This week, SPA Undergraduate News caught up with Ms Julia Paci, Employability and Outreach Manager for the College of Social Sciences and International Studies.
Hi Julia! Good to meet you. Could you first give us a lowdown of your role in the university?
I’m the Employability and Outreach Manager for the College of Social Sciences and International studies. What that means is that I look after the interests of the College’s departments when it comes to delivering the activities we need to provide the best opportunities we can to students to help support their career development and employability skills. This varies a lot from supporting work placement modules and helping develop placement opportunities to bringing in alumni and employers from sectors that are not otherwise represented at careers fairs to create information events and networking sessions.
What are some of the most common questions students ask you when they deliberate on career and employability issues?
There seems to be a sense of “information overload” and actually I find myself constantly sending students links to websites and pointing out where information can be found. Typically, this is on internship opportunities but also on where to look to get advice on writing a CV and cover letter. It’s all fairly basic stuff. What I have tried to do with my ELE page, My Brilliant Career, is to bring together those most requested links and I carry out research and post up useful websites there. It’s quite a long page but it’s got a lot of good stuff on it!
What do you make of the current job market for SPA undergrads?
This is a really interesting question. The job market is the same for SPA students as anyone else. However, I think students, especially in Sociology and Anthropology, need to be more aware of what they have to offer the employer. A few years ago we ran an event on Management Consultancy specifically for SPA students. It was a real challenge getting students to go but the feedback afterwards was amazing. It helped that the employer was willing to work with us and pitch the event in the right way. The overwhelming response was that this was a careers path which was perfect for a sociologist but that without having gone and tested it out, the students would have never known. It goes to show that it’s good to be open-minded!
Over the years, how has the job market changed in terms of recruitment? What are employers looking out for right now?
One of the biggest changes and pressures for students now is the fact that employers see a good 2:1 degree “as a given” and it’s what else that is on your CV that interests them more. This presents a challenge to the students who get a lower degree classification and also to those struggling to make themselves “stand out” from the crowd. My advice to those who are having a wobbly time right now is not to bury your head in the sand and to try and get any job, especially office-based work with manageable, regular hours that you can comfortably fit in with your studies. Most employers feel much more confident about employing someone with experience and a basic understanding of “office etiquette” (reliability, punctuality, good teamwork skills) than someone who hasn’t got that experience. It doesn’t matter where you get the experience – there are some great SCP internships that are offered at the university. This is exactly the sort of thing that employers are looking for on your CV and will make up for any other gaps.
What do you think are the biggest job market challenges facing SPA undergrads now? What’s your advice to them in overcoming these challenges?
I suppose the biggest challenge in the job market is about the perception of these degrees. There is to some extent a natural progression from say sociology in to social work and charity work, but it’s not a clearly vocational degree. In some respects, this is great because the range of careers you can do with any of these subjects. I am constantly amazed at the variety of different professions students with Philosophy degrees go in to. There are no hard and fast rules! However, there are challenges and learning how you can demonstrate to an employer just how career-orientated your degree is, can make all the difference. I would recommend all students at some point in their degree take time to reflect on the career skills you get from your degree. Helpfully, SPA produced a handbook for this which is on the SPA ELE page and more general information is on My Brilliant Career. It will really help when answering application form questions or at interview.
What are the common career pathways that SPA undergrads take upon graduation?
There isn’t a common career pathway! Having said that, I see a lot of SPA students who want to go on to postgraduate study and I think that some students find a vocation during their three-year degree which then involves some kind of re-training. An obvious example is teaching which is popular, but also social work, nursing or law conversions. Other popular career choices are marketing and public-relations. These are careers where you almost always have to start at the bottom and work up. You have to have realistic expectations and set yourselves clear goals of what you want to achieve and by when. We recently piloted an event called “Careers that make society work” which brought together people working in jobs which help others such as charity work, or in areas such as probation and child protection. These areas are also popular with SPA students and I hope to make this event a regular feature of our career events programme for SPA students to attend.
What are the distinguishing qualities that SPA undergrads bring to the workforce?
I can answer this question with two examples but there will be many more. Firstly, SPA students bring to the workplace a number of skills, especially the all-important people skills and an understanding of human nature and what makes people behave in certain ways. This is incredibly valuable in any workforce. Employers are always looking for a balance of new recruits to work together and will identify those who demonstrate these qualities as potential employees. With the new BSc degree in Sociology and Criminology there are additional distinguishing qualities which students can offer with their data analysis skills. Students with these strong credentials bring to the workforce qualities and skills which are much in demand by employers, and on top of that they bring an enquiring mind that can be nurtured and developed by the employer.
And finally, what’s the most satisfying takeaway you get from your job?
I get job satisfaction when an event goes well and I like to think that I organise high quality events with a range of interesting speakers. I like the freedom I have to try different things. Most recently, I have been developing more skills session with employers but with different twists to them, making them more interactive and less reliant on passive listening. I also get an enormous amount of personal satisfaction when I see students that I have helped do well. Sometimes it doesn’t always happen straight away but I keep up to date with their progress on LinkedIn. I get some lovely thank you emails too, which I keep and look at if I am having a stressful day – they always cheer me up!I get job satisfaction when an event goes well and I like to think that I organise high quality events with a range of interesting speakers. I like the freedom I have to try different things. Most recently, I have been developing more skills session with employers but with different twists to them, making them more interactive and less reliant on passive listening. I also get an enormous amount of personal satisfaction when I see students that I have helped do well. Sometimes it doesn’t always happen straight away but I keep up to date with their progress on LinkedIn. I get some lovely thank you emails too, which I keep and look at if I am having a stressful day – they always cheer me up!
Interested to discover more career opportunities the department provides? Then head on down to the Facebook page that Julia runs:https://www.facebook.com/Exetercssisemployability