The below is my interview with Ben Robertson, Careers Consultant, Leeds Beckett University.
I didn’t really know about the careers service in my university, I’m not sure any of my friends did either. Even after finishing my degree I didn’t seek out any professional careers help, this is incredible really seeing as I spend the majority of my life at work!
I wanted to interview Ben to see if more students were using this valuable resource now and to find out more about the careers services on offer. The below are 13 big reasons why you should use your careers services:
- You can avail of high quality integrated career modules (for free!)
- They show you how to navigate the vast amount of careers info on the internet
- Exposure to employers who come and talk to students i.e. workshops, hackathons
- Access to alumni and mentoring programmes
- They help you to see ALL the career options available to you
- You start to think differently about your possible career paths
- Support if you are wondering ‘What can I do with my degree?’
- Interactive tools for people who have no idea what they want to do
- They can show you careers resources that you might not know about
- You can see examples of non-linear career paths to give you inspiration
- Help with finding part-time jobs, placements, internships and graduate jobs.
- Practical skills-development workshops e.g. CV writing, LinkedIn.
- Info and access to careers and employer fairs
No. 1) CAREER MODULES: Hi Ben, you’ve developed a careers module, can you tell me a bit more about it?
Ben: Yes, I’ve essentially just curated a number of our existing careers services resources. We’ve got great career resources that students and graduates can easily access. The challenge for them is finding them and sequencing them together.
The module starts with you, your interest and values, and how that fits into making career decisions. It then takes them through exploring industries, employers, and different opportunities. It also helps them learn how to articulate their skills; how to write effective CVs, application forms, and improve interview skills as well as setting up a LinkedIn profile.
Students have said they have benefitted in several ways:
- improved their career awareness and career readiness.
- provided them with a clearer idea about what the future holds.
- gave them confidence in contacting employees i.e. work experience
- showed them the ins and outs of the graduate market.
No. 2) OVERWHELM: There is so much careers info available online for students now, where do they even start?
Ben: There’s too much information, isn’t there? And that can have the effect that it’s just like, “Wow, when I click, what do I look at? Is this any good?” So, a big part of our role now is helping students to become more digitally literate as well as ensuring the advice provided is high quality, and applicable to them.
All of that sounds great. I’m curious to know how many students of Leeds Beckett actually go and see the careers service. Are a lot of students a bit ignorant in terms of careers while at uni, then leave uni and become a bit lost? When I was in university, it never even dawned on me to go to the careers department!
Ben: Me neither. It’s probably one reason I ended up working in a careers service. We’ve got about 25,000 students, so it’s a massive student population. We probably only reach around about 20% of the students who self-select to come to our central careers service.
image credit: lbsu graduate network
It’s a challenge reaching the majority of students because we’re quite a small careers team. The model we have is a central service and consultants working with academic schools to embed employability and career development learning which includes teaching on employability modules. Any student can come and access that central service; either have a careers appointment, drop-in or attend one of our employer networking recruitment events.
That’s sad, isn’t it?
It is. However, it’s quite a good challenge because it kind of forces careers departments to go “OK, so we need to do something different.” A lot of universities have recognized this particularly over in the States, for example. Some of the careers services over there take on a different role. They might run training courses with academics, plug careers learning into the curriculum through modules, and take the careers services to students in their academic homes. So that the message is delivered by everyone, not just the careers services, but with the careers professionals being the expert consultants, community builders and enablers. The UK is a bit behind, unfortunately, but we are seeing a move in the right direction driven by the likes of TEF, Graduate Outcomes and the Office for Students.
No. 3 & 4) EMPLOYERS/ALUMNI: I work in finance, and I’d be only too happy to go and talk to a business class in one of their lectures; “This is what I studied, and this is how my career ended up,” That would be so valuable, I think, for those guys.
We look at every opportunity where we can get an employer to talk to the students. I’m working on a project at the minute where we are designing a new final year module that’s going to have a short-term placement element for it for the arts and humanities. We’ve got employer input, to help us make sure that the academic learning complements what industry is like in the real world.
We bring back alumni at the university as well. We have mentoring programmes, which are a powerful way to aid students’ career development, or they might just come back and come into a lecture and talk about their career journey. At every opportunity, we do that to help students see the reality, but also give them some inspiration and an opportunity to build their network.
No. 5) OPTIONS: Is that because Leeds Beckett might be a bit more practical than a very old established university?
Yes, we certainly have lots of industry-specific courses, but we’ve also got the traditional academic subjects too.
I think what students need to realise is that once they get involved with a careers module like the one I’ve developed; it opens their thinking. They start to see all the different options available to them. I think the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) quotes that up to 82% of employers will take students from any degree discipline!
A lot of students don’t realise that. They will study a history degree, for example, and think, “Well, my options are teaching, and I don’t really know what else.” That notion might also be reinforced by their community. Their family might be like, “Well, what are you going to do with a history degree? Be a teacher?” and it puts them in a hole and it kind of knocks their confidence as well.
A big part of our role is boosting students’ confidence and getting them to see that there’s a lot more out there. It’s just being able to navigate that and explore.
image credit: sheroes
No. 6) POSSIBLE CAREER PATHS: Totally agree. That’s why I wrote ‘1000 Years of Career Advice’ because I am not a huge fan of my career. My parents said, “Become an accountant, and once you are qualified you can do whatever you want.”
Then when I turned 30, I looked back on my career and realized the jobs I had worked in weren’t anything like what I did in Business classes in Leaving Cert (A level) or university!” A lot of my peers were the exact same; working in something totally different to what they did at school or uni.
When you’re young, you don’t have a clue that all the paths open to you. You think, “I’ve got to be this, this, or this.” That’s not true at all!
I think the career thinking that’s reinforced by society and particularly parents and teachers is troublesome. They’re so influential as role models. It’s that question, “What do you want to do when you’re older?” or, “What are you going to do with that degree?” It leads you down the wrong path because it’s forcing you to go, “Oh, I need to pick this because it’s an occupation,” and that school of thought is out the window these days.
People still do work for certain occupations. However, for most people, their careers happen by chance and are non-linear. It’s by being a bit curious. Maybe they’ve met someone that put them in front of someone for an interview and they’ve gone down a completely different path than their degree.
I think the more we can encourage students to understand the role that chance plays and that they can create a number of paths for themselves. To not be afraid to try something and go, “Do you know what? That’s not right for me. It’s been a great learning experience. Let me see what else there is.” I suppose it’s similar to what Emma did trying 25 careers before the age of 25 (Read interview with Emma here)
The more exposure they can get to different things the better. University is a great place for that because they can get involved in part-time work volunteering, join a society, build a network, come to an employer event. There might be an employer that studied their degree that’s doing something completely different and they can say “Wow, why can’t I do that?.”
All of that sounds great, but it’s the complete opposite of primary and secondary school, and what students did for the last 10, 15 years. For a lot of students, it mightn’t come naturally to show initiative and approach people, make things happen, etc. Also, you could be having the time of your life and not care about jobs, or the future!
Yes, they are all factors as well. However, with university degrees now, there’s more chance to go out into the workplace, working on live projects with an employer so students get that exposure. That’s good to see.
No. 7) WHAT CAN I DO?: What are the common questions students come to you with and say, “I need help with this?”
We get a lot of, “What can I do with my degree?” and not knowing where to start. They’re probably the best students to work with. You can really get them started quite easily, helping them work out who they are, doing some reflection with them, understanding their interests, values and motivations.
Students will say, for example “I’m studying a sports degree, so I’ve got to get a job in sport afterwards.” We try and ascertain where that is coming from? If you love studying sport, great, but if you want to go work in business, go do that. A lot of it is just dispelling those myths.
No. 8) TOOLS: Let’s say I’m a student who comes to you for advice and you say, “OK, why have you done this degree, what are your values?” I’ll then say my values are: “I’m honest, I’m open, I’m personable,” etc. Then how do you use that slightly ambiguous info to say that I am suited to this career or that career?
Well, we could go as far as doing a personality test. Do something like the Big 5, the OCEAN, etc. There’s also a really good tool on prospects.ac.uk which generates some ideas either related to industry specific jobs. We could do a career quiz, ask some questions around who you are, which will give you some starting points. That initial research is critical because it generates initial exploration.
Yes, that’s the starting point, and then they can just test out different things to see whether they like it or not as a potential career….
The other thing as well is to not be afraid to be curious. Our students might book on some of our employer events and then be reluctant to come.
These companies are coming here, they want to speak to you. They want to talk about their career journeys. Some of them might be alumni, and just by getting some insight into their careers, that could be the difference between loving and hating your career in years to come!
That’s a great point. A guy who’s 23 rang me up the other day, he’s working with a really good company in the pricing department. He doesn’t really like his job and is unsure if he wants to do that long-term.
I said to him “Just reach out to five, six, seven people who are five years ahead of you in different departments, ask them about what they do, and they’ll be dying to speak about themselves,” because they were in the same predicament as him when they were 23.
But, it’s not in the UK/Irish nature, really is it? A lawyer friend of mine who works in the US interviewed in my book told me “Everyone networks all day long every day; Hi, I’m X. I do Y. What do you do?” But, in the UK, we don’t want to go near anybody really, do we?
You’re absolutely right. The Americans appear to be super-good at that, and just they do it to a tee, whereas we’re a little more reserved over in the UK.
No. 9) RESOURCES: You could be blue in the face encouraging students to be more curious and go ask people about their jobs, but how do you actually get them to do it?
That’s the hard bit. We started to run more specific events to certain students and certain schools as well, making sure we get alumni back to talk to them. The Alumni Tool on LinkedIn is great. We encourage our students to go on there and see over the past five years, where all the recent graduates from their courses have ended up?
That gives them the opportunity to not only look at their career journeys and profile but if they’re feeling a little braver, just drop them a little note just to say, “Hey, I’m interested in what you’ve gone on to, could we possibly have a little chat?”
Image credit: Exeter University
You’ve mentioned prospects and the Alumni Tool on LinkedIn, and I guess the careers module in every university. Any other good tools or resources?
RateMyPlacement, which is good for all things to do with placements. Prospects is very good because it’s continually updated. It’s always a great starting point. TARGETjobs is another good one.
No. 10) NON-LINEAR CAREER PATH: Do you know past students that have ended up working in something very different than their career? Let’s say they studied sports, and now they work in marketing?
Yes, there are loads. That’s the norm: the non-linear career path. The LinkedIn Alumni Tool is great for that. They’ll go and look at a sports degree and say, “Well, actually most sports students have gone working in sales,” That knocks them off their feet when you show them stuff like that
No. 11 – 13) If you’re reading this and you know there is a careers services there, but you don’t really know what goes on behind the doors or the sessions it provides, what services do you provide?
Lots of different guidance really. For example, let’s say someone came to us saying they were not good at interviewing. We’d talk them through interview techniques, processes, we’d give them some tools, we’d give them some ideas about how they can go and improve their interview technique. We could do a mock interview with them as well. We deliver workshops and also work on a one-to-one basis.
Careers Services will do something similar for CV writing, job applications, learning more about different industries, career paths, prospective employers, etc.
- Help with finding part-time jobs, placements, internships and graduate jobs.
- 1:1 careers advice and guidance to help students find a graduate job, pursue further study or set up their own business.
- The chance for 1:1 mentoring with an experienced professional.
- Practical skills-development workshops e.g. CV writing, LinkedIn.
- Employer-led workshops e.g. assessment centres, hackathons
- A comprehensive careers website, plus an online vacancy and events database.
- The latest careers news via Facebook and Twitter accounts.
- Interactive, online tools to help students explore options and what steps to take next.
- Careers and employer fairs