After your English degree: Seven top takeaways from our alumni event

In April, three fantastic Bristol alumni hosted a digital event aimed at English Literature students and recent graduates starting out in their careers. Our hosts shared their career insights and tips on how to get the most out of an English degree after graduating.

We were joined by Alice Johnston (BA 2013), a Freelance Journalist who specialises in lifestyle pieces and has written for titles including CNN, the Daily Mail, the Metro and Culture Trip. Alongside her was Catherine Spencer (MA 2015), Senior Digital Marketer at the National Trust, who has a wealth of experience in creating and delivering marketing strategies for the organisation. We were also joined by India Fallon (BA 2014), Senior Programme Officer at Development Pathways, an organisation which aims to create evidence-based solutions to social and economic challenges faced by nations around the world.

We rounded up some of their best tips below!

1. You don’t need to have it all figured out right now

Senior Digital Marketer Catherine highlighted that she would not have known what her current job title was if she’d heard it a few years ago. She highlighted that you don’t need to know exactly where you’re going, and that you always have the opportunity to adjust your path. Senior Programme Officer India added that every opportunity gives you some experience that you can use when going after the job that you really want.

2. Rejection is tough, but it can help you to build resilience

As a journalist, Alice said that rejection is a huge part of her industry – from having pitches turned down, to yourself or team members facing redundancy due to budget cuts and reduced readerships. She emphasized the importance of not taking those negative experiences personally and reminded us that working through those rejections may even help you to build up resilience in the long term. India added that following up after a job rejection is an excellent move. You may be offered the job if someone else turns it down, or be kept in mind for future opportunities.

3. Unusual circumstances can be used to your advantage

Catherine advised that there are some positives about the current situation, for those who may be worried about entering the job market during a pandemic. In a virtual interview, for example, you can have notes on hand and other stressors like finding the interview location or making eye contact are removed.

4. Extracurricular activities help build skills

All three speakers were involved in an activity during university that had helped further their careers, whether this had been the intention when signing up for the activity or not. India helped run the University of Bristol Film Society which gave her organisation and budgeting skills and helped her to get her first internship. Alice worked for the student newspaper, Epigram, and volunteered at another paper as she believed gaining experience in what she wanted to do for a career was vital.

5. Let your personality shine in interviews

In her role at the National Trust, Catherine is often involved in hiring new individuals to join their organisation. She said one of the biggest things she considers is how good a fit someone will be for the team. She highlighted that it’s important to be excited and bring passion, and this will shine through above all.

6. Your degree will give you essential skills

The panellists reflected on some of the skills they learned from their degrees that help them out in their day-to-day work. Alice highlighted that being able to work to deadlines was essential for journalism and that she learned to make professional connections while studying. Catherine and India agreed that being able to communicate clearly and succinctly was extremely valuable for being able to get your point across in any workplace.

7. No path is correct, and your journey is unique

When asked about choosing a specific degree, Catherine assured that you’re never stuck to one decision. Even if you take a specialised degree, you can end up getting a completely unrelated job, as long as you can demonstrate the basic skills the job requires, so just go for what interests you most. She also mentioned that every missed opportunity in life has ended up leading her to something even better, so don’t worry if your path isn’t leading you exactly where you thought, because it could lead you to unexpected places.

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