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A New Year, same old you?

by Tahira Majothi on January 11, 2012

A belated Happy New Year to you. Hope you’re over the post holiday blues. So I don’t know about you but I had a busy but brilliant festive break. In between moving house, watching classic movies and playing with my new born niece, I got to thinking about new beginnings and fresh starts and wondered what advice I would give her (Once a careers adviser, always a careers adviser :-)). Now given that she’s too young at present to take in anything more than some milk every couple of hours, I thought I would write a post for you, not on New Year resolutions (overdone!), but with a focus on 8 tips which I think will be the drivers in terms of career planning this year.

1.    Seek and you shall (eventually) find

In some ways, it doesn’t matter if you are looking for your first graduate job, an (non) academic post, an internal opportunity or a complete career change.

What does matter is self awareness of your skills and behaviours and how they match the employer’s needs, your knowledge of the latest happenings in the sector and your reasons for applying to that employer. Employer feedback tells us that unsuccessful candidates simply struggle to convey these requirements on to their CVs, applications and at interview. It’s probably best to avoid the Jackson Pollock approach when it comes to your career, by which I mean splattering hundreds of your CVs and applications onto the vast canvass that is the jobs market in the vain hope that one will stick. Even in this climate, quality over quantity conveys a lot about you as a potential employee.

Avoid these pitfalls of potential unsuccessful job search by taking a look at our resources on researching employers, our various sector basics guides or attend our workshops on effective career planning and job search. Don’t forget to also read information available by your professional associations, research councils and sector skills councils as well as resources such as Guardian Careers and Guardian Higher Education. You may also find useful global labour market information on the International Labour Organization website here.

2.    A CV is for life not just for Christmas!

Never assume that your CV will be the first that lands on an employer’s desk or indeed that they will look at it at 9.00am in the morning, with a cup of coffee all alert and ready to absorb all the information in front of them at a leisurely pace. Hectic workloads and not to mention general information overload, mean that it’s imperative that you get your credentials across to an employer succinctly. So if you haven’t yet changed your CV from a part-time job search CV to a professional graduate level format (You know who you are!) then take a look at our CV guides.

3.    News Flash: Employers still value work experience!

Some of you may feel that getting work experience is easier said than done and at one time I would have agreed with you. I come from a working class background but most of my extended family owned catering and grocery shop businesses (Great for summer jobs, not so much for when it came to having social capital for career connections). I remember being turned down for some graduate jobs because I didn’t have the experience, or couldn’t articulate my experience and even office jobs were hard to come by because I didn’t have the necessary administration skills.

Enter stage left, my best friend, who’d heard that our local Citizens Advice Bureau was looking for volunteers. She had completed a law degree and it helped her get her first job in a Solicitor’s firm and as for me, even though my family questioned my choice of unpaid work experience (“Why do you want to work for free, why not look for paid work?”) my efforts paid off when they secured some funding for an Outreach Worker post. I’ll tell you what, I’m glad I did stick it out, I had five great years working my way up to Advice Service Manager. This role also helped me to identify my next career move into careers guidance and working with university students. Take a look at our jobs and USCATs pages as well as for ideas that may inspire you and help your career.

My colleague Jemma has also recently posted an interesting blog on how work experience can help you to identify pros and cons of working for companies not to mention how to develop and highlight your key skills.

4.    Network your way to success!

I’ll let you into a secret; I can be very socially awkward. I find very difficult to make small talk. Certainly going to university, volunteering and then working has helped to remedy this as well as boost my confidence no end. Even so I can still be a little reserved when meeting new people, so I read recent articles on both the Guardian and BBC website about the value of networking, with great interest. Networking however is just a way to make sure that you are memorable to the people you want to get to know better and for the right reasons.

It’s as much about the people in the ‘room’ as it is about you. Take an interest in what people have to say, be genuine, ask questions and listen to them, which in turn will allow them to see you at your best. The real beauty of this is that today you can network via social media as well as face to face. I’ve ‘accidently’ networked my way into organising events and activities, for example getting to know Cristina Costa, our Research Technologies Development Officer, helped to shape not only my use of social media but also our programme and guest speaker list for last year’s PG Futures event on ‘Career Management in the Digital Age’. Speaking with my Enterprise colleague and her counterpart at Manchester University helped us to devise a joint Enterprise Futures event with Manchester Metropolitan University. Social Media in particular Twitter and LinkedIn has allowed me to communicate with other careers professionals.  If you’re unsure of how to get started when it comes to networking, why not attend our workshops on Networking your way to success and Assertiveness ahead of employer events and careers fairs.

5.    Social Media

Even employers recognise that they are likely to be recruiting tech savvy graduates in the coming years. This means that a lot of companies are playing catch up in trying to figure out how to use social media to further their recruitment and business interests and stay relevant. Social media has certainly been a cultural game changer in terms of the way we approach our work/ research. With the advent of smart phones and computer tablets, it’s now just as easy to switch on to your social media accounts as it is to turn a kettle on. It’s not so much how long will social media be around for, but what’s next in the digital evolution in terms of how we communicate, connect and engage with information, events and people all across the world. But to quote an overused phrase “With great power, comes great responsibility”, it’s easy to set up social media accounts, but how to use them effectively, why the differing platforms, which one best meets your needs, what does netiquette mean? We may not have an app for that but we certainly have social media workshops as part of the SPoRT programme as well as our central careers workshops.

6.    Be Enterprising!

You may wish to set up your own business or become a consultant as part of your longer term career aspirations. However being enterprising can be just as important whilst working for others, in terms of ideas you bring to the table, being creative, tenacious and having the determination to see your ideas through to fruition. As well as our upcoming Enterprise Futures event, we have brilliant support available for would-be entrepreneurs; take a look at our Enterprise pages.

7.    Find a Mentor, be a mentor!

A mentor is someone impartial who usually has the benefit of life experience and is willing to counsel you, be it in your personal life, education or career. They may be a friend, colleague/s, supervisor, or someone assigned to you at work. Having had the benefit of being both a Mentor and Mentee, I can say that when it works well, it can be a very insightful and rewarding working relationship. Cristina wrote a great blog on this very topic. Remember by way of mentoring, you can also join our Salford PhDs Past and Present Group on LinkedIn, keep in touch with us if you are Salford Alumni as well as our BEAMS mentoring project.

8.    Reflect and Learn

Now be honest do you actually take time out to reflect on your career decisions as well as aspirations? Have you done a SWOT analysis or used the Researcher Development Framework  to map your experiences, skills and behaviours? What experiences or skills are lacking? What do you think employers look for and how can you demonstrate your transferable skills?

It’s just as important to take a break and think about next steps, how else can you effectively produce a CV or research options if you don’t have a point of reference? Take a look at this useful post entitled ‘Reflecting on the Value of your PhD’ for key tips.

So there you have it folks, my 8 tips for career planning for the year ahead. Now I’ll let you into another secret here, social media aside, these aren’t really new or indeed surprising tips. They are however timely reminders of essential approaches you should take, when it comes to career planning and future proofing your prospects.

I’d love to hear any further tips you may have. What’s the best piece of careers advice you’ve ever been given?

Photo: Flickr, Artist: gainesmary28, Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Job Coaching February 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Hi Tahira,

There’s some excellent advice in this post. Networking can open a lot of doors that wouldn’t have otherwise been accessible.

When not in work, it’s important to stay productive. Volunteering or internships with relevant organisations are an excellent way to gain experience; whilst ensuring the are no gaps in your CV. This also offers great opportunity to network with other industry professionals.

Best wishes, Alex.


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