An In-[ctrl-V]-enient Truth

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A student who copies and pastes

Has applications going to waste

They never hear back

Because it’s a fact

That personalisation will win you the race 

At this time of year in SOAS Careers Service we’re speaking to a lot of our students and graduates. A theme that has come up recently is ‘copy and paste’ applications. Whilst copy and paste is a convenient function, it’s not a great approach to writing an application.

The problem with copying and pasting your CVs, Covering Letters and job applications is that you’ll not address the nuances and specific criteria that each organisation expects for a role.

Picture yourself in the recruiter’s chair.

You receive a pile of job applications. Some that vaguely fit the role that you’re trying to fill, but not completely, a few of which at best go in the maybe pile. Applicants might say that they’re interested in the job opportunity, but they don’t clearly link their individual experiences to the job criteria, haven’t highlighted specific examples or even seem particularly interested in the role.

They start ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ as the opening and each share a number of similarities. They all profess a passion for the sector and organisation. What exactly is it that they are passionate about?

They love the recent bit of news about the organisation, but have barely engaged with anything from further back. And again, what is it that they love about that particular press release? They don’t even engage with the role and how it fits into the organisation. There’s a sense that these applications have been sent to more than just your organisation, a bit of a scatter-gun approach.

You then receive a few applications that have had more thought put into them and really address the needs of the role. Instantly you’re much more interested in these applicants. They’ve called to find out who to address their application to which is always a good start. They highlight what their motivation is, by actually saying what the organisation and sector mean to them.

Without using the word ‘passion’, they demonstrate their enthusiasm with much more clarity by using specific examples and precise language.

Their knowledge, skills and experiences are clearly linked to the role they’re applying for. They understand what the role is, and have clearly made the effort to engage with the job description. They haven’t just used examples, but also demonstrated the results of their work. The time and efforts that have gone into composing these applications make it easier to justify shortlisting for interview.

As a recruiter, the basics that you want in an application is a sense that the applicant has made an effort and understands the role that they’ve applied for. After that, it comes down to the applicants who demonstrate the best fit for the role, based on qualifications, experience and their attitude.

Using the copy and paste function is easy, but it’s unlikely to impress the recruiter when the application doesn’t specifically meet the needs of the role. Put yourself in the recruiter’s position for a moment and think about what they want from your application.

Jai Shah, Careers Consultant

Guest Blog: Starting your Career at a Startup

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 careers@soas.ac.uk.

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Should I consider starting my career at a smaller company?

It may come as a surprise for the majority of you to learn that the percentage of graduates in the UK that end up working for one of the larger, well-known graduates is under 20%. So where are the rest of the job opportunities? 9/10 graduate jobs are currently found in startups and SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises).

Although there are clear benefits to securing a place on a graduate scheme after leaving university (formal training opportunities, prestige, early earning potential), starting your career at a smaller company comes with a host of other benefits which corporates simply can’t offer first jobbers (high levels of responsibility and the chance to have an impact on the growth and development of the business).

To aid your decision on whether a graduate job at a startup or SME could be the right choice for you, here are some questions you should be asking yourself:

Am I good at taking on responsibility and managing my own time?

At a startup or SME you can expect to be given high levels of responsibility from the word go. Working in a small team also means that there’ll probably be nobody else in the company with the same skill set as you or doing the same thing as you. With little time for micromanaging, you’ll really be expected to take your own initiative and ownership over your work!

Am I creative and do I enjoy coming up with new ideas?

At a small company, with often a limited budget, it is common for situations to arise where a creative solution is needed! If you enjoy thinking on your feet and are keen to make proactive decisions to resolve an issue then this could well be the right environment for you to flourish in.

Do I have an interest in entrepreneurship?

Particularly at a startup, you’ll most likely be sitting across or even right next to the founders of the business. This gives you a unique opportunity to soak up all their knowledge and experience. This kind of exposure is especially valuable if you think you might like to start your own business one day.

Am I looking for a chance to develop a wide skill set?

Working as part of a small team usually means that you’ll be involved in several different functions within the company where you’ll pick up a whole new set of skills as you’ll really be expected to get stuck in and contribute. You’ll receive a huge education about how a business truly operates, which is harder to grasp when working in a single department of a larger company.

Am I looking for a relaxed environment and culture?

The atmosphere at a startup or SME is much more relaxed than at a corporate. There is usually no dress code and little hierarchy. You’ll get to know your co-workers quickly and team socials are common. Surrounded by creative and innovative people, it can be an inspiring work environment to be a part of.

This guest article has been written by Sophie Hudson, Head of Community at TalentPool – a recruitment platform matching recent graduates with job and internships opportunities in startups & SMEs.

5 Simple Tips for How to use Social Media in your Job Hunt

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Checking at least one social media platform plays a fundamental part in most of our daily lives. Increasingly, we use social media to keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues, engage with events and for receiving news.

In over five years in Higher Education I can count on one hand the number of students I’ve met who do not use any form of social media at all.

Whilst it’s great for consuming media and news, and for keeping in touch with people, the tools available via social media are fantastic for job hunting.

A few quick tips from me are;

1 – Starting with obvious, get on LinkedIn and start networking. The basics of LinkedIn are having a profile that looks great and shows off your professional credentials. Yeah, the jobs board is ok. But being connected to over 400 million members across the world – that’s the real value of LinkedIn.

Having a profile that looks great, but having no connections to notice it means a lot of wasted effort. It’s like having a fantastic CV that you stick on the fridge door at home; you’re the only person who will see it. Use the Alumni Tool and introduce yourself in groups to start building connections and networking.

2 – Have a look at your Twitter account. What does the tweet at the top of your stream say? How about treating that space as prime advertising, and writing a 140 character pitch for a job/internship, and then pinning the tweet. Once you start interacting with employers and recruiters on Twitter, whenever they look at your profile that’s the first thing they’ll see. Trying to sum yourself up in 140 characters is the challenge.

3 – Following employers on Twitter is great. But if you’re like me and you follow a couple of hundred accounts for various interests, it can be difficult to sift through the noise. So how about setting up dedicated Twitter lists to group accounts by interests. Doing this means that you can filter out a feed of employers that you’re following so you see very specific content. Take it one step further and mute the accounts so they don’t feature in your main Twitter stream amongst the personal interests if you have only one account.

4 – If you’re not sure what type of role you’re interested in, particularly in industries that are evolving so quickly that next year’s job roles don’t even exist, try YouTube for some inspiration. A lot of larger employers (for example the BBC) have a dedicated YouTube careers channel featuring interviews with their employees in various roles. This offers a chance to hear in less than 5 minutes an overview of what somebody does in their job. Not every employer can afford to do this, however it’s a good starting point if you’re exploring what your options are.

5 – Lastly, if you get an interview or similar form of interaction with an employer, check out their social media accounts. It’s more likely to be up-to-date with the employers’ latest news fresh from the Press Team, whereas a website might be a few weeks or even months out-of-date. This might be the difference between only knowing what happened 6 months ago, or also being about to talk about the current situation of the business.

As a final point, it could also be worth taking a look at this social profile checker to take a look at your online footprint as well as this really useful !

Jai Shah, Careers Consultant

Graduated? Fancy interning with SOAS Careers?

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SOAS Careers is looking for a recent SOAS graduate to act as a graduate intern for the rest of the academic year (till the end of July).

Your role would be to work with the Events and Internships team to support activity in sourcing interesting employers to come onto campus or for our students do do internships  – for more information, take a look at the Job Description.

If you are interested, please complete this Google form and send us a copy of your CV to careers@soas.ac.uk by midday on Monday 13 February.

Interviews will be held on Thursday 16 February.  

We look forward to hearing from you!

Alexis Fromageot

Thinking about getting started with your next steps?

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As we begin to settle in to 2017, now’s as good a time as any to start thinking about how to go about planning your next steps. Whether you’ve got a fully set goal in mind or are still completely open as to what the future holds, the following question and answers are designed to support you as you look to your life beyond SOAS!

I’ve not even started thinking about what I want to do next – can you still help?

Not to worry – we can definitely still help! In fact, this is often when we can best support you. Take a look at our wealth of online resources on MySOAS Student to help get the ball rolling.  The Explore your Future section is a great starting point to get you inspired. Our Careers Consultants can work with you at whatever stage you are in terms of thinking about your future plans and, and you can just call in to the Careers Service in SL57 to take a look at all the books and resources available for you.

Haven’t I missed most of the deadlines by now?

While some of this year’s recruitment deadlines have passed, there are plenty more round the corner. Many graduate recruiters will continue to recruit throughout the year, and often small to mid-sized organisations will only advertise jobs later in the year, as and when roles become available. Take a look at the Career Planning section on MySOAS Student to get a better idea about the time frames for recruitment – from internships and placements through to graduate schemes.

How many applications should I make?

This is completely down to you, though we’d suggest that you do your research and focus your efforts on a limited number of employers rather than spreading your efforts too thinly. Have a read through our advice on how to make standout applications and pop by the Careers Service to get your applications reviewed. We can help you to recognise the most effective approach for you.

How do I book an appointment?

We offer 15 minute Short Guidance appointments every afternoon, Mon-Fri, for any questions you may have about careers, further education, work experience, volunteering etc. We can also take a look over your CV, and would recommend you check our CV checklist on our website first. We have many more materials in the Service about CVs, cover letters and applications.

You can sign up for an appointment on the day only, by either calling us on 020 7898 4115 or coming in person to SL57, Lower Ground Floor, Paul Webeley Wing after we open. These slots are really popular, so we’d suggest signing up as early as you can on your chosen day.

We also have Masters Mondays appointments on a Monday between 12-1pm, and Internship Guidance appointments on a Wednesday between 2-4pm; again these are both bookable on the day.

If you are finding it difficult to book an appointment for any reason, just get in touch and we’ll do our best to make sure you get to talk to someone as soon as possible. Read more about the different types of services we offer.

What’s the quickest way for me to get some help?

Never used the Careers Service before or just not quite sure how it can all fit together to help you? We’re open from 10-5pm Monday to Thursday, 11-4pm on a Friday. A member of the Careers team is more than happy to have an initial informal chat with you, and we’re always available to suggest any key resources that could help you. You can also check out the information we have on hand for you on MySOAS Student.

I just want to focus on finishing my degree for now – can I still come by for help when I graduate?

Yes – you can continue to use our services for as long as you need to once you graduate! We’ll be at your graduation ceremony to give you the most up to date information about how to join our alumni network GradClub, which will allow you to continue booking appointments and getting access to all our resources.

Where are you based? 

We are in the Paul Webeley Wing – on the lower ground floor next to the Weston Student Hub, in room SL57.

Alexis Fromageot

Mastering Your Career as a Masters student

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The holiday season is fast approaching bringing lots of opportunities to reconnect with family and friends.  One of the common questions asked when you meet up with people is ‘What are you doing now? After a term of Masters level study at SOAS (or a year and a term if you are a part time student), there will be much to tell!   The follow up question which is then commonly asked is ‘What are you going to next’ At this point do you:

a) Outline your current plans and talk about recent applications

b) Say that you have lots of ideas and stop there

c) Change the subject

d) Steer the conversation around to what they do and try some networking!

If you answered A: Outline your current plans and talk about recent application

If you are writing your CV, filling out application forms or about to start applying, the Making Applications section of MYSOAS has lots of useful hints and tips. This includes our handout on CVs for Masters Students, a useful guide to how to present your current and past experience to your future employer.  After looking at our resources on applications, you can book a short guidance discussion with a Careers Consultant to get feedback on your draft CV or form.

When you receive an invitation to interview, don’t forget that the Careers Service offers practice interviews as well!

If you answered B: Say that you have lots of ideas and stop there

It’s great that you have lots of ideas but how might you take these forward?  If you are finding it challenging to make some choices then have a look at the career decision information in the Careers Service MYSOAS. How much do you know about the sector and roles that you are considering? Check out the ‘Careers by Sector on Moodle’ for detailed information on many career areas. You can also use our Careers Tagged database to explore different types of work.

A discussion with a Careers Consultant may also help you think though your ideas and consider what you can do next to make your ideas a reality!

If you answered C: Change the subject

You may not have wanted to enter into a careers discussion in the midst of a social occasions and there is time and place for everything.  On the other hand, if you find that you continually put to one side thoughts about the ‘next step’ after your course as you don’t know where to start or feel that there would be too much to do to sort things out, then come and talk to a Careers Consultant.  Even taking some small steps about what to do after your course can be valuable.  We are used to working with students and graduates who are very very unsure about future plans!

If you answered D: Steer the conversation around to what they do and try some networking!

The holiday season brings lots of opportunities to network and make useful contacts.  If the thought of networking makes you nervous or just brings to mind, people in suits with lots of business cards then you may be reassured by looking at some hints and tips in the career planning section of MYSOAS.

‘Mastering Your Career’ suggests that everything needs to be organised at all times – we all know life is not like that.  Serendipitous encounters, the job that catches your eye when browsing through a vacancy list and a casual discussion with the person next to you in a lecture (SOAS students have a lot to offer) can all help to life’s rich career tapestry!

May you all enjoy your vacation (it is nearly here!).

Claire Rees, Careers Consultant

Postgraduate study for the Uncertain: 5 Questions to ask yourself when considering a Masters or PhD

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Taking time to go deeper into a subject you are passionate about can be a deeply valuable and rewarding experience. Postgraduate study can enable this in the form of Masters and PhD programmes. Many subjects and specialisms are now open to you which were not as undergrad. You will develop skills as an independent learner, and direct your own research. Further study can also help get your work life aligned with your interests, progress your career and increase your earning potential too. However, for success, huge commitment is required in the form of time, money, energy and ideas. In addition, career progression does not come from the qualification alone – experience and insight into the sector are required also.

Postgraduate study is best not undertaken lightly!

Hugely rewarding and hugely challenging – how to decide? Research! Self-reflection into your motivation and expectations, plus research into your options and chosen sector will serve you well. The clearer you are on your decision to study further, the more fully you will be able to enjoy and make the most of the fantastic opportunities presented to you as a postgraduate learner.

Much support is available to help you in the process of decision making, reflection, exploring your options, and making strong applications. Great starting points include…

Here are five questions that all postgraduates-to-be would should ask themselves (ideally, before starting a course):

  • Why? What are you hoping to get out of it?

This is a crucial question, though it might seem obvious. If your motivation is a pure love of subject, it’s great to be clear on that. If you have aspiration and expectation to progress your career, it’s valuable to know this too. What do you hope to develop – particular knowledge? Skills? Contacts and links with your sector of interest? Ideas for further research? Keep these in mind as you research the different programmes and what they offer.

Do your research into your chosen field – are postgraduate qualifications required or simply preferred? Is this for entry level positions or to progress? Get to know people and organisations which interest you, find out all you can about career paths in the sector. This networking and research will be useful whether or not you decide to take on further study.

Is your motivation to buy time before you have to make a career decision because you don’t know what to do? This is not a good reason to take on further study, and only ends up delaying the important question of ‘what’s next and why?’. Book a guidance appointment immediately with the Careers Service. You can discuss your concerns and your options, and figure out some helpful next steps. Also, have a read of ‘Should I do a Masters?’ from Prospects.

  • Are you committed?

There are many benefits to postgraduate study, and the right course can be a pleasure. There are also inevitable challenges. Being aware of the challenges involved in advance will help you be prepared to meet them face on.

Cost: There is significant cost associated with further study, both in terms of institutional fees (from £4,900 per year, check with the institution), and for living expenses whilst you are studying. Part time work and part time study is an option, requiring double the amount of time to complete.

Time: Independent study allows you to direct your own research, and work independently. Your time can be your own, meaning it is down to you to commit to organising your time to study, research and meet deadlines, in the context of enjoying a balanced life.

  • Why now?

Timing is everything. There can be many benefits gained from returning to postgraduate study after a break from your undergraduate degree. Valuable insights and skills can be gained from time working, exploring different roles, getting to know yourself and your interests more clearly. This perspective can then add value to your decisions in terms of what you want to study, as well as informing the themes of your research. Many postgraduates choose to return to study having had time in industry, and then wanting to either progress professionally, or change direction, or both. If unsure of whether to embark on further study, have you considered taking time to work or travel beforehand, and the benefits this could bring?

If you are choosing to do a Masters or PhD directly after your undergraduate degree, are you clear on why this is and what you hope to gain from it? (See question 1). In any industry, a qualification alone will rarely be enough to make progress. It is worth considering how you will add value to your CV – consider using your time to also make connections and gain experience in a relevant work environment whilst studying.

  • Why this course? Why this institution? Why this country?

Be sure to make a fully informed and conscious decision on what and where you choose to study.

All courses have different specialisms and flavours, and all institutions have different cultures, themes and priorities. Be sure to do detailed research. Choose to study with institution and course which aligns with your own research interests and values. Links to industry? Focus on a particular theme? Developing a particular methodology?

There are a multitude of opportunities to study across this wonderful planet. Have you considered all your options? If your research interests lie in different countries, different regions, studying in those regions can bring huge value and opportunity, in terms of deepening your experience of language, culture, and the broadening the range of the people you encounter. There is lots to consider, including visas, cost, and language requirements.

Excellent resources can help you explore:

Masters or PhD?

This is an important question, for anyone who is considering further study. Be clear on the difference, and the benefits and challenges of each. A PhD is a 3 year minimum commitment to your research, where you will be contributing original knowledge. You will become an expert in your field, and an independent researcher. Masters are often, but not always required for a PhD.

There are some fantastic resources to support you with this question, including a SOAS Careers consultant dedicated to working with the research students, including those considering starting a PhD. Get in touch to book an appointment.

Alice Moon, PhD. Careers Consultant

Assessment Centres: Be Prepared!

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One of the great things about an assessment centre is that it gives you the opportunity to show your strengths to an employer in a number of different settings. Finding out more about the different tasks and exercises that you might be asked to do and thinking about how you can prepare will hopefully enable you to let your skills shine through and minimise your chances of making basic errors.

The exact nature of the tasks that you will be given to do an Assessment Centres depends on the skills and knowledge that the employer is looking for.  Typically, the Centre could include both individual and group exercises so that the recruiter can see how well you work with others as well as your ability to organise your own work. If you are undertaking a group task, you will usually be observed by the assessors who are looking for positive (and negative) evidence of how you interact with other candidates and contribute to the team in order to finish a task. In preparing for these types of exercises, consider the qualities that make a good team player.  Loud, over-competitive behaviour where a candidate dominates a group, demanding that their opinions are heard is hardly conducive to creating a productive working relationship. On the other hand, you need to ensure that your contributions are heard.

If you are the type of person who prefers to think through an idea for a while before offering suggestions, you may need to step outside your comfort zone a little and get your thoughts ‘out there’ a little earlier because you may run out of time.  You may find it helpful to start with ‘breaking the ice’ and, if the other candidates haven’t met earlier in the selection day, you could always encourage everyone to introduce themselves.

In an individual or group exercise, it is really important to make sure that you are clear about what you need to do. It sounds obvious but if you are nervous and keen to get on with the tasks, it is very easy to make assumptions and rush to start. Are you being asked to make recommendations based on a case study and then present them to the assessor? Is the group being asked to reach a consensus decision or put forward a number of alternatives?

There are lots of resources to help you with your preparation for an Assessment Centre. The Successful Applications section of MYSOAS Student Careers Service provides many links to useful resources and some exercises to help you practice. We also have a range of books on topics such as making presentations and case studies in the Careers Service in SL57 – just come by to take a look at these. Keep a look out too for workshops and skills sessions throughout the year on Assessment Centres; these are advertised on MYSOAS Student Careers events calendar.

Good luck!

Claire Rees, Careers Consultant

Confessions of a reluctant writer

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Let’s face it, there is more to life than completing applications. On the other hand, if you are job hunting or looking for an internship, your time is probably quite full up with form filling and thinking about the best way you can present yourself to an employer.

If you are struggling with putting your ideas into writing and feel that your marketing is mundane then here are a couple of hints to help.

Step away from the keyboard!

Yes, I really mean this, take your fingers away from the keys. Now imagine that you are in the interview, your prospective employer is in front of you and asks you the classic question, why do you want this job?  Take a deep breath and really think about why. You can be honest to yourself, it might be the case that the money may be good and you just need a job, but go beyond this.  Why are spending your time on this application rather than an essay, a chat to friends or course reading?  If you want to, try and answer the question out loud (whisper very quietly if you are in the library) or go through the conversation in your head.  You can now return fingers to keyboard, don’t try to immediately write a whole paragraph but jot down ideas.

Put yourself in the employers’ shoes, do you sound convincing or bland?  Are you being vague – I am really interested in working in x or y tells me nothing as the recruiter. Give me some insight into why you are interested – the job links with your course, your work experience, you have been motivated by meeting someone working in this area etc.  You can then begin to refine your answer to fit into the letter or form.

Read the question

Ok I know that this is an obvious statement but have you worked out what you are being asked? You are all veterans of many exams and will hopefully understand the benefit of being clear about what the employer is asking before you start to write.  Does the question have more than one part? Are you being asked for one or more examples of your experience?

Let your ideas flow  

This can be a useful approach particularly if you are answering questions on an application form with word limits. Give yourself permission to just write an answer of any length to begin with, get your ideas down on paper and then begin to edit and refine. It is a real challenge to write a set number of words and having this at the forefront of your mind can sometimes get in the way.

Take a break

If you are struggling to find the right words or work out which example to use in an answer then take a break. Reflect on your ideas on your daily commute (please concentrate on cycling though if you are commuting on your bike!) or whilst on the treadmill in the gym or having a break during the day.  You may be surprised how much more easily words can flow on paper or screen when you return.

Good luck and remember that you can book in to speak to one of us Careers Consultants in the Careers Service – we’re more than happy to read through your applications! Just come by the Careers Service in Room SL57 or call us on 0207 898 4115 on the day you want to be seen.

Claire Rees, Careers Consultant

What’s on this Week: Public Sector Week

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This week at SOAS Careers is all about working in the Public Sector!

Come along to our whole host of events designed to support you and your career in the public sector, as well as our one-to-one appointments every afternoon. Don’t miss out!

Mon 24 Oct 5.30 – 7pm, B111: SOAS Alumni: What the Civil Service Fast Stream is really like: http://bit.ly/2dCf5mh

Wed 26 Oct 1.30 – 3pm, S118: JET and Daiwa Presentation: http://bit.ly/2eZwHhM

Thurs 27 Oct 1 – 4pm, Cloisters, Senate House North Block: Public Sector Fair: http://bit.ly/2eJYO0M

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Alexis Fromageot