Category Archives: Advice

Advice on all things career related from a range of people, including careers staff, students & graduates, external organisations and other professionals.

Class of 2019: How is customer service experience relevant to graduate jobs?

Many students and recent graduates are fearful that they lack the experience necessary to impress graduate employers, while overlooking their part time work in areas such as customer service.

Charlotte Hamer, an Employability and Progression Assistant at the University of Leeds writes about how her experience in retail has helped her career progression.


Those of you who have worked in customer service will know. You’ll just know. The customer service environment is like no other. Yet it has given me some of the most important professional skills I possess, which I’ve been able to transfer into every workplace I’ve been in since.

Working in retail

I worked for the same high street clothing retail brand from the age of 16 to 19, both in my home town and when I moved to university. Over those three years I worked with all manner of different people, from different places, of different ages and with different career goals. My ability to work in, and communicate effectively with, a highly diverse team developed incredibly quickly. I learnt to adapt my methods of communication based on the individual. This was particularly important when taking on supervisory role, in order to motivate disengaged staff. On top of that there was the diversity of the customers. At the age of 16 I had no idea that my ability to navigate a conversation with a very angry customer, who insisted they should be able to return the £6 pair of shoes they purchased two years ago and had worn every day since, because the sole had started to come away, would translate today into the people skills I use in my everyday work life.

Developing skills

When I first started working in retail I had never known pressure like it. Seeing a queue of customers building up so long that it snaked around the store while having a pile of returns to complete and a rack of clothes to put out on the shop floor could have been enough to send me into a frenzy. It took me some time but I soon learnt to use the pressure to increase my productivity and effectiveness without becoming stressed. Being able to stay calm under pressure is so important in any position that involves conflicting deadlines and with this being a key theme in graduate recruitment you are sure to impress recruiters with this skill.

Commercial awareness is another skill recruiters are eager for their employers to possess. Being able to express sector specific commercial awareness is usually enough to get you the mark. But you can go one step further by demonstrating a time in which you possessed and acted upon commercial awareness to make a business more profitable. It doesn’t have to be anything big. For me it was noticing when an item of clothing closely resembled that of an item of clothing I had seen on reality TV the previous day and placing that item on the most visible displays to increase sales. It is something simple but really effectively demonstrates to application of commercial awareness.

Valuable experience

I share this with you because so many students have worked at some point in customer service. Yet so many don’t see it as a ‘proper job’ that will impress employers – well I am here to tell you this is not the case. I have made connections with recruiters over shared experiences of customer service and made them laugh with the hilarious stories we customer service veterans have all come across at one time or another.

My advice

So be proud of your customer service background. If it was in retail like me, the restaurant business, or any other area, you’ve already developed so many of the skills that make you incredibly attractive to employers. Whether it’s communication skills, the ability to work as part of a team or under pressure, think creatively about how you can translate these skills to the requirements of a graduate role!

Read more about what is available to you as a member of the University of Leeds Class of 2019

And don’t forget you can continue to access the Careers Centre services once you graduate.

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How I got my job: Applications Engineer at DriveWorks

Ian Prossor is an Application’s Engineer at DriveWorks Ltd, a global software company based close to Manchester. He studied Mechanical Engineering at Leeds, graduating in 2017. He completed an 18-month graduate scheme with the company and is now a full-time member of the team.

My Role

There are a variety of aspects to my role as an Application’s Engineer at DriveWorks. First and foremost, my role involves working with our resellers to support our DriveWorks customers around the world. To provide some context, DriveWorks is a Gold Certified Partner product of SOLIDWORKS and is sold and supported through the SOLIDWORKS reseller community globally. This allows DriveWorks to sell software around the world with only ~40 employees. I have regular web meetings with customers in Europe and the USA, as well as occasional meeting with customers in Australia.
Another big part of my role at DriveWorks is to create and update demos and example DriveWorks Projects to be used at trade shows, to show to prospects and to promote DriveWorks functionality. I have personally worked on the Bi-Fold Door, Enclosure, Kiosk, Cupboard, Shower, HVAC and Picture Frame demos which are all available to try out on our DriveWorks Live website

Teaching and travelling

I’ve also been given the opportunity to teach DriveWorks to students, customers and resellers. I’ve been into universities in the UK to teach the DriveWorksXpress Training and Certification Programme alongside my colleagues and I’ve had the opportunity to teach customers and resellers at our annual Technical Event: DriveWorks World. This year the event will be held in Chicago and I’ll be flying out with other members of our team to train DriveWorks users.  Since all DriveWorks software is developed onsite, I work in close partnership with the Development Team to add and test new features and functionality. With 3 software releases a year, this is a very important and rewarding part of my role!
During my Graduate Scheme, I also achieved 4 globally recognised certifications and have since gone on to achieve a 5th and now I’m working towards my 6th!

Securing the role

I first came across DriveWorks at the Leeds University STEM Careers Fair in my final year at Uni. Following a great conversation with the team, I sought some advice from the Leeds Careers Team to write my CV. I was then contacted for an interview and assessment after which I was assigned a task to complete in my own time and present back to the Technical Team Manager. This presentation was conducted through a Skype, so I used one of the bookable rooms in the Careers Centre. I dressed as if attending a face to face interview which really helped me to get in the right mindset. I would fully recommend taking this approach and using the Career’s centre resources!

My timeline: from undergraduate at the STEM Fair in 2016 to representing DriveWorks at the same fair in 2018!

My advice

  • Try to dress smartly when attending the Careers Fair as it’s important to make a good first impression, however, don’t use what you’re wearing as an excuse not to attend at all. (I was actually in shorts and a t-shirt!)
  • At the Career’s Fair, don’t just head for the big names, or the employers you have researched. Do at least one loop and check out all the stands – you never know what opportunities could be out there!
  • Make a list of where your strengths and weaknesses lie within your field and see if any of the employers exhibiting play to these strengths

Most importantly, make the most of all the resources available through the Careers Centre. I made multiple trips to the Careers Centre to get help with my CV and it was definitely worthwhile.

Take Ian’s advice! University of Leeds students and graduates you can get help from the Careers Centre, with your CVs, application forms and interview preparation so get in touch, we’re here to help.


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Class of 2019: Confessions of an Arts Graduate



University of Leeds Arts Management graduate Victoria Williams reflects on the frustrations she initially felt applying for roles in a competitive field, and how broadening her search left her feeling more confident about achieving her goals in the long-run.


Career aspirations

I recently graduated from my Master’s degree in Arts Management and Heritage Studies, at which point I realised that I could’ve done a lot more job preparation over the course of the year! The arts sector is incredibly competitive, and I applied for many jobs in very varied roles, from Administrative Assistant to Exhibition Coordinator – I just simply wanted to get my foot in the door.

Broadening my job search

Whilst the feedback I received from my interviews was very positive, I lost out every time to someone with just “that little bit more” experience, which felt very frustrating. At that point I realised that my degree was not going to be enough, and learned that a lot of people working in the arts had done countless internships and volunteering positions to put them in the front of the queue when organisations were hiring. This was when I broadened my job search even further, applying for entry level roles in unfamiliar areas such as careers which I currently work in, where I’m able to tie my existing experiences and skills into the job.

Securing a job with Careers Centre support

I applied for my current role as Employability and Progression Intern, and also made an appointment with a Careers Consultant at the Careers Centre to check over my application beforehand. This paid off and I got invited to the Assessment Centre, for which I made another appointment just to be on the safe side. The advice I received was definitely beneficial, and I was offered a position as one of nine interns.  My role includes working in a team in addition to independent work, as well as project management which I’m really excited about. I’m hoping that these areas will strengthen my CV with valuable work experience, putting me in a stronger position to apply for more arts roles in the future.

My advice

I would tell anyone who has found themselves in a position of struggling to get a job in their chosen career field (like I had) to not give up, and strongly encourage them to think outside the box. Consider positions which you may never have thought of, but where your existing skills can be transferred. It’s also really important that the job description sounds interesting to you, or that you admire the work that the company does. There’s nothing worse than starting your first job after you graduate, hating it, and ending up back in the job hunt after your first week.

Another thing to reiterate is that the likelihood is you won’t be stuck in your first job forever, so absorb everything you can and take on every opportunity to make your CV amazing for your next role.

Read more about what is available to you as a member of the University of Leeds Class of 2019

And don’t forget you can continue to access the Careers Centre services once you graduate.



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Campus internship: What I’ve learned during my internship at the Cultural Institute 


Steph Bennett is a joint honours History and English student, currently undertaking a year in industry placement at the Cultural Institute. Now halfway through her campus placement year, she reflects on her experience to date.

This role is part of the campus internships- exclusive to University of Leeds students they are a fantastic way for undergraduates to secure paid work experience.  To find out how to register your interest and receive updates visit the Leeds Internship Programme page.

Why I applied

I was initially attracted to a placement year at the Cultural Institute because I wanted more experience in the cultural sector. My personal tutor had frequently recommended taking a year out between second and third year to either do an industrial placement or to go abroad, but at first I dismissed this idea in favour of continuing straight to third year. However, when on a whim I read the job description for the Cultural Institute internship, I was intrigued about the prospect of working with such influential arts organisations in the city like the Thackray Medical Museum, Henry Moore Institute and The Tetley. Financially, the idea was also attractive because I wanted to have a comfortable cushion which I could potentially use to fund a postgraduate course. I thought that gaining some experience would be valuable after graduation as I have grudgingly accepted that graduate roles are often difficult to obtain in the arts sector and are often poorly paid.

The interview

When I was invited to interview, I had to prepare a presentation about the cultural industries, which began to develop my thinking about the wider context of the sector from the start. I hadn’t been sure how relevant my experience as a History and English student would be to the role — I’ve volunteered for English Heritage and the West Yorkshire Archive Service for over a year and had a year-long internship with the School of History, but was unsure if this would be applicable to any role outside of an archive or heritage position. However, my previous experience was seen favourably by the panel because of its relevance to the wider cultural industries. I was delighted when I was offered the role, and began my internship in July 2018.

From nervous beginnings to dream work experience

Unbelievably, I am now six months in, or half way through my placement. At first, a placement year seemed daunting, and I was nervous about what might be expected of me in a professional setting after the flexibility of student life. I anticipated the stereotype of the intern: making cups of tea and photocopies. In reality however, my initial idea of the role has been transformed entirely. My colleagues at the Cultural Institute made it clear that the internship is a development role and really took my ambitions into account so that I had opportunities to flourish professionally. After mentioning my interest in gaining experience in a museum setting, they arranged for me to take a placement with Leeds Museums and Galleries.

Primarily working alongside the curator of Archaeology, Kat Baxter, I’ve developed skills in object-handling and analysis, preservation of materials, cataloguing and accessioning objects, and how also valuable experience of how exhibitions are planned and run. This placement will now continue until the end of my internship in June 2019, and I’m excited to work with Kat on the Egyptology and numismatics collections alongside the medieval objects that I have been focussing on until now. I am hoping to use this experience to delve further into the museum sector and eventually develop a career in a museum setting after graduation.

Understanding the sector

Crucially, through my role at the Cultural Institute I’ve deepened my understanding of the current problems facing the cultural and creative sector, and the strategies being implemented to combat them. For example, by researching news and strategy information and compiling monthly briefing reports for colleagues at the University, I’ve developed a strong understanding of the cultural landscape at the moment. I’ve reported to colleagues throughout the University, and prepared briefing materials for important meetings, supporting the team and ensuring that everyone is updated with the relevant information. However, I still feel there’s more to learn, and I’m looking forward to another six months at the Cultural Institute with new challenges.


As an English student, I have always prided myself on my writing ability, but the placement has so far offered new opportunities for writing for many different purposes and audiences. I’ve learned that clear communication is key to the running of such a small team, and I have a keener appreciation for the value of teamwork. I have learned how to write detailed shorthand notes and compose minutes for meetings in the chosen style of the University, but also adapted to the sense of style, tone and purpose for the Cultural Institute’s social media platforms and understood how to engage an audience through various methods to boost interaction. Building on journalism skills acquired through writing and editing for The Gryphon Arts, I’ve collaborated with DARE to publish blog posts to boost engagement on their site. I conducted a series of professional interviews with academics across the University about some of the programmes such as Leeds Creative Labs. These articles have been published on the DARE website and have helped to increase engagement and communication about the Leeds Creative Labs.

Workplace skills

My placement year has also developed crucial administrative skills, and I’ve enjoyed settling into a professional office environment. I employ these skills to support my team in the booking of venues, catering and managing attendees and guests. I have supported my team in the running a range of events, including Light Night 2018 and the launch of an Arts and Health network in collaboration with Leeds City Council, building my confidence with event management and project development. Training opportunities have boosted the breadth of my experience of finance and travel administration, so that I can confidently support my team with anything that they may require.

A highlight of my time so far is the opportunity to independently coordinate a project between Opera North and Leeds University Libraries’ Special Collections, where I have developed policies which will be used to assess which materials should be included in Opera North’s archive. I enjoyed researching material acquisition in archives and museums. This independent, desk-based research was a good way to become familiar with new topics and concepts, and I hope will be useful in my future studies. This project will eventually yield an archive collections policy for Opera North, creating a resource to enable practitioners to make decisions about Opera North’s history is retained and ultimately creating a lasting legacy that researchers and students can use.

Support from colleagues

Having worked on a range of projects, both long and short-term, I’ve successfully managed to build various skills that will be transferable after graduation and into my chosen career path. My goals for the future are clearer than they were previously, and I now know the wealth of opportunities and resources that are available to help with this endeavour. I didn’t expect to make such close friends with my colleagues at the Institute, but I’m incredibly grateful for their enduring support. Having such lovely co-workers is a comforting thought whenever I am unsure about anything and need to ask for help. It is a fantastic working environment; intelligent, diligent and witty, and I can confidently say that I have never had a more enjoyable role.

The next six months

I am keen to continue my professional development in the final six months of my role at the Cultural Institute, which I’m sure will pass swiftly. In the next few months, as well as continuing my placement at Leeds Museums and Galleries with Kat Baxter, I will be commencing a large joint project with colleagues at Student Services to compile a report on student opportunities in the cultural and creative sector. The data has never before been analysed and shared across the University, but is incredibly important when developing new modules and placements for students in Leeds, so I’m looking forward to leading a project that will have real impact.

My advice

I am really glad that I decided to apply for the role, it’s truly amazing what can happen. I’m eager to improve my skills so that by the time I graduate I can be confident when applying for roles in the cultural sector. To any students that are considering a placement year,  I really couldn’t recommend it highly enough. With passion and enthusiasm, you may just be surprised about how much you can achieve.

There are still campus internships available now- including placement year opportunities- but they are closing soon.  For more information and to apply visit the jobs section on the University of Leeds website

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10 things students should know about the UK graduate labour market


As 2019 begins here is a myth busting insight into the graduate recruitment market.

University of Leeds Careers Adviser Suzie Bullock  summarises the keynote speech from the Institute of Student Employers conference delivered in December 2018, by:

Tristram Hooley, Chief Research Officer at the Institute of Student Employers, and Charlie Ball, Head of HE Intelligence at Graduate Prospects.  For more information, see the full presentation: 10 things you should know about the graduate recruitment market

So, the UK graduate labour market, what should you know?

  1. It doesn’t exist.
    Instead there is a series of discrete, usually urban regional labour markets that often influences the markets around them.  Remember, most people in the UK are not graduates and most jobs are not at graduate level.
  2. It is quite stable.
    The past is a fairly accurate guide to the future. Graduate jobs next year will probably be the same jobs as last year. Don’t expect radical changes. Graduates should see a steady salary increase.
  3. It doesn’t look too bad right now.
    For graduates, the recession ended in 2013. There is low unemployment among graduates and the postgraduate career development loan system is working. But warning signs are showing.
  4. The B word.
    A recession is looming and that, combined with Brexit, is likely to lead to economic vulnerability. Recruitment is slowing down but the impact on graduates is less.
  5. Place matters.
    London is the biggest graduate job market in the country, followed by: Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds – around a third of all graduates started work in these four cities in 2017 .  London is the least cost effective city to live in, Derby is the best, with Sheffield, Newcastle, Plymouth and Southampton close behind. Graduates are becoming concentrated in larger cities with local towns finding it hard to recruit graduates.  The cost of living is making graduates less mobile – to live in London it is estimated that a starting salary of £29,000 would only just cover the cost of living. This is having an effect on employers and, for example, PwC is moving out of London to more regional centres as they recognised that only a third of graduates wanted to move to London.
  6. Employers are using a mix of approaches to recruitment selection.
    While most employers say they rely more on a competency-based approach, 55% are combining approaches to include competency-based questions alongside strengths- based questions, technical questions and values-based questions. Employers continue to use different approaches to recruitment with 89% of Institute of Student Employers’ organisations reporting that they use assessment centres, 71% use psychometric tests, 71% use face to face interviews, 66% screen CVs, 58% screen by degree classification and 39% screen by phone interview.
  7. There is a significant shortage of graduates now.
    There are severe shortages in these roles: nurses; programmers and software development professionals; HR and recruitment; medical practitioners; welfare and housing associate professionals; business sales executives; IT user support technicians; sales account and business development managers; marketing associate professionals; general and specialist engineers; managers and directors in retail and wholesale; design and development engineers; web design and development professionals; vets; chartered and certified accountants.
  8. Life isn’t fair.
    Former public and independent school pupils dominate the UK labour market. But employers say they want to increase their intake of students from state schools and improve the diversity of their workforce so are trying out blind recruitment techniques and removing potential barriers, such as UCAS points.
  9. Graduate schemes aren’t everything.
    Other options to consider are larger companies recruiting ‘direct to desk’; large companies that aren’t big enough to have a graduate scheme; SMEs; non-graduate roles; and self-employment.  30% of graduates went to work for companies with fewer than 250 employees.
  10. There is a lot we don’t know.
    Most data comes from very early in a graduate’s career. Someone graduating in 2018 is likely to still be working in 2070. Based on those figures, someone retiring now, would have started work in 1966.

Remember, we are here to help you with all things career related;  making choices or plans, supporting you with applications, interviews and more.  See our Careers Centre website for details on how we can help you.


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A career in Recruitment – what’s it all about?

Annie Moss2

University of Leeds English & Philosophy graduate Annie Moss completed her degree studies in 2018, she now works for Xpertise Recruitment.  Annie’s placement year in a recruitment consultancy  helped her to understand that this fast paced challenging, rewarding profession was for her.  Here she offers insight and advice on how it could be the right career for you.

How I got into Recruitment

I graduated in 2018 from Leeds University with an industrial degree in English and Philosophy, then I went straight into recruitment. Possibly not the most obvious choice considering my degree background, but definitely the right one for me.

I got into recruitment when I was researching industries for my placement year. I didn’t know anything about recruitment at this stage and was looking at roles in marketing, supply-chain, HR, (you name it, I applied for it)!  Then I came across recruitment and after spending one day in the office to have a look round, I realised that it was a really good fit for me.

Why a career in recruitment?

Because recruitment is a fast-paced, lucrative, challenging profession. In the words of my manager, “if you want to progress in your career and achieve your financial goals quickly, then recruitment is a great industry to be in.”

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How I got my job: Digital Marketing and PR

Lucy Bolland

Lucy Bolland graduated in 2017 in MA Advertising and Marketing from the University of Leeds. Currently an Outreach SEO & PR Specialist at Hub MDP she also has her own blog Life of Luce. Before moving to Leeds to study she completed a BA in Public Relations at the University of Sunderland.

My first graduate job

In September 2017, roughly two hours after handing in my dissertation, I bagged myself a role as a Marketing Assistant at a designer ladieswear shop in Sheffield. I ultimately wanted to stay in Leeds, but with huge competition from other graduates and no real digital experience other than my own blog and social media channels, I began to realise how I may have to make personal sacrifices at this early point in my career.

In my first role since graduating from my masters, I discovered more about a website’s CMS (Content Management System). I’d very much recommend setting up a blog before graduating, as I already knew the basics of navigating a websites backend which really helped me with my first role.  I also learnt the basics of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), which would then lead me into my next role.

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