Mentors Offered (and needed)

Our Manchester Gold mentoring programme is a competitive scheme giving successful postgrads (and undergrads) the chance to link up with a professional in their chosen career area. Through a series of 4 meetings in the academic year, you get to learn about the work your mentor does, and get hints and tips on how to improve your chances to get into that field.

Not all areas are covered, and it’s limited to about 100 people on the scheme each year, but luck favours those who ignore the odds and think “well, someone’s going to get the chance … might as well be me”. Convince us, by registering at the Manchester Gold website before the deadline of 17th October.

This year, to whet your appetite, we’ve also got a list of the types of potential mentors already signed up and waiting for mentees. This includes mentors from finance & consultancy (eg. UBS, KPMG, Towers Perrin), law (eg. Eversheds), science, IT & engineering (eg. Paterson Institute, IBM, AMEC), creative & marketing (eg. BBC) and more. In particular, we have mentors who are  interested in mentoring through our specialist diversity strands. This includes strands for black and ethnic minority, disabled, LGBT and female students.

We’re also very keen to hear from more potential mentors – which might be you, if you have previous (or current) experience outside postgraduate study which you would be prepared to share with other students. I’ve met so many talented and experienced current postgrads over the years, with amazing work histories, that I know you’re out there – just drop us a line if you’re interested in giving another student a helping hand.


Improve Your CV – Go Back To School

One way of improving your employability and adding to your CV is to encourage today’s school pupils to think about university as an option. At the University of Manchester, we have a range of programmes to link you with local pupils, either in on-campus activities or at their schools. Some of these activities are voluntary, and some of them are paid.

Postgraduates have a real role to play as Student Ambassadors – you’re (hopefully!) enthusiastic about your subject and you’ve had a bit (or lots) more experience than undergraduates of communicating that enthusiasm. To play your part as one of this year’s cohort of Student Ambassadors, you need to register your interest by 5pm on Friday (5th Oct).

This is a great way to demonstrate your skills in communication, planning and organisation, creativity and leadership, and particularly important if you want any teaching role in the future – if you think you might want to retrain as a teacher, you will need recent schools experience to apply for teacher training in the UK.

If, however, you miss this deadline, and you are a current PhD sponsored by a UK Research Council, watch out for Researchers in Residence activities in Manchester – more publicity here later in the semester!

Postgraduate Entry to Medicine – Talk Tomorrow

If you’re serious about getting into medicine in 2009, you should hopefully be on the ball enough to have submitted your application for next year (the deadline each year is 15th October) but if not, there is a talk about applications for medicine and the interview process tomorrow – Stopford Building, Lecture Theatre 6, 1-3pm.

If you’re just thinking about doing a medical degree after your postgraduate qualification, then Alex will be doing more exploratory talks later in the academic year which would be more appropriate for you. There are also resources to help you on our website and a couple of previous blog posts which should get you started :

Take a test – and get paid

Saville Consulting are training HR professionals in using their occupational personality and ability tests and need some guinea pigs to be tested. You’d need to travel to Cranage Hall near Holmes Chapel in Cheshire at the times and dates specified, but you would get some feedback and also a small fee (although there’s no travel assistance as part of the deal).

Interested? See the adverts below – the first is for ability tests (that’s things like verbal and numerical reasoning tests) and the second is for the more in depth occupational personality and motivation questionnaires. Obviously we do offer psychometric tests at the Careers Service (both on-line and in person) but this would be a chance to some individual feedback, and might be of particular interest to our HRM MScs, if you’re not familiar with these tests.


Patents Open Day – London

I know a lot of postgrads are interested in patents, and I spotted that Carpmaels & Ransford are having a couple of open days, one of them just next week. They are in London, so only really of use if you’re prepared to take a special trip down there, but if you’re too keen to wait for the Manchester open days which Mewburn Ellis (and sometimes others) run, have a look :

  • 2nd October, and 11th December, 2.30pm
  • You can get further details at their website, or by phoning 020 7067 1643

Will There Be Any Jobs This Year?

No-one’s going to try and kid you (well, not at the Careers Service) that recruitment is going to be easy this year, though it’s not all doom and gloom.

First the good news – our major Autumn recruitment fairs are currently still buoyant. 

  • The Science, Engineering & Technology Fair has no spaces left for employers, and a reserve list of 20 companies waiting for a space (and that’s at Manchester Central, the massive exhibition space in the centre of the city).
  • The Finance, Business and Management Fair has 90 exhibitors currently signed up. Naturally this is the one we’re keeping a close eye on, having had a few recent cancellations but we still have other companies coming on board. (You didn’t really expect Lehman Brothers to turn up, did you? Although, they were still sounding positive about their recruitment plans when my colleague visited them over the summer!)
  • Our more specialist fairs, the Law Fair and Ethnic Diversity Fair, are still holding their own.

However, there are some worrying but inevitable stories coming out now of talented graduates who had secured their dream jobs in the City, only to be made redundant two weeks in, as the company folded, or who have had their offers rescinded or deferred before they start. (Yes, they can do this. It’s happened before, it will happen again, though I know it’s a hard lesson to learn for postgrads new to the job market.) So far these seem to have been in the companies which have already hit the headlines (Lehman again) or in very specific parts of companies – in some cases the graduates have been offered alternative roles in the company.

If the finance sector is the area you’re most interested in, I’d strongly recommend keeping up to speed with all the news, using the FT, or particularly the student and graduate pages of eFinancialCareers. Their recent articles have covered “So who’s NOT hiring graduates this year?“, “Will banks renege on their offers?” (updated since the original article, given the comments on the article from those who have had offers withdrawn), and “Why you should apply early” (for the few jobs which are around, they might get snapped up long before the official deadline).

We’re not necessarily immune to all this turbulence with local employment in Manchester. On the upside, according to the Manchester Evening News on Tuesday, UBS and Goldman Sachs have been talking about moving some of their back office functions to Spinningfields, following in the footsteps of Bank of New York. However, they also point out that Lehman Brothers had been looking at Manchester as an alternative location, prior to their collapse, so it might just be Manchester’s inward investment team talking things up to avoid outright collapse of the property market – hard to tell.

What we can’t do is tell you who will be the next to pull out of graduate and postgraduate recruitment this year. If we could predict that, we wouldn’t be careers consultants – we’d be earning shed loads of money as financial pundits … though it was an unfortunate coincidence that we sent out e-mails promoting the new HBOS graduate recruitment scheme overnight, given the news that, by breakfast, they’d agreed to a takeover by LloydsTSB. It’s going to be a roller coaster ride this autumn.

UPDATE (at 15:45, 18th September)

In case you haven’t seen the comment below from my colleague, Helen, here’s the latest on the HBOS graduate scheme :

“The good news about the HBOS 2009 grad scheme is… it’s still going ahead! We contacted HBOS this morning and they said it’s “business as usual” as far as their graduate recruitment is concerned so any postgrads interested in finance should still consider applying. As you said “it’s not all doom and gloom”!”

Heritage Careers

Over the next four days, all over England, there are hundreds of properties open to the public for free, as part of Heritage Open Days 2008. Whether you’re Manchester born and bred or have travelled thousands of miles to be at the university, it’s a great way to find little known sites of architectural and cultural interest across the country, including dozens in Greater Manchester – and it only happens once a year.

A bit harder however, is finding work in the “heritage industry”, but there are resources and schemes out there which could help you find a way in.

The Prospects website not only has advertised jobs, but also has in depth information on over 400 types of job, including those in Heritage and Museums Management. Information covers what the jobs involve, case studies, how to get in, whether a postgraduate degree is helpful or whether you need work experience (paid or unpaid – this is frequently an essential part of breaking into these fields), the salaries, links to vacancies and employers and more. Some of the jobs they cover include Heritage Manager, Museums Curator, Museums/Gallery Exhibition Officer and Archivist.

I did a quick search for heritage management jobs currently being advertised, and I was pleasantly surprised that they are out there, though most, obviously, will require experience. However, even if you don’t have the experience at the moment for your ideal job, if you find yourself inspired by a job which is being advertised, at least you can see what they do require, and devise your own career strategy for getting your dream job a few years down the road. Some of the vacancy sources you might find interesting are :

  • ArtsHub Jobs – currently over 200 jobs advertised in the Arts for the UK. Some are at very junior levels, but they cover the whole range up to Director for The Poetry Society (I know, not really heritage related, but I had to get that job in somehow).
  • Guardian jobs in Arts & Heritage – 240 in this category, but only 10 in “Heritage” plus another 40 in “Museums and Galleries”. For example, if anyone is into small arms and military history, the Royal Gunpowder Mill in Essex wants to hear from you.
  • Museum Jobs – if you’re studying for our MA in ArtGallery and Museum Studies, you’ll already know about this, but you might not have heard about it if you’re not on that course, but still want to apply your passion for your subject in a museum setting.

A different route into the heritage industry which might appeal to any of you who want to look at a radical career change is the Careership programme from the National Trust. They recruit once a year (this year, vacancies were advertised for just a week and a half, in April) for the chance to re-train as a National Trust Countryside Warden or Gardener. As an employed trainee, you combine work at a Trust site with college attendance, gaining NVQ qualifications. The scheme attracts both graduates and school leavers, but you must have a real passion for conservation and working outdoors (in any weather). It’s not a well trodden route for postgrads, I’ll admit, but I do see postgrads (and postdocs) who are now ready to do something radically different from academic study and research – this is a test of whether you really mean it …

And finally, what made me write this post? Well, the trigger was my long planned visit to one Heritage Open Day which caught my imagination. As I live near Chester, there are plenty to choose from, but this weekend, I’m hot-footing it to see the remains of the Roman hypocaust – in Spud-U-Like (how could I resist that one?).

I'll have the Dormouse Special to go ...

Fast Stream – Inside Info, Part 2

PLEASE NOTE: This blog post is from August 2008. Although some of the information about the format of the assessment centre may still be relevant, you should check for more recent information if you are currently applying to the Fast Stream.

The Fast Stream website has loads of information about how to apply, but here are a few extra insights into the process. You need a 2:2 to be eligible for some schemes (including the main Graduate Fast Stream) but a 2:1 for some others (eg the Economist and Technology in Business streams).

Applications open on 15th September, and for most posts, close on 30th November (31st October for Statisticians and Economists, but there is a second application round for these starting in February, and GCHQ and some other services recruit separately). In other words, it’s complicated, so check the Fast Stream website for the up-to-date info in case it has changed since I wrote this (or I’ve misread my dodgy handwriting on the recruitment day I attended).

Recruitment numbers do change (sometimes radically) from year to year, but if you want to look at how many people applied and how many were successful, there are reports on the Cabinet Office website for previous years. For example, in 2007, there were only 2 people recruited into GCHQ, though there were over 3000 applicants. Also, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they’re recruiting into the DFID Technical Development scheme for next year, a disappointment to many as it’s a very popular department. If you apply to the general Graduate Fast Stream, you do get asked about preferences for departments at the end of the assessment process (if you get in). However the recommendation is not to name a specific department, but to give an idea of the type of work you’d like to do and find a home department that way. Anyway, they’re always at liberty to reorganise and close departments so you may find yourself moving in future, though most people do stay with the department in which they are first placed.

The numbers of people who apply are pretty high, but don’t let that put you off – even if it’s competitive, someone’s going to get in, and it could be you.

Fast Stream Application and Selection

The Fast Stream has a very comprehensive assessment process, with tests to mimic the work you’d have to do for real if you got through. I’ll talk you through the main Fast Stream assessment process, though it does differ slightly with a couple more stages for the specialist streams (economics, statisticians, diplomatic service etc). Obviously, this is the process as it stands, but as it’s always being improved, there may be some differences when you go through it.

There’s an on-line self-assessment test, which tells you whether it looks like a good fit for you even before you start the application process for real. You need to be realistic, but you can ignore a bad result if you think there are extenuating circumstances (cat sat on the keyboard etc) and still apply, but if you get no further than the first stage, don’t complain that they didn’t warn you.

They use on-line verbal and numerical reasoning tests, where you get the chance for practice (plus, you can always do the on-line test available through the Careers Service as practice – log-in required).

There is then an on-line competency questionnaire, where you choose between statements to say whether they’re like/unlike you. They seem to have done their homework to assess the validity of these tests, and say there’s a good correlation between success in this competency test and success at the final assessment centre.

If you get through this on-line sift, you fill out an application form, but it’s mainly personal details, checking you’re eligible for the scheme, rather than asking you descriptive application form questions. Assuming all is well after that, you get to do an e-tray exercise at a test centre – where they also re-test your numerical and verbal reasoning, just to make sure that it wasn’t your highly numerate granny who did the original on-line tests for you. The e-tray involves an hour to read background information presented to you in a number of (electronic) folders, then several e-mails to respond to, choosing most and least effective responses from a series of choices. This means that they can again come up with a standard score to objectively compare candidates.

From the e-tray onwards, it makes a lot of sense to find out more about the way the civil service works, its relationship to Ministers and a bit about UK politics in general. It doesn’t need to be a detailed knowledge (don’t need to know names of politicians etc) but you’ll feel much more comfortable if you know how different roles fit together. In fact, one of the successful Fast Streamers told us how she didn’t actually realise the difference between Ministers and Civil Servants when she went to her assessment centre – but she didn’t recommend that as a good way to get through.

Assuming you do get through all this, it’s on to the Assessment Centre, the final stage for the main Graduate Fast Stream (though the Foreign Office, the Technology in Business and Clerks for the House of Commons and House of Lords do add another assessment stage, and there are extra tests for Economists and Statisticians). You’ll be assessed by psychologists and civil servants, all trained in a standard assessment process, looking at you against their core competencies.

There’s a one-to-one briefing exercise, with 30 minutes to prepare. Then you give a 10 minute oral briefing on the topic and answer questions for 20 minutes. You don’t get too much info about the topic so they’re looking for your own imaginative ideas.

Then there’s a 40 minute one-to-one interview. It’s a fairly standard competency based interview (“give me an example of …” type questions) based on building relationships and your own ability to learn and improve. As with most good employers, the examples don’t have to be spectacular. They’re more interested in what you’ve made of the experiences that have come your way.

And then there’s the group exercise … Again, it’s not an unusual format, 5 or 6 candidates are given individual briefs on a problem, and a limited time to negotiate an effective solution, such as the best projects to deal with climate change (you know, small stuff like that – you really do get to make a difference in these jobs). The trick is to balance promoting the interests of the department you’ve been assigned to for the exercise, with working constructively with the other departments in the meeting. Time and time again, it was reinforced that being a civil servant is about working effectively with others, being “a decent person” who listens to others and can come to a reasonable agreement. Aggressive or over-dominant negotiators don’t get through, even if they feel they’ve won a good deal for their assigned department.

All the way through, they ask you about how you feel you did on the tests. This is also part of the assessment, looking at your understanding of how you can improve. Therefore, if you think you did really badly at any of the tests, admit it, discuss what you did and how you could improve, and all is not lost (one of the successful Fast Streamers mentioned in the previous post did disastrously on the Group Exercise but retrieved the situation by a candid self assessment afterwards).

Finally, there’s the written exercise, in two parts. My notes get a bit hazy here – I thought you did this at the e-tray stage but I’ve since been told that it’s at the Assessment Centre (but if you do find they’ve changed it and you have to do this along with the e-tray, you’ve got some forewarning!).

You are given a problem to work on, and asked to come up with a policy recommendation. For the first 15 minutes, you’ll be expected to come up with imaginative possible solutions. The strong recommendation was not to self-censor at this stage, and not to rule out ideas because they would be impractical or not cost effective. Then you’ve got 85 minutes to review a dossier of information, analyse it, sorting out the key points from the minor points, and write a persuasive recommendation (practicality does matter here, I don’t think it’s a good idea to use all the weird’n’wacky stuff you generated at this point). The big hint here was, “when we tell you to start writing, start writing!” I’d guess this may be particularly pertinent for postgrads who might be tempted to spend too much time analysing the detail, instead of getting on and delivering a workable recommendation in the time allowed.

If you get to the Assessment Centre stage, you do get written feedback, whether you’re successful or not. If you drop out at an earlier stage, you do get some limited information about how you’ve done on the tests (where you came in the range of candidates) but don’t expect detailed information about your answers.

So that’s chapter and verse on the Fast Stream, other than to say that many of their new entrants do come in from other jobs. It’s a role where experience and maturity really are an asset, so if you don’t get in at first attempt, or want to have an alternative career first, this might still be for you.

Fast Stream – Inside Info, Part 1

PLEASE NOTE: This blog post is from August 2008. Although some of the information may still be relevant, you should check for more recent information if you are currently applying to the Fast Stream.

On Monday I was lucky enough to go to hear about the Fast Stream and recruitment into the UK Civil Service, so thought I’d give you some insights not covered on their website. As there’s a lot to cover, I’ll do it in two parts.

Fast Streamers in Person

The most inspiring part of the day was hearing from a range of recent Fast Streamers themselves.

  • A Statistician with a PhD in Geographical Information Systems (plus a period as a post-doc). He originally came into the Civil Service as a GIS specialist (ie making maps) but as there are only about 10 of them in these roles, he decided he’d have a greater variety of career opportunities if he applied for the Fast Stream Statistician stream (you can do this as an internal applicant). He still uses his specialist information but across a range of departments, and has had periods in some high profile units, such as the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, working on how do you get more houses built in the country (not that anyone’s going to buy them now …)
  • A Graduate Fast Streamer who works in the Home Office. She has also worked on some high profile issues, such as the Asylum Support Process (her first posting) and the issue of dealing with foreign nationals detained at secure hospitals like Broadmoor. These, like many other stories we heard about, mean that you scan the first few pages in the newspapers every morning to see which issues in your patch are getting all the attention today – there’s nowhere to hide if you work in the Home Office.She also had a placement as a policy advisor at Number 10, which meant she didn’t get out of the office much (or at all – and that meant most evenings and weekends as well) but hey, she did get to meet George Clooney. She didn’t say who put himon the guest list but I think we have the evidence here …Gorgeous George and Sarah "Look at what I have to put up with being married to the PM" Brown
  • A “Technology In Business” Fast Streamer who, after doing a Masters in International Business, realised he had a passion for applying IT for public service while working in a local authority. He’s not a techie, but works on trying to make our government IT systems work together, no small task as most of them have been developed over the years as independent systems. He pointed out that the Fast Stream constantly pushes you out of your comfort zone – which is why it’s fun.
  • Another Graduate Fast Streamer who started in teaching, through Teach First, before moving to the Fast Stream, with a quick stopover at a Communications Consultancy, lobbying government, to get a feel for what the other side is like. She was passionate about the privilege of doing the job, making a difference on social policy and having incredible access to senior people. She also pointed out that, coming in through the Fast Stream, you could be a civil servant for 30 years and never do the same job for more than 2 years running.

There were some real personal challenges. You have to be able to deal effectively with work which may conflict with your own beliefs. They suggested the way to cope was to focus on evidence based policy analysis and even if you didn’t personally agree with the government of the day, rationalise your role as working for the UK public who voted for the government in power.

If you think this might be something you could do, then have a look at Part 2 to tell you how to get in.

QED … Life After A Maths PhD

Ardent postgrad blog fans will know this by now, but the big news is … Gooseania has now reached a successful conclusion.

Congrats to Craig on getting through his viva and submitting the final bound copies of his thesis on Friday (I know, you’re all rushing to the Joule Library to be first in line to read it – form an orderly queue, now). As he has decided to draw his blog to a close at the end of his Maths PhD, it forms a great complete picture of the ups and downs of a PhD, from the first post, “Maths Is Fun!” (irony is one of his strong points) to “The End“.

But what next ? Sensibly, Craig has decided to leave celebrity behind and start normal post-PhD life out of the virtual public gaze (maybe he’s off to run an antiques shop like Ronnie Barker?), but it gives me the chance to highlight some of the things you can go on to do with a Maths qualification.

My colleague Graham has just passed me details of two post-doc research positions at Reading and Bath Universities (“Boundary Integral Equation Methods for High Frequency Scattering Problems” if you’re interested – though as they’ve already been e-mailed to all our maths postgrads, this might not be news).

“Research in academia” probably doesn’t surprise you as a career option for mathematicians, but what about Financial Engineer, Medical Statistician, Business Development Manager for the Smith Institute (who research such pressing mathematical problems as “why do penguins rotate their eggs?” – you’ll be relieved they’ve found the answer to that one)? These and more are all on the Plus Careers With Maths Library. It’s not completely comprehensive but does have a wide range of jobs where maths is at the core of the role, or showing the diverse jobs in which mathematicians can find themselves. There are many more areas to explore, including transport planning, meteorology, defence and security applications (eg. consultancy job currently being advertised on our website) and jobs at the interface of maths and other disciplines, such as maths and biology.

And for those looking right now for Maths based jobs, around the world, an obvious resource is with over 950 current job ads outside academia and teaching (including 65 in the UK).