If there is anything I’ve learnt in the past eighteen months of being at University, it’s that being a student is about learning how to seize opportunities. With graduate unemployment currently at its highest level in over a decade, getting a job is not just about good grades; it’s about making the most of extra-curricular activities. Developing interests outside of your course is crucial. Whether it’s playing for a University sports team, or chairing the debating society, there is no better place to discover new skills and build your portfolio.
I came to University determined to be a journalist. As such I threw myself into writing for Redbrick. As a first year especially, it is quite easy to feel inexperienced and daunted by the myriad societies and positions laid out before you. Don’t be afraid to bite the bullet though. In the first month of my first term I applied for a role as editorial assistant, certain that a second or third year would get it, and thankfully I was picked. In this role I gained crucial InDesign and Photoshop experience and eventually became editor of the Comment section.
My involvement in such a vast and exciting society has boosted my confidence in leading meetings, editing and designing, and working towards deadlines. Of course, I’ve made mistakes; discrediting photographs and articles, but that is a natural part of doing anything and the rewards have far outweighed the stress of working under pressure. Despite really enjoying this role I have come to realise that journalism is not for me. Time wasted? Not at all. The skills I have gained are definitely transferrable to other roles and sectors. Don’t worry that once you start something, you’re stuck down that path. People often change careers paths and it is part of what makes it all so exciting.
This year is the busiest I have ever been. Knowing I want to be involved in the Arts, yet not quite sure where and how, I immersed myself in more societies: G:TV, BurnFM and Infinity Stage Company. You don’t know what you’re capable of until you try it. Through getting involved in short films, plays…etc. I discovered production was something I am interested in; a role I barely knew existed before I came to University.
With my Redbrick experience, I ventured into the blogosphere too and became Editor of the University’s Arts and Culture blog UoBlogfest. This is a great place for aspiring writers to hone their skills and it has been wonderful to watch our writers and relationship with the city’s culture scene grow. The beauty of writing for an online publication is you commit as much time as you want to, and with over 11,000 individual hits, you can reach a much wider audience. If you want to learn more about how to get involved visit: http://uoblogfest.wordpress.com/want-to-write-for-us/. With press tickets to fantastic events and the chance to get your work out there, it is an unmissable opportunity.
Whilst it is great to try as many things as you can, don’t force yourself into meltdown. Know your limits. This is something I am very bad at. It’s often easier to be the ‘yes’ person and sometimes I would even advise it. However, it’s far better to actively contribute to one or two clubs, societies or initiatives than be a passive member of them all. Invest in a diary (it’s the closest thing you can get to a personal assistant), as good time management is essential. Missing meetings and deadlines is fairly inexcusable and weakens people’s trust in your commitment. Respond to emails, phone calls and texts and when someone is in need of your skills they’ll know who to get in touch with. Remember too that there is a fine line between professional and impersonal. The workplace is as much a social environment as anywhere else, to some extent, so don’t feel like you should be void of personality. Enjoy what you do because when you don’t it will show.
So, how to showcase your achievements? As a self-confessed online junkie, I have an account with just about every social media network you can think of. You need to be your own PR person. Think of yourself as a brand; there is a huge advertorial space in the World Wide Web for you to take. Self-promotion isn’t shameful, as long as it is tasteful and well-wrought. LinkedIn, Twitter and IdeasTap…etc. can help you build work relationships and find out about opportunities you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Keeping track of it all can be overwhelming though. One way to overcome this is by setting up your own online portfolio.
I bought a domain name off WordPress for just £18 but there are many other inexpensive sites (moonfruit.com, wix.com, about.me). Building this was very much a learn-as-you-go experience but it was well worth doing as I now have a central place to showcase my writing, experience, and contact details (www.elishaowen.com). I’d highly recommend doing something like this, as you can then put the address at the top of your CV, making you more accessible and giving potential employers a clearer scope of what you can do.
Don’t let it stagnate though. Continually update your website/blog and link this to Twitter and Facebook. It may begin with advertising to your friends (I am well aware of potential embarrassment) but your viral outreach will soon expand. Employers will often view your number of followers or hits as potential customers; this can be extremely advantageous in the competitive applicant process.
Work experience, internships and extra-curricular activity are things we have to do. We all know it. Don’t see it as a chore though. There are many exciting opportunities out there and if you don’t apply you won’t get. Check out the great events at this week’s Work Experience Fair and connect with Careers Network (@careersbham) for updates on vacancies and bursaries. The future may be repeatedly projected as ‘bleak’ but with enough drive and pro-active participation, there is absolutely nothing to worry about.