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 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.

Getting into Cyber Security

Eneida Morina is a current BSc in Computer Science student at the University of Exeter. After graduation she’ll be working as a Cyber Security Specialist at an international technology services company. 

Eneida Morina

Eneida Morina

“I took part in the Career Mentor Scheme where I was introduced to a fantastic mentor. She worked in the IT sector and guided me through the different career options that I could pursue with my degree; reassuring me that it wasn’t just coding jobs out there! My mentor encouraged me to apply for a summer internship in one of the areas we discussed, and I luckily got an internship in cyber security at the Met Office.

The internship was a great opportunity for me to learn more about the field as I didn’t actually know as much as I thought I did! It was a good glimpse of the professional working world as well as an insight into the career. I enjoyed the nature of the work and the diversity of it, so I applied for the graduate role of Cyber Security Specialist at a leading international technology services company.

“Cyber security is evolving fast and is more important than ever. Companies and organisations need protecting, so I feel that my work will be really valued.”

Cyber security is evolving fast and is more important than ever. We’re constantly hearing of cyber-attacks on companies in the news, and there’s a real need for more cyber security specialists. This area is exciting as there will constantly be new ideas and issues to work on, and it’s an important field that really matters. Companies and organisations need protecting, so I feel that my work will be really valued.

The company I’m working for really stood out at the Careers and Placement Fair. They promote women in tech which is something I’m passionate about, and they offer great graduate opportunities. They also support continued development and the opportunity to gain further industry recognised qualifications.

The role I’ve taken on is really exciting; I get to continue learning and further build my knowledgebase. I’ll be working within an organisation that’s a market-leader and offers the best products as well as having a great reputation. Furthermore, the organisation is really ahead of the game so I’ll be exposed to all the latest cyber security news and products.

I want to be able to work with impressive clients and make a difference. That’s as far as I know for now – who knows what the future holds!”

Fur Seal Conservation and Marine Biology

Emma Milner

Emma Milner studied Conservation Biology and Ecology with Study Abroad at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus (2012-2016). Her Study Abroad year was spent at the University of Calgary in Canada.

How did your degree impact on your career choice? My degree has given me a really great grounding in the fundamentals of Conservation and Ecology due to the variety of modules that I was able to choose from during my time at Exeter. However I found that I enjoyed myself the most when I became involved in field work. This interest started in first year during the module Field Techniques and continued to grow as I participated in more field work both at University and with projects elsewhere. I would say volunteering with the North Cyprus Marine Turtle Conservation Project really opened my eyes to how fascinating and rewarding research can be. I really enjoyed my time with the project and it help spark a particular interest and focus on marine biology research. I continued engaging in fieldwork research during my study abroad year in Canada where I worked with a variety of animals such as guppies, flour beetles and aquatic phytoplankton and zooplankton. My degree has helped increase my interest and curiosity about the world around us and has encouraged me to want to pursue a career in research and further study.

“I think this placement really helped give me a push in the right direction in terms of pursuing a career in ecological research especially because of all the new field and lab techniques I acquired during my time on the island.”

How did you get the placement? I applied for the South American Fur Seal Research Assistant placement on Guafo Island (Northern Chilean Patagonia) after seeing it advertised online. I think that it was a mixture of the field skills I had acquired during my time at University and the research I conducted in my third year that helped me secure this placement. My third year research project focused on Stable Isotope analysis of juvenile Cornish Grey Seal whiskers. This project increased my knowledge of Grey Seal biology whilst also giving me experience handling seal tissues which held me in good stead for this project.

Emma Milner seal pupsWhat did the placement involve?Guafo Island is located in the Pacific Ocean, northwest of the Chonos Archipelago, Chile and southwest of Chiloé Island. It is uninhabited and isolated from outside communications, roughly ten hours by fisherman’s boat from the mainland but has one of the largest breeding colonies of South American Fur Seals in Chile. Research was conducted looking at behavioural, physiological and pathological aspects of the seals life history. Live pups were caught and genetic samples (blood, whiskers, faeces etc) were taken and the pups were tagged and marked in order to conduct behavioural analyses. Necropsies of dead pups were also conducted to determine common causes of death in the rookery. Females were also caught and sampled with the aid of an anaesthesia machine.
During this position I learnt many skills including animal handling, taking blood, capture/recapture techniques and census techniques. Lab work was also conducted in the field adjacent to camp. Specific tests for haemoglobin level and protein content were undertaken whilst red and white blood cells were counted under the microscope. Swabs taken from the pups were used to count hookworm eggs and thus estimate severity of hookworm infection in the individual. Hookworm related diseases affect large numbers of the pup population each year and so it is important to understand the parasites cycles and prevalence. Faeces samples were also taken to analyse for plastic pollution.

How has it impacted on your career?This position has greatly improved my confidence in terms of being a research assistant in a unique and isolated environment. It has also made me feel more comfortable handling and taking samples from potentially dangerous animals. I think this placement really helped give me a push in the right direction in terms of pursuing a career in ecological research especially because of all the new field and lab techniques I acquired during my time on the island.

What’s next for you? In terms of what is next for me I would love to continue working as a research assistant on conservation and ecology projects in the UK and abroad.  I would also like to pursue a Masters with a particular focus on Marine Biology and in time I would like to achieve my PhD which ideally would focus on marine toxicology and anthropogenic threats to marine mammal health.

Keep Calm and use the Career Zone

Rachel Coombes is a Careers Consultant based at the Penryn Campus. She talked to us about making the most of the Career Zone before you leave. 

Rachel Coombes, Careers Consultant

Rachel Coombes, Careers Consultant

My main piece of advice is don’t panic! There are still lots of options available to you.

The first thing to be aware of is that large graduate employers only represent a very small percentage of the total jobs available on the market overall. This means there are hundreds of smaller/medium sized employers out there who may have the perfect opportunity for you. But how do you access them? Well, most may advertise directly via their website but if not then you can approach them directly with a CV and covering letter to ask about opportunities. Sometimes they may also advertise through Recruitment Agencies so don’t forget to include them in your job hunting action plan.

“If you’re not sure how to draft a covering letter, what a recruitment agency is or even what career you might like to do your first point of call should be the Career Zone.”

Creative job hunting is all about networking so make the most of any contacts that you have. Remember the eXpert Scheme which the Career Zone offers, speak to family and friends, people on your course, tutors and spread the word. Don’t forget the power of social media also and get yourself on LinkedIn to develop some networks and start contacting people.

If you’re not sure how to draft a covering letter, what a recruitment agency is or even what career you might like to do your first point of call should be the Career Zone. Start by having a look at the information and resources at Here you’ll find details about how to get started with your career planning, creating a graduate level CV, finding an internship, applying for international opportunities, getting involved in the Exeter Award or eXepert scheme and much more. You will also find links to My Career Zone where you can book on to the many different events we run where you can hear from employers, develop your employability skills or search for job opportunities.

So as I said earlier – don’t panic, you are in control of your career and the Career Zone is here to help you, so make the most of it! For those graduating this year good luck and don’t forget you have access to us for up to 3 years following graduation – look out for our ‘Graduating-what now?’ webinars for helpful tips and advice.

You’re Not Stuck in Your Subject

Chris Mastris graduated from the University of Exeter in 2015, with a BSc in Biological Sciences. He is currently a Digital Account Manager at Optix Solutions, a web design and digital marketing agency in Exeter. Chris also publishes a digital marketing blog about the industry, with a focus on career development. 

Chris Mastris

Chris Mastris

Since finishing college and applying for university placements, I knew that I wanted to work in the field of biology, most likely in research. I loved learning about the microscopic processes that happened every second, mostly without us even realising. And, while I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, I really enjoyed wearing a lab coat. (“Yeah, I’m a scientist”.) However, during the final year of my degree I started to have doubts about whether I wanted to pursue a career in biology, and my (admittedly vague) plans began to falter. I’m still fascinated by the world of science and technology, but I realised that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working in a lab.

“Ultimately, the subject of your degree doesn’t have to define your career, even if following an unconventional path might be less obvious and more challenging.”

After graduating, I spent a lot of time trawling through job boards trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I decided to try learning some programming, as it was something I’d always been interested in. Although I enjoyed the logical and challenging nature of it, I decided that it wasn’t what I was currently looking for as a career. Around the same time, I’d also been volunteering at a local community organisation, helping them with their publicity and online presence. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, so on a whim I started to read up about digital marketing. One of the most important – and fortunate – moments came when I happened upon a tweet by a local digital marketer, who was looking to recruit someone new. I sent him a message asking about work experience, and the rest is history- I’m now working full-time at that very same digital marketing agency.

Ultimately, the subject of your degree doesn’t have to define your career, even if following an unconventional path might be less obvious and more challenging. You might be surprised at how common this is, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To take one example, in our digital marketing team at Optix Solutions none of us hold a degree-level qualification in marketing- our backgrounds range from visual arts through to archaeology! For this generation especially, with rapidly changing technology and threats of increasing automation, I think being adaptable is one of the most useful skills you can have.

Importantly, I feel that my degree prepared me for my career by helping me to develop a variety of useful skills, such as analytical thinking and written communication- even if my knowledge of microbial disease doesn’t come in handy very often in the office. In addition, I think my university experience has also improved my ability to learn quickly and adapt; I’d like to think this helped me progress from being an intern to a digital marketing account manager in less than a year. My final year project, a lab-based research project, was particularly valuable in this respect- even though I found it fairly challenging at the time!

“Don’t be afraid to experiment a little with what you want to do for the rest of your life: there’s a good chance that you’ll be happier and more successful because of it.”

Although I’m now pursuing a different discipline, I’m still grateful for the experiences that my time at university provided me with. The message I want to share is that a degree can have benefits far beyond the subject matter, and it’s by no means impossible to change your path after graduating. It can feel stressful, even hopeless, when you’re not sure which direction to take. However, by putting in the effort and having patience, there’s still plenty of options out there. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little with what you want to do for the rest of your life: there’s a good chance that you’ll be happier and more successful because of it.

Persistence and Passion – Getting into Television

Alesya Capelle

Alesya Capelle

Alesya Capelle graduated in BA English from the University of Exeter, Penryn in 2016. She talked to us about getting a start in one of the toughest industries out there. 

After graduating with a degree in English Literature I had bounced around between what I thought were the right career options for someone with a background in humanities. I spent months contemplating an MA as well as careers in law, journalism and teaching before realising that I was focusing on what I could do rather than what I wanted to do. I knew that my degree would compliment those career choices, and that I would be capable within those roles, but it all felt as though I was settling rather than pursuing.

“I remember sitting at the front of a lecture during a television careers fair, listening to the list of difficulties I would face in the industry, and looking around to see hundreds of other people who, just like me, were competing for the scraps of entry level jobs thrown at us.”

After deciding to meet and obtain advice from a BBC TV researcher and producer, working in television gradually became more and more of a desirable option. It perfectly combined my creativity with my ability to find unique angles to stories and my love for writing and research. It was a path that automatically excited me, but also one that I hesitated to pursue in fear of rejection. The more I researched working in the world of television, the more I wanted it, but I also came to realise how difficult it was to even start at the bottom in such a competitive industry. I remember sitting at the front of a lecture during a television careers fair, listening to the list of difficulties I would face in the industry, and looking around to see hundreds of other people who, just like me, were competing for the scraps of entry level jobs thrown at us.

Despite feeling as though the skills I had acquired from university would help me to some degree, I was frequently reminded that my successes in higher education would mean nothing in my attempts to enter the industry. Over time I started to lose confidence and I hadn’t even applied for anything yet. I was to try and obtain entry level jobs but from my point of view, everybody would apply for them and everybody would seem the same – inexperienced, passionate about working in television, and willing to do anything for that first door to open. I couldn’t imagine appearing any different in a pile of thousands of one-page CVs and four-line cover letters. That was until I came across a training scheme that filled me with hope.

“I was finally given the opportunity to sell myself and my abilities, and the application process is testament to the supportive and encouraging nature of the scheme itself.”

The application for MAMA Youth Project’s Training Programme, a scheme providing free training for young people to both learn and gain hands-on experience working on Sky TV content, was refreshingly welcoming. Instead of asking me to forward them my CV and a ‘brief’ cover letter, MAMA Youth Project invite applicants to be honest about the barriers they have faced acquiring jobs in the industry, to share their goals, the reasons behind their passions, life challenges they have faced and, finally, to propose a detailed idea for the television show that candidates would be working on. I was finally given the opportunity to sell myself and my abilities, and the application process is testament to the supportive and encouraging nature of the scheme itself.

“It was so important to find an application process that genuinely restored faith and gave me the opportunity to express and articulate myself and my passions.”

After weeks of learning everything there was to know about the company, the life history of each team member and the TV show itself, I fell more and more in love with MAMA Youth Project’s Training Programme and how much it suited someone like me. I had it in my head that if I didn’t get a place I would apply again and again until they finally gave me one. I dedicated all my time to working towards this rare opportunity and after three application stages, including an intense seven-hour group interview, I was accepted onto the scheme as a Trainee TV Researcher and I am counting down the days until I start.

It wouldn’t be wise to advise people to limit what they apply for, but it was so important to find an application process that genuinely restored faith and gave me the opportunity to express and articulate myself and my passions. Even more inspiring was finding a scheme, opportunity and company that was suited to me as an individual, and if I hadn’t I wouldn’t feel so positive about my future as I do now.

Take Your Career Fowards with a Graduate Business Partnership

Richard Evans graduated from the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, with a BA in English. He’s currently the Careers Magazine Publisher for the Career Zone. He talked to us about life after Uni, and how getting a Graduate Business Partnership role is taking his career forwards. 

Richard Evans,

Richard Evans, in a field of his own

The hallmark of a Gemini is inconsistency. Staying true to my horoscope I started university determined to find a foothold in the production industry and now I’m working as a magazine publisher. In-between I’ve tried my hand in campaigning, film, retail, journalism and Public Relations so it hasn’t exactly been a straight road. When they told me an English degree would be sought after by a range of different professions I thought that was just another way of saying “you’re not really doing anything specific enough but here’s a sprinkling of hope”. Yet despite my inherent generation Y scepticism, here I am! My degree has taken me on a journey of professional self-discovery which eventually landed me in a role at the university that gave it to me. I think there’s something wonderfully cyclical about that.

“My GBP role has been a blessing. Not only have I fortified skills specific to the industries I hope to find a career in, but I’ve developed a whole new awareness of my capacity to work on professional solo projects.”

To be completely honest the application for my GPB internship was one out of many grabs at a graduate title. I had just completed four months of consecutive PR and journalism placements and after finally acknowledging the dilapidated state of my bank account, I started working twelve hour shifts in retail. I have a lot of respect for people who can maintain that type of job… But when I was apologising to a customer whilst they dangled a returned pair of ripped leggings in front of my nose due to the “shoddiness” of the garment I came to realise perhaps customer service isn’t my bag. Needless to say that when I received my offer to organise an entire publication singlehandedly, I had a drive and a determination to catch the opportunity firmly between my jaws.

It’s really interesting to work behind the scenes of the Career Zone. When I was a student I definitely didn’t make full and efficient use of them but now that I’m part of their team it’s pretty crazy to see how many different schemes I missed out on. It’s really important for me that this magazine effectively communicates the support Exeter provides its students so that I might deter at least a few of them from maintaining a lacklustre attitude. It was therefore imperative that I take a slightly different approach to the editorial process. In past editions of the “In the Zone magazine” the content has been predominantly advertorial. They were good at reaching out to employers in order to show off university students and services but I felt it didn’t quite address the student body effectively enough. This idea has driven the entire project and I’ve used my own experience of the terrifying world beyond academia to fuel the content.

So far my GBP has seen me conduct interviews with University department reps, alumni and students. I’ve organised issue design, contributed to department marketing meetings, taken on copywriting duties as well as produced my own original content. In many respects this job has combined my experience in PR with my experience in journalism perfectly – although I mostly have free reign over the magazine content the tonality needs to meet University standards as well as give each career sector and scheme appropriate coverage. I can’t exactly go off on tangents about Brexit’s effect on the graduate job market – it has to stick to its function.

My GBP role has been a blessing. Not only have I fortified skills specific to the industries I hope to find a career in, but I’ve developed a whole new awareness of my capacity to work on professional solo projects. Had somebody asked me to create an entire publication speaking on behalf of a professional service a year ago I would have laughed in their face. Now I feel just a few ranks beneath pro status.

Find out more about GBPs here.

Networking for the Slightly Scared

Technology and social media have brought new dimensions to networking, but traditional social skills and motivation remain key elements of making successful connections. Mark Armitage, Careers Consultant, tells us how to master the dark art.

Attitudes to networking can vary from an utter dread of having to interact with a new person, to excitement at the possibilities that this can offer. Some see it as a spurious process of ingratiating others for personal gain, but it can be rewarding for both parties and is increasingly important in researching and attaining your ideal job.

Networking, not as scary as you think

Networking, not as scary as you think

If you don’t know what your ideal job looks like, the temptation is to procrastinate and be fatalistic. But networking can put you in control whereby you begin to interact and learn from others in roles that may interest you, and gain insights that never appeared in that careers booklet. Communicating with others in roles that interest you is a great start, and this can also be a gateway to work-shadowing and experience. Experience can help you understand what’s needed in a job and add to your CV to demonstrate skills and motivation.

“Remember that employers want to meet and network with you as the potential future of their organisation.”

It can be irritating to be told to network; you can’t force relationships, so where to start? The Career Zone resources can equip you with the basics of networking etiquette and our service offer a vast range of possibilities to meet and interact with people who can help you. For example, the eXepert scheme can enable you to contact Exeter alumni in fields of interest. There is also the Career Mentor Scheme; the opportunity to apply to have an Exeter alumnus to mentor and support you in a career area.

Exeter has great alumni and employer links and the range of people you can meet at careers fairs, presentations and skills sessions is immense. The important thing to remember is that employers want to meet and network with you as the potential future of their organisation, while alumni often wish to ‘give back’ to current students.

If you meet someone, treat it like a short but slightly less formal interview. Be ready to shake hands, make eye contact, smile naturally and be yourself. Ask informed and open questions about their role and the organisation, such as ‘How do you find working for…?’ Be prepared to talk and give some introduction about what stage you’re are at in your studies and your subject, but balance this with good listening skills and be attentive, interested and enthusiastic.

“Informal networking can happen anywhere, so consider your own immediate contacts and less obvious channels.”

Try not to take too much time if the person wants to meet other students, and don’t be too pushy or presumptuous. Employers may ask for your name and give you a business card. It’s a good idea to have your own business cards but use them sparingly and don’t shower people with your CV, however brilliant it may be.

If you have any sort of networking contact where you receive some help or insights remember to thank them. If you have a contact detail, a polite email of thanks could lead to further useful interaction or put you in a position to ask for work experience or further contacts. Employers at careers fairs and presentations will often make a note of your name. If you make a good impression, they may encourage you to apply and track your application. Remember that informal networking can sometimes happen anywhere and consider your own immediate contacts and less obvious channels.  An Exeter degree is not an access all areas pass, but the University is valued by employers and alumni and a great basis for your networking future.

Effective networking needs social skills and motivation to nurture relationships, combined with the appropriate use of new tools such as social media. This includes Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, which can all contribute to your networking strategy. But use them carefully in a professional way to contact people, make connections and follow trends in potential careers. Make sure that you keep more personal content private and be especially careful if you are posting pictures, comments or short articles. A good test is to consider how they might look in the future.

Positive networking may not land that dream job immediately but it will help you move to the next stage whether it be employment or further study. It will remain an important aspect of managing your future career as a graduate.