Joseph Barnsley studied Politics and Parliamentary studies at the University of Leeds and is now the Deputy Web Editor at NCUB. Here he explains how getting involved in a range of things at university – and beyond – led to his current role.
When I was in my final year at Leeds, I was very focused on getting a job – singular. That meant I sometimes found myself dispirited about the competition – every time I wrote about my skills or experience I could imagine someone with more of the same. In the four years since, I’ve learnt how a range of experiences creates a unique overlap that makes you valuable to employers
How I got my current job working for the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), a London based think tank, is the overlap of experiences in my other jobs since graduation.
My first job was at political news website Politics Home. The site monitors what’s happening in Parliament and political discussion in the media. My Politics and Parliamentary Studies degree at the University of Leeds, including placement year in the House of Commons, gave me the necessary knowledge of how Parliament worked. Other candidates may have had a wider range of Westminster experience, but my involvement with Leeds Student Radio (LSR) showed a real interest in and understanding of the media.
Using basic audio software for LSR showed I could adapt to new technical skills. Working for Politics Home I started to learn how to use Content Management Systems (CMS), basic HTML and the principles of posting website content effectively. This was an additional skill I was able to use in my next job, back in the House of Commons, to update my MP’s website.
Working for an MP was a very public facing role and I was interacting with the public and stakeholders every single day. When I decided that Parliament didn’t have the right work-life balance for me, I was able to overlap these two experiences as a freelance web content editor.
The CMS and HTML skills allowed me to post content online, while my public facing experience helped me communicate well with clients. Being freelance allowed me to return to University for my master’s degree in Politics, focusing on public policy and research methods.
When I applied for the vacancy at NCUB as Deputy Web Editor, I offered an overlap of understanding research, policy and effective web strategies – not a specialist in any one field but offering a mix of experience as unique selling point.
Scott Adams, author and artist of the workplace comedy comic Dilbert, who has made $75 million from his creation, explains the principle well:
“I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people…it’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.”
If you’d have told me during my search for that one single job while still at Leeds I’d have four in four years I would have been worried – but research by NCUB shows that employers actually value graduates who move between sectors and job roles early in their career more than those who stay in one job after leaving university. That’s because employers value candidates with flexibility who are able to adapt to new situations easily.
So keep an open mind about valuing all your experiences and trying different things early in your career and you can find the little bit of everything that can land you the job you were looking for at the start.