Daniel McGibbon, a blogger from our MEDIA programme, shares the top tips he has learned about breaking into the media and communications sector.
There is no one route into the industry.
The beauty of entering the media and communications sector lies in its lack of a standardised process. There is no established set of hurdles to clear to get a job. In the points below, I’ll explore some of the vast array of opportunities, methods and avenues to enter the sector. The door is open to anyone with the drive to succeed!
2. Writing experience is invaluable
Having experience in writing is crucial when beginning a career in media and communications – the clue is in the name! Make sure to jump at any opportunity to gain writing experience. Whether it’s proofreading or article-writing as a university or school commitment, these are invaluable experiences to boast about when developing a professional CV.
3. Build a portfolio
Employers seek people who are accustomed to writing and purveying concise, engaging information. Practicing your skills through something as minimal as a regular blog post shows not only an ability to write, but a commitment to your passion. Find inspiration through reading industry professionals’ work or using resources like The Associated Press Stylebook and develop a portfolio of writing to showcase your ability to potential employers!
4. Find an internship
It’s not a simple task to land a permanent job in media and communications without having some prior, relevant experience. This is an initially daunting thought but it’s a lot more achievable than you might think.
Everyone must start somewhere, and local work experience, summer internships and similar temporary positions offer an invaluable introduction to the sector! Whether it is assisting at a local radio station or getting accepted to a short-term internship with a media organisation, all relevant experience will make you an attractive candidate for a permanent job. It’s as simple as reaching out and asking if they’ll take you on board for some work experience.
It is important to remember that these experiences are largely unpaid. Whilst big corporations are attractive, they typically exist in cities with huge living expenses that make unpaid positions untenable for someone starting out. Make sure to focus your energy on sustainable experience.
5. Look for an apprenticeship
Another entry point to media and communications exists in the shape of apprenticeships or long-term internships. This avenue offers fantastic experience of how a career in this sector operates daily. This can consist of positions anywhere from television production to online content creation. Check out sites like Idealist for some inspiration.
6. Put yourself out there
Ultimately, there are any number of valid and legitimate ways to enter media and communications, you just have to take the first step and look for openings! Write and read about your interests, ask around for work experience, and most importantly APPLY FOR THE JOB! There are vacancies out there waiting to be filled, it’s up to you to make yourself noticed and prove you want the job.
Mark Gallagher, Careers and Work Placement Consultant in Queen’s School of Biological Sciences offers an insight into graduate opportunities the Life Sciences Sector offers.
What is the Life Sciences sector?
The Life Sciences in the broadest sense can encompass study and work related to all living organisms and so can have a very broad definition which can range from agriculture to zoology (A-Z). The Life Sciences sector spans a huge variety of career areas, including, but not limited to, pharmaceuticals, biomedical engineering, environmental management, food and nutrition and scientific research. Companies may be involved in areas including research and development, drug discovery, diagnostics, analytical testing and can range from small research intensive companies, with a small number of employees, right through to large multinationals employing thousands of people.
What kinds of careers options do Life Sciences students have?
Career areas are very broad in the life sciences – and at various levels, straight from a BSc qualification to roles that may require additional levels of qualification and up to PhD. Here are a few of the main areas of employment:
Research & development – The focus of research and development (R&D) is mainly on creating products, processes or commercial applications using innovative multidisciplinary approaches. R and D takes place in Universities but also in industry within smaller medical biotech companies or parts of companies tasked with process and product improvements. To work in R and D typically you are encouraged to further your level of qualification to at least MSc if not PhD level.
Quality assurance and product Manufacturing – Quality Assurance (QA) or Quality Control (QC) involves ensuring that products are manufactured in accordance with recommended standards, and requires analysing raw materials used initially through to finished products. Companies in the sector are highly regulated so Quality is key at all stages of production with a variety of repeat analytical tests being undertaken to ensure products are safe to use. Careers can also involve monitoring environmental factors like water and air quality for contaminants which could potentially impact on process or product quality.
Science Business roles – Opportunities for regulatory affairs officers are commonplace in the sector as are roles to develop new markets and business for products, or providing expertise and consultancy to support products – roles which don’t involve lab work but the understanding you gain from a science degree is essential to carry out the role effectively. Regulatory affairs officers ensure the appropriate licensing, marketing and legal compliance of products, and work with documentation and medicine approval authorities throughout the world. Products developed as a result of research and development will need to find markets in which to be sold – and that creates opportunities for science graduates to help develop those markets, by approaching health authorities and companies to explain the features and benefits of products developed – so if you are a science graduate who is keen to use your communication and persuasion skills this could be the route for you.
Clinical trials – All medicines must undergo clinical trials before they are granted licences. Scientists are involved in setting up trials to ensure that new products are safe for use. You could be involved in a variety of roles ranging from lab-based research, through to using data analysis programmes to analyse and interpret results, or managing and monitoring trials by visiting hospital sites and liaising with nurses and physicians to ensure the trials are running appropriately.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in building a career in this sector:
Be open to new things – at University your Careers Service will offer a host of opportunities which present an opportunity to try something new. This could be applying for periods of experience abroad, events that seek to attract students from all disciplines, career development programmes and classes that are optional to attend but specific to your degree. Get involved and set time aside outside your studies to develop skills and knowledge of options and the labour market – it’s never time wasted.
Focus on what you can control – you can’t control the unexpected such as COVID and the wider economic impacts. You can though control how you present yourself to employers and ensuring that your applications are at a high standard – giving yourself every opportunity to gain an entry level position. Use the expertise that exists in your Careers service to help with this.
Be smart and organised in your job search – you now have access to thousands of vacancies at your fingertips, but making online job applications can be tough. It’s better to make a small number of high quality applications rather than make multiple applications. Start to analyse job specifications thoroughly, look at the essential and desirable criteria for jobs of interest. For more experienced roles that grab your attention work out how you can address any skill and experience shortfalls. Speaking to people is also something I really encourage (don’t just email!) – whether that is people working in similar roles to those you are interested in, making enquiries directly to companies or attending career and networking events, these types of interactions can all help boost your confidence and also gain insights into what employers actually value in prospective employees – this in turn can help inform future job applications.
Attitude and approach are key – focus on developing your reputation for high quality work, reliability, integrity and being a good colleague to work and collaborate with. The skills and knowledge you take with you from University will be invaluable in understanding the areas you work in – but always continue to develop your skill set, the way we work is changing quickly – many employers value your attitude and willingness to learn equally as they do your knowledge and skills.
About the blogger:
I’m Mark Gallagher from Queen’s School of Biological Sciences. I work with three key groups of people – students, employers and academics. The key focus of my own role is the development of student employability from first year right through to Master’s level students. If you are a student looking to explore a career in the Life Sciences sector, don’t miss my blog featuring a Q&A of everything you have ever wanted to know about the sector.
I encourage students to develop themselves by undertaking work experience placements which form part of a degree programme, to get involved in some of the programmes that the Queen’s Careers, Employability and Skills service run throughout the year as well as encouraging involvement in extra-curricular activities that help develop confidence and transferable skills (which are key for employers we work with).
I also work with a large number of employers throughout the year, these are typically employers who are interested in recruiting placement and graduating students from the School.
We run a very successful work placement programme within the School of Biological Sciences where each year our undergraduate students undertake a one-year placement as part their degree programme. Many of our students work in the Life Science sector locally and throughout the UK joining established employers big and small, as well as gaining experience with Biopharmaceutical manufacturing companies in ROI. In a typical year, 20% of students will move outside NI to gain experience, with many travelling internationally. All placements are quality assured to meet our course learning requirements and students and employers are visited during the course of a placement to ensure everything is progressing as anticipated.
We have 8 undergraduate programmes in the School which are quite different so it’s important to ensure our labour market information is current and conveyed to students ensuring they know what their options are. Students can also book one to one appointments throughout the year, and in recent months these appointments have moved online.
Two types of consultations are available – 30 minutes to discuss any aspect of your career management or 15 minutes to receive feedback on your CV or LinkedIn profile.
The aim of these consultations is to support you so that you can successfully manage your own career. As a result, students and graduates are limited to no more than 5 appointments per academic year. Most people use only 1 or 2 appointments in any year.
When should I start thinking about career management? It’s important to focus on your studies but the application processes for graduate schemes and taught postgraduate study start to open in the September/October of your final year. Many employers hire graduates that they already know through placements or internships, so it pays to start career planning sooner.
Am I on the wrong course? Many students have doubts about their subject choice at various times throughout their time at University. It’s important to be proactive in handling these doubts. Don’t just give up and stop attending! Targetjobs have some useful advice to help you understand the root of the issue and what to do next. Book an appointment with a Careers Consultant to discuss career options related to different subject areas and speak to your Personal Tutor (if applicable) or Adviser of Studies if you are considering changing to a different course.
To turn this into a shortlist of career options, it’s important to consider what’s important to you in a career e.g. your motivations, the skills you enjoy using and where in the world you want to live.
Gain further insight into different roles and companies by attending Careers events.
How do I stand out from the crowd? – Get some international experience – read our Study / Work Abroad pages – Get some work/volunteering experience – see Careers Events – Gain accreditation for engaging in employability-enhancing activities through DegreePlus
I want to start my own business – QUBSU provides support to Queen’s entrepreneurial students and recent graduates – Opportunities for developing entrepreneurial skills can be found on the DegreePlus website
Our friends over at TARGETjobs have collated this list of tricky interview questions with tips on how to answer them. Read the full article here.
‘What is your most significant achievement?’
This question is designed to assess your values and attitude as much as your achievements, and employers often want you to talk about your activities outside education. You’re more likely to come across well if you choose to discuss something you’re genuinely proud of, which could be because it involved leading others, overcoming obstacles or persisting in the face of the odds.
‘What motivates you?’
You are particularly likely to be asked about your motivation in a strengths-based interview, which focuses on what you enjoy doing and what you do well. This is an approach that graduate recruiters are increasingly using alongside or instead of competency-based questions.
Your answer should draw on an example from your extracurricular activities, work experience or studies that suggests you would be strongly motivated by the job you are applying for.
‘Give an example of a time when you showed initiative.’
If an interviewer asks you to describe a situation in which you showed initiative, avoid giving an example of an idea you had but never put into action. It’s much better to talk about a time when you not only came up with a solution to a problem but also acted on it.
‘What is your biggest weakness?’
The problem with this question is that you’re being asked about your shortcomings, when your instinct, in an interview situation, is to keep your flaws as well hidden as possible. What you need to do is to frame your answer to as to give it a positive spin.
Strengths and weaknesses can be different sides of the same coin, so another way to approach this question is to think about how you overcome the potential downside of your greatest strength. For example, if you’re a natural teamworker, is it difficult for you to cope with conflict or assume leadership abilities? How do you cope with this?
‘Are you innovative?’
Graduates are sometime asked to give an example of when they were innovative, ‘thought outside the box’ or used creative thinking to solve a problem. Many graduates are concerned that their examples are just not innovative enough, but the interviewer won’t expect you to have given the prime minister tips on handling Brexit! Instead, talk about times when an idea from you had a positive impact: for example, if you came up with a fundraising idea for charity or found a way to save time on an assignment.
In the summer of last year, I was adjusting to life in a new city having just started an Erasmus work placement in Madrid. I was enjoying my new independence, tapas, and post-work sunbathing. By March of 2020, a global pandemic had well and truly made itself known throughout Spain, and my international experience, like so many other things, came to an abrupt end.
Suddenly, I was back living at home, completing my final year online and coming to terms with the pending post-graduation panic. It was all a far cry from the pre-pandemic blissful ignorance I was enjoying this time last year.
Final year is stressful at the best of times, with countless deadlines, exams, job applications and big decisions. Combine that with a switch to online classes and a global pandemic looming large in the backdrop, and it’s a recipe for final year fear.
Learning to adjust
The switch to online learning was something I, like many others, found very daunting. Microsoft Teams classes and breakout rooms were not how I had imagined my final year of university to be, but I am learning to embrace the positives. For starters, I love avoiding early winter morning commutes to 9am classes. Moreover, I’m recognising that the skills I’ve gained by being thrown into the deep end of online working will be highly valued amongst future employers.
According to the Harvard Business Review, the need for virtual work skills is no longer limited to telecommuters and global teams; it now extends to most office work. The virtual skills I’ve developed through being immersed into the world of online learning are truly indispensable and highly valuable to employers, so I’ll remember to show them off in my next interview.
Looking to the future
And as I begin to look at interviews and how my post-university career path will begin to take shape, I’m aware that my comfortable student bubble is about to burst and real adulthood and responsibilities are looming.
‘What are your plans after university?’ is a question that rings throughout final year, and while some have a five-year career plan up their sleeve, I count myself among the many who haven’t figured out what I’m doing at the weekend, never mind next year.
If you’re in a similar situation, and are finding your future really daunting, fear not. Here are some tips that have helped me:
Don’t get caught up on what your friends are doing. It’s easy to feel that just because everyone you know is applying for Big 4 grad schemes, you should too. It’s important to think about what’s best for you, and understand what you really want. Queen’s Careers Service is on hand to help support you in deciding what to do next. You can book a 1-1 appointment with a Careers Consultant to discuss any aspect of your career management or even receive feedback on your CV/LinkedIn profile.
Explore your options! Research, research, research. Graduate jobs are not the only option. Think about postgraduate study – maybe a Master’s programme will be the next step for you? Or, with vaccine hope on the horizon and a slow shift back to normality looking increasingly promising, why not think about working, studying or volunteering abroad? Queen’s Global Opportunities Team can advise you about programmes available. You can arrange a virtual appointment with one of the team to chat about the travel options available to you through MyFuture.
Leverage the new skills you’ve developed. Although this year has not been the most ideal in terms of academic experience, think about the skills you have developed through its challenges. Not only will employers love those new virtual working skills, but also the adaptability gained by facing a having to suddenly adapt to online classes, resilience gained by facing and persevering through your studies during a very difficult period, and undoubtedly problem-solving in overcoming various issues and problems brought about by the challenges of this year. Think about how to showcase this new skillset, considering how this relates to your ‘selling points’ for your next interview. Queen’s Careers, Employability and Skills website has some great interview tips and advice to help you think about this.
Find comfort in the unknown. Be at ease with the fact that 2020 has been completely unprecedented. It is completely normal to feel anxious and unsure about what your next step is. It’s important to remember that your future isn’t a race or a competition, take your time and don’t be afraid to ask for help from your classmates or lecturers. If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed, there is support available in the form of Queen’s Wellbeing who are on hand to help those struggling through these very strange times.
Employers want to know how you would tackle problems. Can you use logic and imagination to find solutions? Better still, can you anticipate problems and find ways to prevent them?
Good problem-solvers possess the following skills:
innovative and creative thinking
a lateral mindset
adaptability and flexibility
resilience (in order to reassess when your first idea doesn’t work)
teamworking (if problem solving is a team effort)
influencing skills (to get colleagues, clients and bosses to adopt your solutions).
How can you prove your problem-solving skills?
You might be asked in an interview to talk about a time you solved a problem, or you could be given a hypothetical situation and asked how you would respond to it e.g.
Give me an example of a time when you ran into a problem on a project. What did you do?
How would you react if given negative feedback by a manager on an aspect of your performance?
In both these cases, you should refer to the above list of skills and how you demonstrated each when giving your answer.
Developing your problem-solving techniques
The following situations are all good examples of using problem-solving skills:
Sorting out a technical problem with your phone, device or computer.
Resolving a dispute with a tricky landlord in order to get your deposit back.
Carrying out DIY.
Serving a demanding customer or resolving a complaint.
Finding a way round a funding shortfall in order to pay for travel or a gap year.
Turning around the finances or increasing the membership of a struggling student society.
Organising a student society’s trip overseas, overcoming unforeseen difficulties on the way.
Acting as a course rep or as a mentor for other students.
Course assignments that involve problem solving
Articulating your skills
You will need to explain how you identified the problem, came up with a solution and implemented it. Follow the STAR technique outlined on our website. If you tackled a problem as part of a team, explain how your role was important in ensuring the positive solution, but also explain how your group worked together. This could be an opportunity to promote your teamworking skills as well – bonus!
What they mean: Talk me through your CV and tell me how your experiences relate to this particular job.
They don’t mean: Tell me your life history, hobbies and interests and take 20 minutes to do so.
What they ask: What do you know about the company?
What they mean: Are you up to date with what our company is currently doing, our main successes and where we plan to go in the future. Prove you want to work here.
They don’t mean: Please recite the first page of our website like everyone else and show you have done no original research.
What they ask: What skills do you have for this job?
What they mean: Give me a summary of your top three skills and make sure you’ve taken them from the Essential Criteria. Prove you know the job.
They don’t mean: List me over 20 skills and make sure 90% will not relate directly to the job.
What they ask: What is your main strength?
What they mean: Pick something from the Essential Criteria that you believe to be most relevant to the position and give me an example of how you have used it. Prove you can match your skill to the job.
They don’t mean: Tell me something totally unrelated to the job and don’t explain it. Or
tell me the heaviest weight you can lift in the gym.
What they ask: What is your main weakness?
What they mean: Tell me about something work related you struggle with and how you have been taking steps to overcome this. Show me you are proactive and looking
to progress. Prove you have self-awareness
They don’t mean: Tell me something critical to the job that you can’t do or that you have no weaknesses. Or tell me about a health condition you have.
What they ask: Can you give me an example of a time when….
What they mean: Talk me through a practical, relevant example that will show me you have experience in this area. Tell me the Situation and set the scene, explain the Task, detail Action and what YOU did then tell me the Result (STAR). Prove you can transfer your previous
experience to this job.
They don’t mean: Please spend 20 minutes rambling about a story and with as much excess and unnecessary information as possible so that I forget the question.
What they ask: Why should we hire you?
What they mean: Give me a summary of your key skills and how they fit this position.
Prove your suitability and your passion
They don’t mean: Give me an arrogant answer that will negate anything good you have previously said.
What they ask: Do you have any questions?
What they mean: Ask me something original and relevant that shows you are serious
about wanting to work here. Prove you can use your initiative.
They don’t mean: Tell me I answered them all in the interview without saying what you had planned to ask.
More than……………years extensive and diverse experience in
Expertise and demonstrated skills in
Extensive academic/practical background in
Experienced in all facets/phases/aspects of Knowledge of/experienced as/in
Extensive training/involvement in
I like to….
I’ve been told….
ALWAYS use numbers and measure to quantify and prove your work.
Proficient/competent at Initially employed to/joined organisation to specialise in Provided technical assistance to Worked closely with Constant interaction with Promoted to Succeeded in Proven track record in Experience involved/included Successful/Proficient in/at Reported to In charge of Now involved in Familiar with Employed to Assigned to Edited Established/ Initiated Formulated Implemented Managed Instrumental in Coordinated/Organised Designed and developed Updated/upgraded Attained/awarded
Best of breed Go-getter Think outside of the box Synergy Go-to person Thought leadership Value add Results-driven Team player Bottom-line Hard worker Strategic thinker Dynamic Self-motivate Detail-oriented Track record
Here, your step by step guide on getting the most from Vmock
Start by logging on to the CV checker and download the guidance notes and CV templates.
Write or tailor your CV
2. Once you are happy click the upload button and select the PDF version of your CV
3. CV checker will assess your CV against a range of measures and provide you with a score
4. Try not to focus on score. Look at the detailed feedback Stronger points are shown in green and weaker points in red.
5. CV checker provides feedback on three different elements
Impact – this section ensures your CV is action orientated and avoids overused or ineffective words
Presentation – this section will give tips on how to improve the visual aspect of your CV like length font, structure and grammar
Content – thissection will give feedback on how well you have demonstrated in demand competencies like communication, teamwork and leadership.
6. The feedback is colour coded by three zones: green, amber and red.
Red – Further work needed. You need to spend some more time on all 3 areas within your CV. Read through the targeted feedback for each of the 3 areas. Make amendments to improve your score and upload once again. If you are still in the red zone, book an appointment to see a Careers Consultant or Placement Officer to help you get on track (and bring the feedback with you)
Amber – You are on track to presenting your skills and experiences to good/best effect. If your score is in the high amber zone (70+), you have done a good job in presenting your CV.
Note this is an automated system, so you should still exercise good judgement in deciding what to accept and what to consult on with Careers/Placement staff. You may still need to make some further/final refinements to really showcase your skills and experiences to best effect.
Green – Great job. Your CV is meeting the main expectations in terms of presentation, how you are showcasing impact and your personal capabilities/competence. You may wish to ask a Careers Consultant or Placement officer to give you final feedback before sending on to an employer.
7. Once you digested your feedback, make the appropriate changes and upload it again to CV checker.
8. It may also be beneficial to ask a Placement Officer or Careers Consultant to make a final review before sending out to employers.