Sarah very kindly went through a list of questions I asked her about her background, current role and generally what it’s like being a total adult now! Sarah was a class mate of mine while I studied and was one of the nicer lot from the Sociological group. She provided me with lots of laughs in statistics classes where otherwise I would have been pulling out my hair. Through a lot of the responses she gave me, I have ended up finding things out about her that I’d had no idea of when we were studying – I really should have paid more attention! The charity sector is particularly tricky to get into and I know a lot of people are interested to find out more about how they can secure themselves a role.
This post will be what she told me about with a little bit of commentary from me on the side 🙂 It comes in two parts because she was so awesomely thorough.
Part 1 covers the basics for current students or prospective students who want to know how to make the best of things and maximise their time studying to enhance their degree.
Part 2 covers things that would be of interest to people soon to be graduating or any current grads who are looking to get into the charity sector.
Studying at Southampton University and working while completing a degree
“When I started my Criminology degree at the University of Southampton back in 2008 I had no idea what a curve ball life would throw at my career plans. Like many starting at University I had a set idea of what I was going to do once I graduated. For me, I was set on joining the police force in one way or another. I used the summers to get work experience to ensure I stood a chance of achieving this”
I like that Sarah mentions this as it is something that is quite common. As I have mentioned before a lot of students have a set idea of what they would like to do when they graduate (I was one of them) its always good to have a plan B or at least an open mind to other possibilities. Often people think Criminology = police but it’s not the only path.
“First year was topped off by spending a month volunteering in Australia. It was during that summer I applied for a part-time role that would prove to be the start of a move towards where I am now. I became front of house staff at the students union. It was a job I quickly came to really enjoy – alright, it was just sitting on the door, taking ticket money and stamping hands but it also provided me with a solid role where I could begin to take on more responsibilities. Plus it gave me a bit of extra spending money for the cheaper student nights in the week!”
Sarah was really organised from the start! I didn’t do anything to gain work experience or any extra money in my first year! (error) This also shows the importance seemingly small roles have.
“I used the opportunities that the University provided in my second year and applied for a paid summer internship through the careers services – based on my experience on front of house I applied to be an Events Intern for a small disability charity based in Poole called Diverse Abilities Plus. I missed out on the events internship but had impressed them in the interview and they created a 4 week HR role for me at their head office.”
For any of the Southampton students this was done through the Excel Placement Scheme which you should all keep an eye on! This also shows the importance of paying attention to your uni career service which I even used after graduating!
“Determined to gain as many office skills as possible, I threw myself in to the role, working on projects that examined the cost of staff absences across their services as well as turnover and recruitment. Once the internship had finished I arranged work experience that related back to my course still focusing on the police – I shadowed a legal clerk at a Magistrates Court which was certainly an eye-opener, sitting in on sessions passing sentences on drug offenses, fraud and violence. The ward clerk quickly picked up on how keen I was to work in the system and granted me access to the closed family courts – these cases were a real test of my emotional maturity. Being granted access to the files on adoption cases and provided with the opportunity to discuss final decisions with the Magistrates themselves was a real privilege. I followed this up with a night shift in a police fast response car, responding predominantly to domestic violence calls.”
“When my third year of Uni started I was still solid in my decision that the police force was for me – I knew I could deal with the difficult situations officers faced and I knew I felt like I could make a difference. At the same time I was promoted to Venues Team Leader at the Union and became a supervisor for up to 10 junior staff members. This was mainly due to my front of house skills but I quickly had to learn how to change a barrel to make sure that I could do my role in any number of the Union buildings!”
A KEY employability skill I am sure 😉
“Making sure that I balanced my time between work and studies was difficult and I came to enjoy my shifts more than the library – it felt real somehow. To me life wasn’t for having your nose constantly in a book. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the knowledge and the skills that my course was providing me with, but it was fast becoming clear that in the economic climate a degree wasn’t going to be enough. Shortly before I graduated the police cut their graduate recruitment scheme.”
This is something a lot of people in our year graduating experienced in a variety of areas. Cuts to resources and recruitment has made it hard for a lot of people to get into the roles they dreamed of when they first started their degree.
“I came out of Uni with a 2:2 and more determined than ever not to move home and lose my independence. I stayed on in Southampton for another year and took a temping job as the General Hospital as a clinical coding admin assistant (it was nearly as boring as it sounds) whilst also still working at the union – I was working roughly 60 hour weeks. At the end of the summer term 2012, with no money in the bank and very limited job opportunities in the area, I admitted defeat and moved back in with my parents in Greater London.”
“For me this was the turning point. It pushed me to assess my life and pursue what I enjoyed – my role at the union. I began to apply for event internships in London and within 2 weeks had started at the British Red Cross in their national events team. I was given complete ownership of tasks including project-managing the 2012 Great North Run race day. I also focused on the team’s event marketing – researching the use of social media, creating templates for posters and flyers and conducting competitor analysis of how other national charities promote. This was alongside the general admin duties such as responding to event enquiries and mailing letters and fundraising packs. My internship was 4 days a week and I had to learn as I went, barely any of it seemed to directly relate to the skills I’d learnt during my degree but looking back that definitely wasn’t true. As much as I loathe saying it, the statistics modules that featured in my course every year allowed me to put together reasoned arguments and suggestions at the end of projects. On my day off I volunteered at my local Riding for the Disabled group which runs from the same yard where I horse ride. By having a day off during the work week I was given the time to spend on job applications to make sure that they weren’t half-hearted attempts.”
Refining applications and getting into the Charity sector
“2 weeks before my internship finished I approached a charity specific recruiting firm, Kage Partnership Recruitment – if you’re thinking a job in a charity is for you then I’d definitely recommend doing something similar. My consultant, Holly, was amazing – she spent 2 hours talking me through my CV and existing cover letters, pointing out where I wasn’t selling myself and pushing me for financial details for my role (such as how much fundraising the Great North Run had brought in) which provided evidence of the difference I had made. The difference in my applications was enormous and I was quickly getting down to the last 2 in most of my applications in roles she put me forward for. She gave me the best piece of advice – never presume that those interviewing you have read your application and never feel like you’re repeating yourself in an interview. Make sure that you are giving those examples that got you the interview in the first place and build on them – never be afraid to be too specific in an interview, that’s what people want to see!”