Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Would you take your mother to a lecture with you?

At what point do young people become adults? In legal terms childhood ends at the 18th birthday, and though for many this comes around when still at school, in the eyes of the law the young person is then deemed responsible for their actions.

As opening paragraphs for an article on a placement and careers blog, this may seem like a bit of a random start, but a brief twitter conversation I had yesterday afternoon concerning students and their parents reminded me of a few occasions where this line of responsibility has become blurred beyond recognition.

At least a couple of times a year, I find myself having the telephone conversation from hell. I wish my employers would install at Batman-esque emergency red handset to give me prior warning of what is going to be at the other end of the line, but then the chances are I would run out of the building rather than take the call. I am of course referring to phone calls from concerned parents, anxious that their son or daughter has not secured a placement, and wanting to know why.

It is a prickly situation to find yourself in. Given that university students are fully grown adults, there is no obligation to speak to parents. In fact we are discouraged from doing so as they are not a client of the university. Parents of course see things differently and those who are providing their children with financial support want to make sure their offspring are getting a strong return on their educational investment. With the imminent rise in tuition fees, regrettably I foresee quite a lot more of these conversations occurring in the near future.

So what do you say to Mrs Bloggs when she phones to ask why her son Joe is sat playing X-Box instead of working? I keep the conversation in general terms rather than speaking directly about the individual.

I tell the parent about the placement lectures that are held throughout the year to help prepare the students for making applications and going for interviews.

I tell the parent about the numerous employer presentations that are hosted at the university which give students a chance to engage with recruiters in their chosen industry.

I tell them about the number of one-to-one appointments I have had with students throughout the academic year, where I have provided bespoke advice and guidance on CVs, applications and interview techniques.

I tell parents the number of companies and placement opportunities that I have advertised directly to the students on the course that Joe studies.

I tell parents about the weekly emails I circulate to students, informing them of upcoming placement deadlines, newly advertised opportunities and promoting employment related events.

I tell them if there are still opportunities available and encourage Joe to make an appointment to come to see me, in the same way that other students on Joe’s course have already managed to do.

I tell them that my door is always open, share my phone number and email address and that I look forward to hearing from Joe.

In most instances, Joe doesn’t call. Joe doesn’t email. Joe certainly doesn’t come in for an appointment to talk about placements.

Applying for placements means taking responsibility for your own actions. It is something that students have to do for themselves. Job hunting is a difficult process, and one that I’m glad that I don’t currently have to be engaged in on a personal level (touch wood!) but what does it say about Joe if his mother has to phone the university on his behalf? An employer isn’t going to take on somebody who is unable to organise themselves. Nor is a recruiter likely to look favourably upon a candidate if their mother rings to check on their application progress.

In my role I provide students at my university with a broad range of information, empower them through providing the tools needed to apply for placements and am readily available to offer advice and guidance. But just as you can lead a horse to water but can’t force it to drink, I won’t stand behind a student a force them to write applications.

I know my responsibilities. Students (and their parents) need to be aware of theirs.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

How to kill your career in 140 characters

Earlier in the month I shared a tale of how a student secured a placement off the back of impressing an employer with a single tweet. This week, it probably hasn't escaped your notice that there has been two students in court facing criminal proceedings as a result of their twitter usage.

Newcastle University law student sends racist tweets to broadcaster

Swansea University student post racially offensive comments

Both of these students have probably caused irreparable damage to their career prospects. Criminal records for offenses like these are not going to endear them to recruiters, and the law student can kiss goodbye any aspirations he may still have for a legal career.

While both cases present extreme examples of what not to do on Twitter, it is not just airing vile racist comments that can hamper a job search. As Aimee Bateman says on her fantastic website, more and more employers will research candidates by studying their social media profile.

(Regrettably the original video clip has been removed by the owner - but it was blimming good!)

For more great careers advice from Aimee, log onto 

So next time you want to let off steam about one of your colleagues, rant about an interviewer or moan about an employer who has not yet got back to you about an application, take a deep breath and keep those thoughts offline.

Sometimes there aren't enough hours in the day

When I came up with the idea of this blog a couple of months ago, I told myself that to make it work it would need to be supplied with fresh articles and comments on a very regular basis. I set myself a nominal target of two new items a week, but as the timeline for March shows, this is only the second item posted this month. This has not been a deliberate case of blog neglect so much as it being pushed to one side while other things have taken priority, but hopefully now after that little break normal service can resume.

My short hiatus got me thinking about time management. This is a competency that most employers are looking for when recruiting placement students. The ability to manage your time through planning, prioritising and executing is a valuable tool in the workplace, to ensure that business deadlines are met. And yet a common complaint that I hear from students about applying for placements is that they don’t have enough time to make applications.

I am fairly sympathetic to students when it comes to demands on their time. There are diligent students who attend all their lectures and seminars. They will have coursework to write and essential course reading to complete. Students often have part-time jobs to help support them through university. People like me encourage students to get involved with clubs and societies to help bolster applications which take away more time. Once extra-curricular and social activities are taken into the equation, it is not surprising that a student will not want to sit down for a couple of hours to fill out an online application, particularly if they have already experienced an impersonal automated rejection email from another employer already. There will of course be students who say they are too busy to apply for jobs, when in actual fact they mean they are too busy with their X-Box, but on the whole when my students tell me they struggle to find time to apply for jobs, I believe them.

But here is the thing. While I took a break from blogging for a few weeks, the worst this will have done for me is to hinder the momentum that was built up in the first 6 weeks of my blog. My priorities are clearly set, with the day job and family commitments at the top of my list. For students who have gone to university with aspirations of moving into graduate-level jobs, sourcing work experience, whether through internships or year-long sandwich placement, should be towards the top of their priority list, if not Number 1.

I appreciate that this won’t in itself create more hours in the day, so here are a few strategies to help students to save time when making placement applications.

Use your Placement/Careers Service
To me this is a no brainer. Your University employs people who offer help and advice to improve CVs and applications.  If you send poor application after poor application, you won’t get anywhere fast. Save yourself time by going to see your Placement Officer / Careers Adviser and have them cast their eye over what you are sending employers. Get this right early on and you are more likely to find success.

Let the placements come to you
Do you use Twitter or Facebook? Then get updates on new placement opportunities from the likes of Rate My Placement. Better still, register an account with them and you can get emails about placements you may be interested in and manage your placement applications. Lots of universities now have twitter services that let users know about newly advertised opportunities - follow them so you can be kept up to date.

Recycling is not just good for the environment
Before you press send on an online application form, make sure you save down your answers to competency based questions. You’ll soon find that many companies ask similar questions, so rather than reinvent the wheel, dive into a pool of answers from previous applications. Be careful with this though, as it can be very easy to cut and paste something into an answer that will kill your application. If you write that you have always aspired to work for IBM when applying to Intel it is safe to say your application will find the bin. An answer bank is a starting point, but you will still need to answer the specific question on the form.

Apply smart
There is no avoiding the fact that if you only apply for placements with companies who have lengthy applications forms, you will find time an issue. Alongside the more glamorous names, your Careers Service will advertise companies which have less onerous systems. Some may only want students to apply by sending a CV. Even the most hard-pressed student can’t complain about the time it takes to attach a file to an email and press send.

Maximise your downtime
If coursework, lectures etc take up a huge amount of time, students can utilise the vacation periods to apply for jobs. The Easter holidays are approaching and though there are examinations on the horizon, it would be prudent to fire off some applications now before getting fully into revision mode.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Twitter: The modern day application form

I have written before about how Social Media can be a great tool in applying for placements. If you weren't convinced then, perhaps this little tale will open your eyes to the possibilities.

One Friday afternoon, a student at Oxford Brookes University was browsing Twitter/Facebook and saw a message from Rate My Placement who had decided to offer a 'Wildcard' entry to their assessment centre for their marketing placement scheme. Interested students had 140 characters to convince RMP that they were worthy of a place.

The student from Oxford Brookes made their case and shortly afterwards received a direct message to say they had been successful. 72 hours later the student attended the assessment centre and has since been hired for the placement.

This example may be an exception rather than the rule, but it does provide evidence of the power of social media. Following companies on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook offers great access to recruiters, and with a few finger taps on your i-phone, you can put yourself in the shop window. If we are honest about it, who wouldn't want to make a pitch to an employer in a single tweet, rather than filling out a lengthy application form.