The Career De-Stress Series: Helping you take some stress out of career planning

In my role as Employability and Careers Consultant, it’s always a mixed bag of conversations and situations, but one thing is clear

Kate Foster Careers Consultant
Kate Foster – Employability and Careers Consultant.

– life for students is currently challenging and stressful – but we are here to help, advise and support you to be in the best place you can be with your career planning.

There is no doubt we’re all living through unique and complex times, add in the usual pressures of University and  life in general – deadlines, assignments, dissertations and demands on our time. I’m not surprised that making career decisions elicit feelings of stress, even panic and avoidance, if you don’t know where to start.

Help is at hand as the Career Zone is here to support you. Our staff have a wealth of expertise and experience to offer students and graduates, and we’ve put together a range of online sessions and podcasts to help guide you through making career decisions and developing employability skills as part of our Career De Stress campaign this week (18-22 January).

We’re all pushed for time trying to fit in as much into our busy lives as possible. If this is you and you’re feeling overwhelmed consider signing up to our Time and Stress Management and Personal Resilience sessions. You’ll have the chance to explore not only how you’re feeling but also through sharing experiences realise that you are not alone. You’ll also pick up some great practical tips and techniques.

Do you dread being asked about your future career plans, and find yourself starting to avoid those people who might ask you?

It can be overwhelming not knowing what to do and where to start, but instead of putting it off and burying your head in the sand (apologies for the cliché) think about booking onto the Choosing a Career session. You’ll find out about different ways of exploring careers, and have the opportunity to focus on YOU in terms of what is important to you and what motivates you.  Our fantastic colleagues in Wellbeing are also working with us as part of “Career De-stress” so look out for the following sessions – Looking after yourself whilst Exploring Careers and Disclosing a Disability to a future employer. These focussed sessions will enable you to not only focus on the key elements of making a career decision or finding a supportive employer, but also explore resources and sources of further help, and identify practical tips and techniques to enable you to manage those stressful situations such as the dreaded recruitment Interview!

If you don’t have much time our podcast series may be just the thing for you as you can download and listen in your own time – Topics include “Delegation”, “How will graduate jobs be impacted by COVID-19”, “How can I beat Interview nerves?” and “How do I choose a Career?”

In addition, there is a wealth of online resources available including the Career Planning section of the Career Zone website, which is organised around Decide, Plan, and Compete – with hints, tips and resources aimed at whatever stage you are at with your future decisions.

My Career Zone Digital includes some great interactive information including professional insights into different industries and sectors, and online tools (like video interview practice) where you can improve your skills and confidence.

My top tip would be…..start somewhere…… look at the Career De stress activities. Grasp as many opportunities as you can and break out of your comfort zone.

Planning and managing your career is a lifelong employability skill so this won’t be the first or the last time that you’re faced with deciding what to do and which direction to take. Some people find it easier (or appear to find it easier!) than others.

My top tip would be…..start somewhere…… look at the Career De-stress activities. Grasp as many opportunities as you can and break out of your comfort zone. You never know what you’ll find out about yourself, you might even start piecing together some ideas for a future career.

For further information on Career De-stress and to book onto sessions –

Apply Yourself

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

Jenny Woolacott-Scarr, Career Zone Information Officer

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing with the weird ones…

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

Final thoughts…

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

Good luck!

Impress and Progress

Looking for graduate jobs after your studies can feel like a daunting experience, and with potentially thousands of applications streaming through their email inbox every day, you need to have a plan of attack to stand out from the crowd.

Matt Arnerich (left)  and Arthur Ashman, Head of Talent Development InspiringInterns
Matt Arnerich (left) and Arthur Ashman, Head of Talent Development at InspiringInterns

Matt Arnerich talked to Arthur Ashman, Head of Talent Development at graduate recruitment agency InspiringInterns, about his top tips for keeping your recruiter on side.

  • Have a Balanced Approach

If you get the chance to meet your recruiter in person or over the phone, it’s important to keep a balance between enthusiasm and politeness. ‘When we interview candidates we love them to have enthusiasm and a genuine passion’ Arthur says, ‘but it’s important this doesn’t spill into arrogance’.

According to Arthur, it’s important you remain humble, while coming across as confident and professional. ‘At the end of the day, we have to know that you’ll shine when we put you forward in front of our clients, and if you can impress us, we know that you’ll impress them’ explains Arthur.

  • Honesty Really is the Best Policy

When you’re first entering the job market, it’s tempting to exaggerate your work experience or grades. While you might think you’re bypassing certain filters, it will always damage you long-term.

‘We do thorough research on all the graduates we decide to put forward for roles, and the chances are we will find out if you’ve been misleading on your CV’ says Arthur. It can be damaging for their reputation to pass on candidates to clients who then find their interviewee has been misleading.

‘If we find out you’ve not been truthful, it’ll damage your chances far more than if you’d been honest to begin with, as we can’t take the risk of putting you forward to the clients,’ explains Arthur.

‘When we interview candidates we love them to have enthusiasm and a genuine passion.’

  • It’s Not All About You

This is an important tip, not just for how to keep your recruiter on side, but how to impress potential employers looking to hire a graduate. It’s easy to focus on the skills and experience that you have, but really, your focus should be squarely on how those skills will benefit your employer.

‘If you have a huge range of diverse skills, but can’t equate them to how they’ll aid the company, then employers are unlikely to be interested’ says Arthur, ‘in essence, we’re a sort of gatekeeper to our clients, we only want to let the best through, but if we think you’re good enough we have a lot of authority as we have a direct line to interested companies’.

  • Email Etiquette is Important

When you move into the graduate jobs world, you’ll inevitably be faced with daily email duties, whether internally or getting in touch with prospective and established clients. ‘You need to make sure you’re professional in your email exchanges with us’ Arthur is quick to point out, ‘please don’t be over-friendly, as it just comes across as insincere’.

Arthur suggests using the recruiter’s name wherever possible, and avoiding ‘mate’, ‘pal’ or other colloquial references. ‘Finish off with Regards or, Kind Regards instead of Cheers’ he explains, ‘and please double check your spelling and grammar before you hit the send button!’.

  • Never No Show

‘We don’t mind if you’ve got another opportunity’ says Arthur ‘but please let us know as soon as possible’. Simply not turning up reflects incredibly badly back on them, Arthur says, and therefore increases the chance they won’t want to work with you anymore.

Even though it’s tempting to jump at the chance of a more attractive opportunity, don’t schedule it at the same time as an existing commitment unless you have to. ‘Companies will normally have no problem provided you explain that there’s a scheduling conflict’ according to Arthur, ‘in fact, you’re likely to come across as a stronger candidate if they know they’re not the only one interested in you.’