Category Archives: Different career routes

Career in Policy and Public Affairs

Sometimes I find it hard to describe what I do for a living. ‘Policy and public affairs’ isn’t a career path that everyone has heard of, or knows much about. But I think it’s probably one of the most interesting and rewarding careers going.

I loved ancient history and literature at school, and went on to study at the University of Birmingham. After graduating, I was sure that I wanted to work in the public sector, and to do something that used my skills – reading and absorbing information, seeing patterns and analysing situations, and setting out my arguments in writing. After a while tempting for the NHS in an admin role in London, I managed to get onto Birmingham City Council’s graduate programme.

During my time on the graduate programme I worked in several different roles which enabled me to get a sense of what I did – and definitely didn’t want to do in future. It was during a placement in a waste and recycling depot on the outskirts of Birmingham city centre, where I was researching and designing different ways to encourage Brummies to recycle more and throw away less, that I discovered my interest in public policy.

I made a sideways move from working directly in local government to working in higher education policy in London. I wasn’t working for the government department responsible for universities, but for a policy organisation that represents universities – so it was my job to try to influence policy from the outside. I started as a Policy Researcher, and within three and a half years worked my way up to become a Policy Analyst and then a Senior Policy Analyst, eventually managing my own Policy Researcher.

I’m now Aston University’s Policy Advisor. It’s my job to know what is going on in the political world outside, and work out how it might impact on Aston. It’s also my job to find ways of letting policymakers know about all of the excellent work that goes on in Aston. Life as a Policy Advisor is often varied and always interesting. One day I might be watching a parliamentary debate live online to see what the government Minister is saying about universities, the next I’ll be responding to a consultation on what Brexit will mean for the UK’s higher education sector, and another day I’ll be drafting letters to send to MPs about an exciting development at Aston University, or organising a roundtable discussion event.

One of the great things about policy as a career path is that you realise policy roles are all around you, and your skills are really transferrable. As well as the option of working within government or with a particular politician, pretty much any organisation that interacts with government in some way, whether in the public, private or charity sector, will need people to run their policy and public affairs operation.

If you have developed the right skills and experience – like being able to read and digest lengthy and complex reports, analyse what a government announcement will mean for a sector in practice, think how a politician might think, or write a persuasive letter – in a way it doesn’t matter what context you are working in. You can learn that detail of the job as you go along.

 

My advice for anyone thinking about a career in policy is:

  • When it comes to job hunting or looking for work experience, think outside the box – it’s not just government that has policy roles. Universities, charities of all kinds, political parties, think tanks and representative bodies do too. And it doesn’t have to be in London if that’s not your scene.
  • Your career can be incredibly varied, so don’t pigeon hole yourself into one area of policy. I moved straight from environmental policy to higher education policy so I know it can be done.
  • Do your research and keep up to date with current affairs. If you’re applying for a policy role, have a look at the organisation’s recent news releases or blogs, find out which government departments they interact with and which politicians are in charge, and read one of their recent speeches. This will impress recruiters and show that you have already thought about their policy challenges.

Lizzy Woodfield

Policy Advisor, Aston University

If students would like to talk to someone to gain some advice on how to break into a career in policy, or to discuss any other aspects of their career planning, do book an appointment with a careers consultant via Aston Futures (www.aston.ac.uk/careers

Joining the IT industry from a non-IT background

Maya Modi

 

 

I graduated in BSc English Language from Aston University in 2016 with the intention to study Medicine post-graduation. I’m now an I.T Consultant.

 
 

 

 

I know what you’re thinking and trust me, they are linked. In this blog post, I hope that my story inspires you to consider post-graduate career options that are out of the box. You’d be surprised how fitting your work and academic experience to date can be in an industry you had never seen yourself working in before.

 

I chose to study English Language in preparation to do a Masters in Speech Pathology after – something I’d wanted to do for a good seven years now. I was dedicated and was lucky enough to secure lots of placements to support my application later. I also worked for the NHS at the time, which gave me real-time clinical experience. Speech Pathology is a small but vital sector within the allied health professionals unit of the NHS, but being exposed to trauma and other departments in the hospital made me fall in love with general medicine. I spent a lot of time deliberating whether I should drop out of my course in second year and reapply to Medical school, as there was no point continuing with my degree if I knew I didn’t want to use it for a Masters, like I had originally planned to.

Placement year arrived and I chose to continue with my degree, as I had just secured once in a life time study abroad placements in Spain and Hong Kong. They were the best, most challenging but amazing days of my university experience. As scary as it was to live in a country where I wasn’t fluent in the local language, I got through it and my bravery sparked a new level of ambition within me – I was definitely going to apply to Medical school. I thought my placement year would change my mind about applying, but, if anything, seeing how other people live in the world made me want it more.

Final year came around and I was busy studying for my finals and studying for my Med school entry exams too. On top of everything, there was a strong possibility that I may not get into Med school, so I was applying for my Masters as a backup route and applying to graduate schemes just to explore all options. There was no guarantee that any of these options would work out on their own, which is why I applied to all at the same time to see what route worked out best. I’m very much someone who needs to have a forward plan and cannot rely on chance (I’ve learned that it’s OK to be this way), so I did everything I could to ensure that I was either doing a postgrad degree or working upon my pending graduation. In this time, I visited lots of careers fairs to chat with delegates and explore the “what if?” options. I had some interesting conversations and some that put me off post grad working life altogether. One careers fair stood out to me in particular – a careers fair aimed at females looking to go into I.T, but with career discussions over afternoon tea. It was the most interesting concept for a careers fair and the most valuable to me – as it’s where I started my relationship with my current employer (and I got free cake!).

The delegates from Capgemini reassured me that I didn’t need to have a technical background to join a technology consultancy firm. My people skills, ability to work under pressure and quick learning skills that I developed from working in health were all factors that are required when consulting. Consulting can either take the route of being functional or technical, whereas it’s thought to be mostly technical. I applied to Capgemini shortly after the careers fair and to my surprise, I got the job. I accepted with the intention to still take my medical entry exams, but the option of not studying for another four years and adding to my tuition debt seemed more and more viable.

Now, it may seem as if my decision to drop the Doctor dream was money influenced, but hear me out. I realised that as a technology consultant, I can influence medical technologies to the NHS and work on projects that help to restructure their current business models, leading to efficient strategies. This is crucial to the NHS in the current state and unfortunately, as a doctor, I wouldn’t have as much of an influence at a business level as I do now. A year on at Capgemini and a ton of learning under my belt, I’m finally moving onto projects that will allow me to carry this out.

Sometimes, you have to reroute your plans to achieve your goals. I may not be a doctor and I do miss the patient contact, but my consulting is ultimately going to save lives and this is the most satisfying thing to me.

The Learning Curve

Annette Rubery

Dr Annette Rubery

My career has certainly been atypical. I graduated from a PhD at Warwick University in 2000, and, although my degree set me on a course towards teaching, I ended up joining a national newspaper as a journalist instead.

Journalism was a great job to have in my 20s – I started at the bottom as a casual writer, was eventually taken on formally as a staff writer, then worked my way up through the ranks to Deputy Arts Editor and then Editor. This was a classic “foot in the door” situation; I stayed for ten years altogether and learnt a huge amount about every aspect of the business, from writing and editing to managing budgets and staff. It was a great company to work for and I was lucky to have the scope to advance my career without having to move. Although it was a national newspaper I was able to work out of the Birmingham office, close to home, and enjoy the life of the city as part of my job.

That all changed in 2009. By around the middle of 2008, it was clear that journalism was undergoing huge changes, which were partly due to the impact of digital technologies on the industry, but also the result of steadily falling advertising revenue. The newspaper I worked on announced around 30 redundancies across the regional arm of its operation and my job was amongst them.

It took me a while to work out which direction to take next. I freelanced for a while, working as an arts editor for a newspaper that ultimately folded (I learnt some important lessons learnt about being tough over missed payments!) I realised that I didn’t like freelancing and preferred working in an office with structured hours. I also missed academia. I began to think that I could use the combination of my degree and my journalism experience in a Higher Education context. Not long afterwards I got a job at my own university, Warwick, working on an online publication called Knowledge Centre, aimed at alumni.

A few years down the line I decided to move close to home and got a job in Digital Marketing at Aston. This allowed me to build up a set of technical skills to compliment my print skills. From there I moved into alumni communications, where I work today. My current role (Alumni Communications Officer) draws on both my digital experience at Warwick and Aston (managing social media and web pages) but also uses my print journalism experience (editing our alumni magazine, Aston in Touch).

Here are some of the things I have learnt along the way:

  • You might not get your dream job right away, but get a foot in the door and see if you like the industry first
  • People don’t tend to do one job for life but have ‘portfolio’ careers where they will re-invent themselves many times over – stay open to different types of work experience which will help you to be flexible on the job market
  • A degree gives you so much more than just narrow experience to enable you to do a pre-determined job. Don’t feel you have to go down a certain path because of your degree, but think broadly in terms of transferable skills and what you enjoy doing
  • Do everything you can to build up a resilient attitude; there will be disappointments along the way but don’t let people dent your confidence or persuade you to give up on your goals.

Dr Annette Rubery

Getting into Digital Marketing

Digital Marketing Manager - Andy Lockley

Digital Marketing Manager – Andy Lockley

Andy Lockley, Digital Marketing Manager at Cloggs and Aston Business & Management Graduate of the class of 2010, outlines the key things you need to know if you’re looking to pursue a career in Online Marketing.

Digital Marketing is one of the fastest moving industries you can work in. In most cases, by the time a textbook has been written it’s obsolete as soon as it rolls off the printing press. If your passion resides in Digital, here are 5 handy tips to make sure you get your foot in the door;

  • Learn the lingo – Digital Marketers speak a different language to traditional Marketers, and if you’re looking to impress your interviewer, knowing the definition of a few key terms and acronyms can put you head and shoulders above the competition. Know your PPC from your SEO and your CPC from your CPA and it automatically puts you head and shoulders above the competition.
  • Find a mentor in the industry – Do you have a friend or relative that already works in Digital? If so pick their brains about what’s keeping them awake at night and the new trends that are really exciting. If there’s nobody in your immediate proximity, look into professional mentorship schemes, like the one offered by Aston. Even a couple of hours with someone in the industry can be gold dust for someone trying to secure their first role.
  • Have examples of websites you like and why – ASOS junkie, Amazon Devotee? Make a list of the sites you visit on a regular basis and what you like about them, is it personalisation, how crisp and clean the site is, how the products are presented? Turning your mind to what makes a website good really helps you get into the mind-set of an Ecommerce marketer.
  • Excel at Excel – In spite of how quickly the Digital Marketing industry moves, a lot of the bare bones analysis is still done in Excel. Getting yourself on a basic Excel course can give you a real head start. Make sure you know these basic formulas and tools to get your career off to a flyer.
  • Vlookup: A rule of life in Marketing is that data’s never in the format that you want it to be in, so the ability to join 2 or more Excel sheets together allows you to do some really clever analysis.
  • Pivot Tables: The faster you can dissect data, the faster you can make decisions; the easiest way to compute massive amounts of data is a Pivot table. Though intimidating at first, they’re a gateway to fast, detailed analysis.
  • Conditional Formatting: Despite sounding basic, Green = good, red = bad is still the fundamental principle that most business dashboards run on. Learn how to automate the process and save yourself loads of time.
  • Show enthusiasm for the industry – If you’ve done some research and have a visible passion for the business, many managers will take you on despite your lack of experience. There are loads of ways you can bolster your learning and understanding of the business before you’ve even started working in the industry;
  • Google Ad words Certification: There are very few online businesses out there that don’t rely on Paid Google Clicks for at least some part of their online traffic, by knowing the basics, you jump to the front of the queue and save them hours of training.
  • Google Analytics Certification: For many small businesses, Google Analytics is their go to tool for website performance analysis. Knowing your way around and having the ability to build some basic dashboards will help get you in the analytical mind-set of a Digital Marketer.
  • Got a passion? Blog about it: One of the biggest shifts in Marketing over the past 5 years has been the rise of Content Marketing. I always set my new graduate hires a content task to assess their writing ability, if there’s something you’re passionate and knowledgeable about, why not start a blog and link to it on your CV? Recruiters are always looking for a bit of ‘colour’ when they’re flipping through CVs, and a well written, thoroughly researched blog is a great sign that someone will flourish in their role. It also gets you thinking like a marketer in terms of optimising titles and meta tags for search terms, looking at promotion through social channels and thinking about how you get other sites and blogs to link to your content.

Digital can be an intimidating industry to understand and break into, and I hope these steps provide some building blocks for how to jump start your career in Digital.

Your first career step as a graduate is unlikely to be your last (and other career insights for students)

next step the future pic

“…You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.  So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Steve Jobs

The above quote comes from a speech Steve Jobs delivered a few years’ ago to an audience of new graduates.  The speech got me thinking about when I was nearing the end of my own time at university, when I used to utter the words “I don’t know what I want to do for a career.” It’s taken me to now to see how the above quote applies to my own situation, and how I’ve gone from “not knowing” to a place where all my previous work experiences have led me to this point in my career, to work I enjoy and which I hope plays to my strengths.

Whilst I may have the benefit of hindsight for my own situation, the students I work with may not yet.  Many are still at the “I don’t know what I want to do for a career” stage.  When we were at school we knew what was coming next, the years were laid out in front of us.  Primary school, secondary school, lessons, coursework, exams and then for many, university.

When you get to university, once settled in, the familiar routine can kick in again.  Lectures, seminars, coursework, exams, tutorials, socializing.  Repeat.  Whilst all this is going on, some students get work experience, they work over the summer, or complete a placement year, but still may come back disheartened as the experience hasn’t cemented in their mind exactly what they want to be doing within their career.  Some may not have enjoyed the experience at all, and few may even consider it time wasted.

The end of university can seem daunting for many students.  You may only see an expanse of time and space which was once occupied by progressing to 2nd year, placement year or final year.  Having worked with students and graduates for the last 15 years, there have only been a handful of times that I have met students who knew definitely what they wanted to do for the rest of their working lives.  I can also think of only three people I know who are now following career paths linked to what they have always wanted to do since university.  One is a doctor and the other two are engineers.  And the doctor is now considering a career change.

If you can relate to any of the above, you are nearing graduation (or even if you are in your first year), and are not sure yet of your next career steps then read on.  The following insights may be worth considering and holding on to as you navigate your way into the workplace to start “connecting the dots”.  These come to you as a result of my own career experiences, and the vast mix of people I have been in contact with through my own professional life as a careers consultant and as a recruiter:

1. You may not know what you want to do within your career…and that’s ok

For many students about to graduate, your experience of the workplace may understandably be limited.  As with many things in life, it isn’t always possible to know what you want until you try it.  That same logic can also apply to finding a career that you want to pursue.  However if you can, try to gain some experiences whilst at university.  A placement or summer internship could give you a head start in “trying” what’s out there, and building workplace skills at the same time.  Gaining experience in your spare time can also help do the same.

2. Your first career step is unlikely to be your last

This is also closely linked to the notion that there is no longer a “job for life”.  I once read a piece on the internet that suggested people can have up to 7 career changes in their life.  I’m not sure how true this is, but career changes or moves today are not uncommon.  The workplace is changing.  Advancements in technology and the global market are just two factors that influence how companies work and hire people.  People work on a contract basis, people work more flexibly, and companies are changing how their employees work together.  Job titles exist today which may not have done so five years’ ago.  You could find yourself in a future job which doesn’t yet exist.

All of this is happening before you even consider that you are changing too.  Your priorities and career motivations at 21 may be very different to when you are 35.  With experience, you also learn more about yourself, what you like, don’t like, strengths and so on.  An increase in self-awareness can mean changes in your career too.

“Job titles exist today which may not have done so five years’ ago.  You could find yourself in a future job which doesn’t yet exist.”

3. Any work experience is good work experience

When working with students I hear many of them say that the experiences they have of the workplace whilst at university are not relevant for when applying for a “grad job.” Many employers want to see evidence of how you have developed yourself.  A placement year is only one way that you can achieve this.  Part-time work and volunteering count, as they are still giving you the chance to experience the “workplace”, and develop yourself as well.

Working with customers, facing difficult situations, event organising, planning, negotiating, and working collaboratively with others towards a common goal are skills that employers value, and these also say a lot about you. So do start appreciating the experiences you are having, what you have learnt, and how this can contribute to your future workplace.  Employers will start seeing you as valuable too.

4. If you are not accepted onto a “graduate scheme” it is not the end of the world

It’s a fact that there are not enough graduate development schemes for every graduate in the UK.  As many graduate schemes are offered by larger, and in many cases, well known employers, they are easier to come by.  Most companies in the UK are smaller, and the fact that you may never have heard of them, doesn’t mean they cannot offer great job roles for keen and eager graduates.  These opportunities require a little more perseverance to find them, but could be well worth considering as part of your career planning strategy.

5. There is no point in comparing yourself to your course mates/flat mates/other university colleagues etc.

One or more of your friends finds a grad job before you do.  Your flat mate has an assessment centre coming up and you don’t.  It can be very easy to start comparing yourself and wondering what you are doing wrong as the job offers are not coming your way.  This can make you feel worse, and more so if you are not even sure what you want to do after university.  Try to keep in mind that we are all on different paths.  No two careers are the same, there is often no “one route” into a specific career, and in the meantime any experiences you have will be helping to develop and shape you as an individual.  If we all followed the same career journey, that really wouldn’t be very interesting for future employers to read or hear about.

6. Don’t expect to find your dream career/job straight after finishing university

This is closely linked with number 2 in the list.  Sometimes it can take a while to find what you want to do within your career.  Hence why your first career step out of university is unlikely to be your last.  If you are learning and developing then you are growing as an individual, and this can help you to carve out your future career path.

7. Proactivity, positivity and patience can really make a difference

Whatever stage you have reached in terms of your job search and career planning, mindset plays a big part.  If you’ve applied for a job and you are awaiting the outcome, instead of constantly scrolling through job websites, try to remain proactive by mixing up your approach to career/job searching.  Look for guest lectures, events organized through the professional institution associated with your degree subject.  This can bring you into contact with a range of professionals within your area of interest.  Research smaller companies and make contact to explore their work and opportunities. Getting out there and talking to people can really make a difference.

 

thumbs up

May be you work part-time for a company right now but what you are doing doesn’t really appeal in terms of a career choice. You are bored and frustrated.  May be another department carries out work of potential interest?  May be there are projects that you could volunteer yourself for?  Positive steps like this could help put you out of your comfort zone, expose you to new areas of work, and can help build your achievements, and may be discover a career you may not have been aware of.  May be you know someone who works in a career field of interest.  Make contact, ask questions, and enquire whether you can visit the company to find out more.  Finding meaningful work can take time.

8. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself…and keep going

It can be very easy for students to pile the pressure on themselves when it comes to their career, and sometimes they think they should know by the end of university what they should be pursuing for a career.  If this describes you, then try and remove the pressure from yourself.  You may be unlikely to wake up one day and you know all of a sudden what you want to do.

For many, building a career usually takes place gradually step by step, and in some cases by trial and error.  Through gaining new experiences, knowledge, creating and taking opportunities, and all the while adding to your valuable skills and attributes, this will hopefully lead you to a meaningful career that is right for you.

As the coming weeks roll by and you are nearing the end of your time at university, keep these eight points in mind.  They will hopefully provide some perspective and a bit of reassurance when you are planning your first career step out of university.

By Sarah Warburton, Aston University Careers Consultant

 

 

“Think outside of traditional careers – be alternative.”

Sometimes you may feel pressured to know what kind of profession you want before starting university or at least during studying. But it’s not always a bad thing to be uncertain, as long as you keep an open mind and you’re proactive in searching; you may discover a whole new career that you never knew existed!

blog pic 1I studied Psychology at uni, but not necessarily to become a psychologist. In fact I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at the time.  Like many students, I chose my degree because it was interesting and would give me plenty of transferable skills to choose from a variety of industries.

After graduating I was faced with the puzzle of deciding what to do with my life, there were a few options available:

  1. I could go for a traditional career path of clinical psychology, of which I had gained relevant experience in during my placement year. However from what I had learned from others, I knew this path was tough and did not guarantee success. I didn’t really feel passionate enough about it to endure the process.
  2. The other option was to go for a generic graduate scheme that accept psychology graduates, such as HR or marketing, although this didn’t really get me super excited either.
  3. Something different, I don’t know what just yet!

blog pic 2I didn’t want to jump into something that I wasn’t passionate about and I was very much open to trying something different. To start this journey of discovery, I needed to understand myself a bit more and I tried a somewhat structured approach in analysing and identifying my interests, skills and ambitions. This helped to rule out some ideas too, which was just as useful.

Tip: Understand yourself:

  • Make a list of the kind of areas that interest you, and the skills you already have, whether you want to do more formal studying, the kind of environment you want to be working in and the lifestyle you aspire to. Afterwards, think broad – list the types of industries, activities and professions that may relate to those (don’t get too hung up on specific jobs to start off with).
  • If you find certain professions attractive, break it down and identify exactly what it is about it that appeals to you, and what other professions may fulfil those needs in a different way.
  • Although obviously you should go for something you are passionate about, unfortunately some interests do not make for a smart career choice and it is important to take into account things like job prospects, career progression, and how the industry may change in the future. Therefore consider which of your needs and interests could more appropriate as a hobby or something you could fulfil through a side project/volunteering rather than making it into a career (e.g. if you love painting, it is more realistic to keep that as a hobby than aiming to become a professional artist).
  • Get help from those who know you best – ask your family and friends about what they think your shining traits are.

Through this, I realised that I wanted to make use of my skills in research and understanding human behaviour, but to apply this in an industry that was thriving and that involved doing creative work, such as technology or business. The next step was to research heavily; my goal was to find such a connection between psychology and technology. After lots of web browsing, talking to other people including an Aston careers advisor, I was introduced to the field of User Experience (UX). I did my reading and went to a couple of UX meet ups to find out more about it.

Tip: Research and networking:

  • Do your research; read blogs and articles. Join relevant pages on LinkedIn and social media. Take part in forums and discussions.
  • Networking isn’t just for finding jobs; talking to people who work in the industry is one of the best ways to learn about it and get advice. Go to meet-up groups, find out what people love and hate doing in that job. Don’t be shy if you don’t know much about it, people love talking about things they are passionate about and will appreciate your eagerness to learn!

blog pic 4Although I hadn’t had direct experience in UX, my background and interests lent itself well to the field. Moreover I felt an enthusiasm towards this that I had not experienced before and my gut instinct was that this was something that I was ready to pursue. I had been told that doing a MSc in Human Computer Interaction would give me a good step into the industry; the thought of doing a master’s degree seemed daunting at first, but I went for it and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made. Since graduating I am now working as a User Experience Consultant in a large UX agency in London, and loving it.

It’s amazing how when you think outside of the common realms, you can end up in a place that feels so right for you. It just takes being proactive and persistent, and getting the balance with not settling for something you’re not happy with, but willing to give things a try. Often you learn the most about your strengths and interests from doing stuff rather than just from thinking about it, so don’t hesitate to throw yourself in the deep end and give things a try, take a bit of risk and trust your instincts – you may just surprise yourself by discovering a new passion!

Misha Patel, BSc Psychology 

Please see below for links to resources on the Aston careers website, which cover some of the career development topics covered in this blog article:

Exploring your options

Identifying your skills and competencies

Subject and occupational information