Sarah Hughes graduated from CCCU first with a BSc In Business and Politics in 2019 and immediately continued to the MSc International Relations (Security Studies). She successfully negotiated the challenge of completing that degree during the first lockdown and graduated in 2020 with a distinction. Now working as a Programme Officer at North of Tyne Combined Authority, Sarah reflects on how the content and skills of her degrees have helped her in her role in local government.
“When I finished my Masters, I went into my first graduate position, working for a training company. We worked closely with the DWP and the local Jobcentres delivering the Kick Start Program. I worked there for nine months before joining North of Tyne Combined Authority Inclusive Economy Team. I predominantly work on a project called Return to Work, which focus on helping Carers return to work. Alongside that, I also work on a skills boot camp project and a domestic abuse project.
“My masters certainly helped me hugely. I found that when I finished my undergraduate degree, I felt like my writing was just starting to define itself. And I wanted to explore that further by undertaking my MSc. I found my specialism – the securitization of meat eating and actually this helped me with the interview for the job that I have now. I brought that in by mentioning aspects of their ‘green growth’ agenda. My Masters helped define my writing style, to find my area of expertise and now I bring that to the wider team I work with.”
While Local Government might not be the first sector graduates consider, Sarah points out that there is great scope to build an interesting career. “The work I do is really diverse. Local Government is pretty flexible so if you’re particularly interested in something, you can get involved in those projects, whether that’s working with local authority leads, working directly with government, working with the local cabinet, working with ministers on particular projects or whether that’s taking a background role and compiling data sets and regional data. One interesting task I had was helping structure our employability strategy which we submitted to the government in June.”
When asked to offer advice to students on the challenge of getting that first role, Sarah considers the eternal difficulty of meeting the ‘experience’ criteria.
“It’s really, really difficult and often incredibly frustrating. I would say do your research. Research the company you’re applying to, their sector and don’t just do baseline research. Look at for example any recent projects that they’ve got involved in. Home in on those projects. Highlight interesting things that you’ve noticed about the project, market trends that you perhaps have noticed, that you view as challenges that your employer may encounter. Don’t just look at what’s on their news page. In your interview, if you present solutions or questions or identify barriers within their market, it can sometimes bypass that experience-gap. Having that kind of background knowledge by delving deeper it shows what you are capable of. Using your research skills and demonstrating that you can offer an alternative view can really help bridge the experience gap. Do that extra bit of research that a lot of people don’t. Just little things like that do make a huge impact in interviews.”
Sarah also had some important advice for women: “We know men will apply for jobs even when they don’t meet all the criteria whereas women hold back. So even if you think, gosh, I haven’t got five of these things that asking for, even if you have one, it’s a job seekers market at the minute. Just apply for it!”
“Prepare, be confident and research, research, research, research.”
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