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Patricia Quinn is the Head of the Careers and Employment Service at Sheffield Hallam University. In this interview, Patricia talks about her career path after studying Ancient History and Archaeology at university, how to search for jobs efficiently, how to use rejection feedback productively and how to build your self-confidence at networking events.

“People love to talk about their jobs…showing an informed interest in what someone does for a living always does the trick.”

What has your career journey been like so far?

I studied Ancient History and Archaeology and started my working life as an assistant county archaeologist before deciding that I preferred to work with live people rather than their remains! After some time in Citizens Advice work I trained to be a careers adviser and worked in schools, FE colleges and with adult career changers before joining the University sector. I did visit a careers adviser in my second year of University and because I ran the University Nightline Service entering advisory work of some sort was suggested: it just took several years for me to find the right sort of advisory work for me and then several more to become a manager within my field.

As the internet is saturated with application websites, what advice would you give a student on how to use time efficiently when applying for work?

It’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of information out there. I’d suggest students and recent graduates use their University Careers Service web site first. These sites are designed to include links to the most up to date and essential sources of information. Careers Service sites are maintained by experienced careers information staff whose role it is to identify and assess new information sources, so they are an excellent place to start.

How should research graduates maintain their inquisitive minds whilst applying for a job?

“It’s so important not to hide your light under a bushel and to be confident about what you have to offer.”

Good research skills are essential for successful job seeking. After the initial stage of identifying the range of options open to you after your course of study, it’s all about identifying what skills and attributes are required for each job area and how you match up to the requirements. You can do this through reading on-line profiles and case studies but I’d really recommend people to arrange some work shadowing to get a real sense of the ‘day in the life’ of someone actually doing that job. You can also use the skills learned as a researcher to prepare and ask questions. Using social media such as LinkedIn is also highly recommended. The important thing is to keep busy and active and constantly add to your skills and experience.

How should an applicant overcome the ‘rejection blues’ ?

In a competitive job market it’s essential to apply for lots of jobs but, of course, that can often mean lots of rejections which can erode your self-confidence and undermine your ability to be able to apply for further posts. Don’t let that become a vicious circle. It really is important to stay positive and remember that just because you didn’t get a particular post it doesn’t mean you weren’t ‘any good’ but because someone else matched the selectors expectations better. Ask for advice on how to ensure your CV or application form will get you on that shortlist and then polish your interview techniques. Maintain a steely determination and keep trying: it will happen!

What’s a good opening line to start the conversation with an employer at a networking event?

People love to talk about their jobs and in all my years as a careers adviser I have found that showing an informed interest in what someone does for a living always does the trick. If an employer discovers that you have bothered to find out about their company or organisation they will be much more willing to engage with you than if you reveal no knowledge at all and they have to spend time explaining things you could quite easily have found out for yourself. Don’t be put off by the fact that someone is in a senior post-everyone has to start somewhere and you will find that it’s the exception to find someone who isn’t willing to help rather than the other way around.

“Get used to talking about yourself positively, and for networking events rehearse how you want to introduce yourself beforehand.”

How should a student overcome the embarrassment and embrace their achievements to attract employers?

It’s so important not to hide your light under a bushel and to be confident about what you have to offer. If I could wave a magic wand to give our students one attribute to help them with their job hunting I would choose self-confidence every time. Candidates who are confident are often the ones that get the jobs. Get used to talking about yourself positively, and for networking events rehearse how you want to introduce yourself beforehand. Many universities run workshops on developing confidence and how to become more assertive.

Many final year students are unsure about what career they wish to pursue after they graduate. What advice would you give to them on how to think about their future?

Some people are able to decide what they would like to do very early in their lives and choose vocational courses with ease. Others may consciously decide not to choose too early, and others struggle to do so. Knowing what makes you tick, researching what jobs are out there, understanding how to decide between options and then developing the skills to make successful applications is a very simplistic summary of a complicated process. Everyone is different, but you should start considering your options before your final year.

NCUB have joined forces with our business and university members to help provide students with the resources, advice and information they need find the right career for them. For more information visit and follow us on twitter @NCUBstudents.

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