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Top 10 Tips on Preparing for a Virtual Assessment Centre

Joe O'Brien20 July 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

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

Due to the current situation, many employers around the world are adapting their recruitment strategies to ensure candidates are still able to take part in internships and summer placements. As part of this experience, recruiters are moving interviews and even assessment centres online.

Assessment centres typically consist of several activities run over the course of a day, designed to test how candidates deal with work-related situations. These may include presentations, in-tray exercises, psychometric tests, case studies and group exercises. However, do not be daunted by the thought of this. A virtual assessment centre simply means the whole process will be run online, without the need to visit company offices or meet recruiters face-to-face.

The idea of being assessed through a series of online tasks may be a challenging experience but don’t worry, I have 10 top tips to ensure you are ready for your next virtual assessment centre and boost your chances of success.

  1. Check Your Tech

It’s important to check that your technology is up to scratch prior to the assessment centre. To ensure everything runs smoothly on the day, download any necessary software in advance, and check you are comfortable with any audio and video requirements i.e. using your camera and microphone correctly. Perhaps rehearse speaking clearly and slowly, allowing for any slight delays in transmission, or excessive pixilation or lag. You might also wish to double-check your broadband speeds at different times of the day. Finally, charge your devices so you don’t run out of battery halfway through the assessment centre.

  1. Clear Your Space

Always consider your environment before attending a virtual assessment centre. Will there be any distracting background noises, perhaps from building work in the street, or even a noisy kitchen appliance? Also think about what else is in shot; you may wish to move those dirty mugs from view! Consider your lighting as well; it is always preferable to sit with your face to a window. Overall, a plain, clean, tidy and neutral background is preferable, so if this is impossible, consider blurring your background on your device.

  1. Follow the Instructions

It is crucial that you read all correspondence carefully in advance of the assessment centre. If requested, send across your right to work documents and any photographs prior to the day. It is often useful to provide an alternative contact number should technology issues occur at the last minute. Again, remember to download the required software and do any preparatory reading prior to the big day.

  1. Communicate in Advance

You should aim to pre-warn recruiters if you have slow internet speeds or poor connectivity so that they are aware in advance should the situation arise.  If you consider yourself to have a disability or health condition, share this with the team beforehand so that all necessary adjustments can be put in place well in advance of the day.

  1. Take Your Time

Remember to treat a virtual assessment centre in the same way as if you were attending in person. Schedule the day accordingly, making sure you place a note of the date in your online or physical diary. Also ensure you are fully prepared in advance, so you have no excuse to ‘turn up’ late or appear flustered! In fact, ensure you join the URL link approximately 5 minutes in advance, leaving enough time to enter any meeting ID or passwords. Also remember to log out promptly at the end of the assessment centre too.

  1. Dress to Impress

Just because you don’t need to leave the confines of your bedroom, doesn’t mean you have any excuse not to dress the part, so forget about attending the assessment centre in your favourite pyjamas and dress to impress! Smart and professional attire is crucial, so select your outfit as if you were attending a physical assessment centre.

  1. Show That Smile

Remember to build rapport and maintain a positive outlook during the assessment centre. Smile and try to enjoy the experience! Maintain direct eye contact and pay attention to your body language. You don’t want to fidget or play around with pens, hair or jewellery. If you are tempted to keep waving your hands around to express yourself, then consider being more mindful of this and perhaps practice speaking with reduced hand movements so you don’t distract the recruiter.

  1. Keep Your Focus

A virtual assessment centre will take all your concentration, so you should try to avoid all potential distractions. This includes your housemates, family members, and even excitable pets, so make others aware that you are unavailable during this time. Also consider putting your mobile or smart devices on silent for the duration of the assessment centre.

  1. Do Not Panic

If you lose your internet connection, do not panic. Before the day of the assessment centre, calm your nerves by ensuring you have a contingency plan, such as moving to mobile data or a nearby hot-spot on your laptop if necessary. Keep contact numbers for the recruiter ready so you can call them immediately and keep them updated on the situation, should it arise.

  1. Enjoy The Day

Finally, take a deep breath, get stuck in and enjoy the day. Even if you are not successful, treat a virtual assessment centre as an exciting and unique learning experience, giving you a great opportunity to keep in touch with employers and network with fellow applicants.

Don’t forget, if you’re likely to need to attend a virtual assessment centre for the types of roles you’re applying for, UCL Careers can help you understand even more about them, develop key skills that recruiters will be assessing and provide example assessment centre exercises. Good luck!

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!

Ensuring your Digital Footprint Leaves a Good Impression

Joe O'Brien29 May 2020

Read time: 5 minutes

Written by Lee Pike, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.

If a prospective employer is checking you online, think about what they might find.  Have you ever been embarrassed by a social media post you wrote or regretted a photo you were tagged in? The good news is you can, and should, control what recruiters see.

There are approximately 45 million users of social media in the UK in 2020, which equates to approximately two thirds of the population.  Regularly engaging with others is generally seen as positive by employers. It shows you’re tech savvy but also gives prospective employers a more rounded picture of who you are.

With increased recruitment costs averaging £3,400 per person, many prospective employers are using social media to proactively undertake targeted recruitment, predominantly using LinkedIn.  But scarily, many employers are also using someone’s online presence to vet prospective candidates (as well as existing employees!).  Therefore, it’s important to ensure your digital footprint leaves a lasting positive impression.

Thankfully, what you project online is within your control and the way to do this is relatively straight-forward – it’s just realising it’s necessary in the first place. Once you start to manage your digital self, you can make sure that you are presenting a professional but also personal persona.

Steps to managing your online presence

  1. Search for yourself.

The simplest way to start is to use a search engine on yourself (and if you don’t see anything, try searching ‘name + UCL’).  It’s important to not only look at the initial page/subsequent pages of results, but also at the images and videos.

Does what you find worry you?  Put yourself into the shoes of a recruiter – does it worry you now?  Is there anything you wouldn’t want your parents to see?!

Conversely, you may prefer not to have an online presence or your search has zero results. Think to yourself – what might a recruiter think if they see no online presence?  Could it be interpreted to mean you have something to hide? As such, is having no online presence a positive thing?  How might you have an online presence that is positive for a recruiter to see?

Understanding what others can (or cannot) see about you means managing your professional and personal presence is made easier.

If you see something you don’t like or is no longer true for you, can you remove it?  If you see something which someone else posted, ask them to take it down (or contact the owner/administrator if they don’t).

  1. Limit who can see what.

An easy way to limit what others can see is to check your privacy settings. You might decide to limit your ‘fun’ online media so only friends, connections or approved followers can see it, making it invisible to the general public.  Anything negative should be made private (or better deleted).

You might be connected to, and hence associated with, something that is sending out negative or unprofessional points of view.  Remember you can leave certain people/organisations/groups and remove any followers you feel might be detrimental to your online persona.

Untag yourself from photos and avoid any bad language, ill-advised comments or jokes.  Remember, there is no distinction between what you say in real life and what is said online.

  1. Create a positive digital impression.

The great thing is, you can control what people see and there are many ways to do this.  Here is just selection you can try:

  • As it says on their website, ‘LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network on the internet.’ Don’t miss out. Use LinkedIn for your professional online presence.
  • Use a professional looking head & shoulders profile picture – people with a profile pic on LinkedIn are 14 times more likely to get clicked on.
  • Be selective about who you follow. Think about that positive message you want to convey and remember, this is a professional network platform, not a social network platform, so don’t simply follow friends.
  • You can try creating an online portfolio such as starting a blog, creating your own website, or design an infographic about your interests and experiences. These can demonstrate your digital and content producing skills.
  • Engage positively in discussions, forums and debates. By taking part you’re expanding your presence and making others more aware of you. You’re also leaving behind positive digital footprint impressions.

Next steps

Why not set aside some time within the next week or so to start this process.  Search for yourself and see what you do (or do not) find.  Think about the results in terms of a recruiter and think – does this represent me in a good way? If not, what actions do I need to take to improve things?

Remember – you are in control of your own online presence. You only have one attempt at making a good first impression – make it count!

Kick Start your Career with an Internship in an SME

Joe O'Brien24 February 2020

Written by Katharine Evans, Internships & Vacancies Officer at UCL Careers

On your first day at UCL, graduation was so far around the corner it didn’t even figure in your thoughts, you knew that the next three or so years would be a transformational journey. You’d be learning new skills, meeting new people, and reading a subject that you were passionate about. These years were to be your formative adult years in so many ways, and clearly the most important of these would be your career (not that we’re biased at UCL Careers). Then September 2019 arrived and you realised that the end was fast approaching. If you’re studying a postgraduate degree, then it’s likely you’ve always felt that “the real world” was just around the corner.

There’s no correct answer to where you should be in your career planning at this stage. Some of you may have had your career ambitions and route decided since you were six, and others may not yet have a clue! At times it might feel like everyone else is sorted career wise, but we see over 6,000 individual students a year at UCL Careers, and we know that there’s no standard to how your career path is!

This might sound scary, but graduate unemployment is at its lowest rate in 39 years. In part this is due to graduates filling the country’s skills gaps. A big part of this is graduates utilising their transferrable skills into roles within sectors that may not appear obvious. A great way that graduates are able to do this is by getting experience in a range of roles and sectors, and taking a holistic approach to their education, realising that simply studying at university gives one a whole range of desirable skills, regardless of the subject one reads. After all we’re working for longer than ever and moving jobs more frequently than ever before. 96% of graduates switch careers within three years.

So much choice can become overwhelming, so a great way to get a taste of different opportunities, sectors and roles is through internships, whether this be as a graduate or during the course of your studies. This year our Summer Internship Scheme in association with Santander is open exclusively to UCL Finalists and Graduates (PG and UG)

The UCL Careers Summer Internship Scheme (subsidised by Santander) hosts a range of opportunities that are exclusive to UCL. These opportunities all pay the London Living Wage, and are with SMEs based across London. SMEs make up 99.8% of all London’s private sector businesses.

Employment in SMEs represents 60% of all UK employment. But often when people think about graduate jobs they think about the large, internationally known employers. There’s no doubt that working for a bigger employer has its benefits, but there’s also drawbacks to this employment choice, and some people may prefer the chance to work in a smaller organisation. Some of the advantages to working in an SME:

  • Greater scope of role.
    • When working in a smaller organisation it’s likely that you’ll be far more hands on, and the remit of your role will be wider, you’ll be able to explore different aspects of the role and see where your strengths and passions best fit. Widening one’s skillset allows you to be more competitive within the job market if you decide to move on.
  • Closer working relations with colleagues
    • If you’re working in a department at a large organisation it’s likely that you’ll be based in an office with the rest of the department. In an SME you’re more likely to be working in an office with multiple departments and you will be able to see a range of roles in action; so although you’re working in one specific role, you’ll likely see how other staff and teams work, and maybe you’ll see that a different role is of interest to you.
  • Recognition of the interconnectedness
    • Smaller organisations are often aware of the amount of collaboration across all their teams so are far more likely to explain this to you, and you’ll see it in action, giving you an unrivalled bird’s eye view of how businesses function and how all the cogs fit together.
  • Impact and increased responsibility
    • A close-knit working environment with a less hierarchal environment often enables you to take more ownership over the work you do. As everyone plays a key role in contributing to the success of the business you’ll see the impact of your work and have a sense of pride and achievement at the fact that you are directly adding value towards the bigger picture. This means that you’ll get directly noticed for hard work and achievements.
  • More personable
    • You’ll never feel like you’re just a faceless employee if you’re constantly interacting with the leaders of the organisation. A smaller team can help you feel more welcomed into the organisation. SMEs are often seen to be doing their upmost to improve employee wellbeing, with many providing free breakfasts, fruit, drinks, and breakout spaces, etc.

An SME isn’t one size fits all, there’s a huge difference between working in a micro organisation with just 4 employees and an SME with 249 employees across 6 offices, but through the UCL Summer Internship Scheme you can spend 7-8 weeks in an organisation getting an idea of the work environment you thrive in, and the type of role you’re passionate about, and it may end up being the first step on your career ladder.

Festive Career Lessons from Elf

uczjsdd16 December 2019

Written by Dr Sophia Donaldson, Senior Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.

[WARNING: This post contains spoilers. But, like, surely you’ve seen Elf before, right?!?!!]

Oh man I love Elf. Laughing as a grown man screams with excitement at the prospect of meeting Santa allows me to pretend that’s not exactly how I feel when I see the lights and trees and sparkles go up at this time of year. But you and I both know Elf isn’t just fun and japes. As with all Christmas classics (see our 2018 analysis of Home Alone), Elf carries some serious career lessons. Like stocking fillers you never asked for but now realise you can’t live without, here are just three of them:

There are different ways to work towards the same cause

Buddy grew up assuming he’d have a glowing career as an elf. Then he discovered he’s not an elf. He’s a massive clumsy human and he’s rubbish at making toys. But all was not lost! As with any sector – the healthcare biz, the music biz, the art biz – there are plenty of ways to work towards the Christmas cause. Buddy turned out to be a talented shop decorator, sleigh power-er, and story-weaver, and he used these talents to contribute to his main field of interest: Christmas.

This story resonates with a lot of people. Not the growing-up-in-the-North-Pole-thinking-you’re-an-elf-when-you’re-actually-a-human bit. But the realising-you-may-not-be-the-best-fit-for-your-long-imagined-career bit. If you’re in a Buddy-fix, analysing what attracts you to your “dream” career can help generate alternative options. If it’s the field, subject, or cause that attracts you, our sector themed weeks of career events provide info on a range of paths within the same field (if you missed anything there are recordings and blogs online). Sites like Prospects give a broad overview of roles within various sectors, as well as a handy “alternative” careers list for any job they profile. And you can also go straight to the organisations you admire, and explore all the possible ways you could use your strengths and experiences to help them achieve their goals.

Your work isn’t the only thing that matters 

Buddy’s biological father Walter is a workaholic, placing his job above the needs of his family. But when Buddy runs away, Walter realises his family is more important, and he leaves a crucial meeting to ensure his son is ok.

It’s a classic Christmas trope, and it’s classic because it’s true: work isn’t the only or the most important thing in life. And you know what, even when it comes to actual career-thinking, work itself isn’t everything. Career decisions are influenced by all sorts of factors, not just the types of tasks you’ll be doing day-to-day. Your career happiness will be influenced by the people you work with, the location you live in, the lifestyle your job affords you etc. etc. etc. And the importance of each factor can vary over the years, as you and your circumstances change. So take time to decide what your priorities are, and don’t be afraid to factor them into career decisions, as they can be just as important as the nature of the work you’ll be doing.

Positivity is contagious

Despite suffering a fair few disappointments, Buddy just likes to smile. Smiling’s his favourite. And (rabid raccoons excepted) most who encounter Buddy can’t help but eventually be inspired by the strength of his positivity.

This movie magic happens in real life too. Positivity, as well as negativity, are catching. There’s even plenty of actual real life proper science behind it, involving mirror neurons and stuff. It’s important to remember this during your jobhunt, as a positive attitude will not only keep you pushing onwards during the inevitable disappointments we all experience at times, it will also impact the attitudes of others around you.

No one (not even Buddy) can be positive all the time, but the tiny snapshot of you employers see during an application process needs to leave them with a good feeling. So try to keep your applications and interview answers positive. Tell employers what you do have that’s relevant to the role, not what you’re missing. Talk about the positive reasons you want this new job, not negative reasons you’re leaving your old one. And even when an interview question forces you to be a bit negative – like asking you to describe what you’ll find most challenging about a role – be open and honest, but spend the majority of your answer on positive things, like sharing what you’re already doing to overcome this challenge, and how you plan to continue overcoming it. If you have a real interview coming up you can book a mock interview to get feedback on how you’re coming across.

Happy Holidays and a Merry 2020 to you all. If you’re finding any of this careers malarky tricky, book into a one-to-one appointment with a careers consultant, to chat about it.

Top 5 Skills For Careers in the Arts

skye.aitken27 November 2019

Written by Rachel Garman, Careers Information and Research Officer at UCL Careers.

UCL Careers held an event about Careers in the Arts on 15th November 2019 as part of our Museums, Arts and Cultural Heritage Themed Week.

Our panelists were:

Joane Filipe: Exhibition Designer & Creative Producer at InterestingProjects

Chloe Godman: Gallery Manager at Open Gallery

Julia Padfield: Press & Publications Assistant at Shakespeare’s Globe

Anna Testar: Assistant Curator at Royal Academy of Arts

As part of a really interesting evening, these are some of the most useful skills to develop for your career in the Arts from our panelists’ perspective:

1. Be Proactive

It can be tricky to start a career in the arts, so be proactive in seeking out opportunities to gain experience or create your own. Start a blog, put on exhibitions of your or your friend’s work, volunteer at galleries and apply for internships – these are all great ways of building up your experience, and you’ll make connections at the same time. You don’t have to just work within the arts – you’ll gain transferable skills no matter what work you do and don’t be too concerned if your career isn’t linear, as you’ll be able to spin your experience and skills back to your arts work. Say yes to anything interesting that comes your way and take the time to work out what you’re good at.

2. Attention To Detail

You may be writing exhibition guides, arranging the logistics of an exhibition tour, communicating with the public through social media, licensing images, tracking invoices and payments to your business, or many other tasks you will be asked to complete in the course of your career – attention to detail is crucial in maintaining a high standard of work, especially in an industry that doesn’t have much money to spare on mistakes.

3. Organisation And Multitasking

Organisational skills are very useful to have in any sector, and the arts is no exception. You may need to juggle several projects (for example planning several future exhibitions) at the same time, prioritise conflicting deadlines, and keep a careful track of budgets, so the ability to multitask and being methodical prioritising your work will be crucial.

4. People Skills

Whether you work with customers and clients or colleagues, in sales or in a press office, as a curator or designer, you’ll need people skills to succeed. You might need to be persuasive to make a sale or negotiate a loan of an artwork for an exhibition, to be collaborative while working on a team project, or engaging while talking to a school group, but working effectively with others is key. You can also use your people skills to build up a network of useful contacts across the industry, which may prove invaluable in your next career move.

5. Passion

The arts is a competitive sector, so having a passion and knowledge of your subject may allow you to stand out next to another equally-qualified candidate – you don’t need to know everything about a topic, but showing enthusiasm at interview can certainly impress employers. Your enthusiasm may also help to create relationships with other professionals (they may remember you when a job becomes available), and can help sustain you through the frustrations of job hunting and through a career where high pay is rare. Indulge your passion by reading, going to exhibitions or the theatre, listening to music – the more you build connections between different artistic creations the broader your knowledge will be, which will only help your work. Conveying your enthusiasm to those consuming the arts can be the most rewarding part of your job.

If you’d like to explore more, blogs and resources from the Museums, Arts and Cultural Heritage Themed Week can be found on the UCL Careers website.

Should I do a PhD | CareersLab

skye.aitken27 November 2019

In this video podcast, Raj talks with two UCL academics about what doing a PhD means, the advantages, the disadvantages, and what things to consider before deciding. See timecodes for specific topics discussed, in the description box below the video on YouTube.

We’re posting a new CareersLab video every week on the UCL Careers YouTube channel and right here on the UCL Careers blog.

If you’re a UCL student or recent graduate and you have a question you’d like Raj to answer in a future CareersLab video then please email us at careers.marketing@ucl.ac.uk.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel and the UCL Careers Newsletter so you never miss an episode.

My Global Internship: how to ace your video interview

skye.aitken27 November 2019

Written by Rhiannon Williams, Global Internships Manager at UCL Careers.

Applying for roles overseas means you are inevitably going to experience a video interview, particularly for smaller firms who have no budget to fly all of their applicants over to their offices! There are two types of video interview – pre-recorded ones where you will be given a question and you record your answers and live ones where someone will be on the other end asking questions and engaging in a conversation with you. This blog is going to focus on the latter but advice about pre-recorded video interviews can be found in one of our CareersLab videos, ‘How to ace video interviews

With the right amount of preparation, you can ace your video interview just as well as if it were in-person. What’s more, the way that you conduct yourself is a real life example of how well you can work in a global and remote working context. So how can you prepare?

Before the interview

Student sat in front of an abstract painting whilst holding a brochure whilst at their global internshipThink about the time

Communicate clearly and remember that you may need to take time difference into account. Compare these responses:

  • Could we arrange the interview for 3 next Monday?
  • Could we arrange the interview for 15:00 (GMT) on Monday 11 September?

 The second is much clearer. If you want to offer the suggestion in the interviewer’s time zone, you could write 15:00 (GMT+1) or 15:00 UK / 16:00 France. Time and Date is a good website for checking time differences.

Go the extra mile

Employers are busy, and recruitment of an overseas candidate can already be extra work. Anticipating what information, they may require from you could not only save you both time, but also demonstrates proactive thinking. For example:

Share a list of your contact details. Use your judgement as to what methods to suggest. Whatever you end up using, be aware of your public visibility and make sure what an employer can see is appropriate, from profile pictures to past status updates.

  • Do let me know how you would like to conduct the interview. I have attached my details here should you need:
    • Phone/WhatsApp: +441234567890 (include international dialling code!)
    • Skype: xx@xx.com
    • Zoom: 12345678
    • Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams etc

Enable international calls on your phone. If video communication breaks down, then phone can be a backup option. Ensure you have international calls enabled just in case – ask your service provider.

Show some flexibility. You’re unlikely to be asked to wake up at 3am, but there’s a chance you may have to get up a couple of hours early, use a lunch break, or speak after hours. The more flexible you can be the better (within reason), and shows that you are interested in the role.

Research from afar

It’s essential when preparing to apply for any interview that you research the company – and it’s no different for a video interview. You may be less familiar with aspects of an overseas organisation such as their perception in the local market or the location they are based. The internet is a powerful tool in this situation, and you could use resources such as:

  • Glassdoor – this is useful for any candidate to learn about an organisation from it’s own employees. There is a useful feature allowing you to filter by location. However, be mindful that there are countries where Glassdoor is not commonly used, or small organisations that return limited or no information, which doesn’t necessarily mean the experience won’t be a good one.
  • LinkedIn – you might wish to research the current talent they have hired. You can use LinkedIn to search the organisation’s current and past employees and get an understanding of their background, work experience, interests etc. You might also find a mutual connection somewhere! Take your findings with a pinch of salt – you don’t necessarily have to ‘fit the same mould’.
  • Alumni – use the UCL Alumni Online Community to connect with alumni overseas to get tips about interviewing in their home country.
  • Your prospective organisation’s website – naturally, many organisations have some form of online presence, from LinkedIn to their own domain. Explore this thoroughly to get an understanding of their business, culture, and values.

During the interview

Student sat at a computer with their global internship employerTake challenges in your stride

Any job interview can be stressful, let alone one that is both via video and with an overseas employer. Be aware of potential challenges such as:

  • Language miscommunications. The language of the interview will likely be the same as that of the job description (although do check if you’re unsure!) and this could potentially be the interviewer’s second (or third) language. This may not be a challenge and you might not even realise. However, if you are faced with a situation where miscommunication occurs, don’t worry! Just be honest and ask for clarification where needed – you could ask the interviewer to repeat the question, or repeat the question back to them first to check your understanding.
  • Technical issues. Despite advances in tech, issues can still occur. It’s up to you to make a judgement about what you can live with and what is going to have an impact on your performance. Sometimes the best option is to acknowledge an issue when it occurs, and say you’ll let the interview know if it affects your ability to perform. Do not wait until the end to raise a significant technical issue – it may look like you are making excuses.

Tips from students on the ground

  1. Prepare an introduction to your university or qualifications. Overseas employers may be less familiar with UK universities and the degree classification system. Scholera has a free conversion tool you can use.
  2. Prepare answers to common questions for overseas candidates. For example, previous international experience, adapting to working in a new country etc. For candidates returning to their home country, you could instead be asked about what your international experience has taught you, why you’re looking to return home etc. Interview Stream has a whole section dedicated to common questions asked in international job interviews – access them by selecting ‘conduct an interview’ > ‘custom interview’ > ‘international/global job search’.
  3. If you have told the employer you speak a foreign language, be prepared to use it to answer a few questions. Don’t say you’re a fluent speaker if you’re not comfortable doing this!

So start preparing for your video interviews and put yourself in the best possible position to ace it. Got your own tips to share? Comment below!

Insights Into: Working In Travel Journalism

skye.aitken27 November 2019

Written by guest writers, Sophie Dening and Katie Bowman.

A common thing people write under ‘hobbies and interest’ on a CV is ‘travel’. But have you ever thought about turning this interest into a career? Sally Brown, UCL Careers Consultant, talked to two UCL alumni who have done just that. 

Image of a woman taking a photo of some ruins in the sunshine

Sophie Dening, Editor and journalist

UCL graduate: BA French Language and Literature (1997)

Sophie is a self-employed editor and journalist – for publications such as Condé Nast Britain, Gourmet Traveller, the Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph. She is also the acting production editor at Lonely Planet magazine.

How did you get your job?

I applied for my job as production editor at Lonely Planet magazine via a jobs site. I had been on extended maternity leave following a long period as a freelance food and travel writer. It took me six months of applying for jobs before I got one, and I had to accept a drop in my salary. 

What’s a typical day like?

I check emails and make sure I am up to date with where we’re at with all the pages of the magazine, as well as future issues and side projects, then divide my time between writing, editing and working in InDesign. I also manage another subeditor and a freelancer, and work on the flatplan and lead a weekly editorial meeting.

What do you enjoy about your role?

I enjoy working with words, I enjoy carrying out varied high-level administrative tasks, I appreciate working with a team and learning from them, and I enjoy regular hours and low stress.

What are the challenges?

Getting everything done in time, always – deadlines. Sheer volume of work.

How relevant is your degree to your current job?

Currently not particularly, more tangentially, in terms of working with texts. But as a freelancer I have worked as a translator for hotel brands, and worked extensively in Paris and France as a food and travel writer, where I have used my French language skills.

How has your role developed and what are your ambitions? My role here at Lonely Planet has been interesting as I have acted as a sort of workflow consultant as well as carrying out the usual tasks. It is a year-long contract covering someone else’s role. My ambition at present is to continue working for LP when I finish my contract, as a writer or project editor, and to find other regular freelance work that will fit in with my family commitments.

Any words of advice for someone wanting to get into this sector?

Try to get experience any which way you can: work on a student paper; write a blog; enter writing competitions, in order to populate your CV. And do try to enter a sector that will hold your interest for years to come; once you are established as any sort of specialist, it can be hard to move around within publishing. Advice for someone wanting specifically to become a production editor or chief sub in travel publishing? Get any subbing experience as you can and apply for junior subbing roles. You need to be really good at English, and be able to spot a spelling mistake – aka a typo, in the trade – at 20 paces. Read up on style (I recommend Butcher’s Copy-editing, Cambridge University Press). Travel writers and editors tend to be fairly well-travelled and may start to specialise (in terms of destinations) right from the start of their careers – rather than entering travel publishing in order to travel. You are bound to experience rejection in the publishing industry (don’t lose confidence – there are jobs out there!), and salaries have not gone up much recently. It can be tough being a freelancer, or advancing in a competitive sector. But it is an interesting industry, always changing, and full of great people and varied work.

Image of a woman walking through a field holding a camera

Katie Bowman, Features Editor, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine

UCL graduate: English (1999)

Katie has worked in her current role for nearly 17 years, she has also worked as a sub-editor for Condé Nast International and Marie Claire Australia.

So, what does a features editor for a travel magazine do?

The Sunday Times Travel magazine is different from newspapers – it is on sale in stores competing with magazines such as Vogue. It is mainstream, glossier and I suppose more ‘glamorous’ than a newspaper travel section. My role is varied, from looking at how to make the front cover enticing to deciding what goes into the rest of the 164 pages of the magazine. The features have to be both inspirational and also realistic to sell well – ensuring well-timed ‘big hitters’ such as New York or Paris. Locations such as these can be revisited year after year, compared to a newspaper who might focus on recent events across the world such as bombings or natural disasters.

What is your role like on an average day?

My actual day to day activities involve commissioning freelancers, going through ideas pitched by more junior members of staff and perhaps travelling myself.

With regards to travelling, if this is a major focus for you then you might consider working as a freelance writer/journalist instead. The main advantages are that you have control over your schedule, where you go and can work around your other commitments such as family. Working on a magazine ‘in-house’ often means you are getting involved with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the publication rather than the actual travelling. As the dynamic of teams vary from magazine to magazine, then it is essential that you find this out before applying – as you might find an in-house role will only allow you to travel sporadically if at all. 

What do you enjoy about your role?

The change – I have been in this role for nearly 17 years, but the novelty still hasn’t worn off! This is because the world never stops feeling new – even a location that we have featured many times can change – such as a new restaurant or a new local event. Travelling is all I ever wanted to do – in fact, I would rather stay in travel (such as being a flight attendant) than journalism (such as working on a financial publication). I love planning trips, not just going on them! 

What are the challenges?

The pay really – you won’t make much money if you want to work in this industry! Just doing freelancing alone also probably won’t allow you to pay your rent/mortgage. Most freelancers do other roles – such as copy writing or editing – alongside their freelance work.

 How relevant was your degree to your current role?

My English degree is not directly relevant to my current role, but it was helpful in the past for me to secure internships. I was competing against people who were studying master’s degrees in journalism, so having the name ‘UCL’ was really helpful in getting opportunities.

Do you have any tips for current students wanting to get into this industry?

Do an internship with a well-known publication whilst you are living in cheaper student accommodation. We have interns who are forced to either spend a lot of money travelling into London or sleeping on friend’s floors in order to do the internship.

How would I find out about internship opportunities?

Our two-week programmes are always oversubscribed, but follow us on social media as we may have someone drop out – so we might ask for a replacement at short notice. Most internships are unadvertised, so choose a few publications and write a perky and engaging cover letter – remembering that you are not applying to a big corporate company, so don’t make it cold and impersonal: ensure you write to a named person rather than ‘Dear Sir or Madam’. In the letter, state clearly your availability – if you can only offer a couple of afternoons a week due to your course timetable that is fine.

What might make an application for an internship stand-out?

A clear level of maturity – so make sure your CV looks professional and highlights that skills that would make you useful in the workplace such as computer skills, languages and other office skills. Make the life of the person reading your application as easy as possible. If you already have a blog / website then write this on your application – it is useful for me to see your potential.

But the other important thing is to make the most out of the experience once you are there. Don’t have too high expectations of the internships – you won’t be writing big cover stories! You also might not always be doing the most exciting tasks – but grit your teeth and get on with it. Also, leaving early without a valid reason can give a really bad impression. Be proactive during the experience, approaching people with your ideas – ask them ‘What can I pitch?” or “Can I offer some ideas?”.

What would you look for when commissioning a freelancer?

Similar to other editors, I tend to work with freelancers I have worked with before – as I know I can trust that they will deliver. However, this does not mean I am not open to working with new people. Their initial pitch might be something I could use in a smaller story and I would be looking for something that is tailored to this magazine – which the freelancer has been clear about where it would ‘sit’. It is the responsibility of the freelancer to curate and build the stories – not to send the same pitch to 20 different magazines.

Any other tips for potential freelancers?

Be aware that you will receive very little feedback. But give the initial pitch the time it deserves and it will pay off in repeat commissions. After you have done an internship with a magazine, then offer to write for free ‘on spec’ pieces – this could be as simple as writing a piece about your recent holiday destination. You will then accumulate by-lines and build up a professional portfolio – you only need 2 or 3 well-known publication names – then pitch properly using your portfolio. It is not always enough just to have published in a university magazine – as they are not always well-edited. Having a well-known publication in your portfolio is invaluable.

Insights From: Deputy Social Media Editor in The Independent

skye.aitken26 November 2019

Written by guest writer, Ben Kelly from The Independent.

Photo of Ben Kelly from The Independent

Ben Kelly, Deputy Social Media Editor in The Independent shares some insights into his career so far…

I work in the Audience team at The Independent, who sit at the main news desk and help draw a majority of traffic to the website. By looking at what is doing well on social media, and what people are searching for, we help the news editor shape the agenda for the day, and when stories are written, we get them out there for people to read and share across the main social channels like Facebook and Twitter. Essentially, my team makes sure that our host of great writers are having their work presented in the best way, and that it is being exposed to as big an audience as possible.

News is very much a 24/7 operation, so I can be expected to do late nights and weekends sometimes, but most days it’s a case of working on a list of key stories we want that day, and then spending the rest of the day making sure writers have the best headlines, and that we’re getting all the best stuff out there at peak times for readers. Most of the writers at The Independent want their stuff to be performing best, which makes my team very popular!

I like being at the forefront of the news agenda. Spotting something on Twitter quickly means we can write it up as a story within minutes, and this is often a race against competitors, which pays off if we get there first. Equally we have the ability to draw attention to lesser-recognised stories, or suggest alternative takes to stories which everyone else is already covering. Often my work environment is very busy, and can feel quite pressurised, but that’s part of the cut and thrust that most people in the industry enjoy.

Obviously my English degree helped me as a writer, but most of my current work skills have been learned. Partly this was on the job, but it’s also been through my own personal interest in news, which means I have a good idea for what makes a good story, how they should be written, and how things should be prioritised.

Most of my colleagues at The Independent, and even in the Audience team, have arts and humanities degrees like English, and some people have done postgraduate degrees at City University. But my role – like many in the industry – are fast changing with the evolving ways we consume news, and with changing technologies. So while a traditional education is essential, I think any digital-based work is largely a case of learning as you go.

In a similar way, I find news rooms are very fluid places where you can progress, or move to different departments if your skills are suited or required elsewhere, and that’s what I like about working in such a big company like The Independent – there are always opportunities to grow and expand as a professional.

Personally, I don’t think postgraduate study is necessary. Most people I work with simply got stuck into a job on their local paper, or for a small magazine, or an independent production company, and learned as much in skills, savvy and connections in a couple of years than they would have through study. The best way to learn most of this trade is on the job.

Many people will probably come into the media sector looking at a traditional angle like writing or reporting, which is how I began too. Any basic entry level job at any publication should be sought out and used to improve for your next position (sites like Gorkana, LinkedIn and Mediargh are great). But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you must learn to adapt to the changing market.

So while you should learn the basic ‘pyramid structure’ of how to write a story, you should also learn how to record and edit audio and video to go with it, how to do a piece to camera so you can do a Facebook Live when you’re out on an interview, how to write the best headlines so that your story stands out on Twitter. It’s no longer enough just to be a good writer, so learn all the various ways you can tell a story, and this will make you much more attractive to employers. Over time then, you’ll find a niche that really suits what you’re good at, and what you enjoy.

If you are interested in getting involved in the media, my advice would be to get writing on your own blog or for small publications wherever you can, and if you want to get into a more production side of things, then start making video clips or podcasts of things that interest you. There is more technology available to make this happen than there ever has been before. Look to people whose work you admire, and find out how they did it, and maybe even reach out to them for advice. Keep an eye on the media world, what’s going on, who’s who, and what jobs crop up. The best thing you can do is get a job – any job – in a media organisation, as this will start you on the ladder, and help you learn and create contacts in your early professional years. From there, you can then carve out the direction in which you want to go.