Advice for 2020 Graduates: From Graduate Job Podcast Host James

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The below is my interview with James, host of The Graduate Job Podcast.

It’s 100+ episodes of fantastic advice from career experts, authors, and industry professionals.

In this wide ranging interview, you will learn the following:

  • about James’ career path
  • why he started the podcast
  • his favourite episodes and why
  • the best LinkedIn tip from all the episodes of the show
  • best job hunting tip from all the episodes of the show
  • the best CV tip from all the episodes of the show
  • best networking tip from all the episodes of the show
  • the best interview tip from all the episodes of the show
  • best career planning tip from all the episodes of the show
  • the best advice on getting a job you love
  • what to do if you have no idea what career is for you

Hi James, tell us a little bit about yourself and your career path:

I did a Geography degree at uni as it was a good broad degree which gave you lots of options at the end of it. It was a four-year masters degree as I wanted to stay at uni for as long as I could!

Then I went and worked in China teaching English which was a great experience. It was 12-15 hours a week so you had lots of time to explore/have fun when not working.

When I came back and was applying for jobs employers were really interested in my time out there. I could give some great answers to competency questions based on my experiences in China.

This really put me ahead of the other applicants who could only give examples of teamwork that they did while at university.

When I came back from China, I wanted to work in the travel industry. So, I got a job with an airline and really liked it.


However, I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I applied for some grad schemes at consulting companies as the roles were quite broad.

These grad scheme consulting roles involved doing lots of varied stuff and getting to work with different companies/industries which appealed to me.

I was accepted into a grad schemes with a consulting firm and ended up staying 5 years with them, and learning lots.

I then decided to use that expertise to go out on my own as a freelance consultant which is what I still do today! See James’ career path below.

2012-Present             Freelance Consultant, Various Clients

2007-2012                 Consultant, Global Consulting Firm, London

2005-2007                 Revenue Analyst, Airline Company, UK

Advice for 2020 Graduates: What advice would you give to your 22-year old self?

I would have gone freelance earlier, maybe a year or 18 months earlier.

However, you do need to build up some experience before you take the plunge. So, I don’t have any major regrets.

I enjoyed my time with the firm I did the graduate scheme in.

It was very social; there were lots of people your age, lots of nights out, etc.

Not sure what you wnat to do for a career? If so, check out my post on 3 Proven Tools to Help You Choose a Career

Advice for 2020 Graduates: What are the pros and cons of contracting/freelance work?

There are no cons really!

As a consultant, you have to be able to commute from your home to a lot of the client sites so it can mean being way from home Mon-Thu a lot.

Being a salaried employee with one of these consulting firms is great when you are younger as it’s very social.

You have a few drinks, stay in nice hotels and eat in very nice restaurants entertaining clients. However, when you get a bit older, you want to be spending time with your friends/partner.

advice for 2020 graduates; beer, pouring, glass

It doesn’t really work being away from home so much. I remember just before I left the options were either go to Edinburgh or Bradford (UK).

I said ‘No thanks’ to both!

Advice for 2020 Graduates: Why did you start the graduate job podcast? And tell us a bit about it and the really varied guests you’ve had on it….

I’ve been doing the graduate job podcast for 4 years now.

When I was applying for grad schemes myself I put a lot of work into preparing for the applications and assessment centres.

I had answers to all the questions prepared, and was very successful at progressing though those processes.

I was the go-to person for family and friends to give them advice on applying for jobs and really enjoyed it.

Also, when I was working with that consulting firm, I had to do some internal work for the company.

One of the options was helping out with the graduate scheme, i.e. vetting candidates, telephone interviews, etc. Doing that I could see how bad some of the applications were.

Some of them were appalling; I was really shocked. People were copying and pasting the wrong company name!

That got me thinking about starting the graduate job podcast.

Would you be confident that your CV is in the top 5% of all the CV’s that a hiring manager sees? If it isn’t it will quickly get binned 🙁 Make sure your CV is as good as it can be with my post on 31 Top Tips To Improve Your CV

Advice for 2020 Graduates: Graduate Job Podcast

I get a real sense of fulfilment out of it, you have people emailing you saying this episode really helped me with this or that.

Some of the most popular episodes i.e. numerical reasoning, get 10,000 downloads! There have been over 100k downloads in over 200 countries!

In terms of the different episodes, some of the shows discuss:

psychometric tests

assessment centres




and how to:

get a job in specific industries/with particular employers,

become an entrepreneur and

work and travel with your job!

Advice for 2020 Graduates: China
Advice for 2020 Graduates: What were your favourite episodes of the graduate job podcast and why?

The episode with MJ De Marco was a great one.

His book ‘The Millionaire Fastlane’ is a real favourite of mine. If I could recommend one book to people reading this post that would be it.

Reading that book really changed my thinking on life and career in general.

The episode with Geoff Thompson was also one of my favourites.

He went from nightclub bouncer to BAFTA award-winning screen-writer.

He talked about the fear people have in applying for jobs and how they can overcome that fear.

To be honest, I love all of them.

Each one is so different and I always learn something new!

The graduate job podcast gives me the chance to speak to people I normally wouldn’t talk to, which is great.

You also meet people who you have quite a lot in common with. It also improves my interpersonal skills as I have to build a rapport with people in a very short space of time.

Advice for 2020 Graduates: What advice would you give to someone graduating now?

There is no rush. I think there is a big pressure to get a job.

Everyone is trying to climb the ladder as fast as possible and make as much money as they can quickly as they can. Take your time go work abroad and travel.

head, success, beyond

Don’t just bum around on a beach for a year though. Go and get a 1-2 year working visa, and live and work in a very different culture.

You will learn and develop so much out of it.

[PAUL: That’s interesting as quite a lot of the 100 interviewees in my book said the same but they advised getting 1-2yrs experience in your home country after graduating first. Friends of their who had no real experience after graduating found it very difficult to get proper professional office jobs abroad]

That’s good advice but I’ve also seen people who start earning some cash, getting promoted, and having such a good time that they then don’t want to leave the UK!

Advice for 2020 Graduates: From hosting 70+ episodes of the graduate job podcast, what should they teach in school/university but don’t?

Entrepreneurship, positive mindset, interpersonal skills.

A lot of lecturers they have never had a job outside academia.

They have done a masters, Ph.D. and then become a lecturer.

That’s great if you want to work in academia but if you want to learn and get advice about the real world you are not going to get it from them.

There is so much good advice and practical info out there now.

I wish someone would have given me Tony Robbins tapes when I was 16, to teach me about confidence, how to think, how to approach life and solve problems, etc.

Some rapid-fire questions about the graduate job podcast episodes now:
Advice for 2020 Graduates: 1) Best Linkedin tip?

– Get on Linkedin is the first tip!

– Once you have an account make sure you have a decent professional looking photo. You can pay someone £20 to get this done.

– When sending connection requests, always put a little personal note in the connection box. Don’t leave the generic message. People will be 10x more inclined to connect with you if there is a reason or some commonality.

– Use the alumni search function. For example, pick something that you are an alumnus of, i.e. university, then join that group. Let’s say you want to get a job with Facebook. You can use the alumni search function to see the people from your university that work for Facebook. You will then stand a better chance of them replying if you ask them if you can have a quick chat.

Advice for 2020 Graduates: 2) Best Job-hunting tip?

Instead of blanket applying, be as focused as possible in your applications.

Pick three and really sculpt your application(s) so that they stand out from the crowd.

I was amazed at the poor quality of the applications send to my consulting firm; people just put in no effort. If you do put some proper time and effort into your application it will get noticed!

application, search, job search
Advice for 2020 Graduates: 3) Best CV tip?

CV’s are so generic these days.

A good tip that was given on the show was why not be a little different to catch people’s attention.

Depending on the industry, why don’t you do an infographic of your career to date? You can get someone on Fiverr to do that now for very little expense.

Advice for 2020 Graduates: 4) Best networking tip?

In episode 3 on job-hunting with Richard Maun, one of his big tips is networking.

For young graduates who mightn’t have big networks he says make a list of people you know i.e. immediate family, peer group etc.

This will give you 15-20 people you can then go talk to and ask them who do they know‘Who do you know who?’ is the most valuable question.

For example, if you are looking for a job as a consultant for example, and ask those 20 people ‘Who do you know who works as a consultant?’, chances are they will know someone who you can then go ask the same question, and build up quite a lot of contacts that way.

Advice for 2020 Graduates: 5) Best career book to read for graduates?

The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ De Marco

MJ talks about other ways of making money instead of working for 40 years for a big company and trying to get promoted; by pinpointing a niche, working out a business plan.

This book really changed how I viewed my career. I’d encourage any young person to read it, it’s a tremendous book.

Advice for 2020 Graduates: Millionaire Fastlane
To check out the top three takeaways from my favourite non fiction books, check out my post on 12 Life Changing Books 
Advice for 2020 Graduates: 6) Best interview tip?

It’s a basic one, but one that people more often than not forget.

Answer the question you were asked…..not the question you wanted to be asked.

Also if it’s a tricky question don’t be afraid to say, ‘you know that’s a really good question, do you mind if I have a second to think about it’.

Then take a moment and compose yourself and off you go. Don’t sit there for minutes in silence though ?

Advice for 2020 Graduates: 7) Best career planning tip?

This links very closely to the next question on thinking about your values.

Spend some time thinking about what it is that you want to do, what excites you? What jobs would you love you do?

Think about it, jot them down, then go out and speak to the people who are currently doing them.

Get in touch with them on twitter, go and see if you can intern for them, or work for them.

See how they have done it and do the same. If they can do it, you can do it too!

man, woman, question mark
Advice for 2020 Graduates: 8) Best tip for getting a job you love?

Even in a ‘job you love’ you can have tough times as well when maybe you mightn’t be enjoying yourself that much.

I think the most important thing to do in terms of job satisfaction is to think about what are your values and what you want out of that job.

Spend time thinking about your values – a lot of people spend a lot of time trying to climb the ladder only to realise when they are at the top of the ladder it’s on the wrong house.

Try and figure out what is important to you? Is it:

– how much money you earn?

– what size of company you work for?

– what industry you work in?

– whether you are working in a team or not?

– work-life balance; do you want to go home at 5pm or 8pm every day?

Once you figure out some of the answers to the above, it will be a lot easier to find a ‘job you love’

Advice for 2020 Graduates: 9) What advice would you give to a graduate who has no idea what they want to do?

This question makes me think of a favourite quote of mine from Philip McKernan:

Advice for 2020 Graduates: Quote

“In the absence of clarity, take action!” 

If you don’t know what you want to do; do something!

That way at least if you don’t like it you can cross that one of the list and do something else.

You also might find that you like certain aspects of the job which can lead you down a different path.

I think the big thing I got from reading your book is that the 100 interviewees didn’t have a laser-like focus on what they wanted to do.

All of them had very meandering paths, using trial and error to see what they liked and didn’t like.

Advice for 2020 Graduates: If you suddenly had enough money never you have to work again, what would you spend your time doing? The Graduate Podcast full time?!

I really enjoy the coaching stuff I do, whether it is helping someone with their applications, CV’s or just career advice in general.

So, if money was an object I’d do more of that!

Advice for 2020 Graduates: How do you think the future of work will change?

People will become even less loyal to jobs and companies!

Graduates will stay 18mths after a graduate scheme instead of many years. I also think people will work from home a lot more and do more contracting in the future.

Advice for 2020 graduates

I’d highly recommend checking out the graduate job podcast, it is a goldmine of great advice and all free!

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18 thoughts on “Advice for 2020 Graduates: From Graduate Job Podcast Host James”

  1. These was a great interview and had lots of helpful information, I need to update my LinkedIn by the looks if it.

  2. Great interview! I like that James spent time in China teaching English. I think that type of experience really broadens one’s outlook.

  3. This is such a great interview! The podcast sounds so amazing and I enjoyed reading this. I agree that more people will work from home, it seems to be the way things are going. Though I find freelance and working from home to give me more time with my kids and that is why I do it. I have to make money but I refuse to miss out with them.

  4. i can’t relate to this anymore as I already have a stable job and been working with the same company for more than 8yrs, but I can see that the guy has a very good perspective in life and would eventually succeed.

  5. Another great and interesting interview.
    Havent heard of the podcast yet, but might give it a try.
    The tips are very easy to follow.

  6. I totally agree Wren! Work to live not the other way around! Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  7. Couldn’t agree more Lori! If you can sort your life out in a foreign country, it all seems a little easier when you get back home! 🙂

  8. I enjoyed the interview! James has made some great points about career and interview tips. Glad to know that he also taught English in China and started his career in airline industry and later move to freelance consulting!

  9. There’s real good informations here, thanks for sharing. About the pros and cons of contracting/freelancing, I like how optimistic you are. There could be cons, but all you focused are the pros. And about your advice to someone who just graduated, I agree w/ all of it. I believe that we all have a time for everything, our luck will come to us at the right time, we just have to have faith.

  10. Melanie williams

    What an amazing interview! It is always good to hear other peoples stories x

  11. awww thanks so much melanie!!!! his story is telling 100 peoples’ stories, so much great tips in there!

  12. I’m a contractor myself for the last 6 years and young people don’t really know about the contracting world….it’s a pity they don’t get to see more successful contractors, I agree with your sentiments, I think we will all find our own way, some more easily than others…..

  13. awww thanks so much ana, he is an inspirational guy, he spends 6hrs preparing each podcast for no fees or sponsors, just cos he wants young people to learn from our generations’ mistakes! I am a big fan! he is a great guy! thanks for the comment!

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