Case study

Career development consultant — Grainne Gordon

After completing a placement as part of her postgraduate diploma in careers guidance and development, Grainne was well placed to step into the role as a higher education careers adviser

What did you study?

I completed an undergraduate degree in Food Science and Nutrition at Queen’s University Belfast and graduated in 2016. Following this I went directly into my PGCE in Secondary Teaching with Home Economics at University of Ulster Coleraine and graduated in 2017. After a few years of teaching, I completed a postgraduate diploma in careers guidance and development at Edinburgh Napier University and graduated in July 2020.

How did you get your job?

As part of my PGDip I completed a two-week placement with the university's careers service, which I really enjoyed. When I saw a job opportunity there, I spent a lot of time on my application and interview preparation. Having placement experience at Napier certainly helped me to secure my current job because I had the opportunity to work with the team and gain insight into how the department functioned.

What's a typical day like?

One of the great things about the job is that I have some autonomy over the structure of my day. I have a certain number of one-to-one careers appointments to do each week, alongside mock interviews and delivering workshops. One-to-one appointments can be on a range of topics, sometimes CV or cover letter reviews or general careers guidance. Following these appointments, I complete admin which includes updating the system with details about the appointment and often sending emails with feedback or resources for students. 

What do you enjoy about your job?

I really enjoy working with the students at Napier. I'm interested in learning about their work and education experiences and helping them achieve their career goals. I like seeing students grow in confidence and move forward in their careers.

What are the challenges?

It can be challenging when I see a student who is experiencing rejection and feels that they are making no progress in their career. Especially now in a very competitive job market, students can feel very frustrated when they do not get an interview. Helping students find opportunities in a labour market that is struggling can be difficult.

The job involves working on several tasks at once which can be challenging and requires being very well organised. Being able to prioritise tasks and meet deadlines is a key skill in the role.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My PGCE taught me how to plan, something I do regularly when delivering careers workshops. It gave me experience in presenting and communicating, as well as an understanding of pedagogy and a range of tools to engage students.

During my PGDip, I completed assessed interviews and workshops to develop my skills as a careers adviser. I gained knowledge of counselling theories and counselling techniques which I apply in every careers appointment I conduct. I completed five weeks of placement overall which was very valuable in developing my professional skills and understanding of the sector.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this job?

Get as much practical experience as possible. Volunteering is an excellent way to develop your skills as a careers consultant but also get great experience for your CV.

Network and connect with people already working in the sector. Building relationships is a key part of the work a careers adviser does so starting early will help. LinkedIn is an excellent place to start networking.

Jobs in higher education can be difficult to find; you might not get the first job you apply for and you may have to take an alternative route. For example, many career advisers work in schools and then build up experience moving into higher education so it pays to be open-minded.

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