10 pieces of advice to help you on your career path

This week I have the privilege of being a panelist at a careers session for social science students at the University of Gloucestershire. I’ve therefore been thinking a fair amount over the past few days about useful things to share. Here I’ve compiled a list of ten pieces of advice for students and those entering into the world of work or heading off in pursuit of a career. Below I’ve answered the question of ‘why’ for each of these tips, or given an example of where they’ve paid off for me. So:

  1. Work hard(er)
  2. Take risks and be brave
  3. Start doing the job you want to do
  4. Make the most of every opportunity
  5. Be helpful and network
  6. Be true to yourself
  7. Live abroad
  8. Learn another language
  9. Find out about jobs you never knew existed
  10. Find the gaps in your CV and fill them

1) Work harder
Working hard might not feel like fun, sometimes, but it does pay off. Good grades will open up more opportunities for you. Not just grades, though, if you work hard and do a great job at a certain project, for example, you can write about that in a CV. Why work harder? Because, alas, there are a lot of people out there looking for jobs, so working hard will help you achieve something to make you stand out.

2) Take risks and be brave
When I was doing my PhD there was a postgraduate poster competition at my university. I wanted to do something a bit different from the standard and get creative. So I made an academic poster with wool on it. I was a bit apprehensive on exhibition day because everyone’s looked the same except mine. But my risk taking paid off because there was a prize for most innovative poster and I won the prize. This gave me the confidence to get creative in preparation for the presentation in a previous job interview: rather than produce a generic handout, I used paper, scissors and glue to mock up a webpage, which the panel really liked.

3) Start doing the job you want to do
If there’s a job you want to do but you’re not already doing it, what better way to convince the interview panel that you’re passionate and ready for the job, than by being able to show them you’re sort of already doing it. How can you do this in practice? You can blog, you can do something as a volunteer, you can set up your own project…

4) Make the most of every opportunity
Be it good or bad, make the most of the opportunities that life presents you. I went to a training session a few years ago, which I found quite underwhelming. Frustrated, I wrote a blog post with the content I thought should have been in the session. The post got reposted on a well-read blog, and was widely read. Someone working in the publishing industry saw my post and, because of what I’d written, got in touch with me and asked me if I’d be on a panel at her event. That was really exciting, and gave me another new experience to draw on.

5) Be helpful and network
It’s easier to achieve things with the help of others. So invest in getting to know people and help them. Then, when you need help, or advice, or are looking to move into x career, or whatever, they will be there to help you.

6) Be true to yourself
This one will make the first point much easier (working hard). If you care about something and enjoy it, it’s so much easier to work hard at it, to put in the overtime if necessary, to go the extra mile, to do the boring bits. If you get so far with a job and realise it’s not for you, it’s okay to change. In fact, the norm these days is to do different jobs across your working life.

7) Live abroad
Living abroad is the thing I’m most glad I’ve done. You see how other people and cultures do life; how they work, what they value, how they think. It changes your perspective on your home country and on others – makes you realise just how differently we are all wired, and how diverse our experiences are.

8) Learn another language
Lots of jobs don’t require another language, but there are lots of cool jobs that do – or they consider a second language a bonus. Often it doesn’t even matter which one, it’s just the fact that you can speak another language. Another language also opens up the option to you of working abroad. Or, alternatively, when your office is looking for someone to go to that exciting international meeting, you’ll be able to put yourself forward.

9) Find out about jobs you never knew existed
I wish I had done this. I know about so many jobs now that I didn’t even know existed until a few years ago. That being said, 21 year old me would not necessarily have been particularly interested in the job I’m doing now. I, like many of my friends, have found the jobs we love by trying different jobs, each time getting closer and closer to doing what we are both good at and passionate about.

10) Find the gaps in your CV and fill them
Once you know the kind of job you’d like, look at a person specification for that job. Do you meet the requirements? If not, think about what you can do to change that. Find a voluntary post, put on an event at your university, give a talk at the WI, use the platform of the internet, use whatever you have around you to plug the gaps on your CV.

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