A Christmas Message from Career Zone


Tom McAndrew is a Careers Consultant based on the Streatham Campus.

Merry Christmas? 

Seasons Greetings from the Career Zone

We’re often asked this around this time of year about how to best make the most of the Christmas period in terms of careers. You may find that we hesitate slightly.

It’s a tricky question and we don’t want to get the answer wrong; we’re thinking what’s best for you, the person standing in front of us. Talking to some students recently, I discovered that some have exams BEFORE Christmas and AFTER Christmas too. The ‘Yuletide Double Exam Whammy’, as it’s known. If this is you, concentrate on the exams but make sure you spend some quality time with family, friends and those you love. There will still be some internships available and graduate roles to apply to when you return. You can try and do too much.

If you’re lucky enough not to have exams or coursework to work on, then please send your lecturers a nice Christmas card. Also remember to not shout this out too loudly in front of those that do. If you have time then you could maybe look at some career applications, dust up the old CV and practice a few of those rusty interview techniques. Then again, you could just chill a bit, spend time with family and friends and those who love you and recharge your batteries. Sometimes not giving it 100% all the time can work out better than wearing yourself out.

If you have a paid job you do over Christmas, then you may not have time to sort out your career. Remember that the job will probably look pretty good on your CV so you’re doing great. Spend quality time with family etc. etc. etc.…

We also hesitate because some of our International Students don’t have the funds to return home, and for them Christmas can be quite a bit strange, a bit lonely far from home. A good time to make use of the Career Zone; get your CV or application checked, talk about your plans and see a friendly face.

Christmas is an odd time too. A time of high expectations and pressure to be happy. Which can make people miserable. Yes, It’s a Wonderful Life but not necessarily all the time (NB If the Capra film of that name is not one of you favourites like mine, remember this is not a sentimental film. It is actually quite dark. A man questioning the worth of his existence. Who finds redemption with the aid of an angel realising that he has made an enormous impact on family, friends and the people he loves).

So have as Merry Christmas as you can in the circumstances, taking into account that you might have exams, have to work, or be worn out from a stressful time or be a long way away from home.

I suppose I could shorten that a bit and get rid of the question mark:

Merry Christmas from the Career Zone!

Demystifying Spring Weeks

Emily Quartly is a Final Year BSc Economics and Finance student on the Streatham Campus, and a Career Zone Student Information Assistant. 

Emily Quartly

While I can’t say I’m an expert in the wider world of Finance and Banking, I’ve had my own experience of applications, success and failure, interview pressures and ultimately development and progress on my career path. I would like to think I can offer some words of advice to those in their First Year with curiosity and interest to get involved with opportunities to do with their future career.

I started University with only a small exposure of what it might be like to work under these big names, and applied for Spring Weeks and First Year internships. I was offered places on the Spring Weeks of both Fidelity and BNP Paribas, but as they were at the same time I chose BNPP.

After the week at BNPP I was lucky enough to secure myself a place on their internship program the following summer. Now, as a Finalist I’ve accepted a graduate position within BNPP’s Capital Markets division, following on from the completion of my degree.

Arriving as a newbie to University can seem daunting enough without the prospect of having to think about what you want to do afterwards. However, for many Business School students, having an interest in business and finance is already a great attitude to have when looking at what kind of schemes you could be eligible for even within your first year of undergraduate study.

“Being able to go into a Spring Week with ambition, interest and initiative will take you far.”

From an article released by the Financial Times in 2016, Goldman Sachs attracted more than a quarter of a million applications from students and graduates for jobs in the summer of 2016. The number of applications from students and graduates has risen 40% since 2012, according to figures provided to the Financial Times. The trend is mirrored at several other large banks such as JP Morgan, which says it’s only hiring 2% of graduate applicants into its Investment Banking division.

These kind of figures highlight how highly competitive the places are for these graduate and summer positions. Investment Banks are beginning to see great value in moving away from the ‘churning out of analysts’ and continue to move towards a more ‘Google’ model of attracting and retaining talented candidates.

Where will a Spring Week take your career?

So, what is a Spring Week?

A Spring Week or Insight Week is a week’s worth of work experience. It’s an opportunity to get first-hand experience of how a large corporation functions, and what better way to do that than with the major players in the financial services world. For employers, a Spring Week is a very long job interview or assessment centre.

What will you get out of it?

Showing your interest and applying as early as possible may well mean a good candidate is retained by the employer right though to a graduate position.

Being able to go into a Spring Week with ambition, interest and initiative will take you far. Employers set up these kind of events in order to fully see your skills and prospects, a lot of the time not anticipating any previous experience or technical knowledge. Therefore you’ll be taken through step by step any technical information that the firm want you to learn or have an awareness of.

In a company you know little about, on a desk that’s trading millions of pounds or franks or dollars, curiosity can’t be spoken highly enough. Using information provided and asking intelligent questions should allow you to begin to join dots up about products and processes, as well as show the company you are very much interested and captured by what the firm does. You are assumed to know very little at the beginning it is highly likely you are going to be observed for your skills in learning new things and questioning all the sectors and technical language and processes you are exposed to and come across.

Making successful applications and interviews.

The two key elements to a successful application are knowing your own skills and competencies, and having great commercial awareness about the employer. If you can demonstrate where you add value to a company, and how you understand their business, they’ll be much more likely to take you on.

What’s the application process like?

The most common order runs;

CV upload/application form

Numerical Testing and/or situational judgement testing

Video interview(s)

Phone interview(s)

Result

Bear in mind that rejections happen at every stage of the application process, and it may take several attempts at applications to correct mistakes and build confidence. For myself, I completed nearly 10 applications, a mixture of Spring Weeks and First Year internships, with only 2 successful results.

What’s the next step?

Many of the applications can be easily found through the individual company’s websites; a short list below of many of the popular names can be found for the applications commencing through 17/18:

Investment Banking

JP Morgan Spring week

Morgan Stanley Spring week opportunities

Goldman Sachs programs

HSBC Spring Insight Program

Barclays Spring Insight

Investment Management

Fidelity Women in Investment Insight week

Blackrock Insight week

Making full use of the Career Zone while applying for Spring Weeks are essential. You can find relevant links below to start your process. Including CV and application form resources, a link to booking online appointments and the interview resources and mock interview links.

CV and application form resources

Psychometric testing Numerical Testing and Situational judgement testing

1on1 appointment booking (Business School)

1on1 appointment booking (Career Zone)

Mock interview with employer events

Apply Yourself

Jenny Woolacott-Scarr is Career Zone Information Officer based in the Forum, Streatham Campus. 

Jenny Woolacott-Scarr, Career Zone Information Officer

You’ve seen your dream job, and only one thing stands between you and getting an interview; the application form. Little boxes? Impenetrable questions? STAR technique? Don’t worry, we’ve seen it all before and we’re here to help.

Do…

Answer the question. If you’re stuck, think about it from the employer’s point of view; they’ll only ask something that’ll help them decide whether to interview you or not. If they ask about leadership then the role you’re applying for will involve leadership.

Give clear, concise answers using the STAR technique; think of it like telling a joke, we’re waiting for the punchline, the employer is waiting for the Result. Employers don’t just want to know what you did, they want evidence that you’re good at it too.

If there’s a word limit use all the space available, otherwise it looks like you don’t have much to say. If there’s no word limit try and keep your answers around 500 words.

When you talk about your work experience employers are also looking for transferable skills like teamwork, leadership and time management. Have a look at the job description and person specification and try and mirror the language. Job applications are not a time to be subtle.

Show evidence that you’ve researched the company, the role and the market; but go beyond what’s on the website. Every employer thinks they’re different (and better) than the competition, you need to show them you know what sets them apart.

Demonstrate that you really want to work for them; show passion and enthusiasm. You wouldn’t interview someone who didn’t care about your company.

Book an appointment to have your application form checked, we’re here to help.

It might sound cynical, but at the end of the day, when an employer sees your application form, cover letter, CV, or you, they’re really only thinking one thing; ‘what value can you bring to my company?’ Once you get used to this idea, job applications can get a lot easier. 

If you could invite anyone living or dead to a dinner party, who would you chose?

Don’t…

Poor spelling and grammar could ruin your chances; some employers have a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule, no matter what language you’re applying in.

Don’t forget to show your academic success; be proud of your achievements. If you don’t tell the employer about them, how will they know?

Don’t be shy about ‘selling’ yourself; tell the employer what sets you apart from the other candidates, but don’t be arrogant and never put anyone else down.

Don’t give generic answers; be specific and keep it relevant. We know it’s hard work applying for jobs, but employers really can tell if you’ve copied your answers from other application forms.

Don’t try and dodge the answer. Employers find this really annoying; reading anything other than a direct answer wastes their time.

Don’t repeat yourself. If you’re an undergraduate employers won’t expect you to have loads of relevant work experience, but don’t use the same example for every question.

Unless the employer specifically asks for it, avoid phrases like ‘I have exceptional attention to detail’ or ‘I have excellent spelling and grammar’. Whenever I see that on a form I think ‘challenge accepted!’ and search until I find a mistake.

Dealing with the weird ones…

Occasionally employers will throw a curve ball and ask something like ‘if you could invite anyone living or dead to a dinner party, who would you chose?’ The way to deal with these seemly pointless questions again goes back to the kinds of skills the employer is looking for. Some might want a quirky answer that sets you apart, but most of all they’re looking to see how you cope with a problem that has no correct solution, and how your thought process led you to your answer. They’re basically trying to get into your head.

Final thoughts…

One question we get asked a lot is ‘how many application forms should I fill in?’. The answer depends on you; the more applications you make the greater your chance of getting an interview. However, don’t do so many that the quality slips, and above all never do so many that your academic work or your health suffers.

Good luck!

Your Future Starts Now

Albert Linney graduated from the University of Exeter in 2017 with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He talked to us about life after Exeter, using the Career Zone to get ahead, and making the most of your time at Uni. 

Life is sweet for Albert after Exeter

Life is sweet for Albert after Exeter

What have you been up to since graduating in June?

I’ve always been fascinated by global economics so after graduation, I travelled around India and Sri Lanka for six weeks. It was an extremely informative experience, meeting so many amazing people along the way. It inspired me to work with emerging economies like India later in my professional career, though quite how, I’m not sure just yet.

I managed to bag a graduate job at a large multinational trading company as a Junior Agricultural Commodities Trader, but was also inspired during my philosophy modules to give writing a go so I’ve actually been doing some freelance remote blogging for a company called Cluboid. Studying a split focus degree like PPE just made me hungry to try all sorts of avenues to be honest. I’d always worried that selecting a degree would pigeonhole me, or mean I was only considered for one specific field, but it’s been quite the opposite. It seems to just have opened tonnes more doors.

“I’d always worried that selecting a degree would pigeonhole me, or mean I was only considered for one specific field, but it’s been quite the opposite.”

How did you find these opportunities?

Right from the start of my 3 years at Exeter, I made sure I was hooked up to the Career Zone email alerts – I was getting notified weekly with opportunities ranging from CV boosters to interview advice. The Career Zone was of particular help in preparation for the final round interviews for Graduate applications – conducting mock interviews was a massive help.

How did you prepare for the life of a graduate?

Whilst at university I was keen to keep myself occupied. This meant that when I wasn’t in lectures or the library, I participated in the French and Debating Societies, as well as in Boxing and the Officer Training Corps (A British Armed Forces initiative for Uni students to learn army-related skills and experience). I even acted as president of the PPE society where I was directly responsible for the running of a society consisting of over 100 members. During the summers, I’d occupy my time with internships. I found the continuation of work experience prepared me excellently for graduate job applications, because I was that much more accustomed to the business acumen and how to conduct myself in a professional environment.

How did your time at Exeter influence your future?

I owe a lot to my tutors, two of which stand out for me in particular. Firstly, Gary Abrahams was a great source of inspiration. Having been a huge economic success even in spite of the 2008 financial crash, I was so enamoured by his insights. His approach to the Economics of Financial Crises module was inspired, with a heavy focus on morality and changing behavioural standards in the finance world. Insight like that made me feel like I was approaching the field with something to give. Secondly, Lenny Moss – my Philosophical Anthropology lecturer – is an absolute expert in his field. He inspired me greatly towards further education. In fact, I’m currently in application for my masters in Politics and International Relations at Kings.

What would you tell your First Year self in retrospect?

I would have loved to have gotten more involved with the sporting side of Exeter – being one of the top sports Universities in the country. I’m pretty injury prone though, so I would have perhaps have told my first-year self to take rehab and physio more seriously. Maybe then I could have!

What has the future got in store for you?

I’m still intrigued by International Relations – a subset of politics. My dissertation focused on the North Korean nuclear situation and the Obama Administration so working for an NGO or political think-tank to address current issues such as this would be the big dream. Having said that, the nature of my course has made me hugely interested in so many different roles and areas, so quite honestly – who knows.

Getting Social Media to Work for You

Rachel Coombes is a Careers Consultant based on the Penryn Campus.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram – these are all social media platforms you use for fun, right? But have you also explored how they can help – or hinder – your job hunting? Here are my top 5 tips for how to go about making the most of Social Media when planning your career:

If this is your LinkedIn profile photo you're probably not doing social media right

If this is your LinkedIn profile photo you’re probably not doing social media right

  1. What Happens in Vegas stays on YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter…for everyone to see

We all know the importance of maintaining a good presence online, yet some people are still getting into problems with posts that they (or others) made. Remember, employers may check what information there is about you online before you join and have been known to withdraw offers based on what they find. So what can you do to protect yourself?

  • Make sure you lock down your privacy settings and regularly check these as they are often updated, meaning that things you thought you had secured may have become open to the public again.
  • Google yourself – check what is already online about you and do this regularly. Clear up anything you wouldn’t want anyone to see if they Googled you too.
  • Set up Google Alerts for your name to be informed about anything that is posted about you.
  • Always take a second to think about the effects anything you post may have before putting it online.
  1. Build Your Brand

Having a presence online can be a positive thing, and building your brand online can really help you get ahead of the game and stand out to employers for the right reasons. The more active you are on social media sites, the higher you’ll come in the Google rankings. Even just having a LinkedIn account (we’ll come on to that later) can help you get to the top of a Google search, so get involved.

  1. To Blog or Not to Blog…That is the Question

Blogs are easy to start up and one of the most popular and easy to use is Word Press. But how will blogging help you with your career? For a start you can use it to demonstrate your knowledge of certain areas, interest in a topic or skill sets. For example if you were interested in becoming a journalist your blog can show your writing ability. Or say if you wanted to get into marketing, you could blog about your views on various marketing strategies you’ve come across in the media, or any you had personally created. You can then add a link to it on your CV or LinkedIn account to demonstrate more about you. Make sure however that you update your blog regularly otherwise there’s no point.

  1. #Employers

They may stalk you online but you can also do the same, so get proactive.

  • Go to the employer’s website and find out which social media sites they use. Some may have separate sites for careers related information so always go onto the recruitment section of their website first to check.
  • If you like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter you can then get regular updates on job openings/events/company information etc, all from the comfort of your phone.
  • YouTube can also be a great way to find out more about the company and the various roles within it from current employees or recent graduates. Some employers will also post clips on how to succeed in their recruitment process and what a group exercise might look like.
  • Interact with them – don’t be afraid to ask them a question or get involved in discussions. This can help to get you known to the employer so make sure this is for the right reasons. Make sure the questions you ask couldn’t easily be found out from their website or recruitment literature otherwise it will look like you haven’t done your research.
  1. We love LinkedIn

And we hope you will too. Feedback from students however is that a great number of you have LinkedIn accounts but aren’t sure how to make the most out of it. So here’s some key tips to help you get started:

  • Time – it can take some time to start reaping the rewards of LinkedIn so be patient and know that the more time and effort you put into it the more benefit you will get from it.
  • Research – you have access to millions of CVs in millions of different job roles through LinkedIn so get researching. Just type some key words of roles you’re interested in into the search bar at the top of LinkedIn and find the profiles of people involved in those areas. Have a look at how they got into it, what companies they’ve worked in, and build a greater knowledge of that industry.
  • Networking – start connecting with people. This can be other students, friends, contacts, employers you’ve met, work colleagues etc. They may not necessarily be connected to the area you want to get into but they may know someone who is. You can even search for particular companies and then find relevant people within that company you may like to approach. Make sure when you send out your request to connect that you change the generic text box and target it to that individual so they are more likely to connect with you.
  • Profile – LinkedIn will take you through the necessary steps to help you set this up and give you pointers on how to improve your profile. Just like your CV it should be targeted to the area you wish to get into. Make sure you detail clearly in your work history the skills and experience you have gained, including key words which employers may search for.
  • Groups – this is a great feature of LinkedIn and allows you to join groups that may be of interest to you. Doing this can help target your profile and enable you to participate in discussions and learn about certain areas. But which groups should you join? Search for ones related to your career area or previous experience. The University of Exeter has a group so why not start by joining that. Professional bodies and company specific groups can also be great ones to join.
  • Is it worth upgrading? There are a few benefits to getting the professional upgrade however the majority of what you need to do can be done without needing to upgrade so don’t feel you have to do this at this stage.
  • More, More, More – if you want to know more come along to one of our LinkedIn labs which will shortly be advertised on My Career Zone.

In summary Social Media is a great way to open up your job search and help you approach your job hunting in a more creative way. Not only can it help you access that all important hidden job market but it can also help you network and get yourself known to employers. Make the most of it as a resource and be sure to include it in your job hunting action plan.

To start on your social media journey why not come along to one of our ‘LinkedIn webinars’ or follow the Career Zone on social media to keep up to date with all things employability.

Happy Networking!

My Experience of an Assessment Centre

If you’re applying for a graduate-level job or an internship you’ll probably need to attend at least one assessment centre. But don’t worry; they’re not as scary as they sound. Katy Barker, MA Translation, told us about her experience. 

Keeping calm and reading questions carefully is key to assessment centre success.

Keeping calm and reading questions carefully is key to assessment centre success.

Over the Vacation, between consuming copious amounts of chocolate and getting to grips with CAT tools, I had an interview with a language services provider in Surrey. This was my first ever assessment day for a graduate role, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

The morning started with meeting the other candidates and staff. We also briefly met the company’s CEO. One piece of feedback we received later was that our first impressions, in particular how smartly we had dressed, had been very good – definitely worth dressing ‘too’ smartly.

The rest of the morning was dedicated to practical assessments. There was a proof-reading exercise, and a multiple choice assessment on time management strategies. There was a lot of vocabulary and questions that seemed more suitable to a GCSE Business Studies paper; keeping calm and reading questions carefully was the key.

“My first ever assessment day experience was certainly a positive one, and I learnt a lot. Hopefully it might be helpful to you for knowing what to possibly expect.”

There was also one fairly entertaining assessment, called ‘Talent Simulation’. Its name sounds a little scary, but was in fact a series of videos showing mock work situations. For example, one video showed a manager asking for feedback on a difficult colleague. Underneath each video was a series of possible responses your character could give, and we were asked to select the most and least effective responses. My best piece of advice for this would be to try not to get pulled in to the story too easily in case it starts affecting your answers – I quickly found myself not liking the colleague ‘John’ in the videos, who seemed determined to complain about absolutely everything!

All the assessments we completed were provided by SHL, an interview assessment provider. The Career Zone has access to free online tests https://www.assessmentday.co.uk/exeter/ so it’s really worth having a go at some. However, a word of warning – as the mocks online are for general use and form part of the company’s mechanism for collecting research data, don’t be discouraged if you do badly. I did a couple of (quite hard) practice tests and received a feedback report entirely in red. But when I came to the actual assessment day, they were appropriate to the role, adapted to a graduate with little experience of a work environment, and the right mix of difficult and easy questions. So don’t panic.

The final assessment of the morning was the competency-based interview – time to bring out the old faithful, the STAR technique! For anyone who isn’t sure about interview technique for this type of interview, I can really recommend the Interview Experience run by the Career Zone. It prepares you well for this type of interview, as during the day you get to grips with the format and structure, and how best to answer questions, both the easy and tricky ones. Well worth doing before you leave Exeter.

The afternoon started with an informal lunch with the CEO and some staff. This was a lovely relaxed way to meet members of the team, and ask questions about the company and their experiences of the sector. It doesn’t all have to be business-oriented though – at one point, we were discussing the wonderful entries in the Easter hat competition the company was currently running for its staff!

Lunch was followed by presentations. We had each been asked to prepare a 5-minute presentation on a subject of our choice. We had all picked something different, and had all chosen topics we really enjoyed talking about – for me, the places off the beaten tourist track in Padua, where I spent my year abroad! Hopefully, our enthusiasm therefore came over in our presentations.

My first ever assessment day experience was certainly a positive one, and I learnt a lot. Hopefully it might be helpful to you for knowing what to possibly expect.

Working Behind the Scenes at The Career Zone

Getting work experience while you study is crucial to landing your dream job. Kerry Mann current BA History, Streatham Campus, told us about her time on the Uni’s Student Campus Partnership (SCP) scheme. 

Jo McCreedie, Kerry Mann, and Sam Jackman delivering the Pathways training week

Jo McCreedie, Kerry Mann, and Sam Jackman delivering the Pathways training week

Student jobs are supposed to be working late in bars and clubs, right? Wrong!

My experience as an SCP for the Internships Team has given me a real insight into the workplace, and how the University works hard to support its students. My position as the Administrator for the Pathways to Arts, Culture and Heritage programme means that I’ve taken this training and internship from the planning stages to delivery.

The Pathways programme sought to provide a group of talented students intensive and specific training from industry professionals and then place them in companies in the arts, culture and heritage sector, to implement their new found skills and ideas. As a History student myself I was excited that the University was providing such an in-depth programme for a sector which is often neglected. To pull this programme off, with the help of Sam Jackman from the RAMM and led by Jo McCreedie, was really satisfying, especially seeing how enthusiastic the students were about something I had helped to create.

“Being given the responsibility of supporting the development of an important new programme was at first a little daunting but now I am proud of what we have achieved and feel ready to take on any graduate job.”

Working with the Internships Team has been a blessing for my personal development. From the basics like working the telephone to spreadsheets (lots of them) and Twitter I am now fully equipped to get on with the job and feel confident in what I do. Being given the responsibility of supporting the development of an important new programme was at first a little daunting but now I am proud of what we have achieved and feel ready to take on any graduate job.

My role has involved a lot of project management skills. Advertising the programme back in January meant liaising with the Design Team to create posters, banners and flyers and the overall brand of the programme. I then managed the application process, becoming competent behind the scenes of My Career Zone. Having never thought myself as a computer wizz, I’ve built my confidence learning new systems and even how to schedule tweets on Twitter. I’ve then been involved in booking rooms, food, speakers and coordinating paperwork between students and internship providers.

For me, being involved in running the assessment centre was the most exciting and relevant part of the job. Being able to see exactly what it is that assessors want to be hearing will be particularly useful in future job applications. It was, however, being given the opportunity to be an assessor on the day that fuelled my interested in HR. I really enjoyed matching the student’s attitudes and capabilities to those we had outlined to assess and have since sought further experiences in this sector.

Being around a careers team has shown me opportunities many students miss out on whilst they are at University. As I’m constantly telling my friends: ‘check out the Career Zone website; there are tonnes of info, and you can get loads of support like on the Career Mentor Scheme and eXepert!’

“What’s it like having a ‘real’ job while at Uni? Well it’s actually a lot less stressful than your average retail job.”

What’s it like having a ‘real’ job while at Uni? Well it’s actually a lot less stressful than your average retail job. Firstly it’s an internship, so there’s a lot of support and training. Plus the regular (and daytime) hours, flexibility and being on campus makes it the perfect student job. I would encourage anyone to get in touch with the Careers team to help you start getting an edge on those grad job applications, whether that’s through research, a job or a Pathways programme next year.

Coming to the end of this job I knew I wanted to do something similar in my final year, and was fortunate enough to get the position of eXepert Administrator, working with the same team, I really didn’t want to leave! As I’ve really enjoyed my experiences in recruiting and assessing students, I have also secured experience with a recruitment agency for the summer- something I would not have dreamed of without the experiences and support I’ve gained in my position.

Paid, Unpaid or Voluntary? Know Your Rights

James Bradbrook is the Career Zone Vacancy Co-ordinator.

A glitzy record company offers an inside track into the glorious world of Artists & Repertoire. They can’t offer a salary, but the experience is priceless. And if you do really well, you might even get a proper job out of it.

Unpaid work is everywhere these days. If everyone is doing it then it must be okay, right? Well, not necessarily. Working for free can be legal in certain circumstances and can offer valuable experience – but often it’s about unscrupulous employers exploiting people who don’t know their rights.

Don't undervalue how much your time is worth.

Don’t undervalue how much your time is worth.

So, what are your rights when it comes to getting paid for the work you do?

What’s in a name? Workers, Volunteers and Voluntary Workers

Your organisation might call you an “intern”, a “volunteer”. They might call your role “work experience”, a “placement”, or an “internship”. They might ask you to sign something waiving your right to the NMW.

None of that matters.

You can’t sign away your right to the National Minimum Wage[1], even if you want to.

And it doesn’t matter what your role is called. Many of the commonly used terms have no legal meaning. What really matters is the actual real life detail of your situation.

In legal-speak, if you’re a worker, you get the NMW. If you’re not a worker, you don’t.

But how do you know if you’re a worker or not? Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes not. But here are the basic definitions.

“One important indicator that can determine whether you’re a worker or not, is the question of reward.”

You’re usually a worker if you have things like set hours, defined responsibilities, have to do the work yourself, and have to turn up for your agreed hours even if you don’t feel like it.

A voluntary worker is someone who’s a bit like a worker (they have set responsibilities, hours, etc.) but who still works for free. The big thing here is who you’re working for. You can only be a voluntary worker if you’re working for a charity, voluntary organisation or a statutory body of some sort. People who help out at their local school or hospital, or do time in a charity shop are often voluntary workers.

A volunteer is someone who has no defined responsibilities, no obligation to turn up or do anything, and gets no financial benefit from the work they do. You can volunteer in this sense for any organisation, not just a charity.

Lastly, there’s work-shadowing. This isn’t a legal term, but if you’re hanging about the workplace (with their permission of course!), getting a feel for what goes on, watching people work, chatting to them about their jobs, etc. but not doing any actual work yourself then you’re not a worker and thus have no right to the National Minimum Wage.

What are you getting out of it?

One important indicator that can determine whether you’re a worker or not, is the question of reward.

Are you getting a payment? Have you been promised some training or a job at the end of your stint? If so, you could cross the line from volunteer or voluntary worker and become a worker.

Once again, it doesn’t matter what your organisation calls the payment or benefit you’re getting – what matters is the detail.

Maybe you get “travel expenses”. If this means you give your bus tickets to your organisation and they give you back the cash you spent on them, then there’s no problem. But, if they just give you a flat rate, regardless of your actual costs, that’s something else entirely. If you’re getting £20 a week for travel but you’re walking to work, then you could be a worker.

The same applies to “benefits in kind” (basically, non-monetary rewards). If the organisation gives you a pair of safety boots to wear on site, or a uniform, then that’s fine. But if you’re working for a music company that gives you free concert tickets or a fashion company that gives you a pair of posh shoes, then that’s a payment, potentially making you a worker[2].

Even promising a paid job at the end of your stint can cross the line and put you in the worker-camp.

“If you feel like you’ve been scammed, then it’s important to talk to someone about it. You can always pop into see us.”

Work experience in your course

If you’re doing work experience as part of your course, you’re not usually entitled to the National Minimum Wage, unless the duration exceeds one year.

Our view

As responsible adults, the ultimate decision to do unpaid work lies with the individual student. Only you can decide whether the trade-off of no cash vs. experience is worth it in your particular circumstances.

However, in general, we advise students to take on unpaid work only when you’re:

  • Doing a placement or work experience modules in your course;
  • Volunteering for charitable and non-profit organisations.

We don’t usually promote unpaid opportunities that last longer than three months, even if these are legitimate. You can find out more about our policy on vetting unpaid vacancies here.

The benefits of other sorts of unpaid work are questionable, with little evidence to suggest that they improve career outcomes. There’s even some evidence to suggest that doing unpaid internships can actually damage long-term prospects.

I feel like I’ve been ripped off … what do I do?

If you feel like you’ve been scammed, then it’s important to talk to someone about it.

You can always pop into see us. We can’t take action on your behalf, but we can certainly give an opinion on whether you have a genuine grievance. We can also talk to you about what you were hoping to gain from the experience and see if there’s a better way to meet that goal.

If you found this job through Career Zone, it’s very important you tell us. We aren’t perfect and sometimes inappropriate vacancies do slip through. It may also be that the employer hasn’t been honest with us – either way, we need to know to make sure other students don’t get ripped off.

The Advice Unit at the Students’ Guild can help with many problems and should be able to chat through the issue and talk through your options.

If you want to take action, you can report the company to HM Revenue & Customs. They can fine companies and force them to pay you what you’re owed. More information on how to make a complaint can be found here.

[1] When we refer to the National Minimum Wage we also include the National Living Wage because National Minimum / Living Wage is a bit of a mouthful.

[2] It’s worth noting that, although benefits in kind might make you a worker, they don’t usually count towards NMW. The employer who gives you a pair of £500 shoes risks making you a worker, but the £500 won’t count towards what they should pay you!

 

You’re leaving so soon?!

Tom McAndrew is a Careers Consultant based on the Streatham Campus.

Go and change the world

Those in their final year are leaving us. In this Summer Term, final exams, bits of course work to deliver maybe and that’s it.

Ouch. So soon?

Congratulations to those who got their dream graduate role. You worked hard and deserve it. Well done.

Possibly you made those who haven’t got their dream job feel very, very envious. They are the ones who hurtled towards Career Zone throughout the year in search of solace and advice. A few reassuring words; your time will come, you will get there, keep on trying, you will get there.

You have all been in an education system where there is a definite path. Career paths after graduation are less direct. A minority follow a linear path. A graduate job after leaving and then a meteoric rise. Easy. The majority of us follow a much more haphazard path. Up and down, off at tangents, sideways steps.  One step forward, two steps back for some. The journey is the reward as Taoists say.

As Robert Louis Stevenson said: “Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”

And you are all blessed, you are all the lucky ones. You are young, you’re bright, and the future beckons. Who knows where your journey will lead?

As Floella Benjamin used to tell our graduands; go and change the world.

If you’re struggling then the Career Zone is here to help and support you for three years after you graduate. Talking through ideas, helping formulate plans, help with your applications, your interviews. In person, by telephone, by email and by SKYPE. You may not need us but we are there for you if you do.

You’re leaving.

Bon voyage.

Associate Advancement – An Alternative Grad Scheme

Olivia Cottrell is a Service Management Associate at Computacenter

Olivia Cottrell

Olivia Cottrell

I graduated with a BA in History from Exeter in 2014 and I took a gap year re-living my childhood at Walt Disney World working for Mickey Mouse. After this year of fun I took another look at the graduate market to see what I wanted to pursue as my career.

Like many students I felt I needed to secure myself on a graduate scheme where I could gain some training to help me on my career journey.  In the midst of my research I came across Computacenter. They might be one of the biggest computer companies in the UK, but I had never come across them. They were advertising a service management associate role, a customer facing role helping different customers with their IT infrastructure services. The Computacenter Associate Scheme is an 18 month program designed to develop and train you for sales or service management role at Computacenter. Plus, if you’ve just finished university they run graduate schemes as well. The scheme is made up of rotations to understand the different elements of Computacenter’s business.

So why did I apply to the associate scheme within the IT industry?

Originally, like many graduates, I was drawn to the companies I’d seen on campus. However, I knew I wanted to work with technology even though studying History meant I thought the Gothenburg printing press was high tech. The IT industry is a changing landscape and looks very different from 10 years ago, let alone 20 or 30 years ago (we can all be grateful our desktops are not as large as our desks). If you are looking for an exciting and varied industry look no further than IT.

There was also a great variety in the service management role, it’s interesting to see how different companies utilise technology. If you think about how you use technology in your everyday life, businesses and employee’s want to use these technologies in their workplaces. The new ‘digital’ generation and expects digital working environments.  At Computacenter we’re striving to help companies develop their ‘Digital Workplace’. Nearly all companies employ digital technology in their workplace; but, no two companies employ technology in the same way. The possibilities are endless.  If you’re looking for variety and an insight into different companies; a career in IT service management is for you.

Olivia and Computacenter colleagues

Olivia and Computacenter colleagues

So why did this associate graduate scheme appeal to me so much?

There are major benefits for joining a non-traditional graduate programme like Computacenter’s Associate scheme. The scheme has a smaller intake than most traditional graduate schemes. This translates into an excellent support network. The network is to help you make the most out of the scheme and your time on it. As a smaller group we have established some great friendships, I have only been on the scheme a few months but there’s a lot of people to go out and network with.  Plus, we all look great in Hi Vis jackets as well.

Secondly the timing; our associate scheme opens in June and closes in October. This means if you’re looking for a role after you have graduated, you don’t have to wait until next September to start.

Lastly, Computacenter invests a lot of time and resources into this scheme. With senior leaders coming to speak to us within our first week and being interviewed by the companies COE at the assessment day. I feel valued and encouraged to progress within the company. I feel more than just a number at Computacenter and they go above and beyond to support you.

https://www.computacenter.com/uk/careers/future-talent/graduates