Employability tips from Exeter Alumni


We asked a group of Exeter alumni for their top-tips on being employable, here’s what they said:

“You would be surprised how many job applications are thrown in the bin because of spelling mistakes and poor grammar. Check, check and check again.”

“Companies will know if you’ve made a generic application and just changed the name of the organisation. Do your research and tell them why you want to work there rather than anywhere else.”

“The average CV gets less than 30 seconds viewing time. You need to get all the right information in the right place on the front of your CV.”

“The rise of social media has changed the way that recruitment works. You need to make sure that your Facebook, your Twitter, anywhere that your name appears online, is what you want an employer to see.”

“To be employable you need to have an enquiring mind. When you are at an interview make sure that you ask the prospective employer some questions!“

“Use your Careers Service. It’s free, they have a wealth of knowledge and advice, and if I’d had some of the services that are available now, I’d have saved myself a good few years.”

“Reliability is key, if you say you’re going to meet someone at 10am or deliver a report by a certain date, do it – people will remember you for the wrong reasons if you don’t.”

“Build up strong relationships with recruitment agencies – there are some out there which specialise in placing graduates in their first roles.”

“Be honest, be yourself.”

“Communicate clearly and concisely – especially in email – it is so easy for your thoughts and feelings to be misconstrued.”

“Develop IT and people skills! These will always be useful.”

“Be nice to everyone you meet. You never know who you may meet again later on.”

“Scrutinise the criteria on any job description and write your personal statement to show that you can evidence meeting the required skills and experience.“

“Be interesting and independent-minded, ready to work with others, but also have your own opinions and vision.”

“Remember you are on interview from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, not just in the formal interview but in the car park too!”

“To me, the biggest surprise for starting a career was how personality-based it is. Coming from university where the focus is on the best grades, it surprised me how many of the development focuses were behavioural. “

“Network, Network, Network!”

“Whatever it is that floats your boat: do it! Put it on your CV and be prepared to talk about it at interview. Otherwise, how will your CV standout from the other 200 I might get?”

“Be passionate about what it is you want to do, know the job that you are going for. If you’re applying for a job in bar then go and drink in that bar, if you want to be a writer and are submitting a play, go and look at the venue or theatre company. Really know what they are doing and how you can fit in and offer something to that.”

“If you’re straight out of university you won’t have had a chance to get years of experience in a particular field, but you can show that you are committed to it by doing a lot of volunteering and by getting good references.”

“Give yourself time to figure out what you really want. Internships and work experience are a great way to see what a routine day in a business is like.”

“Involve yourself in a wide range of experiences and demonstrate your ability to do things well with perseverance, resilience and a smile on your face.”

“Articulate the transferable skills that you have been able to develop both on and off your course.”

“I would say the most useful thing to date has been working hard and networking – you never know when an opportunity is going to come up and the more people that know you and can recommend you, the better.”

“Think clearly, be hungry, be willing to take opportunities that present themselves. Be personable and presentable especially at interviews for unless you are successful at those your career will come to a full stop.”

“Always treat everyone as you would like to be treated. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking to the director of a company or to the person who does the photo-copying, treat them all the same: you never know when your paths might cross in the future and it makes for a more conducive and positive working environment for all.”

How to get an internship in Investment Banking for non-Economics students

Nakul Vishvanath is a 2nd year BA Politics and International Studies student who recently received an offer of an internship with a large British Investment Bank.

Investment Banks are increasingly looking to recruit students from a variety of undergraduate backgrounds to diversify their pool of talent. This presents opportunities for students that may have never considered the city life as a career path. As proven with a background in Politics and International Relations, I was offered a summer internship with a large British Investment Bank and here are my 5 tips on how you can achieve this too:

nakul1)     Career Mentor Scheme – First and probably the most important thing when it comes to applying for jobs is the Importance of Networking. Enrolling in the Exeter’s Career Mentor Scheme allows you to leverage the university’s extensive list of professionals who are willing to help you succeed. My career mentor even introduced me to a friend in the sector and was willing to give me a week’s worth of experience, which again helped differentiate myself from other candidates when interviewing.

2)     Blog about current affairs- Investment Banks know that you don’t study economics or finance but want to see that you keep up to date with the news. Saying that you regularly read the Economist or that you’ve set Bloomberg as your home page is something recruiters would have heard plenty of times before. MarketMogul.Com offers students the chance to write about the current affairs and when interviewing acts as tangible evidence of your interest.

3)     Practice Numerical Online tests – Online tests are the first filter of many job applications and you need to pass the minimum benchmark to proceed in the process. Ensure to practice repeatedly and the Career Zone also offers seminars on how to pass these. Due to the volume of applications I sent out some of the questions even started to repeat themselves, so again don’t be disheartened if you get rejections. Getting an internship is ultimately a law of averages; the more you send out the more chance you’ll get one.

4)     Research the company – THOUROUGHLY- If you are lucky enough to get through to a telephone interview or a face to face interview make sure you research the company. Constructing a SWOT analysis of the bank is a great way to get familiar with the company’s competitors, challenges faced and how the future of the bank is panning out. The bank I applied to was undergoing corporate restructuring but again I sold this as a point of attraction and how I could make use of the opportunities that came with change.

5)     Be yourself! – As clichéd as it sounds, your personality will have an impact on whether you get hired. Investment Banking is a people business and inevitably involves dealing with clients. Be enthusiastic about the job and company’s cultural values; if these don’t reflect how you work as a person you’re probably going to find investment banks with a better cultural fit.

I’d be happy to answer any questions anyone had about this article or my experience on

By Nakul Vishvanath

Two reasons why you should get that Exeter Award in the bag

The Exeter AwardAnything you can do to make yourself stand out in today’s competitive graduate recruitment market is a plus. A lot of Exeter students recognise this, which is why we’ve already had 1900 sign-up to do the Exeter Award since the start of the academic year.

But don’t just take their word for it, listen to what graduate employers have to say about the Exeter Award;

The Exeter Award is a fantastic scheme benefitting both students and employers. Experience gained working towards the Exeter Award will help you to stand out from the crowd, and enhance your own skills & development. As an employer, we benefit from recruiting well-rounded individuals who have boosted their employability because of the Exeter Award.”


“The Exeter Award is a fantastic opportunity for students to gain the hard and soft skills they need to move into graduate employment. It’s about setting themselves apart from the next candidate – having the Exeter Award on their CV demonstrates key skills and competencies that employers look for, such as work experience, teamwork skills and practical interview skills, which will help deliver better interviews for us the employers.”
Enterprise Rent-A-Car


“The Exeter Award is a fantastic opportunity for students to enhance their employability skills. The skills which students will learn by working towards this award are highly valuable for all employers. Graduate positions are highly competitive and this award increases the chance of students standing out of the crowd when applying for graduate positions.”
Transport for London


If you’re already up and running with the Award, now’s a good to time to plan to complete it before the summer. We run the key sessions right though the summer term to help you achieve this and if you are leaving the University this year it will help you get ahead of the 300,000 other graduates entering the job market. On the other hand, if you are a returning student, why not go for gold and do the Exeter Leaders Award as well?

Find out more on the Exeter Award and Exeter Leaders Award websites.

Completing the Exeter Award

The Exeter AwardAre you struggling through a dry January? Or are you trying to lose weight? Give up coffee? Sugar? Chocolate perhaps? Why not make a far less painful New Year’s resolution and aim to complete your Exeter Award in 2015!

What do I have to do?

The Exeter Award is an achievement award designed to give you recognition for the extra-curricular activities that you take part in whilst you’re a student here at Exeter. It’s a fairly easy way to really beef up your CV. You’ll need to attend a few skills sessions and gain some work experience, but there’s a good chance you’ve already taken part in some activities that you can count towards attaining the award, so you might already be halfway there!

The diagram below shows the steps you need to go through to complete the Award. You can see a larger version and find more information on the Exeter Award website.


Register or check your progress

Completing the Exeter Award is managed entirely through My Career Zone, this is where you will register to take part, sign up for events and track your progress. When you login click on the Exeter Award box in the centre of the screen to access your profile.


Work out which skills sessions appeal to you

Your Exeter Award profile provides links to the different activities you can count towards your Exeter Award, including events your College might be running.

Typical events include:

  • Alumni panels
  • Employer talks
  • Skills sessions such as:
    • time management
    • stress management
    • negotiation skills

Book up

Once you know which skills sessions or events you would like to attend – book your place via My Career Zone and put it in your diary. When you attend and scan-in this will automatically update on your award profile in My Career Zone: Magic!

Work experience

Not sure what to do for the work experience element of the Exeter Award? You can count any paid work experience or any voluntary work undertaken since starting at the University. You can see what other students have done by following the links above.


If you have a question about the Exeter Award, someone else has probably asked it too, we have lots of Exeter Award FAQs for you to look at. You can also find out more about the different elements of the Exeter Award on the Exeter Award webpages.

Over 350 students completed their Exeter Award last year – will you be completing yours in 2015?

Rachel Sloan,
Work-Related Learning Co-ordinator

Alumni advice

Previous students of the University can be an incredibly useful resource when it comes to researching possible career paths. They were, after all, in your shoes once and they can impart invaluable insights into that great unknown; what on earth happens after graduation? We have 3 ways you can access alumni to discover what particular industries or jobs are actually like to work in and how to get that all important first foot on the ladder.

Alumni profiles on our website

alumni-profWe’ve been gathering various alumni profiles and organised them by College on our website. Our alumni write about what they’ve done in their careers to date, give industry insights and their top-tips to current students about employability. This is a growing resource that we aim to make more comprehensive in the coming months, but there are some golden nuggets of advice in there regardless of which discipline you are studying.

Take a look at our alumni profiles.

The Career Mentor Scheme

University of Exeter Career Mentor SchemeOur Career Mentor Scheme is a unique opportunity for you to be matched with an experienced professional to gain one-to-one careers advice, support and guidance into their profession and sector for up to 6-months. Mentors come from all types of industries and are at various stages in their careers. You might meet up with them on occasion or communicate via email or telephone to pick their brains. If you make the most of this opportunity you’ll gain a realistic insight into a profession and develop personal and professional competencies which will set you apart from other students and graduates and you may even gain other networking opportunities from taking part. It will be a great addition to your CV.

Applications for the Spring to Summer Scheme open 26 January 2015. Find more information on our Career Mentor Scheme web pages.

The eXepert Scheme (Careers Q&A)

exepert_logo-218x166Our eXepert Scheme can provide you with the opportunity to contact University of Exeter alumni to gain advice on how to enter your chosen sector, work for a certain company, become self-employed or benefit from possible networking opportunities and contacts. These tend to be a one-off email exchange where you ask specific questions.

We have a large pool of alumni who have offered support to students and graduates. As our alumni are based all over the world (including entrepreneurs) and cover a huge range of sectors we are likely to find someone who can offer you an insight into their professional experience and offer advice to help you make informed career decisions.

Find more information on our eXepert Scheme web pages.

Fakin’ it to make it

Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy
Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. That has to be my favourite book title. That and Thomas Hardy’s short stories collection “Life’s Little Ironies”. If you have read Hardy then you will appreciate the bitter humour. The title was so good, I couldn’t bring myself the read the book; the book surely couldn’t live up to it.

Erving Goffman was a renowned academic and was one of the first to apply an almost forensic analysis to everyday interactions and this theme was developed in his The Presentation of Life in Everyday Life (1959). The everyday is the important part. We all are aware that we put on a bit of a show for “special” events such as interviews or formal presentations but his take was that we do this all the time to preserve our status and limit damage to our self-esteem. I remember Goffman’s book being deeply serious and at the same time being seriously hilarious. I hope if you decide to read it, so do you.

Shakespeare put it this way:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…”

Americans have a slightly different way of looking at it. They use the expression:

“Fakin’ it to make it”

Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy has done some interesting research on it: TED Talk: Amy Cuddy – Your body language shapes who you are. It is a longish clip but you may find what is contained in there could be useful before that formal presentation or interview.


You can access other help for those tricky presentations in My Career Zone.

Her research shows that body language can affect the levels of the hormones testosterone and cortisol in your body. Testosterone is the one you want to have at a higher level:  it makes you feel more powerful. Cortisol is seen as the “stress” hormone. She recommends that before a formal event, for two minutes, you adopt one or two of the power postures. Hands raised, hands on hips, BIG postures.

I tried this out before a particularly nerve wracking session in Newman A. I went to the toilet opposite the Sanctuary, the one that has a constant smell of asparagus. I did a few power postures. I was particularly fond of what I named the “Mussolini”: hands on hips, jaw protruding forward and striding around the room with long, loping steps. Luckily no one came in. It seemed to work and when I arrived for my five minute input to a lecture and it turned out I was doing the whole hour, I somehow survived.

But I have a doubt. What if you fake it and put on a face which is not yours? Do you become a different person? Do you start playing a role which is no longer you or true to your values, to the person you used to be?

If it is true, in my book, that’s a little irony.

Tom McAndrew
Careers Consultant at the University of Exeter

Researching your career options

researching-optionsSo as a second year student you are no longer the newbie! You know where to find the books you need in the library, the shortcuts across campus and the best places to go in the evening. While you’re getting to know yourself better; your strengths and weaknesses, your approaches to work and the types of tasks you enjoy, you may also be applying your self-awareness to what you might want to do when you graduate.

If you haven’t already checked out your subject page on our website or dug around Prospects and TargetJobs to get some basic understanding of what opportunities are available to you, then now’s the time to start.  Research helps you to clarify what particular occupations actually do and which skills and networks you should be focussing on.  Meeting with a Careers Consultant may be helpful at this point; just to bounce some ideas around and organise how you are going to test career choices over the coming year.

So you’ve picked out a few occupations that interest you and now you just want to know ‘what’s it really like?’  Company websites, Careers Fairs, the Exepert Scheme, access to Professional Institutions and the huge range of other resources available via the Career Zone provide relevant and useful information to support your decision-making… but how do you get access to work experience?  Well, this kind of depends on the types of occupations and sectors you are interested in, but here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Set your preferences on MyCareerZone so that you get up to date information about opportunities available
  • Check out our webpage on internships and the types of schemes that we support
  • Keep your LinkedIn account up to date and consider joining relevant groups to widen your network
  • Give yourself enough time to do a really effective application. Aim for quality rather than quantity!
  • Consider specialist sites and recruitment agencies e.g. enginterns which may be listed on your subject page
  • Be open
    • Consider regional as well as head office opportunities which often struggle to fill their places!
    • Consider smaller organisations as well as multinationals, who can offer a breadth of experience with sometimes higher levels of responsibility
    • As a Plan B, consider working in an administrative role in the organisation you would really like to work for, as a way of developing contacts for graduate applications later on.
  • Target particular companies by sending speculative applications
    • The Fame Database holds information on 3.8 million companies in the UK and Ireland which can be filtered by postal region, number of employees and industry type to identify possible companies that you may want to research further and contact direct for work experience.
  • Get as much help as you can!  Make sure your friends and family are really clear about what you are looking for so that they can network on your behalf.
Rowanna Smith
Rowanna Smith, Careers Consultant

It’s competitive and there are no guarantees, but by researching which roles could bring your dreams alive, and by learning how to articulate what you can offer to employers, you will not only be in with a good chance of acquiring valuable work experience, you will also be gaining essential skills from the process itself, which will greatly support you in whichever career you aim for in the future!

Rowanna Smith, 
University of Exeter Careers Consultant

What on earth is eXfactor?

exfactorThe name alone could be enough to put anyone off, conjuring images of pub karaoke and drink fuelled versions of Wonder Wall. You might contribute to a presentation at our eXfactor but this is altogether a different approach to demonstrating your talents.

eXfactor is a one day program for all year one students, introducing them to the essentials of employability and careers in a relaxed and friendly environment. Gone are the days of falling out of Exeter into the arms of your dream employer in your final year. Recruiters expect a great deal and it helps to start understanding your potential in relation to the opportunities with your subject early. This can enable you to make informed decisions about your future and how you pursue this through an application process.

The course is tutored by experienced trainers and Exeter careers consultants offering a mixture of employment knowledge and experience.

It’s all about you and your skills and how you would like to develop during your time at Exeter. Most employers will recruit graduates of any discipline but want to see concrete evidence of skills and qualities. EXfactor gets you thinking about skills, activities at Exeter and the next stage. You will work in small groups on a number of tasks and learn more about employability support at Exeter. You will start to think about the career timeline, “emotional intelligence” and amaze your friends and family with your networking genius.

We cannot  promise eXfactor will land you that perfect job or postgraduate course but active participation in the course and further action could be the basis for your successful graduate future and managing your meteoric career.

Visit the eXfactor web page to find out more.

Mark Armitage 
Careers Consultant at the University of Exeter


Fourteen things to do in your first year at the University of Exeter

  1. Enjoy yourself
    Yes, it will be hard work at times but enjoy everything the University has to offer. We want you to be happy here.
  2. Visit Diagon Alley
    J.K Rowling studied here and based Diagon Alley on Gandy Street in Exeter. I believe there is a slightly grander version at Universal studios, Florida. If you were brought up on Harry Potter, you may notice local names that sound familiar.
  3. Run from the flaming tar barrels at Ottery St Mary (Ottery St Catchpole?) on Bonfire Night
    It’s Devon’s version of running with the bulls. You enter the village at your own risk. I did it once and still wake up screaming.

    By Scouse_and_Jules CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
    By Scouse_and_Jules
    CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
  4. Go to Timepiece
    A legendary bar/nightclub in Exeter and no one really knows why.
  5. Cycle to The Turf
    A splendid pub on the estuary. If you are feeling adventurous, cycle down to Dawlish too and see the black swans. You can hire bikes on the Quay.
  6. Cycle or take the train to Exmouth
    There’s sand and seaside stuff going on there.
  7. Go to North Devon for the surf
    Gnarly Dude!

    By rrx_blade CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
    By rrx_blade
    CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
  8. Go to the Impey.
    It’s a ‘spoons. It is cheap. It’s cheerful. The window in the Orangery was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
  9. Eat some Curly Fries
    All hell broke loose a couple of years ago when they were taken off the Ram Bar menu.

    By Alexandra Richmond, CC https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
    By Alexandra Richmond,
    CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
  10. Start thinking about your career
    Well, what did you expect? This is a career blog after all. And we like to think we will help you get to where you want to be. You will be doing the eXfactor but why not think about the Exeter Award? Explore the Career Zone? We are here to help. No pressure. Check out our website: www.exeter.ac.uk/careers/
  11. Go to the RAMM
    Not the bar but the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. Museum of the year 2012. Go see Gerald the Giraffe. We like him.
  12. Have a picnic on Cathedral Green
    Sometimes in life it is the simple pleasures that hit the mark. Keep your eye on the seagulls. They like picnicking on Cathedral Green too.

    By Phillip Capper CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
    By Phillip Capper
    CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
  13. Wander around the Quay
    It feels like a different city.

    By Phineas H CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
    By Phineas H
    CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
  14. Enjoy Yourself
    I know I have said that but it is worth repeating.

By the Career Zone team.

New and improved My Career Zone

mcz_iphoneWe love My Career Zone! For everything employability related it has to be your first port of call.

If you are a new student then you may not know that My Career Zone is the University of Exeter’s web based system available to all current Exeter students and recent graduates of up to 3 years. You can use it to:

  • Find graduate jobs
  • Find casual and part-time jobs
  • Find volunteering opportunities
  • Find Internships and placements
  • Book employability events and skills sessions
  • Take part in the Exeter Award
  • Search our careers factsheets and FAQ’s

You can access My Career Zone through the student portal, in the iExeter smartphone app or by going directly to www.exeter.ac.uk/mycareerzone.

Over the summer, we’ve been working hard on a number of improvements. So whether you’re  a Fresher or a seasoned soon-to-be graduate, there’s a lot to take in.

Here are some tips to get the most out of the system:

Get in there early

The start of term is just around the corner – so why not give yourself a head start and look for casual work now? After all, nobody wants to be juggling essays and application forms at the same time.

My Career Zone is brimming with casual jobs and internship opportunities and it’s easier than ever to find them. When you’re searching, choose “Casual / part time / vacation work” from the type of work list. Found one you like? It’s easy to bookmark it and come back to it later.

Get ahead of the crowd

Have you heard of the Exeter Award? Our achievement award is for undergraduate and taught postgraduate students, it’s a great way to help you stand out from the crowd.

From your My Career Zone dashboard, it’s easy to track your Exeter Award progress and see your next steps. We’ll show you reminders for your booked skills sessions, so you always know what’s coming up, and it’s easy to look back at your booking history and consultation notes and see what you’ve done so far.

Get more information

Over the summer, we’ve added more information than ever onto My Career Zone. Whether you want a factsheet to help with an application form or a copy of the slides from your last skills session, everything is here and easily searchable.

Get the lowdown

There’s more than jobs in My Career Zone. Want to know whether a particular industry is for you? We can put you in touch with an experienced professional for one-to-one guidance and advice. Search My Career Zone for Mentoring Opportunities.

Get updated

Follow the employers you care about, and we’ll notify you when they advertise new jobs or come onto campus for careers fairs and workshops.

And the best thing of all? My Career Zone is now completely mobile-friendly – so whether you want to get guidance on the go, browse opportunities on the bus, or search for skills sessions after a seminar, we’ve got you covered.

Set your preferences today and take the improved My Career Zone for a spin.

Josh Smith is the Career Zone’s Graduate Destinations and Systems Administrator