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5 Career Lessons from our Favourite TV shows

By Joe O'Brien, on 5 August 2020

Read time: 4 minutes

Written by Nicole Estwick, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.

In recent months, many of us have sought escapism from current events through our screens, whether that’s through social media, zoom calls or virtual events. TV has also played a massive part in this, especially during the days of lockdown where some of us finally got round to watching the box set we’ve put on hold for ages whilst others tuned in to live TV for the first time in a long time or re-watched a classic series.

Although the world of TV may seem a long way away from our everyday reality, there are still plenty of life and career lessons we can learn from some of our favourite characters. In this post, I’ll outline 5 of the career insights gained from TV series I’ve watched during lockdown:

  1. Friends – Don’t let failure stop you from chasing your dream job

It’s the series many of us can recite word for word and although Friends may present an idyllic image of life and success in New York for a group of twentysomethings, there are still some interesting learnings we can gain from some of its characters – particularly Joey.

As an aspiring actor, Joey’s career is often unpredictable with a number of ups and downs throughout the series, from losing his dream role in a film and ending up in Vegas as a Roman Gladiator entertainer to being cut entirely from a show he was casted in. Despite all of this he kept going, taking failure in his stride until he secured his dream role as Dr. Drake Ramoray on Days of Our Lives, showing that it’s important to accept that failure may be part of your career journey but what is key is having the motivation and strength to keep going in the face of adversity.

  1. The Walking Dead – Always be on the lookout for opportunities to grow and progress

Its hard to see how you might be able to learn career lessons from a show that is based on a Zombie apocalypse but hear me out. Removing the blood and gore (of which there is plenty) you can see that at the heart of The Walking Dead is a group of people who are constantly making moves to improve on their situation by actively seeking opportunities to build a new life for themselves in a post-apocalyptic world.

Linking this back to your job hunt or even a role you may be currently in, don’t just sit back but take an active role in trying to grow and develop yourself so you can get your foot in the door or make headway up the ladder; your career journey does not end once you’ve secured a job, but it is an ongoing process of growth and development.

  1. The Simpsons – Avoid making comparisons and don’t be bitter about others’ success

A specific episode comes to mind when referring to this point and it is the battle between Homer Simpson and arch enemy Frank Grimes. When Frank starts as a new employee at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant after working tirelessly his entire life to reach this point, he is faced with his polar opposite in Homer who appears lazy, incompetent and clueless in the role, yet seems to be even more successful in every way possible than him. In trying to understand Homer’s success, Grimes’s jealously drives him crazy and eventually leads to his death.

Whilst this is an extreme example, the key lesson here is that many of us will look at the successes of friends and classmates and be frustrated that our own career may not be moving in the same direction of travel or as quickly, but it is important to focus on your own journey, not let jealously cloud your thinking, and realise that even the most successful individuals will face challenges despite what they display to others.

  1. The Office – Your job (even your dream job) will have its positives and negatives

Referring to the US office here, the team at Dunder Mifflin show in almost every episode how the 9-5 is a mixture of the good, the bad, and the bizarre which is a reflection of not only work but also life which won’t be a bed of roses everyday.

You may find yourself in a role, especially at a junior level, where lots of admin may be involved or if you’re in a small company you may have to adapt to do lots of different things – what is important is having a positive attitude, making the most of it and finding small ways to make the negative tasks that are part of your role a little more enjoyable.

  1. Ru Paul’s Drag Race – Don’t be afraid to showcase your skills and what you can do with confidence

Queens on the iconic Ru Paul’s Drag Race never fail to showcase what they can do and they do it with confidence. Whilst many of us won’t be putting on an actual show or performance for employers in the same fashion as Bianca Del Rio, viewing the application process metaphorically as a runway whereby you need to clearly display what assets you have and what you can do will boost your chances of success.

Ensure that your CV and Cover Letter clearly outline what you can offer and if you do make it to the interview stage, see it as another chance to demonstrate with confidence that you are the right person for the job in question.

There you have it! How some of your favourite TV show and characters may be delivering key career lessons without you even realising it!

If you are looking for help or guidance for your personal career journey, please do visit our website for additional resources or book a one-to-one appointment with UCL Careers.

How can Learned Societies and Professional Associations Help my Career Planning?

By Joe O'Brien, on 4 August 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Glyn Jones, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.

Learned societies and professional associations can play an important role in helping with your career prospects. This blog will highlight suitable initiatives you can get involved with as an undergraduate or postgraduate student.

What is a learned societies or professional associations?

Learned societies and professional associations are organisations that exist to support and promote subjects or professions within a particular sector.

Membership organisations often run events and conferences, offer travel awards and bursaries and sometimes manage journals within their sector of interest.

What areas do they exist in?

Learned societies are prominent in academic disciplines, especially amongst the sciences, but many associations also work within the arts and you’ll find that the majority of professional industries will have some kind of professional association affiliated to it.

When researching your potential future career options it’s worth looking for a professional body in your sector of interest.

Do I need to pay to become a member?

To enjoy the whole range of initiatives offered by an organisation, you may need to become a member. There are often many different types of membership plans, such as reduced or free membership for undergraduate members. We would recommend exploring what the have to offer!

It is worth noting that some resources may be available to non-members, such as on the careers section of a website. Be sure to take a look at what you can access online for free before committing to paying for membership.

How can they be beneficial?

  • Events

Learned societies and professional associations often run events based on a particular area of interest within that discipline, or on a career pathway within that industry. Due to the current situation, many events have moved online, so recordings of previous sessions may also be available.

Here is a selection of some events provided by some life sciences learned societies to give you a taster of what might be on offer:

It may also be that these organisations seek volunteers to help with (virtual) events or contribute to online content e.g. blog, news articles. By getting involved in these events you may gain valuable experience that can help demonstrate your skillset.

Benefit to you: Builds your knowledge and skills within a particular area of interest through attending events or contributing to the work of a learned society or professional organisation.

  • Networking

Events run by learned societies and professional associations can be useful places to network with those working in a field of interest. This opportunity may enable you to grow your professional network outside your usual circles e.g. within UCL or London.

It’s not only through attending events that you can grow your networks either. You may wish to keep an eye on regular contributors to the work of the society, such as committee members and student representatives. Another way to identify networking opportunities may be through specific interest groups, or geographical groups affiliated with these organisations. For example, the British Society for Immunology have a list of their Regional and Affinity Groups. You can use these to identify potential networking opportunities.

Benefit to you: You have an opportunity to network with different individuals who you might not otherwise meet. This can give you a different perspective of the industry outside what you would normally hear about.

  • Careers Resources

Often learned societies or professional associations have careers sections on their websites. These may offer advice on possible career pathways within the industry or provide details of qualifications needed for a career in your field of interest. An example might be the British Psychological Association’s Become a Psychologist webpage. As well as careers information, you may find case studies on such sites, which can provide information and real life examples on a range of professionals working in the industry.

Benefit to you: By using this focused careers information relating to your area of interest, you may find much more detailed/specific information compared to broader careers advice sites, such as Prospects.

  • Funding / Developmental Opportunities

Summer studentships are common amongst some learned societies, a list of examples within the life sciences has been collated on the Royal Society of Biology’s website. The application process may require you to approach an existing member of the society who would act as your supervisor. You would then work together to submit an application for the studentship. Each organisation will set out its own requirements and application process, so it’s worth researching exactly what is needed for the application. Alternatively, you may find that such organisations offer student prizes that are great to put on your CV, or possible financial awards that can be used to contribute to travel costs.

Benefit to you: Making the most of these funding opportunities could enable you to gain experiences that you may not be able to afford otherwise. Check the requirements to understand if you (or your potential supervisor) need to have been a member of the organisation for a certain amount of time before applying to make sure you qualify.

Next steps

This blog has highlighted some potential benefits you could gain from getting involved with learned societies or professional associations, particularly focusing on benefits for undergraduate and postgraduate students. Why not look for an organisation that works in your field of interest on the Directory of Professions. Then explore their websites to see what benefits they can bring to your journey.

Sector Insights: Market and Social Research

By Joe O'Brien, on 28 July 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Susanne Stoddart, Recruitment and Selection Advice Manager at UCL Careers

What is market and social research?

Market and social research is an incredibly broad and wide-ranging sector that is primarily concerned with using research as a tool to support decision making. The research could pretty much be about anything – from informing decisions about brand packaging to decisions affecting government policy.

The quantitative and qualitative methods that are used in the research are again extremely varied – for example, researching using the internet, analysis of data from consumer wearables, taste testing, focus groups and large-scale international telephone surveys. Social researchers use many of the same skills and methods as market researchers but their concern is always with improving the performance of the public sector through influencing national policy or policy at a local level.

The majority of market researchers work within a research agency. Some large research agencies within the private sector, such as Ipsos MORI and Kantar Public UK, also have specialist social research departments. However, other key employers of social researchers include central government departments, local authorities, higher education research institutions, social research agencies such as NatCen, charities, pressure and lobby groups and trade unions.

For further introductory insights into the market and social research sector, I would recommend this Career Guide put together by the Market Research Society.

Meet David Ireland, Research Manager at Ipsos MORI

I recently contacted David Ireland on LinkedIn to find out about his experience as a Research Manager at Ipsos MORI, and his route into the market and social research sector. David completed his MSc in Security Studies at UCL in 2015 and he told me that he enjoys a career that draws upon his academic training, allowing him to use his research skills to impact business.

David also kindly answered my following questions:

Did you do anything during your time at UCL or after you finished your degree that helped prepare you for your current job?

Whilst at UCL, research methods modules were key. Alongside that, work experience was key. Not just internships – some of the most useful lessons were from when I worked in a running shop as it really built my presentation and communication skills.

What are the key skills that you use in your current job?

Juggling multiple tasks and projects isn’t to be underestimated! Analysis with a curious eye – thinking about what research means and what should be done off the back of it. Presentation skills and communicating – I do quite a lot of presenting and talking and that’s super important. Other things include writing, data visualisation, delegating (up and down).

What does a typical day at work looks like for you? What do you find most enjoyable and most challenging?

A typical day starts between 9 and 9.30am. I catch up on emails and plan the day based on what’s going on. I typically spend time working on projects (PowerPoint reports are the norm), talking to other internal teams and having client meetings. Normally I have a client meeting once a week but that ebbs and flows (some weeks none, other weeks multiple). Most enjoyable is delivering something that is really good with powerful messages that has impact, whether a presentation or a report. Most challenging can be juggling multiple projects as there’s often a lot going on.

What would be your top piece of advice for current students interested in a career in research?

My advice would be to not just think of yourself as a researcher – especially if you’re interested in going into more of a commercial research role. Think about how research can impact business.

Next Steps to Building your Network

Despite the impact of Covid-19 and the current lack of in-person networking opportunities, here are some tips on how you can continue to build your connections and explore a career within the market and social research sector:

  • Whenever I reach out to UCL alumni like David and they respond with enthusiasm to help and fantastic advice, it’s a reminder of what great value and a source of support they can be to current students and recent graduates. So, if you’re interested in finding out more about a career in market and social research, reaching out to UCL alumni on platforms such as LinkedIn or UCL’s Alumni Online Community is a really great way to do this and to start building your network. Sometimes you might not hear back but hopefully sometimes you will – and it’s worth it!
  • You can find out more about using online platforms for networking in our recent blogpost on 5 Key Resources for Networking from Home.
  • For further insights into building connections within the market and social research sector, I would also recommend checking out networking advice provided by the Market Research Society.
  • Remember that if you would like to explore your career in the sector further – for example your networking plans, how to use the summer to develop relevant sector skills, or something else – you can book in with UCL Careers for a one-to-one guidance appointment.

Top 10 Tips on Preparing for a Virtual Assessment Centre

By Joe O'Brien, on 20 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…

By Joe O'Brien, on 17 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!

Optional Cover Letters: Are They Worth it?

By Joe O'Brien, on 15 July 2020

Read time: 4 minutes

Written by Emily Oliphant, Recruitment & Selection Advisor at UCL Careers.

A question that I’ve heard time and time again in Application Advice appointments is ‘So, the company have stated the cover letter is optional – do you really think it’s worth writing one?’.

I understand it can sometimes be a difficult dilemma.  Cover letters take time, that’s a given.  Especially when you’re applying to multiple roles, it can be a seriously time-consuming endeavour to write a tailored cover letter for each of them.  However, in my opinion and from experience, the purpose of a cover letter is often misunderstood and the value of them disregarded.  With that in mind I believe that, if possible, an optional cover letter should always be an option you decide to make most use of.  Here’s why.

1.The purpose of a cover letter is to highlight your relevance

When you think about it, it doesn’t matter how much you tailor a CV to a job description, your CV will always be an entirely separate document to the job description.  Your CV is entirely focused on you – your education, your experience, your skills – from top to bottom everything on that CV is about you.  Turning the tables, you’ll recognise that the job description is really all about the employer.  Their company, their job, the skills they deem essential.  Therefore, without a cover letter there will always be a gap in how exactly your skills are relevant to the position you’re applying for.

A cover letter acts like a bridge.  It is a connecting document that provides you with a platform to connect your CV to the job description because it offers the opportunity for you to explicitly explain how your skills will allow you to perform the responsibilities of the job.

Explaining the skills you have, how you developed them and how you can apply them to the responsibilities of the role is a three-step process that can’t really be achieved through a CV.  By embracing this structure, you are painting a vision for the recruiter of you hitting the ground running and being able to perform the duties they want you to.  This positive psychology is always worth taking the time to get across.

2. Further Detail

CVs can be crammed with skills and experiences but sometimes you’ll find that there just isn’t enough space for you to unpack some of your examples enough to highlight exactly how they put you in good stead to undertake the responsibilities.

Cover letters allow you to incorporate the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action and Result) to your examples – for more information on this topic you can watch our CareersLab episode on the STAR method or have a read of our recent blog post on it.  Being able to go into more detail on relevant points will enhance your argument of your suitability and encourage the recruiter to believe that you are a good match to their person specification.

3. Commitment

Finally, taking the time to write a cover letter (where potentially others haven’t) will only ever display a positive quality – commitment.  Having worked in recruitment for two and half years before joining UCL Careers, I can say with certainty that if you have taken the time to show you have researched the company, explained why you are attracted to the role and why your skills are suitable for the position, you will positively demonstrate that you are indeed driven to succeed in the application.  This level of interest and dedication will rarely go unrecognised.

Therefore, in short, if you have the capacity – I undoubtedly believe that choosing to write a cover letter when given the option will only improve your application as a whole and should definitely be covered!

If you would like further information on cover letter writing please watch our CareersLab episode on Cover Letters.  Furthermore, please feel to free to book a Applications Advice appointment to discuss a particular cover letter you have written in depth with an advisor.

The Benefits of Growing Your Professional Network

By Joe O'Brien, on 10 July 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Glyn Jones, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers

We’ve previously shared a blog post offering useful tips on how to grow your online network, however today we take a step back and ask, why are we recommending you cast out your social net and start connecting with people?

The ideal scenario is that you reach out to someone working for your dream organisation, you attach your CV and hey presto, they offer you a job. Unfortunately, real life is rarely this straightforward.

We certainly encourage you to make speculative approaches for graduate employment or work experience, however if this is the only benefit you see to reaching out to those working in your sectors of interest, you may find this to be a long, unrewarding process.

So here are some other benefits that come from reaching out and building your professional networks, which you may not have thought of.

  1. Gain insights into your industry of interest

Through speaking with those working in a sector of interest, you’ll be able to gain insights about that industry, how things work, its trends and challenges. This provides you with knowledge of the sector that is both insightful and current. To have this information incorporated into your applications or to refer to this in an interview could truly set you apart from other candidates.

  1. Find out if a sector really interests you

You can read job profiles on graduate job sites such as Prospects or look at career sections on employer websites to get an idea of what a role involves. But if you want detailed information about the day to day work, there’s nothing better than speaking with someone who actually does that job. By having conversations with people working in the industry, you’ll be able to ask questions that you wouldn’t normally find answers to. Through finding out about work cultures and expectations, you will gain a greater understanding of the industry as a whole or specific employers within the sector. You can then use this information to decide if you fit in to this environment.

  1. Learn about different career pathways

Everyone has a different career pathway; some people might have gained experience through an internship while others choose postgraduate study or taking a sideways move and changing industries. By hearing from others who have gone through this process, you may come across pathways that you otherwise never would have considered. You may learn about a specific internships or work experience programme that you didn’t even know existed. It might be that you hear about an organisation’s work and find that it aligns with your own aspirations. Learning about other people’s career journeys might just be the help you need to start your own.

  1. Enhance your future job opportunities

By growing your network, you’re making links with potential future colleagues or employers. If you’re focused on working in a particular industry you’d be surprised how you may come across the same individuals multiple times. Your main motivation for pursuing online networking could be seeking a full time job or gaining some work experience, but even if this does not come to fruition immediately, you never know when these contacts may prove useful. Even if opportunities don’t come directly from those you’ve contacted, they may know someone else who has an opportunity that may be of interest. So by making a good impression and growing these networks you’re putting yourself in a good position, which could mean opportunities coming your way in the future.

These are some of the different benefits that can come from networking with those working in your field of interest or potential job sectors. If you’d like to discuss how to go about identifying useful people or how to go about reaching out to these individuals, please do book a one-to-one appointment with UCL Careers.

Getting Ready for the Virtual Jobs Market

By Joe O'Brien, on 9 July 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Nicole Estwick, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.

The academic year may be over, but there are still plenty of opportunities to move forward with your career over the summer with our virtual Jobs Market.

Taking place on Thursday 16th July from 2-5pm, UCL’s Jobs Market offers the chance for you to meet and network with employers from a variety of industries who are looking to recruit for jobs and graduate schemes – all with current vacancies / immediate starts.

With this year’s event taking place virtually for the first time, you may be unsure about what to expect, how to approach companies you’re interested in or even how to stand out to employers.  In this post, we’ll look at the 5 ways in which you can make the most of the Job Market and future networking events with employers.

  1. Know what to expect

Getting to grips with what to expect in advance of any event will really help in ensuring you can prepare in the best way possible. Look for information online and on social media to check the timings of the event, if you need to book a place and if you can drop in at any point or should attend for the duration.

In the case of the UCL Jobs Market, you should book a place through your myuclcareers account where you will be able to view employer profiles and current vacancies all in one place. On the day of the event, those who have booked, will be able to access live video chats to speak directly to employers in the same way you would at a physical jobs market. Booking will close 3 hours before the event start time, so please be sure to book in good time. For further details, visit our page on the UCL Careers website.

  1. Do your research

Before attending the Jobs Market or any employer networking event, it’s essential to do some research on who will be attending. Employers often feedback on their disappointment that students are ill prepared and don’t make the most of the opportunity they have to connect with them, so assess in advance which organisations you want to talk to and what you want to find out from them.

Visiting company websites and social media pages, reading up recent news stories related to the employer and looking into what current vacancies they have will help you to stand out from other candidates who may not be as prepared, and create a positive lasting impression with employers who may consider you for current or future vacancies.

  1. Practice your introduction pitch

A common concern raised by students with networking is knowing what to actually say and how to make a strong introduction to the individual or company you are interested in. Build your confidence in this by developing a pitch and practicing this with friends, family or even in front of a mirror ahead of the event.

Your pitch should not only be a brief introduction to you, but it should also outline your interest in the employer. Consider structuring your introduction with an overview of your basic details (name, subject of study, hobbies and interests) before moving onto your interest in the role/company/sector and include a strong opening question to progress the conversation.

  1. Ask the right questions

Once introductions have been made, it can be a challenge for many to sustain and progress the conversation. Asking the right questions is key to this, but it can often be tricky to know which types of questions to put forward to an employer.  In networking conversations, it’s beneficial to ask more open questions such as ‘What did you enjoy the most?’ rather than closed questions (i.e. ‘Did you enjoy it?’) which could instantly stall the conversation with a simple yes/no answer.

It is however, also important to be aware of who you are speaking to and adapt your style where necessary, as the questions you ask a Company Director are likely to be different to the questions you ask a Graduate Trainee. For further guidance on this, including example questions take a look at slides from our Careers Essentials talks on Connecting with Employers Remotely and Making the most of Careers Fairs.

  1. Don’t be afraid of continuing the conversation after your initial meeting

It is easy to walk away from a networking event or a conversation with an employer without a clear result or next step, however it’s important to not let this happen when engaging with an employer or individual you have a real interest in. Show confidence and take the initiative by asking for an email address or the LinkedIn profile of the person you are speaking to and send them a message to allow the conversation continue after the event.

Investing the time to build a good rapport with an employer from events such as the Job Market could boost your chances of success in the application stages or lead to new opportunities that you may have not had access to before.

Following the tips above will ensure you have the best and most productive experience networking with employers at the virtual Job Market and future online employer events.

For further advice, please do visit our online resources, check out our video on mastering online networking from our CareersLab series on YouTube and book to attend our special lunchtime Careers Essentials talk on Making the Most of the Jobs Market on Wednesday 15th July from 1-2pm.

Is a Masters Right for me? Assessing Your Options for Postgraduate Study

By Joe O'Brien, on 1 July 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Nicole Estwick, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.

Dissertation complete. Exams over and Graduation is approaching. What’s next? For some, heading straight into full time employment may be the obvious choice but for a growing number of students, further study is becoming an increasingly popular option, particularly this year where according to careers platform Prospects* there has been a 40% increase in postgraduate course searches during Spring 2020- the period in which the Covid 19 outbreak reached its peak in the UK.

But how do you decide whether or not continuing onto postgraduate study is right for you, especially as someone who may be graduating this year? In this post we’ll cover some of the key points you may want consider in your decision making process.

  1. Should I do a Masters straight after my undergraduate degree?

Continuing on to complete a Masters straight after your undergraduate degree is a popular option for those who do not wish to disrupt the familiarity of studying at university or want to continue to develop a deeper understanding of their subject, however it is not the only option. Many individuals who study at postgraduate level are in fact mature students with 61% aged 25 or older coming back to study after a period of work experience. In some cases, employers may even sponsor students to complete a Masters part time alongside their professional role.

In the current climate where parts of the job market remain unclear for graduates, continuing onto complete a Masters this year may help you to build up your skills and expertise in a particular area to increase your chances of success for when the job market returns to normal so it’s worth considering if this could be an option for you. Alternatively you may want to assess if it would be better to take on postgraduate study after or alongside gaining work experience and once you have a clearer sense of your career goals.

  1. Is a Masters essential for my chosen career path?

A Postgraduate level qualification is an essential requirement to enter some professions, but not all, therefore it’s important to assess the value of a Masters qualification in relation to your career goals.

Take the time to research this by looking at job descriptions to see if a Masters is listed as essential (required) or desirable (not required) and gather insights from individuals working in the field you’re interested in through networking platforms such as LinkedIn or the UCL Alumni Online Community. Finally, seeking out whether the companies you are interested in are hiring at present and what value they  place against work experience vs. academic qualifications is also very useful – this will vary from sector by sector but the insights gathered may help you to move forward in making a decision on whether to continue your studies.

  1. How will I fund further study?

Another big consideration to make in terms of pursuing further study is the financial investment required. Postgraduate study in the UK differs to your undergraduate degree in that course fees vary across subjects and can be higher in some cases than your original degree meaning that you may need to . Although there are financial bursaries and scholarships available, these vary between each university and can be competitive. Before making a decision, it is worth assessing if pursuing a postgraduate degree would be a good investment and if you have the tools in place to support yourself financially for an extended period of study along with general living costs. The website findamasters.com has some useful advice on this.

  1. Have I considered alternative options?

Finally, postgraduate study is not solely limited to Masters Programmes and some professions such as accountancy and HR require separate qualifications that must be completed as industry standard. These can be Postgraduate Certificate or Postgraduate Diploma courses. Another alternative are online courses available on platforms such as Futurelearn, Coursera and more which offer a chance to gain a in a broad range of academic and vocational subjects. Although these may not go into the same level of detail as a traditional Masters course and accreditation may vary, they offer a more flexible and often cheaper way to gain a qualification that you can make use of in your future career. It’s worth considering if this form of further study is recognised by employers in the area you’re interested in and if this could work for you as an alternative to a traditional Master’s qualification.

Thinking through your ideas for further study with the points above in mind may help you in your decision making process on whether or not to continue your studies as applications come to a close over the summer months.

For those requiring further support in assessing their options you can book into speak to a careers consultant in a 1:1 short guidance appointment or check out our ‘Should I do a Masters?’ CareersLab video.

Identifying and Defining Your Skills: You Probably Have More than you Think!  

By Joe O'Brien, on 25 June 2020

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Lee Pike, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.

  1. What are skills?

This may seem like a silly question but it’s actually something worth clarifying. From some of my discussions with students during their appointments, there seems to be some confusion between ‘skills’ and ‘experience’. They are not the same thing and it’s important to know the difference.

A skill is something that you are good at doing: it could come easy to you or be something you learn. An experience is where you learn skills through work, study or activities you do in your spare time.

When discussing what to put on their CV, lots of students say ‘I don’t have any relevant experience’. They think that recruiters are only interested in experience in a chosen field. Recruiters acknowledge students may not have relevant experience, so they want evidence of skills that you’ve learnt from any type of experience that is transferable for use in their work environment.

(Recruiters are not expecting you to do the job unsupervised from day one so they expect to provide you with on-the-job training.)

  1. Types of Skills

Skills can be divided into two categories; technical or soft skills.

  • Technical (Specialist) Skills

You learn technical skills during your degree, with extra training (such as an online course) or from previous work experience e.g. using specific software packages or specialist equipment.

  • Soft (Transferable) Skills

The term ‘soft skills’ under sells what they are; they are better defined as ‘transferable skills’. They are skills you might learn in one experience which you can adapt to another i.e. they are transferable! They are skills that can work in every type of job – and that’s why they’re so important. They go beyond the ability to use a specific piece of equipment or do one specific thing.

Typical transferable skills sought after by recruiters are problem-solving, time management, communication, teamwork and leadership.

  1. How do I identify my skills?

You already have lots of skills but may not be aware you possess them. There’s a lot to gain from reflecting on your skills and qualities and seeing how these can enhance your career and personal development. To analyse your skills and how they relate to skills employers look for, think about:

  1. Your personal qualities;
  2. Skills developed through study;
  3. Skills developed at work;
  4. Skills developed outside work.


1. Personal qualities

Attributes such as patience, humour, initiative, and flexibility are relevant to the type of work you are suited to. The better you know yourself, the more likely you are to find a role that suits you. Your personality affects your style of operating in the workplace and the way you respond to situations.

Have you considered your own behaviour, emotions and reactions?  Why not ask people close to you – they may be able to identify strengths and qualities that you haven’t considered.

2. Skills developed through study

You develop a wide range of skills as a student, such as commitment, self-motivation, and confidence, all valued by employers. For example, if you had assignments where you worked to strict deadlines, you can show that you have good time management and motivational skills.

3. Skills developed at work

If you have work experience, you’re likely to have skills which are essential in that environment, such as communication, interacting with people, being aware of the ways in which you learn and managing your time. Enhancing your capabilities in these areas can help you make the most of opportunities at work and will look good on your CV.

You may not recognise the wide range and high level of skills and abilities you have. Identify your skills by

  • noting down all the jobs you have done (full-time, part-time, voluntary, etc.) and think about what
  • you learnt from each one and w
  • hat skills you developed.

4. Skills developed outside work

You gain valuable knowledge, understanding and skills from everyday experiences, and through training, hobbies, interests and involvement with voluntary organisations. Think about:

  • Your experience and the roles you’ve had outside academia/work;
  • The projects you have undertaken;
  • Organisations, clubs or societies that you’ve been involved with.

Each of those roles demand different skills.

  • If you enjoy DIY, then you’ve no doubt planned a project, set yourself timescales, organised your work and seen it through to completion;
  • If you’ve chaired meetings, then you’ve taken a leadership role and been diplomatic yet assertive. You’re likely to have kept to deadlines and ensured that individuals have been included. This demonstrates interpersonal skills;
  • If you’ve been in a debating club, you’ll have developed your communication and persuasion skills;
  • If you play sport, you’re likely to have teamwork and leadership skills.

Look back over your work, studies or leisure activities and think about the tasks you completed in each. This helps you identify the skills you’ve learned.

  1. Next steps

It’s not unusual for individuals to compare themselves with others and feel superior or inferior towards them based on their strengths and weaknesses.

The thing is, every individual is different and we all function differently based on our personalities. It is important to know yourself and your capacities. Recruiters similarly look for individual personal strengths in addition to required skills – a workplace full of identical types of people does not function effectively.

Your strengths are things you can use to your advantage, things you can use to push yourself further. But it doesn’t mean that your weaknesses are your downfall. They are areas you can improve, not something you lack. They are things you could develop and build. So it is as important to know your weaknesses as much as knowing your strengths.

  • The UCL Careers Online Library is great for searching for a whole variety of resources. For example, after identifying your skills, you could try the ‘Demonstrating your skills’ leaflet.  There is a useful table on the last page of this leaflet which describes what different skills are and ways you may demonstrate them on a CV, for example.
  • Targetjobs has a helpful resource describing different skills and competencies for graduates typically asked for by recruiters and how you can demonstrate them in a CV or in an interview.
  • You can get one-to-one advice by booking a careers guidance appointment to help your analytical thinking and explore your skills or to discuss any of the above exercises you may have completed. Learn how the skills you have can help you with your career planning.

By taking time to analyse your past experiences, you will identify transferable skills you didn’t know you had and will be able to provide evidence of them on your CV. If you identify any weaknesses, this provides focus on what you can improve going forwards.  Good luck!