Post-grad-grad Employability: What Next? (part 1)

As a keen bean doing duty as PGT School Rep for my cohort of MA English Studies students, I recently held an employability event. I’ve been to various careers talks targeted at English Literature and Language students throughout my academic career and come away with the following messages:

  1. Getting a job within the publishing, art, library, or heritage sectors is really hard.
  2. Getting a job in academia is really hard.
  3. Be a Teacher.

There’s a perception that arts degrees are useless, and with continual cuts to funding for libraries, galleries and museums, and performing arts programmes, graduates increasingly find themselves in a world that seems to confirm it. This feeling of dread is emphasised when you are told “you’ll never get a job” by a drunk uncle at somebody else’s wedding.

Obviously there are huge obstacles to Arts graduate employment. That said, there is still hope.

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Image: Mad Men, ©AMC TV

Steve Bone from the Careers Service kicked off the afternoon with his ‘Decide, Plan, Compete’ workshop, a guide on choosing and securing your dream grad job from start to finish.

Decide: what do you value in a career?

“Ask yourself why did you choose to do your particular degree? What have you learned from it? What did you enjoy about it?”

The first step to applying for graduate jobs is deciding what to apply for – English, especially, is a great degree to have because it is so versatile – but it can be difficult if you don’t know where to start. Thinking about what you most enjoy (or don’t enjoy) about your degree is a brilliant starting point: you might find that working with books or making a positive difference is really important to you, or that you love the research aspect of your course. You may well hate public speaking and want something quiet, or alternately find that you vastly prefer the group environment of seminars to sitting alone in the library.

If you’re really stuck, or you enjoy taking quizzes, the Prospects Career Planner is a helpful tool for matching your preferences and skills to potential job roles. Remember that over half of graduate jobs are not subject specific, so don’t feel held back.

Plan: how do you find it?

“Approximately 60% of jobs are advertised on social media or through personal connections before they go live.”

Get out there and look for the job you want. Many graduate employers will attend university job fairs and put on events to attract fresh talent, so attend whatever you can. Do your research to find out the industry names and subscribe to mailing lists, and follow them on social media to get the first look at careers events and job vacancies. This works in conjunction with Googling, job centre vacancies etc. If you are already working in a company, most new vacancies are advertised internally first, so keep your eyes peeled for any opportunities to move departments or be promoted.

Browse some vacancies and identify the key words used and the skills required of applicants – you can then tailor your CV and LinkedIn to match.

Compete: how do you stand out?

“The drive and vigour of a postgraduate degree can be a real selling point to employers, showing dedication and ambition.”

Sadly, “I’ve got two degrees” is not enough. However, using your excellent writing skills to make a cracking CV is a good start. For finding your first job, Steve advises drafting a skills-based CV to highlight your achievements and capabilities from your educational and co-curricular experiences that can be transferred into a professional environment.

An employer will read your CV for about 30 seconds before making a snap judgement – so make it easy for them. It should:
1. Be well structured – it should be in reverse chronological order, use headings to separate sections, and make your contact details clearly visible.
2. Include references – obviously ask them first and give a heads up, but including referees’ details demonstrates confidence in yourself and your abilities.
3. Cite real-life examples of your achievements – overcoming obstacles, being trusted with leadership, events you’ve organised. Bonus points if you can include a hyperlink to digital evidence (e.g. conference website, volunteer blog)!

You can find more CV tips on the Leeds University Careers Website.

Finally, Steve said to use your social media presence to further your good impression – Google yourself and remove any ~undesirable~ results away by upping your privacy settings or deleting content. Most employers will Google you during your application, so be sure they’ll find something good. Twitter is a great way to engage with industry contacts, and blogging is especially useful for those entering creative industries to create an online portfolio and advertise your work.

That’s all from the Careers Service workshops – stay tuned for part two of this series later in the week!

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Image: Mad Men, ©AMC TV
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