Posts by Eileen Cunningham

21 Days: The End… and the Beginning

7 February 2017

Now that the ’21 days to Career Success’ has come to an end you should be much better equipped to sort out your work-life. Hopefully you have learnt lots of new things about the world of work and maybe about yourself too? Whether you have followed the posts methodically or just dipped in to top up your existing knowledge we hope you have found it useful.

So here is a short recap of what you need to do:-

Take a look at yourself. What have you got to offer? What do you want? What is important to you? What do you feel has been stopping you from success so far?

Get to know the world of work. Be curious and proactive. Don’t just rely on the internet… get out and talk to real people too.

Make sure that your practical job-finding skills are doing your justice (CV writing, interviews, online presence) and if not, get help!

Make decisions and take action…be courageous and challenge yourself to do new things even if they are outside your comfort zone initially.

Remember that it can take a while to settle into a career after you graduate so stay strong and positive! Look for ways to build up your skills and experience and don’t be too hard on yourself. It is a great chance to develop courage and resilience which will serve you well for the rest of your life. Hold your nerve.


Do the How ready are you Questionnaire again and see how your responses compare. You should find that your scores improve HOWEVER if they don’t maybe there is a good explanation. Perhaps you know more about the world of work and temporarily feel less confident. That is fine. Although it may seem like a step backwards your future efforts and decisions will now be better informed.


Remember that Careers & Employability are here for you even beyond graduation from the University of Salford.

Thanks for reading and we wish you every success in your career… (whatever ‘success’ means to you).


Day 21: Recovering from Setbacks and Keeping on Going

6 February 2017

Imperial War Museum, Salford Quays

Some of the graduates I have talked to recently have said ‘I didn’t realise it would be this hard to get a job!’ They feel frustrated and find it hard to keep on trying.

If you feel like that, even just sometimes, then today’s post will help you.

When the tough times hit hard some people crumble and yet others seem to grow stronger. But what makes the different between being a ‘hero’ or a ‘victim of circumstance’? And how come some people will be amazingly tough-minded in one area of their life and yet easily beaten in another?

This fundamental question has always interested me. How can we get over the hurdles we encounter throughout life? A key to this question is something called ‘RESILIENCE’. Let’s consider what resilience is and how you can get more of it. Improving your resilience means you can more quickly and easily ‘bounce back’ from disappointments which is good news for your happiness and your health.

Occupational Psychologists Robertson-Cooper have found there are four things which will influence your resilience:-

  • Confidence
  • Social support
  • Purposefulness
  • Adaptability

The good news is that you can strengthen your psychological armour by building up these specific areas.

Some days you may feel like hiding under your duvet and that you daren’t apply for that amazing job. These are the times when you have to dig deep and find your inner courage and ‘grit’. Grit is defined as ‘perseverance and passion towards long-term goals’ (Duckworth & Seligman 2006) and could be as important in achieving success as IQ has long been believed to be.

Get some perspective

Walking around the Quays with its open spaces, open water and bracing winds helps to clear my mind. You will probably recognise the building behind me in the photo as the Imperial War Museum, near the university building in Salford Quays. This place always helps me find some perspective on my own problems when I think of the atrocious suffering people have endured – and still endure – in wartime all over the world. I am in awe of the stories of collective courage and how people all pulled together to get through. As a surviving and thriving species self-preservation is our strong instinct.

Be proud!

Having a degree is a huge first step on the ladder of career success. Ok so maybe you’ll struggle at first to find your place in the world of work – but studies consistently show that higher education is a worthwhile investment of time and money. Not only does it increase your earning power, it also gives you a sense of purpose and achievement, it broadens your horizons as you learn and meet other people different to you. Now you have that degree nobody can take it away from you. Not only is it useful in getting that first job but also for promotion later on in life. I have friends who regretted not going to university once they got into their thirties as they felt it held them back. Be proud of how far you have already come!

Acknowledge the positives

Practising ‘daily gratitude’ has been found to be very powerful in helping strengthen your psychological wellbeing. And when you feel more positive you feel more optimistic. And when you feel more optimistic you are more likely to take the time to make that job application that will be THE ONE!

Step outside of your comfort zone

Go on… be courageous! Nobody said it would be easy… but it could just be worth it! Setbacks are bound to happen if you are stretching yourself.


  • REFLECT – Can you think of a time when something has gone wrong for you? What helped you to get through it? What did you learn from it?
  • Every day, when you first wake up in the morning (or before you go to sleep at night) think of three things – even small things – that you are grateful for in your life. There is even an app to help you do this!
  • How resilient do you think you are? Try this quick, free on-line test from Robertson-Cooper and watch the video. The report will give you specific ideas on how to build your resilience.


Further information

You can complete the career adaptability test online here. Find out how adaptable you are as being adaptable contributes to career resilience. The test is on an accountancy website but it’s open to anyone to do.


Day 20: Taking Control of Your Career

5 February 2017

Do you believe that your future success and happiness is completely within your own control? Some people do.

Or do you believe that your future success and happiness is completely down to fate, luck, chance, god, serendipity or other people’s actions? Some people do.

In reality, whichever of those is right (and we could have a long philosophical debate about this) a pragmatic approach might be to suppose that the truth lies somewhere in between. There are probably things about your situation you can’t control and there are certainly things you can. Feeling that you have control, autonomy and agency over your own life can help to boost your self-esteem when things are going well BUT the flipside of the coin is that, when things go badly you may overly blame yourself. Similarly, if you believe nothing is within your control then when things don’t go your way you can easily blame someone or something else BUT this belief can stop you from taking action to make things happen!

You can certainly increase your chances of success by going out to find opportunities… or at least meeting them halfway. Make a plan, be proactive and looking out for chances to learn things and meet people. Job offers can spring from the most unexpected sources!

Mind control

You may have heard the saying ‘Grant me the serenity to courage to change the things I can change; the serenity to accept the things I can’t change and the wisdom to know the difference’? This definitely applies to career planning and job seeking. Of course there will always be things we can’t personally control (the global economy and its impact on UK graduate recruitment, for example) but there are things we can. Perhaps the most important thing that you can take control of is your own response to events and your attitude *

In his latest book ‘Happy: how more or less everything is absolutely fine’ Derren Brown suggests that there are just TWO THINGS we can control. One is our own thoughts and the other is our own actions. If we accept this truth and stop getting frustrated when we can’t change other things and other people then we might be happier! It’s certainly worth a try?

Hold on tight and keep on going.


This may help to give you some perspective and help you to identify actions you can take:-

  • Think about your own situation now, in the context of finding a job you would like.
  • Write a list of all the things that you currently feel that you can control.
  • Next write down a list of all the things you currently feel that you cannot control.
  • Think about any on this second list that you could take control of, influence or at least mitigate.
  • Write down some actions (however small) you can take which are in your control.
  • ACT!
  • Use this activity sheet and example to help you.

*If you are finding it extremely hard to cope or you are suffering mental health issues then it is not always so easy to take control of your mind. You may find it beneficial to seek professional help from your GP or a trained professional such as a counsellor. Techniques such as mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy may help.

Further information

Brown, D. (2016) Happy: Why more or less everything is absolutely fine. Bantam Press

Read this explanation of ‘circle of concern and circle of influence’

Day 19: In it to win it – Assessment Centres and Psychometrics

3 February 2017

Eileen is a co-author of the book ‘How to succeed at an assessment centre’

SO… you complete an online application and then you get an invitation to do some assessments online or attend an assessment centre. What can you expect and how can you give it your best shot?

What is an Assessment Centre?

An assessment centre is not an actual physical PLACE but a format which is used in recruitment (though obviously it happens in an actual place). It is designed to get lots of information about job applicants so that the company can make well informed decisions and hopefully select ‘the right’ people for the job.

Why do employers use them?

They are much better at predicting future job performance than interviews alone. From your point of view a great thing about an assessment centre is that you can be sure you have had lots of chances to show your stuff!

Assessment centres are increasingly used by companies looking to employ graduates for a couple of reasons. First of all, competition levels are high and they can get to see lots of applicants this way and secondly, when they invest time and money in training a new graduate they want to know that they have long term potential to do well, not only in their first job but hopefully in many different roles later on in their career. So many companies are keen to find ‘good all-rounders’ who have the skills

What happens at an assessment centre?

You will have a timetable of assessment activities which might include any of these:-

  • Interview
  • Presentation
  • Group task/discussion
  • Practical work-related task
  • Lunch where you talk to people from the company
  • Psychometric assessments (see below)


How can you do your best?

It is totally normal to feel nervous about going to an assessment centre but most people forget nerves once they get started as they don’t get the time to worry!

  • Prepare for it. Read about the company and especially any ‘competencies’ they are looking for. You may have had to talk about these competencies in the application process already so make sure you have read your application as they may ask you about it.
  • Think about what to wear. Smart and tidy is essential but the dress code may be different for a creative media company than it is for a traditional firm of accountants. Make sure you feel comfortable in your clothes (and shoes!)
  • Relax but don’t drop your guard. You are being assessed the whole day, even during breaks & lunch, in corridors and lifts so be on your best behaviour.
  • Remember that you might not be in direct competition with those around you, many assessment centres have a ‘benchmark’ level which you pass or fail. Some days everyone might get through, other days nobody!
  • Reflect upon the day afterwards, especially if you are not successful. You might never know why you didn’t get through but think what a great learning experience it has been and what you could do better next time.

Psychometric Assessments

These are tests which have been scientifically developed to give an accurate and objective picture of your abilities. You may face:-

  • Numerical ability
  • Verbal ability
  • Abstract ‘intelligence’ or problem solving (e.g. shapes and patterns)
  • Other abilities specific to the job role (e.g. scientific knowledge, technical aptitudes)
  • Personality (or personal style)
  • Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs)

You may have already done these online as the timing of the tests differs between employers. You may be asked to repeat them to check you didn’t get someone else to do it for you!

How to shine

Assessments are usually strictly timed so you need to work really quickly but not so quickly that you make mistakes.

Although there is an element of ‘raw ability’ involved in some tests, that is, things that you haven’t specifically learnt (e.g. abstract shapes and number patterns) there are also things which you can revise and refresh your memory about (e.g. working out percentages, verbal comprehension).

Don’t worry if you think everyone else is better than you at these type of tests. It doesn’t mean you won’t get through. Usually there will be a pass mark, which might not be as high as you think. They may want to know that you have at least a ‘good enough’ numerical ability, not that you are an A* Maths student.

In personality assessments don’t try to second guess what the test is trying to find out or what kind of a person they are looking for. Many of these assessments have an in-built lie detector but more importantly, do you really want to change your personality to fit in? Be your ‘best self’!

Even if you are not successful in the end it will have been valuable experience so reflect upon what you have learnt from it and what you could improve next time. Lots of people actually enjoy the experience of the assessment day and feel quite euphoric at the end… believe it or not!


Do lots of practice psychometric assessments and if there is something you struggle with, learn how to do it.

If you still have an active university email address you can use the ‘Graduates First’ portal which allows unlimited test-taking practice of numerical, verbal, and logical reasoning tests. It also includes a Situational Judgement test and a trait-based personality test. If you don’t still use your university email address, contact the Careers team in askUs and we can add you as a user of the system manually (

Check out this great website Assessment Day set up by two graduates who wanted to pass on their experiences

Further information

If you feel that you need to brush up on some basic maths skills look at this BBC resource and Maths Centre resources. There are also some useful Maths MOOCs. Here’s  one from FutureLearn.

Saville & Holdsworth develop many of the tests you may encounter so try some of their practice tests

Read this advice from a recent graduate and a graduate recruiter taken from Houston, K. & Cunningham, E (2015) How to Succeed at Assessment Centres. Palgrave Macmillan

Read Salford Careers guide on assessment centres and Psychometrics.

Watch this video from Career player about Assessment Centres.




Day 17: How to make your CV work for you?

1 February 2017

Do you have an up to date CV?

Is it a good one?

These are two questions I often ask students. Even those who answer an emphatic ‘yes’ to the first question often seem less sure about the second. And maybe their CVs are amazing but how would they know? It is also quite natural to feel slightly embarrassed having to write about yourself (and maybe even brag a little). So how can you make your CV as good as it can be? And more importantly how can you make it work for you?

I had a message from an ex-student the other day. He was frustrated because he felt he was being really proactive, sending his CV out to lots of companies he would like to work for. He wasn’t getting anything back, not even an acknowledgement. I asked to see his CV and I could see why straight away. It wasn’t bad. The basic information was all there and it looked neat. BUT it was just a little bit…. Bland. I explained that there was no point spending time and effort sending mediocre CVs. We improved it and within a couple of weeks he had a new job. 

Will your CV or application get you an interview? 

Now I am not going to tell you here how to write a CV or complete a job application, there is already a lot written about that and you can follow the links below. I want to ask you to consider things from the viewpoint of the person who reads it…

Imagine that you are a manager in charge of finding a new graduate to work for your company. It’s a big investment so you really want to find someone who can do the job now and also can adapt to new roles within the organisation in the future. Perhaps you would like
someone who has experience but most of all you want to know that they have POTENTIAL and the right ATTITUDES and VALUES. Your inbox is full of CVs
/application forms

Now answer this question… what would stand out to you? And what would persuade you to invite someone for interview? 

Now look at your own CV or application form as if through the eyes of a recruiting manager (maybe you could ask someone else to do this too?) Would you want to give ‘you’ a job?

An initial sift (by person or computer) will immediately eliminate applications which are poorly presented (scruffy with spelling and grammatical errors) and the ones which don’t seem to mention any relevant skills or ‘essential’ criteria.

‘Pick me!’

The person looking at your CV or application will be making a judgement quite quickly. They want to like you! They are hunting for hidden gems but you need to give them clues. Recruiters are not mind-readers, if you don’t tell them what you can do and why they should employ you then you miss your opportunity. Tell them about your skills and qualities which you know they are looking for (as you will have researched the job and the company. Obviously). Give examples to back-up your claims and make it interesting. Show them your personality. Make it look professional. Tease out their curiosity and persuade them to invite you for an interview to find out more. This is how it works.

What if you don’t have much to say? 

Do you know how to get your point across to employers?

Well, maybe you need to be a little less modest? And look for ‘transferable skills’ in things you have done. And maybe you can use this time while you are still looking for your ‘Proper Job’ to do some other things such as internships, work experience, volunteering or taking up a new interest to enhance your CV? You might even find this leads to a job itself.

Job applications take time and effort to complete but you never know which one might be THE ONE to succeed so keep up your motivation and your standards. Make sure that you are familiar with what they are looking for and give them good examples to demonstrate what you can do and how this meets their needs. See below for advice on job applications.


  1. Download the CV guide available here which has been created by your careers team at Salford. Review the example CVs. Which do you like best?
  2. Read this advice on how to write a CV from
  3. And this about how to write a successful application
  4. Have look at this ‘bad example’ and spot the mistakes. Don’t make them on yours.
  5. If you haven’t got a CV, write one now!
  6. Book a CV review appointment with the Careers team or if you can’t get into see us, email it to us for our comments (

Further information

Check this online presentation about CV writing.


Day 11: What else could I do? Alternatives to the 9 – 5 job

26 January 2017

The world of work is continuously changing.

When our parents or grandparents left school they were quite likely to get a permanent job in a big organisation with a steady career structure. Perhaps this sounds great as it offers security and predictability… or perhaps that sounds a bit boring? The good news for you is that you are not necessarily faced with one big jump into a career, you can try out a few different things before you commit. The downside is that you may have to accept a certain level of uncertainty, some periods of unemployment or underemployment and you might even find that you need to start off on low pay in order to build up some relevant work experience. Building a career takes time so hold your nerve if you are frustrated about things not happening as fast as you’d like.

Temporary work and internships
In my PhD research I have been talking to students and recent graduates about this very topic. They have spoken very positively (on the whole) about their experiences of these alternative and introductory forms of activity. There often seems to be a kind of ‘snowball effect’ once you get a foot in the door of a workplace where you can make contacts and pick up skills which can lead on to bigger and better things. In fact about one third of graduate jobs are filled by people who have already done an internship or work experience within the organisation. Many people I know with ‘permanent’ jobs started off on a temporary contract.Volunteering
Volunteering can be especially rewarding and even ‘life-changing’ according to the people I interviewed for my research. In fact, it can have a positive effect not only upon your chances of getting a job but also upon your general happiness, confidence and psychological wellbeing even if it’s just a couple of hours a week. If you think volunteering just means working in a charity shop then think again. There are thousands of different ways you can devote your skills to the ‘greater good’.

Small is beautiful

Sometimes it may seem that getting a graduate job with a big, well-known company is THE thing to do. These opportunities are highly competitive and they might not even suit everyone. Working for a smaller organisation can be a great choice as you may have more variety of tasks and make a real impact. Read more about this option here.

‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’ John Lennon

If you always wanted to travel or relocate then this might be a good time to do it before you get settled into a ‘proper job’ and other personal commitments? Many people take a ‘gap year’ and work in another country or just to see the sights. Teaching English as a Foreign Language is a good example of a great way to live and work in another country and UK graduates are sought after for this. You have a small window of opportunity to live and work anywhere in the EU before Brexit kicks in! Even after that, you can get a working visa for many other countries further afield.

You will probably work for a very big chunk of your life so make the most of this time you have now to try something new!

Have you explored the job market as much as you’d like to?

How to make the most of your work experiences
1. Be professional, reliable, efficient and show willingness to learn new skills – this will help you build up your own experience and may also make you indispensable!
2. Make sure you still have time to carry on applying for jobs while you are working in a temporary position. Don’t assume it will lead to something more long term.
3. Be proactive in asking people you work for to provide you with references and endorsements on Linked-In. Keep in touch with them if they don’t mind.
4. Be aware of your own rights and don’t accept poor or exploitative treatment (read on Day 12 about your rights)


Activity & further information

1. Write down three jobs you would like to do long-term.
2. Think of and list the skills and experience you would need to get those jobs (if you are not sure do some research, e.g on Graduate Prospects or National Careers Service)
3. Think of possible places/jobs that would help you to develop these skills and experience.
4. Research them on these websites:-

Remember the university careers portal advertises all sorts of jobs some of which could provide you with something alternative. So if you are not already, make sure you are signed up.




Day 6: What Should I Do? Decision-making Made Easier

20 January 2017

Eileen Cunningham

• Do you know what you want to do with your life? Or have you not decided yet?
• Are you feeling confused or even overwhelmed with the many possible career paths you could take?
• Do you have a couple of good opportunities and you are trying to decide which one to go with?
• Are you worried that you might take the wrong one?
• Or are you putting off making a decision until some later date?
• What are you waiting for? Do you think that there is one true vocation out there waiting for you and all you have to do is discover it? Or for someone to tell you what to do?


All of these predicaments are perfectly natural at this stage in your life (and you will quite possibly find yourself in them again at later stages).

As a Careers Adviser I notice that people often half expect a ‘lightbulb’ or ‘eureka’ moment when the true purpose of their life is suddenly revealed to them. While some people might experience that, the more mundane yet comforting reality is that career decision making is usually a PROCESS rather than an EVENT. This means there are tangible things you can do to help yourself face up to choices with confidence and clarity.

How people go about planning and deciding upon their careers has attracted the attention and curiosity of many researchers and academics over the years and there are many theories about this sort of thing. There are some links below if this sparks your interest and I will just share one which I think is particularly useful and reassuring.

Making choices in a changing world

In ‘the old days’ most people would get a job once their education was complete and then pretty much stick with it until they retired, perhaps climbing the career ladder within an occupation or organisation over the years. This is much less common now. This makes working life a little less predictable (and you might be thinking ‘more interesting!’) It means that you will probably change employer numerous times and it is quite likely you will change job too. Developing your own strategies to make decisions will be a useful life skill. But do you know how to go about making a good decision?

Sometimes it is hard to think clearly as there are so many different pieces of information to juggle mentally. Here is an approach based on Edward De Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’ model of parallel thinking.

Without questioning the feasibility (at this stage) generate all the possible options you can think of about things you could do with your life (job titles, general activities, alternatives). Ask people for suggestions and look for new ideas in the world around you. You could simply list them or do a mind map or doodle to link similar ideas together?

2. FIND FACTS (white hat thinking)
How would you get into any of the ideas you have come up with? Where would you find these things? What skills or experience would you need? Is your degree subject compatible? What would you actually be doing on a day to day basis? Even if you discount lots of them straight away at this stage at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that you have considered them.

You need to reflect upon what is important to you and what would best suit you. This might also mean you consider what you would be prepared to put up with in the short-term in order to establish yourself. Look back to ‘Day 4: What makes you tick’ and undertake some assessments.

4. PROS & CONS (Yellow and Black hat)
For each option write down a list of pros and cons (potential positives and negatives). You could even give scores to each of these points according to how important it is then add up the scores for each option & column. This is quite a logical, methodical way of doing it. Alternatively, take some time to just imagine and visualise each option and what could be good and bad about it.

By this stage you might already have made your decision, or at least have narrowed options down. There are lots of practical tools and techniques for decision-making. Sometimes the ones which seems most alien to your way of thinking can actually be the most useful, for example, if you are quite an intuitive or spontaneous person perhaps try an approach which is more logical (and vice versa).
Discuss with someone else – ideally someone who will listen and respect your opinions and help you to come to your own conclusions. See ‘Day 13:who’s on your bench?’

6. ACT!
Once you have made a decision, especially after a long spell of confusion or deliberation, you may feel a strong motivation to go and get on with it. However if you still find yourself procrastinating you may need to give yourself a little push. Write an action plan or checklist of things you need to do with deadlines. Looking for a job can be like a full-time job in itself so it might help to see it in that way. Do it even if you don’t feel particularly motivated. Create a structured timetable or routine and you can feel satisfied that you are doing something positive to put yourself in that right place at the right time.

I know you may feel that this is your one chance to make a decision that will change your life forever. It is usually not the end of the world if you later think you got it wrong. Although you may have missed some opportunities there are often ways to change direction later on.
Career planning and decision making is a lifelong skill, not a one-off. If you can learn it now it will help you in future job changes and also in other areas of your life where you need to make decisions (like what to order at the coffee shop)!



Think about a big decision you have made previously. Analysing how you made the decision may help you to identify your usual strategies. Did they work well? What can you learn from this? Use this activity worksheet and example to help you.

Reflect upon this quote:- “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing” (Theodore Roosevelt) What are the consequences for you of doing nothing? What would the ‘wrong thing’ be and what could be its consequences? How will you know that you have done ‘the right thing’? Sometimes it can be helpful to think things through.

Further information
If you haven’t done so already check out Edward De Bono Six Thinking Hats video clip

How to make decisions wikiguide

On Day 9 we will consider what the future workplace may look like and how you can make ‘futureproof’ decisions.

Alan Watts video clip on choices and decisions.

Day 5: What Makes You Tick? Personality, Values and Interests

20 January 2017

Eileen Cunningham

Imagine going to work every day and feeling proud of what you achieve. You are doing something that is important to you and you strongly believe it is worthwhile. You feel at home in your workplace and it’s as if the job were made just for you.


Imagine going to work every day and constantly feeling that what you are doing goes against what you believe and think. It violates your personal beliefs and makes you feel uncomfortable – both mentally and physically.

Both of these positions may seem a little extreme. For most people there are good parts and not so good parts to their job. Finding a job which suits you can help to give you job satisfaction and feel happier.

There are at least four aspects* of yourself that you need to consider skills (we looked at this on Day 4), personality, values and interests.

How well do you know yourself?

What kind of a person are you?

Psychologists suggest that we can get to understand ourselves (and each other) better by identifying underlying traits or types. Employers will often include personality assessments in their selection process to find people they think would be most suited to the role. Whether you are a person who is good at and interested in small details or the big picture; likes talking to people or works best alone and quietly; is cautious or risk-taking…although you could still do a whole range of jobs you might flourish better in ones that utilise your skills, personality and interests.

What are your work values?

Values are the things that are really important to you. They are also the things which are important to organisations and you may see them proclaimed on websites. Many organisations are beginning to recruit people who seem to have values which are in line with theirs.

Here are some examples of things you may value:- Creativity – Autonomy – Justice – Fun – Achievement – Using skills – Continuous learning – Security – Work-Life balance – Money – Status

Some values are likely to be more important to you than others so that, for example, you may be willing to sacrifice ‘security’ in a job for ‘creativity’.

What interests you?

Are you interested in how things work, or in talking to people?

Do you like being outdoors in nature?

Are you fascinated by facts and figures?

Finding a job which matches your interests is not essential as you can always keep this for your spare time but then doing something which totally bores you will make the days pass very slowly!


Why is it useful to know all this about yourself?

Knowing what makes you tick can provide you with a handy blueprint against which to match any potential jobs by asking are the values and activities of the organisation in line with mine? Or at least not in complete opposition? In fact, nowadays it isn’t always helpful to choose one specific job title which you want to go for but to have a checklist of things you are looking for in a job.

Remember that the first few years of your career for many people is a time when they try to find where they fit in the world of work. Recruitment and selection is a two-way process where you have the chance to decide if a job is right for you as well as the employer choosing you (although if the competition is high then you might feel they have more power to exercise choice than you do).

Here’s a thought…if you are 21 now then you MAY work for around 40 hours a week for another 45 years before retiring (or longer). That’s a whopping 80,000 hours spent working. That is a long time to be doing something that makes you unhappy. So perhaps you could give some thought to what would make you at least reasonably happy in the longer term and aim towards that.

So what?

Does this mean we should all be saving the world and having fun at work every day? Not necessarily….you may be need to be flexible to get the job done and earn a living. Similarly, you do get paid to do a job so you can’t expect it to be fun all the time. This is especially true in your early career when you may find that you have to make some compromises in order to gain the skills and experiences you’ll need later.

How can you learn more about your personality, values and interests?

Early in your career this may happen through a process or trial and error. Many graduates soon discover a job that looks ideal in theory just doesn’t suit them.



Try out at least one online questionnaire such as:-

Prospects Planner – career interests

Barratt values test – values

Values exercise – especially steps 4 & 5 (a reflective activity to elicit and prioritise values)

Personality assessments – personality profiling

Holland’s Interests inventory – career interests

Schein’s career anchors – available as  the Career_Orientations_Inventory. (acknowledgements to

Ask people who know you well to tell you what they see as being your defining personality traits. You could even ask them what kind of jobs they think would suit/not suit you. It doesn’t mean you should blindly accept their suggestions but it’s an additional perspective to consider.

Reflection – Who has values or personality traits you admire (either someone you know or a famous person)? Who is doing a job which is in line with their values? Who isn’t? What can you learn from these people?


Further information 

There are lots of books and websites to help you through the process of finding a career that you feel suits you. Careers & Employability and the library have a good selection you can read.

  • ‘What colour is your parachute?’ by Richard Bolles
  • Graduate Careers Guidebook by Steve Rook

Are there any others you have found particularly useful? Let us know.


*There may be other things which will influence your career decisions, for example personal circumstances, health related issues or geographical location. If you need to discuss this you can get in touch with Careers and Employability.


Day 4: What’s in Your Toolkit? Skills for Your Career

19 January 2017

Eileen Cunningham

Knowing what you can do, that is, what ‘skills’ you have and being able to articulate them confidently in an interview or, even before that, on a job application is really important in helping you to get a job. Probably one of the questions you are most likely to hear at an interview is this…’What have you go to offer?’ A common follow up question might be ‘what is your greatest strength?’ or even ‘what is your biggest weakness?’

If you are thinking…

‘I don’t have any skills!’ 

‘Does serving coffee/being football coach/speaking Swahili/playing computer games count?’ 

‘What exactly are skills and why are they important?’

…then read on!

So WHY are employers so interested in your skills? Surely they will train you anyway on the job you will be doing? Well, employers are looking for bright stars with potential to perform well long-term and if you have already demonstrated that you can do something then you are probably a safer bet.  Our What Employers Want post explores what are the top skills employers look for. Many of these skills are transferable or soft skills such as communication and teamwork.

Sometimes you may see the words ‘competencies’ or ‘attributes’ which are often a mixture of what you can actually do and the sort of person you are. For example, good communication skills are valuable in most jobs and are likely to be a mixture of things you have learnt to do (e.g. answer questions, give presentations) and the way you are with people (e.g. friendly, interested, polite).


Skills – choosing a career

Knowing what you are good at can help you to establish a career which you can be successful in. Feeling that you are good at what you do can help you feel more satisfied at the end of each day and also may help you to be promoted or well paid.

Identifying your skills

So how can you identify your skills?

  • Reflect on things you have done well. What skills were you using? Be honest with yourself.
  • Ask other people who know you well what they think you are good at?
  • Do some objective assessments such as psychometric tests to find out how good you are at specific skills such as numeracy and literacy in comparison with other people.

Developing new skills and addressing weaknesses

When you are just starting out in your career there will be thousands of things you don’t yet know you could do. There may be other skills which you can do but could do better. Trying out a few different types of job can be useful.

If you seriously think you don’t have much to offer here are two things you can do:-

  1. Look for transferable skills in the things you have done (like part-time work, university projects and even your personal life). For example – even if you haven’t worked in an accountant’s office, maybe you have done the books as a treasurer of a club, or you have managed your student finances exceptionally efficiently?
  1. Go out and find some ways to learn and demonstrate new skills, e.g. do some volunteering, take up a new activity, fundraise for a charity, or while you are looking for a graduate level job consider lower level jobs which will be a step in the right direction, giving you valuable experience.

Skills for the future 

Many skills which were in great demand 20 years ago are now obsolete. Similarly, 20 years from now you will be using skills which are not even dreamt of yet. That means having an open mind about learning and being quick at picking up new skills is an important skill in itself. When you can show employers that you have skills you are also giving them the message that you are keen to learn and proactive in seeking opportunities.

Remember some skills can get rusty if you are not using them (for example how to use a particular piece of software or do mental maths) so keep them up to date (maybe in hobbies or voluntary work) whilst you are waiting to get paid for them.



Complete this Skills for employability exercise to assess your skills.

Read our other ’21 days’ blogs which will discuss some of these issues further! Day 8 specifically looks at what skills employers typically ask for.


Find a goal you have a passion for; James Largey, director of Frontline Fit

19 January 2017

Meet James – a Salford graduate of  ‘Exercise, Physical Activity & Health’  – who I met five years ago when he started small with a fitness bootcamp in his local park. He continues to inspire me with his vision and his determination to make things happen in his life!

“Eleven years ago I had just finished high school with what you would call “below average GCSE qualifications”. I got a D in Maths, D in English and D in R.E., however I did get a C in Science, B in P.E and B in graphic design. Unless my semi professional football career kicked off I had no real serious regard or plans for my future education or working career.

Nevertheless I listened to my elder brother and sister and followed suit by continuing my studies in college – Hopwood Hall Sports College In Middleton. Hopwood allowed me to apply providing I resat and passed my English and Maths exams. I took both exams and obviously invested no time or effort into revising what so ever – so I failed yet again.

A turning point

Fortunately, to my astonishment, I still managed to slip through the system and successfully enrol as a student at the college going straight into a BTec National Diploma in Sports. If you fast forward to real time I now hold a place on their “wall of fame” as an alumni showcasing my success post graduation!

Now to put you in the picture I am currently 29, married, own multiple businesses in relation to fitness, health & sporting performance. So obviously a lot has happened since my ‘poor academic high school years’. I tell you only the beginning of my journey and where I am today simply because everything in-between YOU have full control over. I had to transform my environment by going to Salford University and switch up my pattern by exploring more avenues than just football. Then I had to get rid of my story. The story that said I am a “below average” academic student who is incapable of doing anything truly successful in life. I graduated in ‘Exercise, Physical Activity & Health’ and never looked back! The support I got from staff at Salford has been crucial in helping me head in the right direction.

The secret of my success

From there I did what every other “successful” man and woman has ever done in their life – set themselves a goal that they themselves feel absolutely passionate about. A goal that was so powerful that they are completely committed to achieving yet know that the process is going to be somewhat challenging and may require the occasional detour but its also going to be an enjoyable journey along the way.”

1. Find out your WHY before you venture into anything. (I now go into schools and colleges to talk more about the importance and reasons behind this).
2. You must always learn (grow). If you’re not growing you’re dying.
3. Stay humble and do everything with “God consciousness”…. some people call this “good karma”.