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5 things to gain from International Development Week

Joe O'Brien18 January 2021

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Glyn Jones, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.

UCL Careers will be running a series of online events between 1 – 4 February focusing on careers within International Development. The week will kick off with an introductory session, followed by panel discussions throughout the week, giving you the opportunity to hear from professionals working in the industry. These panel events are an excellent opportunity to hear about new career pathways, as well as giving you the opportunity to gain sector insights from people working in the industry.

Below we’ve highlighted 5 things that you will gain from attending events run during the International Development Themed Week.

  1. An introduction to International Development

Throughout the themed week you’ll learn about what working in International Development means and find out what opportunities there are for graduates.

On Monday 1 February, the week will start with an introductory session run by a UCL Careers Consultant. This will provide an overview of International Development as a work sector, and offer advice on how to get the most out of the week. Registration for this talk is now open and bookings can be made through the event page.

  1. Hear from UCL Alumni working in the industry

When thinking about your own career prospects, it can often be beneficial to hear from others and see what pathway they have undertaken. By hearing from UCL Alumni you’ll be getting insights from those who have been in the same position as you and have the opportunity to gain any tips that they may share from their own experiences.

We have numerous UCL Alumni joining us throughout the week, and on Thursday 4 February we have our ‘Connecting with UCL Alumni’ event, which will focus solely on UCL Alumni. To find out more about the event take a look at the event page.

  1. Learn about different career pathways

Our events will offer insights into the range of careers and employers who work in the sector. As well as hearing these first-hand accounts, we will have a session focusing on the different career pathways within the sector. This event will enable attendees to hear about the variety of routes available to graduates, whether these are specific programmes associated with International Development, graduate vacancies or alternative career pathways that can lead to working in the industry.

For further information about our ‘Pathways into International Development’ event, take a look at the event page.

  1. Learn about how the sector has been impacted by Covid 19

Throughout all the events we’ll hear about how the pandemic has changed the work of our panellists and the sector as a whole. Given the huge impact of Covid 19, we’ll also have a dedicated session that will look into how the sector has had to adapt as a result.

Our event on Tuesday 2nd February focuses on International Economic Development and the impact of Covid-19 on the sector. For more information on the event, visit the event page.

  1. Grow your professional network

Throughout our events, you’ll have the opportunity to put your own questions to the experts. Furthermore, for some panellists we will set up individual rooms for speakers at the end of the session, giving you the opportunity to speak directly with panellists. Not only are these opportunities a unique way to learn first-hand about what working in International Development is really like, but you’ll also have the chance to grow your professional network.

For full details of all event hosted throughout the week and how to register for events, please visit the International Development Themed Week webpage.

Bookings Open for Charities & NGOs Week 2021

Joe O'Brien11 January 2021

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Sarah Sirrell, Information Officer at UCL Careers.

This year’s Charities and NGOs Week kicks off on Monday 25 January 2021. The main focus this year is on getting into the sector and making a difference. Whether you are committed to pursuing a career in a Charity or NGO, or just exploring your options; join our virtual panel sessions and workshops to hear from professionals working in the sector who are keen to share their experience and tips with you. This year we are excited to welcome speakers from Save the Children International, Unicef UK, British Heart Foundation, WWF-UK, The National Trust, and many more.

View the Charities & NGOs Week event schedule for more information and booking links.

Want to hear from someone with firsthand experience of working with a charity?

We heard from Sam Huddlestone, a UCL student who recently volunteered remotely with Age UK offering virtual poetry classes for older adults. Sam told us about his experience of volunteering and the impact that volunteering had on his career aspirations.

Please provide a little further information on your background; what are you currently studying and when did you do your internship/work experience?

I am currently a third year BA English Literature student and I volunteered with Age UK Kensington and Chelsea over the course of the summer of 2020.

Why did you choose to work for this organisation?

The combination of the COVID-19 lockdown, my having nothing to do over summer, and the advertisement of the volunteering position on the Student’s Union website all sort of directed me towards the placement. Age UK Kensington and Chelsea are also my local branch of Age UK and so I wanted to help out the best I could, in any way that I could – volunteering for them seemed the best way for me to be able to do that.

How did you get the job with the company? Is there anything that you would recommend to any students should they wish to get into this Sector?

I applied for the position via the Student’s Union volunteering webpage – I would recommend that students at UCL who want to volunteer consult this facility as it has some excellent opportunities available.

What were the main project(s) that you were working on during your time with the company?

I hosted weekly online poetry sessions for thirteen weeks via Zoom for Age UK Kensington and Chelsea. This involved choosing several individual poems or poets to discuss with the group every session, much like a book club. My session was part of a whole host of others that Age UK had been providing their members with over the course of the COVID-19 lockdown, during spring and into the summer, ranging from Yoga classes to Spanish classes.

What were the biggest challenges?

I think the biggest challenge was attempting to overcome my own technical ineptitude and lack of Zoom expertise (turns out not all young people are good with technology). Getting the chance to join other sessions before hosting my own was certainly a good introduction.

How did this affect you personally, working within the Charity/NGO Sector?

I think it affected me a great deal. I developed a real connection with the members in the sessions, I think because we had all been brought together by two very disparate and yet somehow conducive entities: a passion for poetry and a global pandemic. And yet, for an hour a week, we were able to forget about the latter and just enjoy reading poetry, and I must say, for the time that I hosted those sessions, they were the thing that I looked forward to most in my week.

What measurable benefits have you seen within the Company, or within the certain areas of the business that you were working in?

I can’t speak to the overall running of Age UK, or even to the Kensington and Chelsea branch thereof, but I do know that as an organization they relied, and still rely, on volunteers to help out with the running of these sessions for their members. I would hope that my volunteering with them meant that they were able to offer one more session than they had before and that by documenting my fantastic experience with them – in a way such as this – will help to encourage other students to get involved and volunteer with organisations like Age UK, and by doing so benefit organisations such as Age UK by, perhaps more importantly, benefitting its members.

What was the most rewarding element of your experience?

The most rewarding element was – as clichéd as it sounds – the feeling of making a difference, even if that difference felt infinitesimal in the grand scheme of this horrible pandemic. It seems to me that I’ve unduly gained more out of the experience than all the work I put in during my time as a volunteer, which is testament to the experience itself, and to the people I’ve met over the course of doing it.

How has this experience affected your career aspirations/plans?

There’s no doubting that my being able to lead weekly classes on poetry, fairly independently, certainly honed my teaching skills and led me to consider academia as a career option to a greater extent than I had done before. However, it has also opened my eyes to how a charity like Age UK operates and, having now seen the fantastic work they do first-hand, I would happily work for them again in the future.

Check out the UCLU Volunteering Service for volunteering opportunities big and small and don’t forget to sign up for the exciting events at UCL Careers Charities and NGOs Week 2021.

Introduction to Government & Policy Week 2020

Joe O'Brien22 October 2020

Read time: 2 minutes

Written by Nasima Bashar, Internships & Vacancies Administrator at UCL Careers.

Monday 26 October marks the start of UCL Careers Government & Policy Themed Week. You will find below a run through of the range of events organised to inspire and engage those who are interested in a career within the public sector, as well as those who are yet undecided. This is your chance to meet with organisations in this sector – to hear from and network with a range of guests from recent graduates to senior officials.

The following events are open to students and recent graduates from all degree disciplines and all of the events below are now bookable through your ‘myUCLCareers’ account.

All events will take place remotely.

Introduction to Government & Policy Careers
Monday 26 October: 1-2pm BST
Join representatives from the Civil Service in a talk introducing careers within this exciting sector.

Panel Discussion: Careers in the Heart of Government
Tuesday 27 October:  6-7.30pm BST
Hear from speakers working across the UK Civil Service. Guests from the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA)Cabinet Office, and the UK Civil Service Fast stream will talk about their careers to date. This event will include Q&A and a networking opportunity. 

Panel Discussion: Influencing Policy
Wednesday 28 October:  6-7.30pm BST
Hear from representatives of some of the shapers of public policy. Speakers include DEFRADCMSUniversities UK and HM Treasury. This event will include Q&A and a networking opportunity. 

Workshop: Implementing Policy
Thursday 29 October:  12-2pm BST
Guests from the Civil Service will guide you through the policy making process. You will work through a group exercise; designing and evaluating policy options to recommend for implementation. You will receive feedback throughout this process and guidance on how to approach policy recommendations.

Exploring International Careers in Government & Policy
Available from Friday 30 October 9am BST
Watch the interviews to gain some valuable insights from UCL Alumni now working in this sector across the world in a wide range of roles. Interviews will be available at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/about/events/themed-weeks/government – Watch this space!

Apply now for UCL Connected Learning Internships

Joe O'Brien20 October 2020

Read time: 2 minutes

Written by Victoria Abbott, Recruitment & Selection Advisor at UCL Careers.

Are you looking to gain some experience to add to your CV? Or would you like an opportunity to reflect on your current strengths and develop new skills?

Then check out the UCL Connected Learning Internships scheme, advertised on myUCLCareers from 22 October 2020.

Paid internships are available across a range of academic and professional service departments throughout UCL, and you can apply for up to two opportunities that are most suited to your skill set, experience and motivations.

The internships are for 35 hours either full or part-time; and will run between 1 December 2020 and 29 January 2021.

What can I gain from a UCL Connected Learning Internship?

  1. Employability skills

Over 140 students working across 74 projects completed a UCL Connected Learning Internship during July and August 2020. Student feedback confirmed that these opportunities greatly improved key employability skills, including written and verbal communication, teamwork and collaboration, planning and organising, problem-solving, decision-making and even creativity.

‘Really enjoyed the internship. Interesting content and useful transferable skills that I’ll take forwards.’* 

  1. Designated support

You will also be supported by a designated supervisor within the hiring department, so you will have plenty of help and guidance throughout the opportunity.

‘I loved my team and how accommodating and friendly they were. They gave me a lot of flexibility and allowed me to try to pursue what I want to get out of the internship.’*

  1. Self-Reflection

After completing a self-reflection tool, you will also have the option to discuss your experience with a member of the UCL Careers team, to fully reflect on how the internship has supported your employability skills development. This is a great chance for you to articulate your new skills, competencies and motivations on your CV and within future applications.

‘It was an amazing opportunity to help the department, knowing that this will have an impact on the students.’*

  1. Income

Internships are paid at the London Living Wage, so are a great opportunity to obtain both an income and gain some valued skills and experience at the same time.

‘A great experience that led on to a further 8 week post.’*

Do I need to meet any particular criteria to apply?

  1. UCL Student

You must be a current UCL student to apply.

  1. Time Commitment

You should also ensure you can commit enough time to complete the internship during the period specified and as agreed with the host UCL department.

  1. Online/Remote Working

Internships will be conducted online, so you must have the ability to work independently (and remotely) and the circumstances to carry out the work in this way.

  1. Individual Role Requirements

Each internship will have specific requirements, so please do check the individual role descriptors for each internship that you wish to apply for.

Remember that you can book a one to one appointment with a member of the UCL Careers team for personalised practical tips and advice to help you better understand how recruiters will shortlist your applications and how you can best demonstrate your motivation and your most relevant skills and experience.

When is the deadline for applying?

The deadline for applications is 4 November 2020, so check out the opportunities available and start planning your applications now.

Apply now via myUCLCareers

Good luck!

*Quotes from students who completed a UCL Connected Learning Internship during July and August 2020

Government & Policy Week: Working in Non-Political Think Tanks – Interview with Dr Moira Faul, Executive Director NORRAG, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies Geneva

Joe O'Brien12 October 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Sally Brown, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.

So, what is NORRAG and what do they do? 

The network for international policies and cooperation in education and training (NORRAG) is a global network of 5,000 members for international policies and cooperation in education and training. NORRAG’s strength lies in addressing under-researched questions of quality and equity in key issues in education and development, and in amplifying under-represented expertise, particularly from the South. NORRAG’s core mandate is to produce, disseminate and broker analytical research and to build capacity for and with the wide range of stakeholders who constitute our network. Our stakeholders from academia, governments, NGOs, international organizations, foundations and the private sector inform and shape education policies and practice at national and international levels. Through our work, NORRAG contributes to creating the conditions for more participatory, evidence-informed decisions that improve equal access to and quality of education and training. NORRAG is an associate programme of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.

What is a think tank and how does NORRAG differ from other types of think tanks?

Most generically, think tanks are knowledge-producing organisations that are not universities. Some may be affiliated to specific political parties or positions, and their research is more politically motivated. Others, like NORRAG, are affiliated to universities and while the research they do is more applied than might be found in university social science departments, it remains analytical. Among analytical think tanks, NORRAG differentiates itself through our focus on surfacing and amplifying priorities and perspectives of experts from the global South and East alongside those from the North and West.

What led you to this role?

While my career ambitions have always been focused on a leadership position in international development and education, my path to this role has been quite circuitous! Originally from Zimbabwe, I held senior managerial positions in private sector adult education in Spain (1997-2001) and China (2002-03), and was then Head of Education and Youth Policy (UK) at Oxfam GB (2003-2009). My work led me to a question I couldn’t answer on Oxfam’s time, so I started a funded PhD at the University of Cambridge (2009-13), after which I managed a research-policy exchange programme. After moving to Geneva in 2015, I worked as Research Fellow at the UN Research Institute for Social Development (2015-16) and at the Public-Private Partnership Research Centre at the University of Geneva, before being promoted to Deputy Director and Senior Research Fellow (2016-19) at the Public-Private Partnership Research Centre.

What issues are currently affecting the work that NORRAG does? Do you feel similar organisations are also being affected in the same way?

The biggest challenge that non-political think tanks face is funding, although NORRAG suffer less than many since we are generously supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and Open Societies Foundation, as well as through research grants. Funding has always been tight, especially core funds that support the whole institution, but has become increasingly difficult for us and our partners. Increased government funding earmarked for applied development research is certainly helping.

Another, more positive, matter relates to the global Sustainable Development Agenda, in which organisations that may have specialised in one issue area or another (the environment, say, or health) are being challenged to consider the intersections between their specialisation and that of others: how does what happens in health affect the environment and vice versa? Education has such deep transversal effects on all aspects of sustainability that this is a challenge that NORRAG welcomes and actively embraces.

If a student/recent graduate were to apply to NORRAG – or similar – what do you feel would make an application stand-out?

Graduate applicants need to show that they have the technical research skills and knowledge base required for the post for which they’re applying: we research themes as diverse as public and private education finance, digitisation, education data (from children and schools through to international organisations and networks). They would also need to demonstrate congruence with our values of research integrity and analytical rigour, in addition to our vision of equal access to quality education and amplifying expertise from the South.

Do you have any top tips for students/recent graduates wanting to get into this sector/think tanks?

Do your homework on the organisation you’re applying to! Even more so than in other fields. There are so many different types of think tanks that there’s bound to be one that fits what you’re looking for; but you have to take the responsibility of making sure of that.

Plan for Your Future with UCL’s Finalists Careers Toolkit

Joe O'Brien24 August 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Nicole Estwick, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers

The summer may be coming to an end, but for those about to start their final year at UCL, you may already be thinking about what may be in store in the months ahead especially in these unprecedented times.

What is the Finalists Careers Toolkit?

To support throughout your last year at UCL and beyond, UCL Careers has created the Finalist Careers Toolkit– a short, optional online Moodle course which aims to help you engage with your career planning before you enter your final year of study. Whether you’re considering your options for after your degree, or know what you want to do and are about to enter application processes, you’ll find informative video tutorials and useful insights and resources to help you succeed.

What will I learn?

By accessing the Finalists Careers Toolkit you’ll…

  1. Gain an early understanding of the graduate job market and know when to apply

As you return to your studies in the autumn, this is the time many employers open their application processes to graduates who will be finishing their degree the following year.

Accessing the Finalists Careers Toolkit course ahead of your first term will help to ensure you are ahead of key dates and don’t miss deadlines for opportunities you may wish to pursue. This will be particularly important this year as the graduate job market adapts to the challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic. Seeking the valuable advice of UCL Careers staff on the course will help to give you an advantage when you look for roles during your final year.

  1. Explore your options and progress your career thinking

Some of you may already have a particular career you would like to pursue in mind once you leave UCL, whilst others may still be assessing what they can do next on completion of their degree.

The Finalist Careers Toolkit can also help you in identifying and researching the options available to you with video content and online resources outlining effective strategies you can use to evaluate the different pathways you can take, helping you to make positive steps forward whatever is next in your career plans.

  1. Assess whether further study is right for you and how to apply for postgraduate courses

We know that a proportion of students may not go on to pursue full time work after their bachelor’s degree and instead may look to do a Masters or another postgraduate qualification.

The Finalists Careers Toolkit offers an insight into the application process for further study along with guidance on funding postgraduate courses helping you to consider whether or not you should do a Masters to support your longer term career plans.

  1. Get application ready

For those set to start applying for graduate roles this autumn, the Finalists Careers Toolkit also provides practical tips and advice to get you application ready from the start of the academic year.

The course includes sections on writing effective applications and delivering successful interviews and presentations with detailed examples of good and bad techniques in each area that you can apply to applications you will be preparing during the year.

  1. Find advice on working in the UK and abroad

At UCL, we  know that some international students will be exploring the possibility of staying to work in the UK after their bachelor’s degree, whilst others will be looking forward to working or completing further study in their home or a third country.

In the Finalists Careers Toolkit, we provide guidance on both of these areas as well as sharing key resources for working abroad ensuring you are equipped with the best tools for your international job search.

  1. Refresh yourself on the support available to you at UCL ahead of the new academic year

Finally, the Finalists Careers Toolkit provides a useful overview of UCL Careers and the services we provide.

The first few weeks of the new term are typically very busy so why not use the course to get a refresher on the support available to you and get a head start on accessing our service so you can maximise your chances of success in your final year at UCL.

How do I access it?

You can access the Finalist Careers Toolkit now via the Moodle link below:


Start Planning for Your Future with UCL’s Masters Careers Essentials Course

Joe O'Brien17 August 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Nicole Estwick, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers

The new academic year may not be underway just yet, but for incoming postgraduate students, planning your year ahead as well as planning for your future after UCL can start now with UCL Careers’ Masters Careers Essentials Course.

This short, optional online course is open to all incoming postgraduate students and aims to provide you with a useful set of starting points for thinking about your future career direction and successfully applying for what you want to do.

So why should you sign up? Here’s five excellent reasons to complete the Masters Careers Essentials course:

  1. Get an early understanding of the graduate job market and know when to apply

As many postgraduate students begin their studies in the autumn, this is the time many employers open their application processes to graduates who will be finishing their degree the following year. The same also goes for PhD applications which generally open around this time too.

Accessing the Masters Careers Essentials course ahead of your first term will help to ensure you are ahead of key dates and don’t miss deadlines for opportunities you may wish to pursue. This will be particularly important this year as the graduate job market adapts to the challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic. Seeking the valuable advice of UCL Careers staff on the course will give you an advantage when you begin looking for roles during and after you have finished your course.

  1. Know your options and progress your career thinking

Some of you may have taken up further study with a particular career in mind, whilst others may still be assessing what they can do next on completion of their Masters.

The Masters Careers Essentials online course can also help you in identifying and researching the options available to you with video content and online resources outlining effective strategies you can use to evaluate the different pathways you can take, helping you to make positive steps forward in your career planning.

  1. Get application ready

For those seeking opportunities during their studies as well as after, Masters Careers Essentials also provides practical tips and advice to get you ready to make applications as soon as you join us.

The course includes sections on writing effective applications and delivering successful interviews and presentations with detailed examples of good and bad techniques in each area that you can apply to applications you will be preparing during the year.

  1. International student? Get advice on working in the UK and abroad

At UCL, we welcome students from all around the globe to study with us and we know that some international students will be exploring the possibility of staying to work in the UK after their Masters degree, while others will be looking forward to working or starting a PhD in their home or a third country.

In the Masters Careers Essentials course, we provide guidance on both of these areas as well as sharing key resources for working abroad ensuring you are equipped with the best tools for your international job search.

  1. Find out about the support available to you at UCL ahead of the new academic year

Finally, the Masters Careers Essentials course allows you to get familiar with UCL Careers and the service we provide ahead of the new academic year.

Your first few weeks will no doubt be busy so why not get a head start on understanding what careers support is available to you so you can maximise your chances of success from day one of your degree.

Register for the Masters Careers Essentials course

If you have any technical problems with signing up to the course, please contact extend@ucl.ac.uk for technical assistance.

Accessing Careers at a Time That Suits You – Careers Essentials Online Moodle

Joe O'Brien12 August 2020

Read time: 4 minutes

Written by Lee Pike, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.

Did you know you can access careers 24/7? That’s right! Whether you’re an early riser or a bit of a night owl, you can access essential careers help and guidance at a time that suits you.

Our one-to-one appointments, workshops, and employer events take place during ‘core’ hours.  Outside these hours you can still access a wealth of information through Careers Essentials Online. This is a video-based, interactive course on Moodle, designed to provide insight and practical tools for students at any stage of their career-thinking.

  1. Careers Essentials Online Structure

The online course has six modules to help guide you through whatever stage of career thinking you might be at. You can go through each in turn or just those that appeal or apply to you in the moment. Below is a list of each module with some descriptive text of each.

Module 1 – Your future and how to work towards it

  • Learn how to make next-step career decisions and understand more about yourself and what might be important to you.
  • Find out how to generate potential career options and carry out job research.
  • You can then approach the task of sourcing opportunities with confidence.

Module 2 – Understanding the graduate job market

  • We’ll demystify phrases like ‘Graduate Schemes’, ‘competencies’ and the ‘hidden job market’.
  • Understand more about the reality of looking for jobs / work experience.
  • Learn what employers look for when recruiting at graduate level.

Module 3 – Sourcing jobs and work experience

  • Understand the best sources of advertised jobs and work experience.
  • Learn strategies to access opportunities that are ‘hidden’ and how to apply for unadvertised work.
  • Find out how best to utilise the services of a recruitment agency.

Module 4 – Effective CV, cover letters and applications

  • Understand how to personalise a CV to a specific role to increase your chances of selection.
  • See examples of model cover letters.
  • Find out how to answer motivation and competency-based questions on application forms.

Module  5 – Interview success

  • Understand how the majority of interview questions are predictable.
  • Learn how to approach an interview including answer preparation by using relevant structures / evidence.
  • Learn how to create a great first impression.

Module 6 – Planning for success – managing your job hunt

  • Understand how to create a strategy to help you plan and move forward with your career thinking and job hunting.
  • Learn how to stay motivated and resilient on your journey.
  1. Module Structure

Each module has four sections: Interactive Tutorial; Support Centre; Key Resources; and, Feedback.

Interactive Tutorial

Interactive Tutorials are full of insight, advice and exercises to help you through each module topic. They range between 20 to 45 minutes to complete. An Australian study compared online tutorials using interactive material with electronic book material. It found that the interactive tutorials produce better results than non-interactive online tutorials.

Support Centre

The Support Centre is where you’ll find links that enable you to book a one-to-one appointment with a Careers Consultant or Applications Advisor. You’ll also find links to careers events, workshops and careers fairs. All events that are usually face-to-face are currently running virtually via Microsoft Teams and other virtual platforms. If you use the Careers Essentials Online before your face-to-face appointment, the appointment will likely be more focused as you’ll have a much better understanding of your issues before you meet.

Key Resources

The Key Resources are a selection of short downloadable mini-guides pertinent to the module topic. Many of these resources form part of the interactive tutorials. This section provides quick access to them rather than needing to go through the Interactive Tutorial.


Feedback is an important part of the Careers Essentials Online Moodle. We always want to improve our offering to you and your feedback is invaluable!

Next steps

Why not…?

  • Make a cup of tea and settle down to an interactive tutorial. You will learn something new at a pace that suits you.
  • Have a look at the services that are available to you through myUCLCareers and UCL Careers Events Programme.
  • Use the key resources from each module. Another fantastic source of online resources is the Careers library.
  • Provide feedback so the Careers Service can continue to improve the Careers Essentials Online Moodle – we’d love to hear from you!

How to Shine Like a STAR in Your Next Application…

Joe O'Brien17 July 2020

Read time: 4 minutes

Written by Victoria Abbott, Recruitment & Selection Advisor at UCL Careers.

With potentially fewer opportunities available in the graduate jobs market due to the current situation, you’re even more determined to complete your internship application to the very best of your ability. You’ve added your personal details, academic qualifications and previous work experience and you should have everything ready to send by the end of the day.

Then disaster strikes – you need to answer the dreaded competency questions section. You can feel the panic rising, and you rack your brain for anything you can write about, any anecdote or example that might satisfy the topic in question.

But fear not, as an experienced recruiter, I’ve spent many an hour pouring over hundreds of competency based application answers – the good and the bad. Competency questions can be difficult to answer, but by using the following simple strategy and some good storytelling, I promise that you will come up with answers to impress even the most cynical of recruiters.

Reveal all, I hear you say.

Here goes…prepare to be amazed by the mighty power of the STAR method.

STAR provides you with a simple, straightforward technique to answer both competency and strength based application questions by telling a meaningful and impactful story about your previous experiences. Don’t forget, the same tips also apply when answering questions during an interview.

STAR is an acronym that stands for Situation, Task, Action & Result.

(S) Situation – set the scene.

(T) Task – define the problem, goal or issue.

(A) Action – explain in detail your actions: expand on the what, how and why.

(R) Result – describe the outcome and show your success in using that skill.

You could also reflect on the experience at the end of your answer and tell the recruiter what you learnt or would do differently next time.

Let’s run through an example to fully develop your understanding. Imagine the application asks you the following question:

Can you describe a situation where you had to demonstrate excellent leadership?

Let’s break down the answer in the following way:

(Situation) Whilst studying for my degree at University…

(Task) …my study group were struggling to reach a decision on how to complete our class coursework.

(Action) What you did? I took responsibility over the situation, and organised a class meeting after our weekly seminar.

(Action) How you did it? I produced a timetable for the meeting to ensure all relevant points were discussed, ensured everyone had the chance to speak and raise their views, and then organised for a vote at the end of the meeting so that a decision on how to proceed was reached quickly and fairly.

(Action) Why you did it? I decided to manage the issue in this way to ensure that our coursework deadlines were not missed, and to avoid unnecessary conflict.

(Result) As a result, our coursework was submitted on time, class morale was boosted and we received an excellent grade.

Can you see how the answer uses the STAR method to fully develop the story and provide rich detail to the experience?

Remember to use an appropriate example in your answer, as you still need to be able to fully demonstrate the relevant skill being assessed, e.g. ‘Leadership,’ as per the above example. You should also aim to keep the Situation and Task sections simple and concise, whilst spending approximately 70-80% of your word-count on fully developing the Action section.

Take some time out now to brainstorm some of the different tasks and experiences you’ve been involved in, and how you can adapt them to demonstrate different skills. Remember that time spent volunteering or participating in extra-curricular activities is just as relevant as work experience here.

Have a bank of competency questions and answers ready, and you will always be prepared to shine like a STAR in that next application (or interview).

And remember that you can still book an online application advice appointment if you want to run through any specific competency questions with a trained advisor before you submit your applications.

Good luck!

How to Ensure Your CV Stands Out

Joe O'Brien14 May 2020

Read time: 5 minutes

Written by Emily Oliphant, Recruitment Selection Adviser at UCL Careers.

Before I dive in, I would like to take the opportunity to say that, amidst the strangest and most unpredictable times we have possibly ever known, UCL Careers is still running on full steam!  Although the challenges we are currently facing could hopefully be temporary and we look forward to the regular rhythm of the graduate recruitment market resuming in the not so distant future, there has been a drop in roles available (read our recent update on vacancies and job opportunities in light of Covid-19 for more information), which in turn could see the application process becoming even more competitive than before. To make sure you’re maximising your chances I thought I’d introduce you to my background and knowledge within the recruitment sector and share my key tips for helping your CV stand out!

Having started out in professional services recruitment over three years ago and joining UCL Careers in September 2019, I can confidently say that I’ve seen a fair few CVs in my time!

If there’s one thing that all graduates are aware of, it’s how competitive the graduate job market really is.  There were times that even I was surprised at how many applications I would receive in the first 24 hours of the job being posted online!  Therefore, there was only one key element that I had to apply when I was shortlisting candidates – SPEED.

Every recruiter works differently, but in my experience I can say with conviction that when I was faced with shortlisting 5 candidates out of a possible 200, I spent no longer than 15 seconds looking at a CV before I decided to either keep on reading or whether the candidate was rejected.  15 seconds.

‘How can that be!?’ I hear you ask, ‘I spent days putting that together!’.  The only way you’ll appreciate why recruiters are so brutal with their shortlisting techniques is by putting yourself in their shoes.

The standard number of jobs a Recruitment Consultant works on at once ranges, depending on the industries and departments they are servicing and types of roles they are recruiting for.  Personally, I ordinarily had around 20 roles to fill at any one time.  That means you have 20 HR/Recruitment Managers chasing you for a shortlist until you send one over.  Imagine you have 100 applications for each role to sift through…. That’s 2000 CVs to read right there.  And remember, this is only one element of a recruiter’s role!  As the CV mountain is climbing to Everest heights in your inbox, you have to manage reading all of them in between calling and meeting all of the HR Managers with updates and holding both phone and face-to-face interviews with all of the selected candidates.  Therefore, on an especially busy day, dedicating 15 seconds per CV could actually end up being decidedly generous.

So, in order to make yourself stand out you have to try to think like a recruiter.  To help you get started, think about the MAD SEA* of CVs recruiters are dealing with and try to apply these six key points when writing your own….

(*A slightly desperate attempt at a memorable anagram …!)

  • One of the easiest ways to catch a recruiter’s eye is to mirror the job description the recruiters have supplied you with.
  • For example, if it’s a Graduate Programme you’re applying for make sure your Education section is the first section on your CV, that way you’re ticking off their first box immediately.
  • If they are asking for specific skills in the qualifications section, make sure you are mentioning as many of them as you can throughout your experience. Mirror their language too – some larger companies are now using software that will be set up to recognise language matches between CVs and job descriptions so don’t be afraid to use exactly the same words they have.
  • Make your CV accessible by keeping your layout simple and professional.
  • There are numerous templates available but I would advise sticking to black and white and to avoid the use of columns and boxes. A confusing layout can make it harder for a recruiter to find what they are looking for quickly!
  • Don’t be afraid that by doing this that your CV won’t stand out. The content should speak for itself if you’ve mirrored their person specification on the job description.
  • You only want to be highlighting relevant details to the recruiter, not telling them your full life story – keep to a maximum of 2 pages.
  • Use bullet points and avoid heavy, long paragraphs. These will ultimately not be digested in 15 seconds and valuable information could be missed!
  • Tangible statistics are always good on a CV as it displays measurable success.
  • For example, instead of stating ‘I effectively increased the social media following’, it would be much for effective if you could be precise and write something like, ‘I increased the social media following by 25% in the first month’.
  • NEVER state you have a skill without providing an example.
  • A list of bullet pointed skills such as ‘teamwork’, ‘communication’, ‘organisation’ is essentially useless as anyone could have it on their CV.
  • Transferable skills are massively important to highlight though, so I recommend starting each bullet point with a key skill and then providing an example which displays you have put the skill into action. Example below –
  • Relationship building: built strong working relationships with three team members to present two group projects as part of my Business Management module
  • This goes from highlighting correct dates for education and work experiences (months AND years, please!) to making sure you have attention to detail.
  • I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen ‘Excellent attention to detail’ stated on a CV to find the bullet points aren’t aligned, different sized fonts have been used and a handful of spelling errors. These kinds of errors immediately damage your credibility – so check, check and check again!

Hopefully, this short blog has given you a snapshot into how you can lift your CV to new heights and break that 15 second barrier!

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