February 15, 2017, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham
Work-place experience: Why you need it and how to get it
This week Debra Fearnshaw, our new Placements Delivery Manager, talks about her professional journey after her Master’s and how it has shaped her view of postgraduate placements.
I’ve been really delighted to take up my new role as Placements Delivery Manager because I know how much difference a postgraduate placement programme would have made to me back when I graduated from my University of Nottingham MA course in 2000. Without the “real world” experience employers were looking for in my chosen sector, I struggled to find a job.
After my MA I knew I didn’t want a career in industry, which I’d explored for a while on completing my undergraduate degree, and was very interested in working in the charity sector. On paper I felt that I had enough transferable experience to match the job descriptions and person specifications which charities were asking for. In practice though, in the smaller jobs market in the East Midlands, third sector organisations wanted new employees to have proven experience in their field. So the interview feedback I got tended to be along the lines of, “We really liked your energy and enthusiasm for the role, and we thought you had the potential, but another candidate had more relevant experience.” I just couldn’t compete.
It was annoying to feel that I’d proved myself academically (I got my MA with distinction) but that no one was willing to give me a chance to get the hands-on policy-making or project-management skills employers wanted me to have. Even more frustrating was when I did have the skills but the fact that they were in a different sector was seen as a disadvantage.
In the end, I felt that to get a job at the level I knew I could perform at, I wasn’t going to get the opportunity in the East Midlands. I didn’t want to under-sell myself, just to stay in Nottingham. So I needed to expand my job search and try a bigger market. Consequently I ended up in London where larger organisations had more scope, willingness and need to test out and develop employee skills. Later, having gained the skills I’d needed, I was able to return to the Nottingham and East Midlands jobs market with more success.
I can’t help thinking that my career route might have been more direct if I’d been able to gain work place experience during my studies; which is exactly where Postgraduate Placements Nottingham – launched in 2009 – comes in. Take just one recent example; the Public Relations placement that we offered in collaboration with the non-profit, re-constructive make-up enterprise Kohl Kreatives. A placement like that would most likely have been perfect in helping me develop the ethically grounded and wide-ranging experience I needed to get started in the charitable sector. Either way, I know I would have grabbed the opportunity with both hands if it had been available back in 2000.
If you want to have the “London experience” then you should definitely go for it, but I knew that for me it was just a way to get experience – choosing the third sector meant that putting down firm roots in London would have remained unaffordable for a long time! If, however, you’re interested in keeping your options as open as possible why not consider a postgraduate placement? You’ll have the opportunity to push yourself and do different things rather than feel safe in your existing bubble of knowledge and expertise. You’ll meet new people, learn about different sectors, and how things work in different environments – all key skills which are necessary regardless of the career path you end up taking.