Existentialism, Mars Bars and Your Career.

Satre Mars Bar

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

I read the existentialists in my undergraduate years.

If I am honest it was a bit a pose, reading Sartre with a French cigarette resting on a sardonic lip. Probably not a bad look for a Parisian café, not for a callow fresher in a run-down pub in Bristol. I do not remember all of it. What I do, still resonates; that we define ourselves by the decisions we make. And with that comes an awful responsibility; we are condemned to be free, as Sartre wrote. We live with the decisions we make. That can result in what are called existentialist dilemmas. This can apply to many things in life and also career choice.

Some careers advisers portray this as the “sweet shop” dilemma.  You enter a newsagent and the confectionary counter lays out its wares in front of you. Should you go for the Mars Bar? You have the money for one item. If you choose the Mars Bar then you will no longer be able to choose another item. That Bounty looks appetising but if you choose that, you will not be able to choose anything else. And you have not even started to consider the minstrels. This can leave you there, standing, staring at the sweets, lost in thought. You may hear an extended sigh from the shopkeeper. There may be a polite cough behind you, the distant cry of a child. You are oblivious, frozen.

As a university careers adviser, you can see similar paralysis in students and graduates. They are overwhelmed by the choices open to them and freeze. One of the greatest pleasures of our roles is to help people in that state of decision-making paralysis. By listening sympathetically, by probing, by reflecting back thoughts. On a good day you can almost see the ideas and decisions start to flow. On rarer days, on a very good day, you can see the “Eureka!” moment; the same moment that I once experienced after seeing a career adviser a couple of years after I had graduated.

All this theorising has made me hungry. I need a snack. I am going to pop round the corner to the Guild shop (other retail outlets are available in the Forum). I am not going for the obvious choice of the Mars bar, I love coconut; it has to be a Bounty. The dark chocolate one. I love the way the sweet soft succulence of the coconut melts and gives way to the slightly bitter taste of the dark chocolate. The best part is when you have eaten one, you still have another bar to enjoy.

But what about you? What’s your decision?

Tom McAndrew, 
Careers Consultant at the University of Exeter

Big Dreams, Little Dreams

Tom McAndrew, Careers Consultant

Big dreams, little dreams.

As the chanteuse Edif Piaf sang “Non, Je ne regrette rien”.

No regrets.

Having worked as a careers adviser with a broad range of clients over the years, one of the saddest things I have heard, and still sometimes hear, goes like this; “I wish I had the courage to go for my dream career when I could. I played it safe. I stayed in my comfort zone and did the practical, the mundane. I did what people thought I should do. I was not being myself.”  I interviewed a pleasant young man a while ago who said he was interested in becoming an accountant. His body language told me he wasn’t. I reflected this back to him and asked him directly “No, but what do you really want to do?” The answer was very different. When he talked about what he really wanted to do there was real and tangible enthusiasm.  That is why I would always encourage those blessed with a long career road ahead to follow their dream. Go for it, in the modern parlance. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. At the very least, you can say you tried and failed gloriously.

I also meet those who are overwhelmed by the big dreams of others. They say  “I haven’t climbed Everest. I haven’t had an internship on Wall Street. And I have no ambition to be a CEO of a large investment bank”. When asked that question “What do you really want to do?” sometimes the answer is not a big dream, as they see it.  They say things like “I want to be a good parent; work is a way of me achieving that”. Big dream or little dream? Many would view it as a little dream. I am not sure. As a parent of a daughter at university, I would say a big dream.

Apart from the dreams we see and experience nightly, we choose our dreams and we choose the size of them. They are ours and no one else’s.

Big dreams, little dreams?

You decide.

No regrets.

Tom McAndrew, 
Careers Consultant at the University of Exeter

Phone interviews: how do Exeter students handle them?

Being interviewed is a big part of application process for almost any graduate level job. But we’ve heard from some students that big employers are relying on phone interviews more than ever. How is a phone interview different from the usual suited-and-booted face-to-face affair, and what can you to do prepare?

Imogen, a second year English student, found that every internship she’s applied for has involved a phone interview. The interview stage might be daunting, but Imogen reckons she much prefers phone interviews over face-to-face. It’s easier to refer to notes and she can be in relaxed and comfortable surroundings when the phone rings.

Of course, there’s a risk of being too casual on the phone, so regardless of whether you’re wearing a suit or pyjamas, you should always remember to keep the tone polite and professional. It will help if you’re relaxed – but don’t talk to the interviewer on the other end of the phone the same way you would your best friend!

When it comes to preparing for a phone interview, Eleanor, a third year Geography student, agrees with Imogen about notes. Before her interview, she jotted down the key competencies the company was looking for on some revision cards. But, she says, “too many notes can distract you and you’ll just get confused!”

The trick then, is to make sure you really know your stuff about a company – and the sector they work in – before getting to the interview, so you can answer questions confidently and won’t be left rummaging through your notes at the last minute.

Before her interview with a logistics company, Imogen read a report about the logistics industry, and did a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis of the company (attending a Project Planning session could help you find out more about tools like SWOT analysis – and it counts to your Leaders Award).

Preparing and practising for a phone interview can also help you get your nerves under control – but there are some things beyond your control.

Things to watch out for in a phone interview include a busy or incommunicative interviewer; companies may use interviewers from external recruitment agencies who could have a checklist of standard questions to ask, or your interviewer may be pressed for time. There’s not much you can do in a situation like this – but from Imogen’s experience this is a time to sell yourself against the odds, by remaining calm, remembering your research and staying resilient.

We’ve even heard that some employers – including technology and grocery companies – are taking a high-tech approach to phone interviews – replacing them with recorded video interviews, where candidates speak into their webcam and their responses are recorded to be watched by an interviewer later.

Ellie’s advice for interviews like these is to stay friendly – remember to make eye contact with the camera, be as relaxed as you can, and try to smile! The interviewer will want to see your enthusiasm and knowledge, so do your best to make sure these shine through, even if you’re nervous.

How did Imogen deal with the nerves? “To keep myself calm I tried to look at it as if this was me interviewing the company. I wanted to see if I was a good fit with that role and that business.”

That’s good advice, regardless of how you’re being interviewed.

Sincere thanks to Imogen and Eleanor for their input.

 Josh Smith is the Career Zone’s Information and Systems Assistant.

Have you had any phone or video interviews? What did you think of them? Let us know in the comments below.


Future Script – To the Land Beyond

Mark Armitage is a Careers Consultant at the Career Zone on the Streatham Campus. In this post he gives some practical advice for those of you who are not sure what career you would like to pursue.

Mark Armitage, Careers Consultant

As careers consultants, we often meet students at different stages, who are still wrestling with the big question.”What do you want to do?”. This dilemma is one which refuses to go away despite Olympic  levels of procrastination, so where to start?

The first year is a great place to begin your Future Script, the perplexing challenge of envisaging your existence as an Exeter graduate. Some degrees such as Engineering and Law have well defined career paths, but you should never be constrained by your subject. It is estimated that 70% of graduate jobs are open to any discipline.

There are many theories about how we make career choices but most agree that it does not happen overnight, but is a process combining education, experience and  self understanding with a knowledge of graduate opportunities. Employers love Exeter students but look for a range of experiences in a CV that show the skills they seek. They expect you to be motivated with an affinity for the job role and organisation.

There are many factors to consider, money, jobs, values, subject preferences, skills and qualities. One formula could be the use of the DOTS model, best explained as SODiT, as follows.

S  = Self: Knowing yourself is not  as self indulgent as you might imagine but a useful tool  for understanding “what makes you itch”, motivation, values, skills and qualities .You are progressing to a  place where you reflect and project what you can offer to employment and further study.

O = Opportunity:  There are many opportunities for Exeter graduates but some are more obvious than others. Large recruiters in manufacturing, law and finance all battle for your attention while other areas such as media and charities have more hidden opportunities, expecting you to seek them out, network and build relevant experience. Use the sectors on the careers website as a starting point. Relevant postgraduate study is also an option.

D= Decisions: This is the difficult bit and all the more so without plenty of S&O forethought. The earlier stages provide the basis for understanding your own potential and what is out there. Make informed decisions about jobs and study that you can justify and articulate.

T=Transition:  This is not some traumatic metamorphosis but a journey from your degree to the next stage of job or further study. This builds on the other stages but requires its’ own skill set of networking, CV’s/applications, interviews and assessment.  These skills are also essential to developing your later career.

You are not alone in this process. Careers consultants are available to see students individually. The idea is to help you explore possibilities, research information and make the decisions which are best for you. As you move forward to that dream job, we can also support and inform the transition process. You will not need a big idea to bring to a careers appointment just personal insights and a willingness to engage in some discussion of your future plans.

Mark Armitage  
Careers Consultant 

You can find sector information and more resources on the Career Research section of the Career Zone website.

Prepare for the Fair

Careers fairs allow you to meet a range of employers and learn what they’re looking for in their future employees. At Exeter we run five across our campuses in the autumn term, offering part time and casual work, international opportunities and graduate vacancies. Our fairs are open to all students and this year exhibitors include L’Oreal, M&C Saatchi and the Bank of England. Even if you don’t know what you want to do, fairs can be the first step to finding out, so you definitely need to get these dates in your diary.

Here are our top tips for getting the most out of a careers fair…

  • Careers FairWho takes your fancy?
    Check what fairs are coming up by visiting our website. You can then see who is attending by viewing the exhibitor list or by reading the fair booklet (available online).  Make a ‘wish list’ of companies and focus on them.
  • Preparation is key…
    You’ll stand out if you can demonstrate an understanding of an organisation, so familiarise yourself with what they offer before the day. Prepare questions in advance and tailor them – don’t ask questions you could find easily elsewhere.
  • …But be flexible
    Don’t panic if you want to approach a company that is not on your list! Look at their fair brochure entry or ask staff on our Career Zone stand for a breakdown of what they do. If you have a smart-phone, Google them.
  • Build your confidence
    Approaching complete strangers can be daunting. So when you arrive, don’t rush to your favourite organisation. Instead, network with others first, to increase your confidence.
  • Brand you
    Recruiters meet hundreds of students, so consider yourself a brand and determine your USP (Unique Selling Point). Impress them and they may ask for your CV. Take up-to-date copies with you but have it checked by Career Zone staff first. However, don’t be offended if they don’t take your CV and simply direct you to their website.
  • It’s not about the money, money, money…
    Don’t get hung up on the salary and benefits. Employers take a dim view of applicants who are only interested in what an organisation can do for them.
  • Fashion statement
    Dress appropriately! You’re not expected to be suited and booted (unless you want to be), but don’t rock up wearing an expletives-covered t-shirt. You’ll get noticed but for all the wrong reasons!
  • Professional to the core
    Be professional, positive, polite and courteous. Oh, and please don’t just help yourself to the freebies, however tempting it might be.
  • Follow up
    Feel free to ask a recruiter for their business card – you might want to ask further questions or reference them in your application. Take a notebook to jot down important facts. Your head will be swimming with information by the end, trust me!

Still got questions? Then why not head to one of the ‘Preparing for the Careers Fair’ sessions the Careers team are running this term. You can book your place by visiting My Career Zone.

Good luck!

Natalie Horlock,
Employer Liaison Officer (Graduate Recruitment),
University of Exeter

Networking your way through University and beyond

For many, networking is a scary prospect. As a way to enhance your job search it’s incredibly powerful but for many it’s not even on their radar. It’s important that you don’t underestimate the power of a strong network of contacts. University life provides you with a plethora of opportunities to do this. Having the ability to draw on relevant contacts can make a world of difference when it comes to sourcing that dream graduate job.

Make the most of events

Keep an eye on My Career Zone for a list of upcoming events with employers and take advantage of these sessions by introducing yourself to the delegates. Be polite, show an interest and ask if they mind you asking a few questions. Employers are expecting students to do this so don’t feel embarrassed to step forward. If the employer doesn’t work for a company on your wish list don’t disregard them, you may not believe it but graduate recruitment is a small world and recruiters know each other and each other’s recruitment practices. You may even find that sound advice from one recruiter will provide you with a link to another.

Use Social Media

Nearly all of us use Facebook and a good proportion of us use Twitter to keep in touch with friends and family. Both of these can be used to network, particularly Twitter where more and more recruiters are turning to help form part of the recruitment process. Using Twitter to connect with companies and people is a great way to expand your personal network as well as keep up to speed on what your favourite actor is up to!


In addition to these two giants of social media don’t overlook LinkedIn – an online professional networking community with over 75 million worldwide users in over 200 countries.

LinkedIn is currently the foremost business networking site. It’s an ideal way to network across different sectors, look for and talk to potential employers but more importantly talk directly to key stake holders and decision makers in organisations of interest.

Here are some top tips to make the most of what LinkedIn has to offer :

  • Set up your profile with information that you would be happy for a recruiter to see, remember it’s not Facebook so no profile pictures of that regrettable night out where you decided to dress as a 6 foot rabbit!
  • Utilise the groups function and join any that link to your interests or career choices. Make sure you post on subjects that interest you and invite comments from group members.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations of your work. This will provide recruiters with references on tap for them to browse when viewing your profile, don’t worry, you get the opportunity to vet these before they are posted on your profile.
  • Search your contacts personal networks to find other individuals that may be of interest. Remember when requesting to connect to be polite. Adding a personal message can also make all the difference between a potential contact accepting or rejecting your request to connect. It shows you have a real interest to connect and are not just trolling for contacts.
  • Use your contacts to introduce yourself to others, this is a great way of expanding your network and usually requires people to recommend you.
  • Due to the nature of LinkedIn and the fact that social media is de rigeur you are much more likely to get a response from someone via the in system mail function than if you were to contact them via email or phone.

Read more about Social Media Networking on the Career Zone website and book onto one of our Focus on Social Media training sessions through My Career Zone, upcoming dates include:

  • Tuesday 29th January – 3pm
  • Thursday 21st February – 10am
  • Wednesday 6th March – 11am
  • Thursday 28th March 10am

Ask a friend

If you are the kind of person that struggles to interact in a group scenario and find yourself feeling more comfortable attached to just one person, don’t be afraid to ask that person if they can introduce you to others. This is a great safe way of networking and will help to increase your confidence for other events.

Keep your promises

Too often people meet and promise to do things as part of that networking process. Make sure you follow up on promises you make as this ensures that the other person sees you as someone they can trust and who delivers on what they say.

Be prepared

It’s often too easy to find yourself flummoxed with nothing to say when meeting new people. The easy answer is to be prepared and make sure you have a couple of stock questions that you can ask when meeting someone for the first time. Also if you are able to view a list of people attending the event you will be networking at do your research and make sure you have something to ask them when you meet them.

Be yourself

No one likes a schmoozer, people like to speak to people that are genuine and don’t put on an act. That’s not to say that you don’t need to push yourself a little in order for you to initiate that first conversation, just don’t over-do it.

Remember a name

It’s all too easy to meet a contact and within 30 seconds you have forgotten their name because you are concentrating so hard on what to say and trying to not look a fool. A helpful tip is to make sure you use the person’s name in the first few comments you make, this will help reinforce with them that you are interested in them and remember repetition is key, you only have to do this a few times to lodge that name firmly in your head. Finish your conversation by thanking the person for their time and again make sure you use their name at that point too.

In conclusion

Your ability to network and develop your list of contacts will significantly help you when looking for that dream graduate job. Networking is also a skill that you will use throughout your career and remember the more you do it the better you will get. Take the plunge and get networking it’s actually good fun!

Steve Wallers, Employment Services & Placements Manager
University of Exeter

Need a CV that’s all Christmas cracker and no overcooked turkey?

Need a CV that’s all Christmas cracker and no overcooked turkey? Here’s my 14 Festive* CV Blunders and Wonders:

  1. Start your CV with your name, and make it bigger than anything else on your CV. Next comes your contact details including your mobile number and email address. What you don’t want to include is a photo of yourself – in some countries it’s a legal requirement, but not in the UK.
  2. Each section of your CV runs in reverse chronological order starting with the course or job you’re doing at the moment, but don’t live in the past – what you’re doing at Exeter is (usually) more important than what you did at school.
  3. Be proud of your achievements and qualifications, employers love students with passion and drive, but…
  4. …don’t make the section on your A-Levels and GCSEs (pre-university qualifications) longer than the section about your course at Exeter. Employers aren’t looking for lists; they want to see what relevant modules you’re taking and what relevant skills you’re gaining.
  5. Triple check your spelling and grammar. Triple check your spelling and grammar. Triple check your spelling and grammar.
  6. Hobbies and interests are a brilliant way to tell the employer more about you as a person, and about any other skills you can bring to the job. So tell us how your cupcake baking is helping you develop your creativity. But think about what you want to include; being a member of the Pole Dance Society might be fun, but it’s not right for your law internship application.
  7. Your CV should be either 1 or 2 sides of A4. 1 ½ looks like you’ve run out of things to say, and even Lord Sugar wouldn’t have 3 pages. Try expanding or editing your info so it’s a good fit.
  8. Turning up to work on time is nothing to brag about. Everyone is expected to get to work when they’re needed, so swap ‘I am reliable and punctual’ for ‘gained excellent time management skills working in a fast paced retail environment.’
  9. Running your own eBay, Etsy or other online shop looks great on your CV – who wouldn’t want an entrepreneur working for them?
  10. Your CV is all about selling your skills and experience, but keep it relevant to what the employer is looking for. Do they want ‘team players with excellent customer service skills and great communication’? Think about how and where on your CV you’re going to show them you’re that person.
  11. Don’t be funny. Yes, you want a CV that stands out from the crowd, but using humour is a big no-no. You don’t know who’s going to read your CV and you don’t know what kind of mood they’ll be in at the time, so keep everything professional.
  12. Don’t overstate or understate your language abilities. If you can order a beer and loaf of bread you’re not ‘fluent’. Even if it’s malted granary poppy seed roasted onion and chive bread.
  13. Work experience doesn’t have to be paid – it’s what you’ve done and what you’ve gained from doing it that employers are looking for. Great unpaid or voluntary experience equals great work experience.
  14. And finally, repeat after me – ‘The most relevant, most brilliant and most exciting stuff goes on the first page of my CV.’ Because you don’t want to hide your best bits, do you?

For more help and advice we run CV skills sessions and individual CV appointments all year – you can book both through My Career Zone.

*not actually related to Christmas in any way.

Jenny Scarr, Career Zone Information Officer
University of Exeter 

Welcome to the Career Zone blog

Welcome to the University of Exeter Career Zone blog! Here you’ll find tips, advice and resources on all things career related. Our first post is about two very important resources that you need to know about to help you with your career planning while you’re here at the University of Exeter.

1. My Career Zone

My Career Zone

The first is our online system My Career Zone which contains career information and opportunities exclusively for University of Exeter students and recent graduates. Login with your Exeter username and password and you’ll find hundreds of adverts for:

  • Part-time jobs and casual work during term-time and in the holidays
  • Graduate jobs from employers targeting Exeter graduates, some of which you can apply for while you’re still a student
  • Work experience opportunities and internship schemes
  • Jobs and placements overseas, including the Erasmus Work Abroad scheme
  • Volunteering opportunities

My Career Zone is also where you can book onto the huge range of careers and employability events that are run by ourselves and by your College, including:

  • Employer and alumni talks and events on campus, where you can hear about what it’s like to work in certain sectors and what you need to do to get into them
  • Skills sessions to help you become more employable – these might be anything from listening and presentation skills to how to write an effective CV or how to use social media when hunting for jobs
  • Events that count towards The Exeter Award, which provides you with recognition from the University for you extra-curricular achievements

You can access My Career Zone at www.exeter.ac.uk/mycareerzone or you can login from our careers box in the MyExeter Portal. It’s a really fantastic resource, and you can use it for three years after you graduate – so make sure you get the most out of it!

2. The Career Zones

The Career Zone

The Career Zones located in the Forum on the Streatham Campus and in the Exchange on the Cornwall Campus, are open Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm. This is where you can drop-in and use our careers resources (print and digital) and speak to our Information Team who will be on hand to help with a range of enquiries, such as:

  • CV or application form reviews
  • Advice on finding work experience, graduate jobs, or postgraduate study
  • Finding information and advice on interviews and assessment centres
  • Information on our programme of workshops and events
  • Help if you have absolutely no idea what you’d like to do after you graduate!

Check out this video to find out more about the Career Zone:

The Career Zones are split into separate areas:

  • Resources – you can use our PCs to search our online resources and look through over 200 magazine and books on a wide range of employability topics
  • Community & Volunteering – Find out about opportunities with the Students’ Guild such as course reps, volunteering, signing up to societies and activities
  • Employer Zone – Meet employers in a relaxed and informal setting and find out more about their opportunities for you
  • Enterprise & Self Employment – Talk to entrepreneurs and get advice about setting up your own business or becoming self employed
  • Global Opportunities – Explore international work placements, jobs and opportunities abroad, discuss options and gain advice and support with the global employability team
  • Work Experience & Jobs – Come and talk to us about finding casual work, internships or graduate jobs both on and off campus

So don’t be shy – pop in and say hello! We look forward to meeting you and helping you start to think about life after Exeter.

Andy Morgan, Web Marketing Officer
University of Exeter