.

Work out who can help?

Every great individual stands on the shoulders of others and there is no reason why you should be any different. The people that surround us have a crucial part to play in keeping our spirits lifted. Knowing that you are not alone and that you have the support of others can be a vital step in remaining motivated.

Make a list of the people that can help you towards your goal. Whether they have experience of the role that you want to excel in, have a skill that you need to improve on or just have a positive demeanour that can give your motivation a boost, make sure you remember to ask for their help if you need it.

Reward yourself along the way

The road to success can be a long and arduous journey with many a set-back along the way. Without littering the road with the odd reward it can feel like thankless task and before long your motivation will be gone with the wind.

Break your goal down and set markers where you can reward yourself for the hard work that you have done. For example if you have a dissertation to write you could reward yourself after the initial research has been done, Once you have written your abstract or once you’ve written your first draft. Similarly, if your goal is to change career or get into a new job, you could reward yourself once you have completed a particular training course or applied for a certain number of jobs. Whatever it is, that sweet reward can help you to keep your motivation levels topped up, ensuring that you don’t give up at the smallest hurdle!

Building A Career-Search Network As A New Graduate

If your time at university comes to an end this term or you are a recent graduate, building a career-search network is a must. That’s because not all job listings are published, and even when they are your connections can make a difference by making sure you find out early, have inside information about what employers are looking for, and gain personal recommendations.

Start by making sure that you collect contact details from those of your current or recent classmates who are clearly motivated and going places. Don’t just say “let’s get together sometime”—make a point of actually doing it. You may even want to formalise this by holding regular job-search strategy sessions over coffee wit a chosen few.

Don’t forget your university lecturers. You will be asking them for references, so it’s important that you talk to them about your plans. They may be able to not only write a good reference but give you tips on where to look, how to present yourself, what to include in your portfolio and so on. They are also highly networked people, with academic and research colleagues scattered all around the country and beyond. Any employers and work colleagues you had while at Uni can also help.

Finally, sit down and list your friends and relations, including your online connections. Not everyone in this category can help you find work, but sometimes an old secondary-school mate or Facebook friend is in a position to do so. Reach out to ask for advice, don’t demand their assistance. The more people know you’re looking, the more likely it is that invaluable tips will come your way.

Time-management strategies for job-hunters

Seeking work can turn into a full-time job if you let it—and that’s a problem if you must juggle job-hunting alongside studying, current work responsibilities, and family commitments. The trick is to take control of the time you spend by being organised and careful.

Think of job-search time as a fixed task on your agenda. Some people find it works best if done daily for one hour, others set aside part or all of one day per week. But make sure it’s scheduled, not ad hoc. Use a timer if necessary to keep you on track.

Before you get to work make sure you have everything at hand that you’ll need, to avoid the trap of stopping to search for documents or get a snack. Also, make it known to anyone you share space with that you need this task to be uninterrupted.

You should also create set times for making any essential job-search phone calls, taking into account time-zone differences and work hours in advance. This will help you avoid playing time-consuming games of answering-machine roulette.

Stick to job sites that specialise in your main work area, create good email search subscriptions, and set one or two times during your week to look through the results rather than always opening them straight away when they arrive. Otherwise, it’s too easy to be pulled into browsing through long lists of jobs you really have no interest in, at frequent intervals that invite shallow reading and lack of comparison.

You are more than the sum of your thesis

There is plenty of advice out there for those undertaking PhDs, preparing for vivas, and publishing doctoral work – challenging tasks that push many to breaking point. But what happens in the months and years after one is ‘doctored’ is a much more complicated matter. All the warnings of post-project depression and harrowing tales of postdoctoral purgatory force us to hold on to our theses, and related specialism, as if it were a life raft or parachute – our only hope for survival.

It’s publish or perish, in this job market, and academic publishing starts with the often awkward and laborious translation of the dissertation into a book manuscript, and/or a series of articles and book chapters. Such a task can feel counterintuitive to those recovering from submission and viva-related stress, when burying the cursed thing deep underground seems a much better option. Instead, we are told to quickly capitalise on the work we have done in those intensive years of study – presenting our work at conferences and refining our specialist USP, until we are so sick of if that we forget what interested us about it in the first place.

I realise this is not everyone’s experience, and that many go on to cherish and learn from their thesis for years after finishing. But I’d like to make a case for why you don’t have to feel forever chained to your unpublished tome, making use of every last footnote and establishing yourself as an expert in something that may have caught and held your attention for only a short time. Such intense loyalty to a single project is not required in other industries and professions, and should arise from genuine interest, not a sense of obligation. Nevertheless, it is generally thought unadvisable and somewhat taboo to lose momentum or change direction at an early postdoctoral stage, unless one plans to leave academia altogether. I’d like to boldly suggest that we should be able to have it both ways.

Here are a few reasons why diversifying your interests can make you a better and happier professional, in whatever line(s) of work you choose. According to Gestalt psychology, it is our ability to create a ‘global’ or whole perception that transcends singular events and experiences, allowing us to cope with the fragmented and chaotic world around us. From this perspective, the thesis is just one thing among many, related to but certainly not constitutive of our worldview or achievements to date.

Writing a PhD is an achievement in itself. It’s difficult, takes a long time, and demands more of your personal and professional life than most regular jobs. For those reasons, feel good about finishing and try to ignore pressure to ‘make something of it’ as soon as possible. I know a lot of people who regret publishing their thesis soon after graduating, and others who benefited from waiting for their ideas to gestate and their thinking to mature. Personally, I think it’s better to wait, and to relish a little in what you have done already, before taking the next steps (in whatever direction).

Versatility is advantageous. Deciding not to pursue an opportunity or line of enquiry because it doesn’t fall within the remit of your specialism is short sighted and deprives you of fresh experiences. Discard the thesis blinkers and see the world anew – along with new ways of engaging with it. Being able to think and write responsively is an important and valuable skill and outlet for expression, and it can be much more inspiring that rearticulating the same content over and over in slightly different ways. You’ll also miss out on exciting collaborations with people who know a lot about other things, whom you might mutually benefit from talking to or working with.

PhD skills really are transferable. Over the course of 3 to 4 years you have not only amassed knowledge but also learned how to teach yourself, to manage time and information, and most of all, to write. I remember seeing smoke coming off my rapidly typing fingers in the final weeks of writing up. I may have been hallucinating at that point, but I have no doubt that I broke through some kind of barrier in terms of getting complex thoughts out of my head and into words with amazing speed and clarity. This skill has stayed with me, albeit without the smoke effects, and as a freelance writer it has held me in good stead. The same goes for thinking laterally, synthesising and critically contextualising.

Mega projects are not for everyone. The oft talked about ‘post-thesis breakdown’ is largely the result of having lost purpose or direction – life goes back to normal in the absence of a completely unnatural thesis schedule (typically involving long hours, poor diet choices and lapses in personal hygiene). There’s something strangely addictive about a monomaniacal, all encompassing focus, but make no mistake – this is not the path to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. And, there’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t want to jump straight into the next one, or even feel like one book-sized project in this lifetime is enough.

You can still be interested in the world. By the time they finish, most people have accepted that their thesis is not a ground-breaking magnum opus, and that their eyes (inspiration) proved bigger than their stomachs (capability). This can make you feel like a very small fish in a subsidiary pool, with the few things that you officially know about having been explored more expertly by others. Fear not. The ‘success’ of a thesis (dubious criteria in any case) is by no means a measure for your capacity to be a cultural commentator and has no bearing on your ability to say something insightful about the complex and remarkable things happening in the world around us. If you have something to say, don’t worry about whether or not you’re qualified to say it. Draw on your diversified vocabulary, analytic scope and sharp eye for detail to articulate something truly compelling.

You can be a specialist and other things too. Just because you may have advertently or inadvertently pigeonholed yourself by writing a thesis, doesn’t mean you can’t break out of your specialism now and then (or fly the coop for good, if you feel so inclined). It’s always refreshing to see academics trying their hand at less familiar content or working in an entirely different way. Side projects are fun, and if you play your cards right they can be lucrative too. You are a professional observer, thinker, researcher and writer, at the very least. And that’s quite a lot, actually.