My crash course in careers: from zero to career ready in just months

Getting started in first-year…

Written by Isabel Vernon – BSc Geography (Human and Physical)

Dining tables and chairs

When I first arrived at university, I asked the careers service to help me find a part-time job. Through a careers appointment and CV check, I was given lots of advice for the upcoming jobs fair on campus and completely redesigned my whole CV to better promote my experience and skills. At JobFest in October, I managed to secure a flexible part-time job waitressing in a hotel, starting that week. This has helped support me through university to this day. I felt confident to approach the HR manager during JobFest as a result of my careers appointment and I believe my revamped CV helped me get the position.

At the end of first-year, I started thinking about the future. I attended a Professional Placement Year Boot Camp in June with a few of my friends. It gave us tips on finding internships and placements, CV and cover letter advice, and much more besides. The session was interactive and engaging with quizzes, freebies, and chances to win prizes, and fully immersive with the day spent learning from different people. I enjoyed it, especially as I had brought some friends along, and it got me thinking about life after university. Even though I decided a placement year wasn’t for me, the session was very useful for career development generally and helped when I started looking for other opportunities such as internships.

Career ready in just months during second-year…

During second-year, I really started engaging with the careers service as I was getting worried about what I would do after university. Before the October Career and Placement Fair, I attended a ‘Prepare for the Fair’ session run by the careers service which gave me confidence when approaching people on the stands. At the fair, I found out about the organisation IEMA, which I joined afterward as a student member. I then attended two events with IEMA over the next few months, giving me the chance to liaise with professionals in my field and build up my LinkedIn network (assisted by a ‘Getting Started with LinkedIn’ careers session).

The university also ran a Careers Showcase event specifically for my course (Geography) in October. This was invaluable as it was from this event that I found out about the company Jacobs and spoke to a Reading alumnus who now works in the office near Reading. Using this contact, I was able to get one-day-a-week work experience at that office in the spring term which fit around my studies. This gave me a real insight into the company, potential career paths and generally working in an office.

Madejski Stadium

As well as fairs, I attended a mock assessment centre organised by the careers service at the Madejski Stadium in October. This was an incredible opportunity in which I took part in three tasks and gained feedback from professionals throughout. I started with a mock one-to-one interview from which I learnt some important things, for example, do not say ‘quite’ as you need to sell yourself! Next I prepared and gave a presentation in a small group. I personally hate giving presentations but this was really great practice as it wasn’t graded and we only presented to 3 people. The feedback was also very helpful. Finally, I took part in a mock conference building teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills. Overall, the whole experience gave me greater confidence for application centres, interviews, presentations and the work environment generally.

In November, I went to an O2 employability event run by the careers service during which we worked in teams to design a new concept for O2 and then presented our ideas. During the presentation, I tried out audience participation for the first time based on the feedback I got from the Madejski Stadium event – it went really well and has greatly increased my self-confidence when talking in front of an audience of over 20 people, including professionals.02 Showcase building

When reviewing my CV, I realised I had not done any volunteering since I started university. I wanted to fill this gap so I booked a volunteering drop-in with RVA (Reading Voluntary Action) arranged by the university careers service. They found me a volunteering opportunity that suited my career aspirations with a charity called The Conservation Volunteers. I attended a couple of conservation days with them and found it really fun and fulfilling.

Following this, I attended a careers session about the Reading Internship Scheme and started searching on MyJobsOnline for a RIS opportunity that suited me. I found that The Conservation Volunteers was offering an Easter internship and applied immediately. I was offered an interview at the start of February but before I went, I booked a mock interview session with a member of the careers service. This was invaluable – they were able to give me a really good idea of the sort of questions they would ask and the best ways to show your skills and experience when answering them. The session was really relaxed and made me feel much more prepared for the interview.

Group of volunteers for The Conservation Volunteers

© The Conservation Volunteers

I went to my interview feeling calm and prepared and got the role! It was an amazing feeling, I was very excited to get started. I worked 14 hours a week around my lectures, sometimes in the office, sometimes out doing practical conservation work. When COVID-19 started affecting workplaces, I was able to continue my internship remotely. I had weekly Teams calls with my manager and I emailed her frequently. Although I missed the practical work, I felt that this gave me extra skills in working from home, such as greater initiative and research skills. This internship has given me great experience and skills to add to my CV and was only available as a result of the careers service internship scheme.

Jacobs' office building

I was also applying for summer internships to get even more experience. I knew Jacobs offered internships outside of the RIS, so I applied for one of those as I was really enjoying my work experience with them and could see myself working for Jacobs after university. I applied before Christmas (many opportunities have early deadlines) but didn’t hear back until March. Try not to be disheartened if you don’t hear back for a while – I was offered an interview. My previous mock interview with careers helped me prepare for this interview as well and I got the role! I found out that they had 40 applicants and interviewed three. I strongly believe that the advice and practice I got from the careers service, in both applications and interviews, was instrumental in me getting that role.

I went from having no experience and no idea what I wanted to do after university in September of second-year, to having secured and undertaken work experience and an internship, with another lined up for summer, all in just a few months. I have greater confidence in applications, interviews, presentations, and networking which will help me secure a job after university and thrive in it. I have an idea of where I would like to work and the sort of role I would like to have. I have developed numerous skills and bulked out my CV substantially. So if you are feeling how I was in September, have a look at how the careers service can help you get career ready and don’t be afraid to get started – there’s something out there for everyone ☺

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