Posted by Dr Caitriona Noonan
Congratulations class of 2016. You’re nearly there. Graduation and your next adventure are just around the corner.
We hope you’ll look back on your time in university with fondness (perhaps when the stress of final exams dissipates) and that you’ll feel better equipped to enter the job market. Undoubtedly, it is a competitive market at the moment but you should remain optimistic. It’s an exciting time for the media sector with new jobs emerging and digital savvy graduates like you are well placed to fill those roles.
However, before you embark on the next phase of your career we wanted to offer you some advice for life post-university.
(1) Create an impression
There is lots of advice circulating that workers need to present themselves as a ‘brand’ and sell themselves to employers. That’s fine for some but I don’t feel entirely comfortable with that vision as it converts workers into commodities.
I much prefer the idea that one of the things you should cultivate is an impression – whether it’s a first impression or one which grows over time. Be remembered by people as someone who is a creative professional in their demeanor and someone who people want to work with.
(2) Work on your communication skills
As media graduates there is an assumption that you are an effective communicator (it’s what the media does after all and what you’ve been studying). These skills include writing and public speaking. Keep working on your writing whether its blogging, email, long-form stories or short-form reporting. Finding your voice in these different formats will enhance your professional credibility and the impression you give others.
The same goes for public speaking. At some stage in your career you will be asked to present in a meeting or to clients. This might make you anxious but the cliché of ‘practice makes perfect’ works here. I’ve been teaching for years now and I stand up in front of students, parents, colleagues and industry nearly every week. I still get really nervous and sometimes I do let the nerves get the better of me. However, I’ve found the more you do it, the more you’ll feel in control and will be able to manage those nerves.
(3) Get help reviewing your CV
Many graduates don’t know how to write about their degree on their CV – some resort to listing modules (don’t). Think about the skills and knowledge you’ve accumulated. If you’re stuck look at the learning outcomes of the modules you’ve done (available on most module handbooks). They specify what knowledge and skills the module intended to develop. These can be a useful resource for helping you narrate your university experiences and skills.
(4) Keep doing your homework
Don’t forget the discipline of being prepared. Keep up to date with trends and developments in your sector. Read the trade press for your sector. This will enhance your knowledge when it comes to an interview and for the workplace. Knowledge about your sector and the specific company instills confidence that you know what you’re talking about and projects a positive impression of you.
(5) Recognize your own strengths AND weaknesses when preparing for interviews
In interviews we all want to tell potential employers how good we are, yet one of the best (and by that I mean most challenging) questions I’ve been asked is ‘what are you not good at’?
No one is good at everything and in asking this question employers are trying to ascertain the level of support you’ll need to do the job. A good response to this question will demonstrate your self-awareness and turn a negative into a positive. For instance, ‘in this sector competency in Photoshop seems to be a real asset. It’s not something I’ve mastered yet, but I’ve identified an online course and will work on that over the coming weeks’.
(6) Network, network, network
The saying goes that ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’…actually it is both. Get to know people in your sector but also impress on them your knowledge and credibility. Although appearing pushy sometimes causes anxiety for graduates, in creative sectors it is a given part of their routines and practices. Recruitment in media and creative sectors is much more informal that other sectors and so many jobs are filled simply about being in the right place at right time.
If you don’t believe me, listen to this advice from those in the industry including Ian MacKenzie of Channel 4 to graduates in the sector.
(7) Keep practicing your craft
A few years ago I was between contracts and to fill the gap I volunteered at my local community radio station where I did all kinds of media roles including running the news desk, editing programmes and going on air occasionally. The experience gave me a range of practical skills and a better insight into the media landscape, which then informed my teaching and research. When I went to subsequent job interviews it often came up in discussion and differentiated me from other candidates. Even when you’re between paid roles, there are lots of ways of practicing your craft (e.g. local newspaper, television and radio, blogging, website development). Engaging with these demonstrates that you can take the initiative and gives you something to fill the short-term gaps in your CV.
(8) Learning and teaching doesn’t end at university
When you do get that dream job keep learning and reflect on what you do so that you can do it better. Ask for and respond to feedback. It may not be as formal or as structured as the feedback you received during your degree but valid feedback will help you to grow your confidence and competence.
(9) Keep a note of your work outcomes
Employers today want to know the tangible impact the work you are doing is having on the company (e.g. decreased costs by x amount, generated x in social media traffic, generated x new leads). Early in your career get in the habit of tracking the outcomes of your work because that’s what’s going to help you justify a promotion or land an even better job.
(10) Keep in touch!
We know you’re heading off on your next adventure and we’re excited for you too. But we do like to hear how former students are getting on and where their path has taken them. Now and then take a few minutes to drop us an email to say ‘hi’ and tell us what you’re doing, even if it’s not directly related to your degree. This is especially important if you have that academic down as a reference on your CV and we might be asked to vouch for you at some stage in the near future.
This is a really exciting time so from all of us here in the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies we want to wish you the best of luck!