theprofessionaldevelopmentandemployabilitylady – identity crisis?

Annual leave didn’t stop thecareerslady posting, but starting my new job did!  Apologies for the longer than usual break.  I fear I must shoulder all the blame myself, since my new colleagues have been very quick in getting me set up with a new office and snazzy laptop (which I am gradually getting used to). I am now officially Professional Development & Employability Tutor in the Faculty of Business, Economics & Law at the University of Surrey. Catchy, eh?  I think I’d better stick with ‘thecareerslady’ for the blog name.

The job title is certainly harder to say than my previous one, but I reckon people’s understanding of what the job’s actually about will be about the same – i.e. ‘not much’. This is a common phenomenon in many sectors and roles.  Some bits of the work are pretty obvious, whereas others are more mysterious. If I tell any-old-body on the street that I’m a Tutor in a University, they’d probably be able to guess that I’ll be teaching and supporting students. Deciphering exactly what constitutes the ‘professional development and employability’ part and figuring out HOW the help might be provided would most likely prove a little trickier, though!  Even among my colleagues across the University and within my new department, I’ll be asked what I actually do and may need to deal with some misconceptions and incorrect assumptions – but I’m used to that. In my previous role (which is already starting to feel like a past life), clients, colleagues and contacts frequently had some ‘interesting’ ideas about the extent of my ability, power and influence or what they thought I should be able to do for them. No false modesty here: I’m good, there’s no doubt about it.  Nevertheless, securing a £25k job for a decently-qualified student (with limited experience) in a top-ranked, household-name, multi-national corporation…in the most competitive department…oh yes, and not more than 20 mins commute from Guildford, please – sorry, but that’s just not mine to give! If anyone does know how to magic this up, do enlighten me.

Admittedly, since this particular version of the tutor’s role is brand, spanking new, there’s inevitably going to be evolution and development over time and even we don’t yet know every detail.  Still, the fact is that most of us don’t really know what anyone else’s job is like in reality.  We know the visible parts, but not the back room stuff.  For instance, let’s look at a very visible and familiar job: teaching.  We all remember teachers from our own schooldays – love them or hate them!  So, we get that what teachers do is teach – they stand in classrooms with groups of pupils and impart information (or facilitate learning if you prefer).  But when you were a kid, how much thought did you give to teachers’ efforts to…

  • understand the curriculum and stay up to date with developments (and read all the books themselves)
  • devise appropriate activities to demonstrate relevant learning points so that pupils are prepared for exams
  • set work and tasks at just the right level
  • write mock exams and create reams and reams of practice questions
  • keep everybody interested and motivated in mixed ability groups
  • maintain discipline, sometimes with very challenging or violent behaviour
  • mark homework and provide feedback, ensuring consistency across the whole group,
  • write detailed, individual reports and discuss pupils’ progress at parents’ evenings
  • organise extra-curricular activities and give up lunchtimes or evenings for them
  • complete the necessary paperwork to take pupils on trips (total nightmare in my experience!)
  • take responsibility for pastoral issues and support pupils in need with a variety of issues, referring on to other specialists if necessary
  • lead teams of other staff as Head of a subject or year group
  • get involved with supporting and mentoring trainee teachers and new staff
  • learn how to use new technology and different teaching techniques….AND plenty more!

On top of all that, as for any job there’s still ‘office politics’ and interpersonal relationships with the staff to get to grips with.

If this is one of the best-known roles there is, how much are we likely to know about others: how about an Actuary?  Technical brewer?  Microbiologist?  Dance Movement Psychotherapist?  How can people choose a future direction if they don’t know what’s out there?  Fear not, help is at hand!  Sites like www.prospects.ac.uk and www.targetjobs.co.uk are excellent sources of information about what’s involved in different kinds of work, with plenty of links for anyone who wants to dig deeper.  They focus specifically on jobs that suit graduates.  This kind of desk research is an ideal start, but it’s not the only way.  The next steps might be finding real people to talk to about roles of interest.  Careers fairs are brilliant for this, as are events employers regularly run on University campuses, but are you guilty of neglecting to make use of your own connections?  Ask around!  The rule of six degrees of separation applies to career exploration just as much as it does to Hollywood stars.  Set your facebook status to “does anyone know anyone who works in…[insert chosen career field here]?” and see what comes up – it’s what social networking was invented for.  Incidentally, it also works when you want to find someone to make you some curtains.  Don’t forget the older generation, though.  My Mum’s on Twitter, has a Facebook page and follows this blog, but if yours isn’t quite so high-tech you might have to put in your request for contacts in a more traditional way: face to face, by phone or even in a letter.  And remember to ask your contacts to share with their contacts too.  If they can’t help you directly, they’ll feel good that they’ve passed the message along to someone else who potentially can.

When it comes down to it,  the fact that human beings don’t possess encyclopaedic knowledge about every occupation that exists presents two challenges for jobseekers.  One – finding out enough about different jobs to know whether to apply or not.  Two – having the confidence to go for it in spite of a few knowledge gaps.  The good news is that getting the first part right will result in an increase in the second.

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