I said a long while back that I would talk about my volunteering experience again, now that I have spent a full term as a Classroom Assistant for a homelessness charity. Previously I was an Office Assistant. For those who are new to this blog, I started off the year thinking about what I wanted to do after graduation, and I knew that I had to (and wanted to) start volunteering to get experience for my postgraduate study applications. So a trip to the Edge Hill careers service website and an email to a charity later, I luckily gained a placement…
I was a little nervous on my first day on the job helping out in Employability sessions. The classroom is small and decorated with work that the clients (not “students”) have made in the past, and I didn’t know anyone there…
The main challenge for me was in fact getting my tone of voice right – I remember the first day nerves made me speak louder than usual which was inappropriate as the clients are of course not deaf, but I’ve learned now to ease my vocal tone whatever the situation so I come across as more supportive than aggressive. Another challenge, albeit a more minor one, is appearing busy on slow days. The best sessions are when the clients are asking lots of questions about Employability, which is great as that is something I am passionate about, but sometimes sessions are very quiet so I have to pretend to be active which isn’t as bad as it seems. All in all, this term has been an interesting time, as it has shown me from a ‘staff’ point of view what leading a group session is like.
In terms of my future of Volunteering, I am to do one more Term with the charity before moving on, which will be sad considering I enjoy what I do… The applications for Postgraduate study open this November (hopefully) and I’ll put this experience at the top for sure!
I have about five deadlines for Uni coursework on the same week in a couple of months, which means I have to organise my study time so that everything is completed to a high degree and submitted about a week before the deadline (I have worries that if I submit too near the final deadline then the upload system may crash for obvious reasons). Being organised is super important not only in Academia but in the real world, as both usually require you to juggle multiple projects – this is how I do it.
– Plan Ahead
The obvious thing to do is have a diary and a weekly (if possible) timetable where everything can be tightly planned, especially when you are doing projects inside and outside Uni work. I printed my Semester timetable and filled in all the boxed around the ones already filled in with Lecture times in pencil – as you can imagine, this way of scheduling requires quite a lot of discipline because times are set, and honestly I don’t always stick to it but I really try to.
– Work out what works for you
This part refers to how you go about completing high quality work within a set amount of time. I never recommend leaving an essay or presentation until the week before the deadline of course, but it is up to you how much time you give yourself. The standard, I would say, is four full weeks to complete an assessment. Sometimes people prefer to leave work later so that the pressure causes them to work well, and sometimes people need as much time as possible. What should not be required is someone giving you a ‘kick’ to do your work – There should be more independent ways of motivating yourself!
– The “Emergency Mode” Technique
This is a technique that I use personally in order to get work done. I pretend that everything has to be done by tomorrow or the world will end, and it is very effective because it means I have to rush (creating a lot of fake pressure) to get everything done as soon as possible. I have managed to get lots of work done simply by using this technique, and I find that when I rush I don’t hesitate to move. That’s my secret to being organised! Although this does not mean do everything at once – I prioritise some work over others of course.
I’m not saying that organisation is the key to high quality work – Sometimes the work I spend lots of time on does not get me high marks, and sometimes the work I spend less time on does not get me low marks etc.. This post is here to help others make sure they get their jobs done without busy timetables forcing any dips in quality!
Just wanted to clear up what is means by “it’s who you know” and how to get contacts (which may help you secure you a good career ect). I read of how graduates regret not using their time at University to build contacts – they look for work in the real world but they don’t know anyone that can offer employment or career building… This highlights ways on how to get (or at least how I get) contacts, and it’s up to you how you use them.
Personally, I see contacts as people that I know personally that can help me professionally. I have noticed in my years as a media student that the people that get cast as actors in student productions are friends or acquaintances, and not people that are simply interested in acting! It’s cool to be skilled, but even better when you know people who can benefit from your skills and give you experience simultaneously.
In terms of what University can offer, they often hold events with networking time before and / or after it which can be a good time to meet people – although, as someone who works as an events assistant, I find that guests usually stay within their own groups, so networking events are more of a place to get introduced to someone new through someone you know.
Jobs fairs are also handy, as I gained some very valuable contacts from talking to people (usually professionals with good networks of their own) behind the stands.
Societies are very handy also. I was a junior radio producer for VibeMedia.co in Edge Hill, which of course meant I met many other students. In particular, I met someone who was in (at the time) the third year of my course – Now she has graduated from Edge Hill and works for two radio stations in the North West which is very handy when you’re like me who runs a record label 🙂
Finally, let’s not forget the contacts from work (paid and voluntary). I try my best to get along with my colleagues and bosses, as I know that larger employers sometimes go on recommendations from their current staff if you know what I mean… In addition, fellow students can make great contacts; for example, my record label requires second opinions on songs, so who better to turn to than my fellow music students?
Neighbors count as contacts to – there have been times when people I know turn to the people they live with for casting choices whether they are actors or not.
I hope this has been helpful and do read up on how to use contacts to your advantage. To me, networking is quite an underrated skill for a student / graduate to possess, but used at the right time, it can seriously help you with your career!
I get kind of concerned when students don’t know what they will do after graduation, as it’s common knowledge that there are few jobs, and lots of graduates! Unemployment / jobseeking is not something to go into blind.
I saw an article from The Guardian the other day about the skills graduate employers look for (such as business sense, good with computers, culturally knowledgeable, a Linked In profile ect), so this post is like a checklist of areas which can be covered so all those “employability skills” can be at least experienced.
At the very top of the list is professional experience (yes that does include minimum wage jobs in my book!) as employers usually hire graduates that have been trusted and liked by past employers.
Make no mistake, youth employment is sky high – I myself know quite a lot of students who do not have jobs yet they want to work.
There’s nothing wrong with being unemployed (or even underemployed), I just want to get across that if a student does want a job, you have to seriously compete for one, and it is possible to succeed in my experience.
The common reason I hear as to why students don’t volunteer is because they don’t have time. I myself volunteer and honestly it has never interfered with my studies – I set aside one day a week to do some good. However I do understand if a student has many commitments 🙂
If you do decide to do volunteering, the benefits that I have found include gaining experience in an office / admin environment (which used to be a huge gap in my CV), and experience in a classroom environment which should come in handy for future employer / postgraduate study references.
The one I work in at the moment, which I discovered through the Edge Hill Careers website, just so happened to have a vacancy at the time I contacted them. I have not regretted going for it – oh the variety of every work day.
Spare Time Projects
Since I’m on a music course, the obvious thing I do in my spare time is make music and work on my little record label project.
I feel like I am developing as a pop music composer as the stuff I produce nowadays sounds more balanced compared to my really over powered older stuff so that’s something I guess.
As for my record label, it is not easy going! I’m working with multiple artists and niche marketing so every day is a challenge, but I love it. Business is everything!
Cultural / Extra Curricular Activities
Apparently employers like well rounded graduates, which I guess means they like those with a VARIETY of interests, which can be proved with what you do in terms of organised activities.
The obvious way to go is through societies, and I know Edge Hill runs plenty. I myself used to work as a junior radio producer at Vibe Media which is managed by Edge Hill students.
(I guess learning a second language counts as a cultural activity??)
I do not recommend putting on your CV that you like / can do something (such as leadership) and not have proof to back it up (ie: I was the president of the [X] society).
Finally, we have that important, expensive, and very difficult to obtain piece of paper.
I do read a lot about how employers choose those with experience over those with none (and never mention degrees), and I get the logic – Experience is experience, paper is paper (blunt, I know).
But in my head, a good degree backs up the good experience you have, hence my belief that degrees are worth more than meets the (employers) eye!
So there we have it. Do check out the Guardian article on what graduate employers apparently look for, and the Careers website (links below) . I highly recommend coming up with a plan for post graduation if you have not already, and plan out the steps to take in order to make your dreams a reality!
This year I am to learn a 2nd language as I feel I am confident enough I can remember all the different sounds (or if I’m being really academic, “signifiers”) that mean the same things, and communicate them to at least an “okay” degree. I thought it would be a cool skill not only as an extra line on the CV, but mostly as a challenge.
The language is Tagalog, the main language in the Philippines (I know lots of others who know the language). It’s better late than never, and I think I have made some surprisingly good progress, as the language is quite easy to learn. It borrows a little from Spanish (cómo está -> kumusta = how are you). Once you memorize the more complex stuff then it stays in your head so it doesn’t feel so complex in the end thank goodness.
One thing I’ve noticed about Tagalog (it might just be me) is that when you say it, it somehow makes your voice go louder than usual. I think it’s because they way the words require moderately clear pronunciation (ikinagagalak kong makilala kayo = pleasure to meet you) which makes the speaker talk loud?
I think the main challenge for me is that, whereas in the UK we have some easier ways of showing politeness (Sir, Madam ect.), in Tagalog it’s a little more trickier. For example a lot of sentences to someone with authority (whom generally shouldn’t be addressed by first name) contain the word “po” (“opo” instead of “o o” = “yes” [formal]), and talking about / to them usually requires them to be talked about it plural instead of singular (“sa inyo” instead of “sa’yo” = to you (all) [formal]. Yikes I do want to upset anyone in Tagalog conversation!
Thankfully the internet has plenty of free resources to learn another language, so hopefully I can make swift progress and know at least elementary proficiency Tagalog by the end of the year!
I am writing this post in response to the Guardian article about 10 skills graduate employers look for, as one of those skills (along with business sense and having a Linked In account ect) is a another language as I guess it shows discipline and rigor which means you can be trusted more ( :/ ?). I have also read an article about how Uni students are prioritizing employability over their studies, which is kind of concerning considering how much work goes into academia… In my opinion, the safest bet is to do well in both.
I’m more of an academic person than an “entrepreneur” or “music producer”; However, I do try to engage with as much music industry practice as I can. This post outlines the activities I do around my Uni course, that are related to the subject I study – Cultural Studies. Uni life is not all essays and presentations (although I like doing essays and presentations 🙂 ) !
My record label
I was inspired to set up my own record label when I heard two music technology students set one up as a final year project, and that label was seriously well done in my opinion (shame it’s no longer active but the inspiration is still there). Mine is called Melted Leather Records (I’m not putting in a link as I’m not self advertising) which pushes niche genres (ie music you’ve probably never heard of like chiptune, breakcore, dark pop ect) to a wider audience – the idea is that a genre goes from invisible to visible, so if listeners like that music then they can seek out more of it which (in theory) encourages sustainability in the music world. This year I finish organising the label’s debut release compilation which saw me building rapport with artists I have never met before (one was overseas), handling budgets and encouraging everyone to pull their weight. Bear in mind this is way easier said than done. While I’m not a big fan of the law and finance aspects of enterprise (like negotiating funding & fees, working out contracts ect.), I really like the relationship management and creative marketing aspects. Problems are regularly occurring, but it’s awesome when I find ways to solve those problems. I have no idea how long my label will last, but even if it does fade after one or two releases at least I have some business experience to impress future employers.
Uni record label
Speaking of record labels, the University finally has there own! It’s called The Label Recordings, and it’s managed by EHU lecturers and marketing staff, and run by students. From what I know, they are scouting for an artist to sign – preferably a band so they can organise live tours and recordings. I’m more of an observer than an actual participant as of course I am busy with my own label, however I am positive that the label can bring great music to audiences and good experience to it’s contributors.
I am also trying to be more active in the field of music production. I think production work is one of those things where everything is difficult and trap filled, but when all the knowledge is gained then everything is more straight forward. I am working on an EP for my course but I hope to make two more before the end of the semester. I want to try a little live performance as well as apparently it’s great… but we’ll see about that…
So I hope this gives some inspiration to participate in other projects around your Uni course – hopefully those activities will complement your CV and really impress potential graduate employers.
Next week marks the half way point of my degree, and yes everything has moved sort of quickly for me – I’m using this week to finish my post university plans, as I don’t want to leave anything to the last minute!
One thing that stuck in my mind from my old further education days is my lecturer teaching us about using Career Portfolios; A practice which I have taken on board, hence I thought I’d take you on a tour of my own Career Portfolio which I started before my first year.
Within it are five sections:
Introductory papers – This is an overview of where I am now and how to get to where I want to be; there’s annotated drafts of CVs / personal statements, job application history (notes on where I went wrong or right), and strengths / weaknesses.
Careers – These are notes of the numerous jobs that I would like to have, how in demand they actually are, and how to realistically get them. I sometimes read books showing career profiles, and some profiles have really shocked me!
Professional Development – This part focusses on gaining work experience (paid, unpaid, self employed) to add to the skills gained from University. Here I have detailed how I’m getting myself out there (such as getting a blog, networking progress ect), what skills I have, and what skills I still need / how to get them.
Academic Development – A very useful part especially since my own degree is very research based. Here I detail various research resources (books, journals, websites ect), coursework feedback, and what potential postgraduate courses (course content relevance, fees I must pay upfront) I may pursue.
Spare Time Activities – All the extra stuff such as side projects (like commissions, business projects) and societies joined.
This is just here to show one way of how I’m aiding my attempt to find work in the apparently ultra competitive graduate job market.
I guess Career Portfolios aren’t for everyone, but it’s really helped me so far!