Post-Grad-Grad Employability: Learning from Experience (part two)

Earlier in the week I wrote a post about an Employability Event I ran last week, targeted at supporting arts postgrads navigate the job hunt following graduation. The excellent Careers Centre at the University of Leeds sent a representative to talk to us about deciding on your dream job, drafting your application, and competing in interviews and applications. While it’s all very good to hear from a careers advisor, I was also able to recruit not one, but two real life postgrad grads to talk all about their experiences of their current graduate jobs, and how they got to them.

Image: Gilmore Girls ©CW

Isobel Davies graduated with her MA in Gender and Culture in 2014, and following a progression from Sales to PR with Betty’s Tea Rooms is now Arts Faculty Engagement & Development Coordinator at Leeds University Union.

Isobel’s role in LUU is to work with School Reps from the Faculty of Arts (like me!) to ensure they and their constituents have the necessary support from the student union to get the most from their university experience, based in LUU’s Academic Advice & Representation team. She’ll split her time between answering queries from School Rep, negotiating resources for student feedback events, and co-coordinating training sessions for school reps on chairing talks, public speaking, delivering workshops and events organisation so they can do the best in their role.

After completing her BA in Fine Art, Isobel worked as a sales assistant and then supervisor at Betty’s Tea Rooms, and was fortunate to land herself a PR internship with the company while completing her MA. The management experience she gained through working at Betty’s developed her timekeeping, communication, and project management skills, while the critical discourse she examined as part of her MA research means she as a thorough understanding in equality and diversity, which allows her to identify potential problems and best support her School Reps.


Callum Holt completed his MA in Critical and Cultural Theory (English Studies) in 2015 and is now Artistic Programmes Assistant at Yorkshire Dance, in addition to his freelance dance and choreography work.

Callum chose to do his MA for sheer love of English and obtained a scholarship to do so, allowing him to use his free time to get involved with the Musical Theatre society at University. Callum has trained as a dancer for over ten years and during his MA was offered the chance to choreograph and produce a friend’s musical, for which they chose to found a production company and eventually took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015. After graduating, Callum was able to secure his job with Yorkshire Dance, for which he consults and advises young performers on how to integrate cultural theory and research for their performances to effectively deliver their chosen message, making use of the critical and artistic analysis skills gained during his degree.

Having focused his MA dissertation on Queer Theory, he is able to advise performers on critical discourses and frameworks on gender and sexuality to use while researching and developing their work. His research background has also proved to be extremely helpful in improving his own creative work as a freelance dancer and choreographer.


Image: Gilmore Girls ©CW


Isobel: “Doing my MA was the best thing I’ve ever done. You learn a lot about what you’re capable of – it’s really hard!”

Both Callum and Isobel were extremely proud of what they’d achieved with their postgraduate studies. Callum heavily relies on his research experience and ability to focus to advise and consult freelance dancers in his work, and he notes that when applying for his job it gave him an edge over the other applicants and opened up a new area of dialogue between himself and his future employer. Isobel agreed that she uses the skills gained during her MA all the time in her work, but acknowledged that it was also incredibly fulfilling on a personal level due to the continuous nature of research. Juggling full-time work with her full time MA meant she really had to user her time well and, and both noted the sheer intensity of an MA being unlike anything else in terms of reading and intellectual demand. However, neither would have changed it for the world, and now that they’re in their 9-5 jobs feel extremely appreciative of having leisure time again.

Callum: “In musical theatre, extra-curricular experience was essential but the MA was the icing on the cake.”

We talked a little about going the extra mile with regards to co-curricular activities and voluntary experiences. In an industry like Callum’s, the fact that he had already produced a show and taken it to the Edinburgh Fringe was a hugely important step in landing his job, demonstrating his drive and enthusiasm. The same goes for industries like charity and heritage – having the experience of the industry and being able to tailor your skills to the specific demands of the sector is hugely important, and it’s easy to gain experience on a volunteer basis. Isobel likewise noted that little extras can be hugely important, that her experience in events organisation gained during her BA Fine Art Graduate Show set her aside from other applicants, and gave her the experience of running and event and the nuances of organisation it requires. Additionally, having the experience of being both an organiser and consumer of a performance or event allows you to effectively relate to your client base.

Callum: “You never know where your next opportunity will come from. Put yourself out there.”

Both Callum and Isobel talked about the importance of social media in job hunting and getting to know industry professionals, especially in the creative industries. Social media, both Twitter and Facebook, are fantastic for seeking out industry pros and keeping up with news, headhunting events, and job vacancies – but be sure to curate your image. Callum advised creative types to consider creating a professional profile that can double as a portfolio, while Isobel reminded caution before posting to maintain a positive image, and to tighten your privacy settings on personal profiles. At the same time, don’t be afraid to use social media to interact with potential employers and attend performances and events – being a friendly face often pays off. Finally, if you’re offered an interesting opportunity, don’t be afraid to say yes – it’s all great experience.


Image: Gilmore Girls ©CW

For more quotes, check out the Storify round-up here.



Post-grad-grad Employability: What Next? (part 1)

As a keen bean doing duty as PGT School Rep for my cohort of MA English Studies students, I recently held an employability event. I’ve been to various careers talks targeted at English Literature and Language students throughout my academic career and come away with the following messages:

  1. Getting a job within the publishing, art, library, or heritage sectors is really hard.
  2. Getting a job in academia is really hard.
  3. Be a Teacher.

There’s a perception that arts degrees are useless, and with continual cuts to funding for libraries, galleries and museums, and performing arts programmes, graduates increasingly find themselves in a world that seems to confirm it. This feeling of dread is emphasised when you are told “you’ll never get a job” by a drunk uncle at somebody else’s wedding.

Obviously there are huge obstacles to Arts graduate employment. That said, there is still hope.

Image: Mad Men, ©AMC TV

Steve Bone from the Careers Service kicked off the afternoon with his ‘Decide, Plan, Compete’ workshop, a guide on choosing and securing your dream grad job from start to finish.

Decide: what do you value in a career?

“Ask yourself why did you choose to do your particular degree? What have you learned from it? What did you enjoy about it?”

The first step to applying for graduate jobs is deciding what to apply for – English, especially, is a great degree to have because it is so versatile – but it can be difficult if you don’t know where to start. Thinking about what you most enjoy (or don’t enjoy) about your degree is a brilliant starting point: you might find that working with books or making a positive difference is really important to you, or that you love the research aspect of your course. You may well hate public speaking and want something quiet, or alternately find that you vastly prefer the group environment of seminars to sitting alone in the library.

If you’re really stuck, or you enjoy taking quizzes, the Prospects Career Planner is a helpful tool for matching your preferences and skills to potential job roles. Remember that over half of graduate jobs are not subject specific, so don’t feel held back.

Plan: how do you find it?

“Approximately 60% of jobs are advertised on social media or through personal connections before they go live.”

Get out there and look for the job you want. Many graduate employers will attend university job fairs and put on events to attract fresh talent, so attend whatever you can. Do your research to find out the industry names and subscribe to mailing lists, and follow them on social media to get the first look at careers events and job vacancies. This works in conjunction with Googling, job centre vacancies etc. If you are already working in a company, most new vacancies are advertised internally first, so keep your eyes peeled for any opportunities to move departments or be promoted.

Browse some vacancies and identify the key words used and the skills required of applicants – you can then tailor your CV and LinkedIn to match.

Compete: how do you stand out?

“The drive and vigour of a postgraduate degree can be a real selling point to employers, showing dedication and ambition.”

Sadly, “I’ve got two degrees” is not enough. However, using your excellent writing skills to make a cracking CV is a good start. For finding your first job, Steve advises drafting a skills-based CV to highlight your achievements and capabilities from your educational and co-curricular experiences that can be transferred into a professional environment.

An employer will read your CV for about 30 seconds before making a snap judgement – so make it easy for them. It should:
1. Be well structured – it should be in reverse chronological order, use headings to separate sections, and make your contact details clearly visible.
2. Include references – obviously ask them first and give a heads up, but including referees’ details demonstrates confidence in yourself and your abilities.
3. Cite real-life examples of your achievements – overcoming obstacles, being trusted with leadership, events you’ve organised. Bonus points if you can include a hyperlink to digital evidence (e.g. conference website, volunteer blog)!

You can find more CV tips on the Leeds University Careers Website.

Finally, Steve said to use your social media presence to further your good impression – Google yourself and remove any ~undesirable~ results away by upping your privacy settings or deleting content. Most employers will Google you during your application, so be sure they’ll find something good. Twitter is a great way to engage with industry contacts, and blogging is especially useful for those entering creative industries to create an online portfolio and advertise your work.

That’s all from the Careers Service workshops – stay tuned for part two of this series later in the week!


Image: Mad Men, ©AMC TV