Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert

advertising business calculator commercial

Starter for 10:

  1. What do most employers want and few students think they have?
  2. Commercial awareness.

It may be essential, but for many it’s an apparently elusive attribute, desperately hard to acquire without reading the Financial Times daily, checking the Dow Jones Index at regular intervals or realising that hedge funds have nothing to do with gardening. Although the preceding is non-negotiable if you’re planning a career in the City, for the average student it’s just not necessary.  What is needed is an understanding of how the business world functions. A word to the wise: this includes those who intend to go into the third or public sectors – governments, charities and NGOs need to generate income and stay ahead of the game too.

At its most basic, commercial awareness is demonstrating that you know that businesses exist to make a profit, maintain / expand their client base and undercut the competition. Simple or what?

But how do you show this in applications, CVs, interviews if your experience is limited to the usual bog standard student job?

Don’t do this:

  • “My part- time role at Tescbury supermarket, involves shelf- filling, serving customers and operating the till.”

Not only is it blindingly obvious, it shows absolutely no appreciation of the most rudimentary business principles.

Try instead

  • “I work part – time at Tescbury’s, which has a turnover of £x000 and a weekly footfall of y customers, which has taught me to work under pressure.  Innovative staff training means I can deliver quality service and offer ideas for improving shop floor operations.  Targeted advertising and price match discounts have seen us outperform other local supermarkets.”

See what I did there? Quantification, a hint of pro-activity, tactical use of business jargon, a dash of business insight.

Now ramp up the volume:

  • promoting or running student societies / initiatives allows you to dazzle recruiters with your hands-on knowledge of finance, branding and contributing original ideas (all key to commercial success)
  • a nodding acquaintance with the news headlines is equally useful. You might be asked how a current political, social or business issue will impact on a specific job or organisation. Wrong answer/ no answer/ total bewilderment = lack of credibility.
  • would-be entrepreneurs should be able to provide evidence of investing time (not money at this stage) into exploring, researching, and, ideally, testing, the feasibility of their ideas
  • volunteering gives you a certain cachet, especially in the not-for-profit sector. Showing how you took the time to look below the surface and see how the organisation operates, obtains funding and keeps ahead of its rivals, will put you in pole position.

Commercial awareness? Easy when you know how.

Gill, March 2019

Gill Sharp is Careers Consultant with SOAS Careers Service



Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert

ancient architecture art asia

Interview nearly over, end in sight, battle almost won.  Don’t relax just yet.  There are more hurdles to come:

#1“What questions do you have for us?”

Make the difference between becoming the jubilant first past the post and a regretful also-ran.  Avoid the trite, the tired and the time-worn.

DON’T:  ask questions to which the answers are readily available on the organisation’s website. (Nul points).

DO: focus on what you can give them. Less “Tell me about the chance to work in your Paris office” than “What opportunity will I have to use my French?” Or “How can I contribute to your international brand?” – which trumps “What are the opportunities for travel?”  You get the picture.

It’s not about you, it’s about them

If inspiration is lacking?

– put a new spin on a clichéd question.  Not so much “What will my training involve?” more “What makes your training stand out?”

– if they’ve asked you for a topical comment earlier in the interview, throw it back: as in “I‘d be fascinated to hear what you think about developments in this sector in the next 10 years….”

– seize the hour: what do they need to know about you – in order to give you the job, natch – that they haven’t already uncovered?   You can supplement your original answer with some cracking new material or go a step further: “No more questions, but I just wanted to tell you about x, y, z….”

Really want to leave the opposition standing? Zap them with this ace of an enquiry, along the lines of “What are the three key things you want me to achieve in my first few months in this role?”

Never fails.

DON’T dice with danger: never query the perks or the social life unless you want to come across as a crazed party animal.

DO: wait until you are offered the job to negotiate pay.  Right now you are dangling on their hook. Hold hard until they are skewered on yours.

BUT…what if they ask you what salary you expect?  If in doubt, stall for time.  Explain that you want time to assess what you have learned at the interview. If you do have an inkling of what constitutes reasonable remuneration, give them a ball-park figure at the higher end of the scale – because it’s entirely possible to negotiate down, less easy to raise the stakes.

# 2 Leave on a high.  Don’t scuttle away like a frightened crab.  Shake hands.  Smile. SMILE! Restate your interest and ramp it up higher. Try “I have really enjoyed meeting you and am more interested than ever in this job.”  A positive affirmation.  A winning move.

Gill, March 2019

Gill Sharp is Careers Consultant with SOAS Careers Service

Guest Blog: Succeeding in Careers in Art History

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert

ancient architecture art asia

Last Tuesday (22 Jan 2019) SOAS Careers Service and the department of History of Art and Archaeology hosted a joint careers event for History of Art and Archaeology students.

Our panelists shared their individual career stories, as well as tips and advice for success. We heard from speakers with experience working in a range of arts related roles such as auctioneering, curating, and museums, including organisations such as Christie’s, the V&A, and the Natural History Museum.

SOAS’ Professor Shane McCausland summarised the helpful advice into 10 (+1) Tips on Succeeding in Careers in Art History, as follows:

  1. Don’t do what I did- learn from others about their false starts and changed minds!
  2. Get lucky- make sure you have a ready response to the question ‘Why are you interested in Art History?’ in case you meet the right person at the right time!
  3. Be resilient. Failure is an opportunity to succeed next time. Own your mistakes and learn from them. Build a range of strong networks to support you.
  4. Really focus on your degree and get the best result you can.
  5. Get composed and confident in object handling. Learn how to handle objects and discuss them confidently.
  6. Careers don’t go in a straight line!
  7. Academic achievements are not the only things which determine whether you will do well in commercial careers and remember other skills are important.
  8. After your degree be as flexible and mobile as possible- take opportunities!
  9. This is the digital age. New jobs are being invented and appearing all the time. There’s no reason for you not to invent a job!
  10. Make a plan and build towards it. Don’t be afraid to be ambitious. If you are ready you can pounce on the next opportunity!
  11. Once you’re in a job recognise who is a good boss and build your relationship with them.

If you want help or guidance with your career path (how, what, why?), just pop down to the Careers Zone (SL62).


Guest Blog: 5 New Year’s Career Resolutions to consider in 2019

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert

notebook writing pencil start

New Year, new start. If you are one of those students who is guilty of procrastinating on career progress (and even if you’re not) January can be a great time to start forging ahead with all the energy that the New Year brings.  And it is really important to remember that while the idea of career can feel huge and overwhelming, there are plenty of ways that we can break this down into short, manageable chunks that will allow us to feel that we are moving in the right direction. Consider whichever of the following may feel right for you:

  • Update your CV. Are you making the most of everything you can offer? (and remember that most recruiters will only spend 5 seconds reading it). Does your CV look professional and presentable? Have you refreshed it to include any new skills developed last term? Have you had it reviewed by a Careers Consultant?
  • Get started with LinkedIn. While this may feel like a platform for seasoned professionals, the smart kids are the ones who already have profiles created and are starting to make real life connections. Remember that LinkedIn can also be a great way to research interesting employers and the people working for them.
  • Research the possibilities. It’s a big wide world out there, with new careers being created all the time. The career landscape is never static which is why it is important to keep on top of the options through active research. MySOAS offers excellent information on a range of industry areas to get your started.
  • Attend events and start face-to-face networking. Getting talk-time with employers can be one of the best ways of finding out whether careers really feel exciting and intriguing to you. Visit some of the careers events put on at SOAS not only to hear about different employers and industries but to network with some of their key recruitment decision makers.
  • Upskill, upskill, upskill. From a graduate recruitment perspective it really is about being able to evidence a range of skills and competencies. Don’t forget that we can develop skills in all kinds of ways – through our studies, roles in societies, internships and extra-curricular activities. Volunteering can be another great way of gaining skills – the careers service offers a volunteering drop-in service every Friday between 2-4pm.

Ticking off a number of these career resolutions will ensure that you are not only making the best start possible to the New Year, but that you create the momentum to help you continue through the forthcoming months.


Hannah is a Career Consultant

Guest Blog: ‘Tis the season to be… proactive.

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert

christmas home house light

With the festive season well and truly upon us, and the inevitable last minute scramble to meet course deadlines, the looming Christmas holidays may feel like a welcome opportunity to do little more than sleep, eat and rest. And yet, time away from the university environment can actually be the best time to start applying some gentle thinking to your career. The academic pressures, to an extent, will be lifted and this can clear the way to allow you both time and headspace to focus on the future.

So what kind of things can you be doing over the Christmas break to ensure you are making the most of this time?

  • Identify your best resources. While some of you may know exactly the direction your career is heading in, there will be plenty of you who will be coming up against that hurdle of ‘not knowing what types of careers exist’. Researching sites like (for the Job Profiles or the Career Planner quiz) or will help you navigate the career landscape and gain a better understanding of the industries that make up the job market. For those of you who already know what you want to do, this is about taking time to research the employers or the niche job boards that operate best within these industries. Take your research to that next level so that you are ready to access these opportunities when the time is right.


  • Speak to those around you and learn from their career journeys. The university break gives us a great chance to become reacquainted with a whole range of useful networks – family members and working friends, to name but some. Make a concerted effort to speak to these people to help you to find out more about the world of work. Ask them about their jobs, what they do and don’t like, and how their working day is made up. If it seems interesting to you, do they have any useful tips for breaking into this area? This is how successful networking starts and who knows where it could finish.


These tasks don’t have to be time consuming. They can be easily integrated into the Christmas break while still allowing you plenty of time for fun and good old fashioned rest. But, by moving forward with some of these exercises, you should be ready to approach the new term with an increased knowledge and renewed enthusiasm for life after your degree.


Hannah is a Career Consultant

#MondayMotivation: Join us for Post-Graduate Study Week, DECEMBER 03, 2018 SOAS CAREERS

adult blur books close up

Acquire new knowledge whilst thinking over the old, and you may become a teacher of others.”Confucius

Hello SOAS and welcome to the penultimate week of term 1!

This week we are focusing on Post-Graduates and launching SOAS Connect, so do step in to the Careers Zone (SL62). We start the week with a CV clinic for Masters students, which is then followed by a workshop from the Career Thinking Series looking at how to enhance your employability whilst at university. On Wednesday we continue with the Career Thinking Series and focus on preparing you for successful applications and interviews.

On Thursday evening we launch SOAS Connect – a Graduate Network like no other – with access to dedicated information, events and resources for starting, developing, and progressing in your career after graduation! Join us for an evening of food, drinks, music and networking in Senate House on Thursday 6 December at 6pm

Not your palate? No worries – we’re open as normal every day and on-hand to give you advice about anything to do with your next steps after SOAS. Pop in!

Remember you can discover all of the week’s events and book-on with our online booking system CareersZONE. Just log in with your usual SOAS email and password.

Tuesday 04 Dec

Wednesday 05 Dec

Thursday 06 Dec


Don’t miss out – places are being booked out fast, so make sure you get involved by booking now!

Guest Blog: Applying for work in the charity sector – tips and advice

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert

achievement blur charity collaboration

Writing a cover letter for the charity sector

When you are applying to work in the charity sector, a well-written cover letter can make all the difference. As well as presenting your skills and abilities, the cover letter is where you can show a little bit of who you are as a person and demonstrate your passion for charity work.

Here are our top tips for writing your charity sector cover letter:

  • Explain why you want to work for that particular charity – do your research about the organisation’s work, aims, approach and values, and how these differ from other charities in the same subsector. Show how these fit with your own beliefs.
  • After talking about what draws you to the organisation, explain why you are interested in the specific role you are applying for. What excites you about the role? You might want to mention specific projects you would be involved in as well as how the role fits with your career plans.
  • As well as showing your passion for charity work, your cover letter has to showcase your skills and personal abilities that make you a good fit for the role. Turn to the job description to see what the charity is looking for, and give examples from your past volunteer work, employment or studies to show how you have developed these skills.
  • Keep it concise – stick to one side of A4 for your cover letter. Use a clear font, avoid long sentences, and split up large paragraphs to make it easier for your potential employer to read. And don’t forget to spell check!


Tailoring your CV for the charity sector

Working in the charity or third sector can be both rewarding and challenging. Entry-level jobs in the charity sector are often very competitive and receive a great many applicants. If you’re thinking of applying for a role in a charity, here are some of our top tips for making your CV stand out from the crowd:

  • Tailor your CV to the specific role. While some entry-level charity roles are client facing or ‘in the field’, many more are office-based and require many of the same skills as similar roles in other sectors. Whether you are applying for a research, policy, communications, fundraising, campaigning or administrative role, use the job specification to understand what – and who – the charity is looking for.
  • Highlight your transferable skills. Even if your private sector work experience might not at first feel directly relevant to the charity role you are applying for, think about the skills you developed from your prior roles. Skills such as communication, leadership or project management can be developed in any sector and applied to charity work. Under each of your previous positions on your CV, focus on the skills you developed.
  • Voluntary experience can always give your CV a boost, and in the charity sector this type of work is particularly valued. Treat voluntary roles like employment experience and emphasise the skills you developed, whether that’s through fundraising for your favourite student society, or managing other volunteers in your local charity shop. Voluntary work can also demonstrate your commitment to the sector.
  • Do you speak another language? With many charities working internationally, language skills can be sought after. Remember to list your language abilities as well as your IT or digital skills that are crucial for many roles.
  • Finally, don’t forget to spell check and think about asking a friend to read your CV to find any errors.


Need more support?

Find some more advice on getting into the charity sector from CharityJob, take a look at the cover letter template provided by Charity Job or drop into the Careers Zone (SL62) between 1 and 3pm Monday to Friday to have your CV or cover letter checked by an Applications Adviser.

To view all of the Enterprise Events and to book, go to the online booking system CareersZONE.  Just log in with your usual SOAS email and password.


Shona is an Applications Adviser in the SOAS Careers Service