On my 2014 round up/looking forward to 2015 post, the lovely Hannah left me a comment asking if I had any tips for getting internships/jobs. I have to admit, when I first read this I was surprised. I’m no expert and didn’t think I was particularly qualified to give advice! However, when I thought about it I figure I have now got a job in London after all, so I guess I am as qualified as anyone else.
Despite the horror stories you hear about having to do a year of unpaid interning before even thinking about permanent employment, my internship with my current company was actually my first ever one. However, that’s not to say I hadn’t applied for any. I had applied, for a lot of positions, and I’d had a good amount of success, actually. I’ve compiled some tips based on my own experiences, and I hope they might help some of you!
- Figure out your limits. One thing I did which may or may not have been a mistake was apply for a lot of unpaid positions that, when it came down to it, I knew I couldn’t actually take. Unpaid internships tend(ed) to be easier to get because a) I imagine slightly less people applied and b) most companies are more likely to take a bit of a risk on someone who’s not on their payroll. I was offered a couple that I ended up not taking, but (while I imagine the companies in question might have been a bit irritated), I wasn’t willing or able to get myself in tons of debt for the sake of a couple of months’ experience that didn’t guarantee me anything but the end of my overdraft. Luckily, things are changing fast and it’s now much more “the norm” for positions to be paid, even if it’s minimum wage.
- Stick to your guns. In the end, I resolved to only apply for paid internships, and grad schemes that promised at least a year of guaranteed employment. I had varying degrees of success with these. Some companies, I didn’t anything from at all, which is to be expected. Most often, my CV and cover letter passed the test and I was invited to a fair few interviews, whether they were phone, skype, or in-person interviews.
- Go the extra mile (to the office). I fared much better in “real life interviews” than anything else. It might be a pain to pay for & organise travel, especially when these interviews often last 30 minutes max, but it is so, so much easier to make a good impression in person than it is over the phone. I also think that in-person interviews show commitment both from you and the company, and it’s also an invaluable chance to assess the atmosphere in the office, and maybe even meet the team – not to mention see how easy the commute might be.
- Keep your options, & your mind, open. As I said, I applied for a LOT of positions. Some were at companies I knew would be a good fit; some were companies I hoped would be; some were prestigious names I knew would look great on my CV. It’s easy to decide that one career path is the one for you (I had my heart set on food PR for a long time) but without stepping foot in an office, it’s impossible to know. Apply for a range of roles and don’t rule anything out (within reason! Keep within your interests and talent range, obviously).
- Sell yourself. At uni, I wasn’t on a sports team and I wasn’t particularly involved in any society. For a while, I was convinced that this would be my downfall. But then I had a think through all the things I had done throughout my 3 years at uni and I realised that I could definitely make something of them all. I helped out at open days in my first and 3rd year, in both voluntary and paid positions, for both the uni as a whole and for my department. In my 3rd year, I was also put forward by a lecturer to act as a 3rd year rep for English, which meant giving a series of speeches to prospective students & parents. None of this seemed like a big deal at the time but in terms of my CV and in interview, it was a great thing to talk about as it showed commitment, enthusiasm, public speaking ability, and so on and so on. Likewise, I was surprised by the positive reception my blog got. I thought everybody applying would have a blog but it turns out not. Researching & writing regular posts, editing photos, taking part in social media and learning basic SEO are all skills that are super helpful in the real world so make the most of it and tell people about them!
- Don’t give up hope! I tried not to set my heart on any one position, and to put equal amounts of effort into every application. This is really important because it means you can gauge your success more accurately. As I said, some companies didn’t get back to me. But plenty of others did, and I took this as a sign that my CV and cover letter were not completely hopeless or misdirected, or that I didn’t interview horrendously. If you are consistently failing at the same stage, then read up (on interview techniques, or CV tips), and if you have someone you trust, get them to tell you honestly how they think you could improve.
Well, that turned into an essay! I hope it helps any of you recent graduates or 3rd year students (or keen 2nd years looking for summer work!). 18 months on from our undergraduate graduation, all of my friends are now happily settled in their first jobs and many have even started thinking about, or moved onto, second jobs. Finding a job/internship takes effort and commitment but it doesn’t have to be the nightmare that the media would have you believe, I promise!
With results day out of the way and places finally secured, I know that freshers week is on the forefront of everybody’s minds. As a graduate/post-grad student (I’m having a serious identity crisis – what do I identify as?!), the new freshers all over my facebook and twitter are making me seriously nostalgic and so I’ve been thinking a lot about my own freshers experience.
I basically had the dream first year: everything went pretty much exactly according to plan, I loved every second and every one of my flatmates, and I would go back in an instant. I know that freshers guides are not hard to find and they are all essentially the same, but before I get too old and out of touch, I can’t help but add my own two cents. Hopefully I’ll come up with something even slightly different from what everybody has already heard!
What To Take
I started planning what I was going to take to uni the second I knew I was definitely going. The chance to decorate what is essentially a blank canvas of a room is one you should definitely make the most of! Here are my top tips:
- Pick bedding and stuff that you like, obviously, but don’t forget the little things too. Pictures are a standard, but I also took little notes and mementoes and just random bits I found around my room at home – a set of mardi gras beads, for example, hung on my lamp for the entire year! It’s a lot nicer to wake up to unfamiliar walls covered in things you know than an unfamiliar blank room in those first few days.
- Don’t be afraid to go colourful or go for a pattern you wouldn’t usually pick: uni is your chance to experiment. My room was a total explosion of bright colours and it was so cheerful after long (-ish, I was an English student after all) days at lectures!
- Kitchen-wise, I’d say take as much of it as you can if you’re in self-catered accom, but don’t stress out if a) you forget something or b) you bring a load of stuff you never use. You’re going to be in a city or at least a town: there will definitely be somewhere to buy what you need! Plus, you’ll probably find at least one friendly flatmate you will end up sharing most of your stuff with.
- Cake tins, muffin trays and loaf tins, as well as other baking supplies, are really great to take. Baking is a great flatmate/hall bonding activity, because even those that aren’t interested in baking are always going to be interested in eating!
- My top tip for kitchenwares, by the way: buy a George Foreman/similar. It might seem a little OTT, but they’re seriously useful and everybody will want to use it, so you’ll automatically be the most popular in the kitchen. Perfect for a hangover-curing bacon & sausage sandwich!
- Everyone will say it and everyone will do it, but it’s a good idea to take chocolates, biscuits, and/or alcohol ready for the first night. Perfect ice breakers and it also opens everyone’s mind to sharing right from the beginning! (Plus, hopefully so many people will do the same that you’ll have enough drink & snacks to last you at least half the week!)
my kitchen, c. freshers week 2010
- Try not to put too much pressure on freshers week itself. It will be a great time, trust me, but it won’t be the best week of your life – that will come later, when you actually know where you are and what you’re doing and who you’re with. Don’t worry if you don’t immediately meet your BFF or, like I did, if you think you have and then you realise a week later that you were completely wrong. It doesn’t matter at all.
- Remember that NOBODY REALLY REMEMBERS FRESHERS WEEK. It becomes a huge blur of meeting new people and going out and meeting new people and going out. So if you skip a night or if you do something stupid, chances are nobody will remember it by the end of the week, let alone by the end of term 1. I’ve never met anybody whose reputation was sealed entirely by their freshers week actions.
- On the other hand, do make sure you talk to as many people as possible and do as much as you can. Even if it’s just a brief conversation, having someone to wave at or say hi to in lectures or around town is a huge comfort and you never know where you might find your best friends! There’ll be about a two or three week window where it’s entirely acceptable to strike up conversation with literally anybody. People will form tighter groups after that and it’ll be harder, so make the most of it!
- Try and do sober bonding with your flat/corridor-mates, too. As I said, baking is a great idea, or even just cooking a meal together, particularly if you or someone else hasn’t really cooked before. Go exploring the town with a few people you want to get to know better, or, if you’re in a small flat, go out for a meal together. Our flat went to Wagamamas for lunch on our very first day (have you ever tried eating noodles in front of 6 strangers?) and followed it up looking for fancy dress pirate outfits and it was a great bonding sesh!
freshers week bffs
- It’s super tempting to skip the get-to-know-you, introductory lectures and so on that generally go on in Freshers Week (at least at Exeter), but I would recommend going to at least most of them. If you don’t, you risk feeling lost and left behind when real lectures start: this is when you’ll be given your reading timetables for the term, and so on. At Exeter, the English department ran a “team building” day for our study groups, which seemed so lame at the time but actually turned out to be the day I met all my best English friends! (Granted, we did sack off the majority of the activities for lunch at the Impy, but at least we all turned up…)
- I had a habit in first term of writing down all the hilarious quotes that came out of my new friendship group – actually, we had a whiteboard in our kitchen we used to put them on and then take pictures every week. I wish I’d kept this up all three years! Sometimes I still go back and read them all now and they still make me laugh so much – you’d be surprised how many memories they bring back!
- Along these lines, take loads of pictures. It’s seriously fun at the end of the year to go through them all, and it’s even more fun to spot people who became your friends awkwardly hanging around in the background of your early early pictures!
babies at freshers ball
It’s not my usual style, but Virgin Media have put together a little infographic with their top tips and some of them are actually quite useful so I’ve stuck it here.
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Alright, sorry for the long post! I have been known to get a little carried away with things…at the end of the day, obviously my biggest and most cliched top tip is to HAVE FUN. Relax, go with the flow, and don’t stress about it. Whether you meet your best friends on day 1 or day 21 or even month 3, the beginning of uni is one of the most exciting times ever – literally anything can happen, so just go ahead and let it!