How to get a job, SOAS style…

by Steve Lipscombe, SOAS Alumnus, now working for the BBC, who participated in the mock interview workshop on Tuesday 3 February.

It was great to return to SOAS after a few years away to participate in a mock interview workshop. During those years away I ended up in a role that isn’t uncommon among SOAS graduates – at international development NGO with a focus on Asia – so I was happy to come back and talk about my experience, interview techniques, hints and tips.

I was then asked to write a blog, but it seems someone has beaten me to it. My colleague has already written a really practical blog on our website for anyone thinking of applying for a job with us. A lot of the hints and tips there can be applied to any role. So take a look!

But the hints and tips on that page aren’t necessarily tailored for the average SOAS student – and that’s what we focussed on in the workshops.

What’s so special about SOAS? Well, we all know the clichés about SOAS students (documented at overheard at SOAS) and elsewhere. But from my experience at the workshop, it’s true that most students at SOAS have got some interesting stories to tell.

Whether it’s volunteering, travelling, work experience, living abroad, or crusading tirelessly for any given cause, these are the sorts of things that help employers realise that we’re interesting people, we know what interests us, and we care. In an interview situation where lots of people might be suitable for the same role, it’s things like this that can help set us apart.

For example, I have a strong hunch that it was the work experience that I gained in China during my year abroad that helped me get my first job in the UK as a graduate. The experience meant I had loads of examples to give in my interview – talking about different working cultures, working as part of a global team, and dealing with the unexpected. I was also able to apply it to a role working in the UK with a focus on Asia.

Some other examples from students in the workshop included practising for jobs that matched a specific specialism from their degree course, or applying for an NGO that worked in a sector which was relevant to their volunteering experience. It’s the logical connections that you can make between who you are, what you’ve done, and the role you’re applying for that can help set you apart.

So when a potential employer asks you to talk a little bit about yourself, think! Try not to sound like everyone else. Stand out! It’s not just about where you’re from and what you’re studying. Relate the role you’re applying for to your values or your personal experience if you can.

Even if you’re reading this and you don’t really know what you want to do when you graduate (we’ve all been there…), you’re in a strong position because you probably have some great experiences to talk about. Think about those stories, and how the experience gained from them can help you succeed in the role you’re applying for. By making that link for the interviewer, and doing the thinking for them, you’ll be more likely to walk out of the interview with your head held high.