Day 14: It’s Good to Talk – Career Conversations

By Jan.29, 2017


Fiona Christie, careers consultant

Careers matter to people.  Your career will occupy half of your waking hours; it will impact on your finances, your status, what you contribute to society, your happiness, your own fulfilment and others’ opinion of you.  Your career will interweave with your home, your family and your leisure interests.  And careers, certainly for those of us living in the UK today, mean choices about the kind of life you want to lead and being able to make decisions about those choices.

This is certainly a subject that deserves to be talked about, don’t you agree?

The power of career conversations came out of recent research I have been doing into graduate careers. One of my findings has been that individuals who had found suitable people to talk to about their hopes, fears and ambitions were much more positive about their career prospects. Ironically, although the ‘what’s your career plan?’ question may be one that graduates dread to hear, and would possibly shy away from, it is also one that most people would like to be able to have a stab at answering, especially if they know the person asking is genuinely interested and not just making small-talk.

Who the graduates in my research spoke to about their career varied – people they mentioned included careers advisers, lecturers, family members, friends, and work colleagues. Whoever that person might be, having people who they trusted to talk to, appeared to have significance in supporting individuals to have belief in themselves.  It didn’t have to be someone who knew the ins and outs of the industry or occupation a graduate was interested in (though it might be), but somebody who was genuinely interested in that graduate.

Who do you talk to about your career?

Who do you talk to about your career?

So, where am I heading with this?

We have already posted about career planning and decision-making elsewhere, but I’d suggest that seeking out people to talk ‘out loud’ to about your career is a wise move.  For some of you this may be already something you do, and if so, foster this and continue it. But if you are someone who doesn’t have anybody to talk to your career about, I’d suggest this is something to take action about. If you are not sure who to go to, arrange to talk to a careers adviser at the university.

What relationships and connections can help your career?

Over time, I’ve actually come to think that for some people, there is a taboo about talking about careers; perhaps it’s a British thing, or a fear of people disparaging you or not understanding, and it could be related to how sometimes the most important things in life don’t get talked about, while we can all chatter away about trivia (I know I certainly can).

I know people vary in terms of how much they like to talk in general, but my research indicates that whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, having quality career conversations matter – ‘it’s good to talk’.



Make a note of your answers to the following questions:

Who do you talk to about your career? Which of these people do you find most useful to talk to?

If you don’t talk to anyone about your career, why is this?

If you don’t talk to anyone about your career, and you would like to, who do you think it would be useful to do so with?

There are different perspectives on careers advice. Watch this short video in which employers share their favourite bits of careers advice. Make a note of any points you think are useful.




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Day 13: Who’s on Your Bench?

By Jan.28, 2017

The Tweenies are on my side.

The Tweenies are on my side.

Well, I’ve got Bella and Milo on my bench so I am doing OK. But seriously, there is a cliché that it’s ‘who you know’ that matters in careers. These 3 simple words hide the variation this may mean depending on who you are and where you come from. Sociologists call this social capital, a phrase that is now used widely.

Who's on your supporters' bench?

Who’s on your supporters’ bench?

But whether you are fortunate to be well-connected or not, everyone needs people on their bench and it’s important to appreciate those people. The sporting metaphor is a good one, as this could include people who can cheer you when you do well, can get out the stretcher when there’s an emergency and provide you with coaching and direction. Your bench may well include family and friends who are your cheerleaders, even if you feel they can’t really help your career, they may well be able to help maintain your morale. And we know that staying positive is important when getting a job and developing your career.

It’s often someone on the sidelines cheering us on that can help us keep going. Nurture your bench of cheerleaders, and think about reciprocity too. The people on your bench will very likely need your help too.

Peter Hawkins in his book No Regrets on Sunday recommends building back-up on your bench. He talks about people who can help boost your confidence, enable you to be creative, encourage you to invest time in the things that really matter, help you explore your skills, and inspire you, as well as celebrate your achievements.

Zella King is a business academic who has studied social networks in order to understand how they work. In this TedX talk, she focuses on the ideas of the core, clique, camp and crowd. I’d argue that if you don’t get the core right then it will be more difficult to develop the rest. Your bench is your core. Social media can tempt us into collecting more and more contacts which can sometimes distract you from properly valuing your core.


Watch Zella King’s talk between 2.18 and 9.52. Do you agree with what she says? It’s an 11 minute video in total.



If you had to name 3-5 people who are your core supporters, who are they? Do these people know they are in your core? When is the last time you spoke to them?

Send them all a message, telling them that you are working on some career planning activities, and you have been told to ask some key people in your life, ‘What are my 3 greatest qualities?’ and ‘What piece of advice would you most like to give me?’ Go on, be brave, and make sure to thank them when they reply and offer to reciprocate if they would like this.


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Day 12: Be Savvy and Know Your Rights

By Jan.27, 2017

The author of this post is Tahira Majothi (careers consultant).

Tahira has actually climbed to the top of Engels Beard on campus – respect!

Tahira Majothi, careers consultant

As I walk around the ever changing university campus, and see people climbing the ‘Engel’s Beard’ sculpture I’m mindful of the significance of key sites which surround us and which serve as a reminder of the North’s  pivotal role in changing world history including the remnants of the Industrial Revolution, the Manchester Ship Canal, the site of the Peterloo Massacre, the Working Class Movement Library and Rochdale Pioneers the home of the modern Cooperative movement, all of which recognise the people and campaigns which have helped to shape the region’s deep historical, industrial and societal changes and which ran parallel along the fight for fair labour, political and human rights.

The evolving labour market and the fight for people’s rights in wider society have always led to some hard fought campaigns for recognition whether it was for civil rights, workers’ rights, the suffragettes’ movement or equal rights for disabled people and LGBTQ recognition and representation.

Following on from graduation, as you venture out onto a new course, career path or enterprise with the desire and purpose to make a difference to you and the wider community, remember there is power in knowing your rights at work.

What do we mean by ‘rights’?

Know your rights at work

What does it mean to you and for you? Consider how rights we may take for granted now came to be i.e. the right not be discriminated against, the right to an education and work, to liberty and security, right to respect and family life, freedom of expression, of thought, conscience and religion, the right to marry who you choose to marry or to take part in free elections etc. A lot of these rights recently have been enshrined within government legislation as well as the Human Rights Act, the Equality Act 2010, and EU directives. Rights however are not static and depend on the political climate whether local/national/international. It’s also worth remembering that rights vary in different countries and across different cultures.

‘Uberisation’ of the workplace

Industry and society is perpetually changing. Think of some of things you are witnessing as a graduate in the current labour market including companies that use technology without bearing much of the physical costs as noted by Tom Goodwin i.e. Airbnb doesn’t own any accommodation, Facebook doesn’t create content, Uber doesn’t own any cars. Think about how such businesses are changing the nature of industry-consumer transactions, but also in the case of Uber, whether the drivers are considered employed/self-employed. Not to mention the gig economy, zero hour contracts, global graduates, the investment in entrepreneurial start-ups, the shift towards automation and technology as well as economic, social and political shifts such as Brexit.

So what?

Should these changes stop you realising your goals? No! But should they make you mindful of your rights as you make the transition from graduate to employee or entrepreneur? Absolutely!

Navigating the early days of transitioning from university into a new course of study/job/enterprise can be challenging, what will the people be like, will I like them, will they like me, what is the culture like, will I be allowed to be myself and not feel discriminated against, will it lead to progression etc?

Some of these scenarios have quick wins via work mentors or buddies as well as inductions but others may require a little bit more research into your rights for example, what assistance is available if you have enhanced support needs, if English isn’t your first language or what should be in your contract of employment, how much is the minimum wage, will you have to pay tax and what to do if you feel exploited or discriminated against? Joining a trade union (if one is available) is a good way to protect your rights and have someone to turn to for advice.

Forewarned is forearmed – Know your rights!

If you are aware of your rights you can have a strong sense of control and be self-aware enough to recognise what is and isn’t acceptable within a work or study environment. Read up on your rights and make a note of appropriate support organisations.  If you feel that something isn’t right with how you are being treated, explore ways to resolve this, and don’t take it lying down!

And remember… Before you start to aspire to change the world around you, make sure you’re all too aware of what your rights and entitlements are, to quote the poet Rumi “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”


Note down answers to the following questions:


  1. What is the difference between the minimum wage and the living wage?
  2. What are statutory rights and what type of worker may not be entitled to statutory rights?
  3. Name 3 protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010?
  4. What are zero hour contracts?
  5. Is it legal to work unpaid for an employer in order to get work experience?
  6. If you are doing a job via a recruitment agency, are you entitled to holiday and sick leave?
  7. Should you start a job without an employment contract?
  8. If you have done work as a freelancer and your invoice has not been paid, what can you do?

Download the answers here. Any surprises?

Further information

University of Salford – Equality and Employment web resources

Equality and Human Rights Commission 

Citizens Advice

All I want is a bit of respect – how to deal with discrimination at work – blog post.

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

By Jan.26, 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.




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Day 10: Could Self-employment or Freelancing be for You?

By Jan.25, 2017

The author of this post is Justyna Turner (enterprise champion).

Why become self-employed, a freelancer or start your own business when you graduate?

Justyna Turner

There are many reasons and benefits why people choose this career path. Most people want to be their own boss. Others do it to make lots of money or even just to make a second income. Some relish the challenge of working for themselves, while others have no option but to go self-employed.

Many successful businesses today were established by students while they were still in university or just after completing university; often with their fellow students. Many argue that there is never a better time to start a business than at university. Some examples are Google, Facebook, Time magazine, Dell and many more. Self-employment is sometimes the only option if you wish to pursue a specific career path; media, and the creative and performing arts sectors are all examples of where self-employment or freelance work is typical. Creatives often develop portfolio careers where they will need to juggle self-employment and short term contracts to maximize the use of their creative skills.

Could self-employment be for you?

What do you need in order to set up in business?

Many people believe that you need large quantities of money and a very unique idea to set up in business, however this is not always true. If you have a good idea, and you have done some research into the marketplace, to see whether people are willing to buy your product or service- that is a great starting point. If you have a good business idea and are willing to put in the hard work, there are plenty of opportunities and sources of funding you can get access to. Possessing entrepreneurial skills will also help to make your idea into reality, and the Enterprise Team at the University of Salford can help you develop these.

Enterprising skills if you aren’t self-employed 

Being Enterprising does not always mean running your own business or being your own boss. There are many benefits and skills you develop by being enterprising; many of them not only helping people start their businesses but having an enterprising mind-set will make you more employable in general. The word ‘intrapreneurialism’ means being enterprising within an organisation.

What are the qualities of an entrepreneur?

To be enterprising is to exhibit certain qualities that will help you with your future career, no matter if you decide to start a business or if you want to do well within an organisation. In the current times, most students will get a 2:1 degree or above, most of them will have a student loan and most of them will present a similar CV to employers. Being enterprising will help you to take advantage of opportunities and enable you to stand out from the crowd. Some of the most important skills and attributes that employers are looking for are also enterprising skills, e.g., creativity, team building, communication, planning, leadership, problem solving and decision making.

How to develop your enterprise skills?

Some practical ways that you can develop your Enterprising Skills, are being involved in group projects and team sports as well as volunteer work – these maybe things you have already done whilst at university. Put yourself in a position where you are required to solve a problem, or come up with a creative idea. Why not take part in a business competition, where you can not only develop these skills, but also win some cash prizes?  These competitions are often open to graduates as well as students, so whilst you are looking for employment opportunities, you may have more time to engage more fully with these types of activities. If you would like to take part in competitions and become more involved, please see our upcoming opportunities on our web page.

Where to begin?

So, if you have a business idea, or you want to find out how you can use your skills to go freelance, you can speak with a qualified business adviser to get an idea on how to get started. We can help to guide you through the business start-up process step by step. You can book in with the team here. You just need your university username and password to login.  You can still do this as a graduate – we are not just here for students.


To find out if self-employment is right for you, complete this quiz Will running a business suit you?. This is taken from our Becoming Self-Employed guide

Based on your answers to the quiz, do you think self-employment could be for you? Briefly make notes to explain your answer.

Further information

To develop your skills further, you can learn more about Entrepreneurship with our online Enterprise Masterclasses. These are only 15-20 minutes each and will give you a great insight into the world of Entrepreneurship.




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Day 9: Predicting the Jobs of the Future

By Jan.24, 2017

This post’s author is Paul Sheppard, careers consultant.

Paul Sheppard – careers consultant and definitely not a robot

A few months ago I undertook a quick quiz on the BBC website asking how likely it was that a robot might take my job and discovered the chance of my job being done by a robot in the next 20 years is only about 20%. There is, however, a far more serious issue in that many roles and sectors are likely to be adversely affected in the short term, in addition to the roles that have already been replaced over recent years as many middle skilled jobs are now being automated as machines master more complicated tasks previously undertaken by humans.

I’ll get my crystal ball out to tell you what the future will look like.

Going forward it is crucial that graduates and those advising you try to understand what the future may bring. Career areas such as Finance are predicted to be the most likely to be adversely affected as the work of accountants and financial analysts can be done by machines. Jobs with high level skills, creativity and personal care are generally safe and we are likely to see employers that need smaller highly skilled workforces dominated by those with high levels of creativity and problem solving that can’t be robotised.

‘Futureproof jobs’

Roles that require higher levels of emotional intelligence and empathy are likely to offer opportunities and some, such as secondary school teacher, are likely to encounter shortages. Psychologists, architects, quantity surveyors and HE lecturers are amongst the least likely to suffer from ‘The Second Machine Age’ and doctors, dentists and nurses can also breathe a collective sigh of relief for the foreseeable future. It is worth bearing in mind though that there will be an inevitable ‘knock on effect’ as those who want to enter such professions are likely to face competition from those forced out of those sectors most affected, such as Finance.

Those who possess the dexterity and practical skills required by some of the more traditional careers such as nursing, and the construction trades, won’t be easily replaced.  We may be already witnessing a resurgence of practical skills that could be described as artisanship. The Creative Industries will continue to flourish and if you’re going to see Kraftwerk’s highly anticipated 3D show in 2017 there will be humans using technology to help create the music and the experience as well as numerous others involved in designing and staging such an event.  More generally, an ability to harness technology will keep creative folk in business for some time.

It’s all about the technology

 I have not really touched on the jobs of the future which have begun to emerge, e.g., social media entrepreneurs, the YouTube Vloggers.  New jobs have been continually created in the past and will continue to do so whilst those looking at traditional careers such as civil engineer, and software development (at the sharp-end of applying new technology) have good prospects for the short to medium term.  In Manchester, the last 10 years have seen a steady growth in advertising, marketing and PR as a sector – much of the job growth has been in response the social media and the internet.

Be prepared

John Maynard Keynes infamously predicted that a 3 day working week that allowed us more time to pursue our personal interests would become the norm (I’m still waiting). Yet we continue to see too many graduates struggle to find jobs that utilise their skills adequately.

So what is the message for those embarking on their careers or indeed wanting to change direction? Be adaptable – expect and prepare for 5-10 jobs (all of which may or may not relate to each other in some way) in your life. Anticipate geographical mobility too in our globalised world. Make sure to keep abreast of the labour market (your careers service can help you). Skilling up isn’t finite but rather a lifelong process. But there’s no doubt that being able to work with technology is a must-have aptitude for future-proofing your career.


Search jobs you are interested in to find out what their likelihood of being done by a robot: Take this BBC quiz

Read this article in the Times Higher Education article – The robots are coming for the professionals. 

More information

‘The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to automation’. Michael Osborne and Carl Frey



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Day 8: What do Employers Really Want?

By Jan.23, 2017

The author of this post is Gary Bardsley Student Engagement Co-ordinator

What do employers want from graduates?

Surveys of employers reveal top 10 “must have” skills that many employers state graduates must possess to be successful employees. Which skills matter the most to recruiters does vary according to sector, roles, size of business, cultural ethos as well as how committed a company is to training its staff.  Employers operate within a fast paced and technologically changing economic environment, therefore their needs can be variable and specialised. However, there are some generic skills which are definitely useful whatever type of job you are aiming for. And you probably have many of them already!

Gary perusing a selection of careers information

Typical Top Ten

The Brilliant Graduate Career Handbook identifies a top ten of graduate skills sought after by employers.

  1. Self-management
  2. Resilience
  3. Team working
  4. Business and customer awareness
  5. Problem solving
  6. Project management
  7. Communication and literacy
  8. Numeracy
  9. Application of IT
  10. Foreign language skills

How would you rate yourself against each of these skills? (Give yourself a mental mark out of ten)

It’s wise to do a bit of research and explore which skills are important to the sector you are applying to, the company and the job role.  Graduate Prospects has a great encyclopaedia of 400 graduate job roles which includes the skills required for each different job. Bear in mind, ideas about skills evolve and this year for the first time the Association of Graduate Recruiters Summer survey included “managing up” which is about how you manage your manager. This includes understanding what their priorities are and being responsive to this, as well as knowing when you need to go to your manager for a decision and when to make a decision yourself.

Employers also talk about personal qualities which are a bit different from skills and include things like motivation, enthusiasm, pro-activity, passion, work ethic, flexibility.  However, sometimes people seem to merge skills and qualities, eg., the list above includes resilience in skills; but I’d say resilience is a personal quality. What do you think?

Some employers have also adopted a strengths-based recruitment process which appears to blend skills and qualities, with a view to understand your potential rather that what you have already done.

Graduate attributes are another way to think about what graduates may offer employers. Universities have started to use this language.  Research from Australia done by Simon Barrie summarises these as:

  • Research and inquiry – graduates can learn, research and create new knowledge
  • Information literacy – graduates can use information effectively
  • Autonomy – graduates can work independently
  • Ethics, social and professional values – graduates can act as responsible citizens
  • Communication – graduates understand the significance of communication in all forms to get ideas across as well as listening to others

The difference between skills, personal qualities, strengths and attributes can be confusing, but it is good to think about what you can offer (however this is badged) and how this matches what employers want, not to mention what you need to build upon and develop in order to grow your career.


  1. Watch this short video in which we asked employers who attended one of our careers events what they most valued about new employees. Make a note of points that really jump out at you.
  2. Checking back to the Top Ten skills list (above), which 3 of these are the skills you are most confident about?
    • Write them down and explain how you would explain this to an employer at interview.
    • In addition, decide which skill on the list is the one you would most like to improve?
    • Write down why you think it is important and what you could do to improve this skill.

Further information

Done, J. & Mulvey, R. (2011) The Brilliant Graduate Career Handbook. Prentice Hall


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Day 7: What’s Your Story – Your Personal Brand

By Jan.21, 2017

This post’s author is Tim Ward, work experience consultant

Once you have some clarity on your goals, interests, values and skills you can start packaging this as a compelling story about yourself. Some people call this process personal branding.  It’s a process which helps you define what’s special about you. It’s an approach I have found useful for my own career and also for the students and graduates I work with.

Tim Ward, work experience consultant.

Personal branding as a concept has borrowed ideas from business branding in approaching how individuals can market themselves in a competitive job market.

What have all successful companies mastered? What makes a consumer buy one product over another? What makes one graduate job-seeker more successful and much more sought after than others?  In all cases, I’d argue that it’s all down to the brand that’s conveyed.


Personal branding is a way to tell your story.

Personal branding is a way to tell your story.

What is personal branding?

Personal Branding can be described as many things, but to boil it down, it’s a promise… a promise of the value of you… a promise that you are better than all the other graduates competing for the specific job… a promise that must be delivered upon in order to be successful. “Choose me and you will get…….” Branding is developing an authentic image — with results to match. It’s not about being something that you’re not, but being your best self. Just as a diamond has multiple facets so you will be developing different aspects of your personality in different contexts. The person you are with your friends, your family and an employer may all be slightly different versions. This doesn’t make you a fraud but a skilled social chameleon!

Personal Branding is valuable to career advancement because branding helps define who you are, how you are great, and why you should be sought out. Branding is your reputation. Branding is about building a name for yourself, showcasing what sets you apart from others, and describing the added value that you could bring to a company.

Most graduate job-seekers are not pro-active in establishing and building their brand, and rely on letting their actions speak for them when seeking promotions or new jobs, rather than building a compelling image around themselves.

Take the time to master some very basic tactics that can help build your career brand and make you a much more attractive employee or job-seeker.

Remember, if you don’t brand yourself, others will for you. Your brand already exists, it’s what others say about you when you aren’t in the room! And while you may be happy and secure in your job now, you really never know when that will change.

How well do you know yourself?

Your brand is nothing less than your reputation; the mental shorthand people use when they think of you. Define it well, earn it diligently and promote it tastefully and you will have an asset that pays dividends over a lifetime.

Some Psychologists believe that we all have stories in our minds in which we are the central character. They keep a selective account of our past and possible future and we tend to act in accordance with this. If you see yourself as a failure then you may even subconsciously not try, or sabotage your efforts. However, if you think that your life is a story of triumph over adversity…. then you will act accordingly. So don’t believe everything you tell yourself, being aware of your story is the first step in rewriting it.

Some proponents of personal branding encourage people to use archetypes which are commonplace in marketing and advertising.  These include the caregiver, the sage, the hero, the outlaw, the creator, the explorer, the innocent, the jester, the lover, the magician, the ordinary guy/girl, the ruler.  Read through the definitions here and consider which two you most identify with.

Archetypes are everywhere in advertising – watch this video for the Paralympics – No prizes here for what advertising archetype is being used!



To get you started in thinking about personal branding, watch this rather cheesy video from William Arruda in the US.

Which of his ideas transfer well to our context in the UK? Or is it a bit too cheesy?

Of the archetypes used in branding, which two do you most identify with in terms of who you are as a person?  Write down why this is the case.

Further information

There’s something in this personal branding stuff – blog post.

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

By Jan.20, 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.

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

By Jan.20, 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.


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