Study skills online

An electronic guide to some of the best ways to study

Companies live or die on the quality of their staff. Whilst nobody owes the mediocre student a job, good companies always want the best and will pay properly for it.

    1. 9.1There are 3 types of job you might be considering;
      • part-time during your studies (see below),
      • a sandwich placement (see below),
      • and a job after you graduate (see below and visit: for all graduate jobs).

      In each case, employers will be looking for rounded people who will fit in with existing employees and who demonstrate a real interest and aptitude for the job on offer.
    2. 9.2Think very carefully before taking on part-time work during term-time. If you are on a FULL-TIME degree course you are not expected to do much part-time work during term time. You may feel you need the money, but discuss your finances with a friend, your parents or partner, your tutor and the Students' Union advisers first. A less extravagant (!) lifestyle and/or a student loan may be a better option. See your bank to arrange an overdraft before you incur one. NEVER borrow money on credit cards, or spend more than you can afford to pay back at the end of the month since credit-card interest rates are a rip-off, and your debt will rapidly spiral. If you still need a part-time job, make sure you do not work for more than a few hours (less than 10) per week or your academic work will suffer; you may not get the degree class you should and your starting salary and career prospects might be depressed. Remember also that you still need a social life.

      Fitting all this in means that any part-time job needs to be local and sufficiently well paid to make it worthwhile. A good place to start looking is on Brunel's Job Shop web page.

    3. 9.3If you are applying for a job as the Industrial Training part of your degree programme it is essential that you read the document WORK PLACEMENT ARRANGEMENTS produced by our Industrial Training (IT) Offices. This contains lots of advice, especially about filling in application forms and interviews and is well worth reading even if your degree is non-sandwich and you just want a vacation job or part-time work. The Professional Development Centre also produces a useful series of job hunting notes and keeps directories of employers.
    4. 9.4Sandwich students are much more likely to get a job through the IT Office that by themselves. The IT Office will be dealing with jobs that already exist in companies who know Brunel and regularly take our students. Meet all deadlines and be businesslike in your dealings with the IT Officers. They can help you a great deal, but do not like being messed about or let down by students! If you say you are going to do something, do it. Equally do not do things you say you will not do. Keep them informed (good and bad news!) at all times.
    5. 9.5You do not build-up to getting a job; it is digital in the sense that you either have a job or not. You have not got a job until the company have offered it in writing and you have accepted it in writing. Keep applying for jobs until you have this written confirmation.
    6. 9.6Getting a job is not difficult but requires:
      • keeping track of the opportunities;
      • checking the IT board every day or two;
      • getting the local newspapers;
      • seeing the Professional Development Centre ;
      • looking at WWW pages for specific companies;
      • For mathematics students the Maths careers site is a must!
      • preparation; find out about the company from the IT Officer, the Professional Development Centre and their CD-Rom datasets, the company's literature and Web page, and especially from students who have already worked there;
      • a perfect CV;
      • a perfect letter of application; tailor it to the particular job you are applying for, at least one current application through the IT Office all the time (if applicable) you to make and exploit your own contacts (include academic staff and other students) in any way you can. Most senior managers will not mind being asked for advice - indeed they may be flattered and help you a good deal;
      • tenacity.

      Getting a job has very little to do with luck! You must predispose yourself to be "lucky" by addressing all of the above points and portraying yourself positively at all times.

    7. 9.7A few months before you want the job, start looking in the local papers, both around Brunel and your home town (get parents or friends to keep look for you and send you details). The jobs advertised will probably be permanent, but there is nothing to stop you writing to the company seeking temporary employment or an IT Placement. You MUST however, make it clear that you are a student who will be returning to Brunel and are not applying for a permanent position (otherwise you may end up in court!).
    8. 9.8 Give your tutor a copy of your C.V. and regular updates. Ask for help with it and discuss your letter of application. Keep your tutor (and the IT Office, if applicable) fully informed of your progress. The Career's Office in the Library Basement will also be able to help, for example by showing you a selection of sample videos and C.V.'s. Make an appointment to see them, especially if you do not seem to be getting anywhere.

    10. 9.9Before writing a C.V., and even more especially a letter of application, think about the following.
      • What exactly do you want to tell your potential employer so that you will secure an interview. Be extremely selective - you are not writing your life story here. A "scatter-gun" approach of writing down everything in the hope that some of what you write will be pertinent, is hopeless. Make a list of items headed "What they are looking for" and write your response, with evidence, alongside each point. Similarly make a list headed "What I want from the job" and write what the company has to offer alongside it. You will then be able to target your application and C.V. accurately.
      • Since C.V.s are initially just scanned, rather than read by employers, an attractive C.V. is essential, so pay particular attention to the layout. Scruffy or poorly laid out C.V.s do not get read by employers and you will be rejected.
      • You are not likely to be able to use the same C.V. for applications for summer jobs, Brunel Industrial Placements and permanent jobs. C.V.s are not totally standard, because people are not standard, but should be 2 numbered pages long of 10 or 12 point font, and at least the following sections should be covered. It is also a good idea to have a short C.V. on a single side of paper.
      • Please do not include a 'Profile' at the top - these are always all unsupported rubbish.
        For example, here's one:

        A lively and dynamic individual who is quick to learn and fits in well with others. Determined and enthusiastic and able to carry out tasks accurately and in a timely manner without further direction or encouragement. A real team player who is well liked by subordinates and by his seniors. Would be an asset to any organisation and enlivens any social context or situation.

        Who am I describing here? Answer: my dog Graham who is all of these things, but would you employ him?

      PAGE 1

      Title : Curriculum Vitae (large font and centred)

      Personal details:

      • Name (with surname in capitals), date of birth, nationality (if not British then state status in UK e.g. permanent resident, EC National and whether you need/have a work permit - if this is a Brunel IT placement, the University will advise you on this), gender, marital status - mainly if applying for a permanent job.
      • Term-time and permanent addresses laid out in two columns. Include phone/email address/Web page URL.

      Modern, possibly more 'politically correct' alternatives/recommendations are as follows, but I am not sure I agree with them!

      Title : Name (with surname in capitals) (large font and centred)

      Personal details:

      • date of birth omitted, nationality (if not British then state status in UK e.g. permanent resident, EC National and whether you need/have a work permit - if this is a Brunel IT placement, the University will advise you on this), gender omitted, marital status - mainly if applying for a permanent job - yes this should probably should be omitted.
      • Contact (not home) address. Include phone/email address/Web page URL.
      There is obviously a tension here between 'natural justice' and you actually securing an interview! Employers need to know you can do the job and some might want to redress age or gender imbalances in their workforce. Equally if you live in Shetland and are applying for a job in London, employers might legitimately want to know how that would affect your ability to perform!

      Make sure your name is correct - exactly as it appears on your passport. Otherwise you will not pass any security or criminal record checks they make and hence not get the job. I am not talking about MI5 here, but any job working with children or vulnerable people, or sensitive locations like 'airside' in an airport.

      Note that nationality is not the same as ethnicity or heritage; employers need to know they can legally employ you and if in doubt, they'll bin your application. So you are, for example, BRITISH, not Black Carribean British (ethnicity and nationality confused) or British/Pakistani (nationality and heritage confused, unless you really do have dual nationality).

      Education: in reverse chronological order:

      • Brunel University and dates: state your course name and title e.g. Foundations of Science, BSc (Hons) in Mathematics with Engineering, etc., a table of modules being taken by name (omit module codes which mean nothing outside Brunel) and exams results so far or state that the module exam has not yet been taken.
      • School(s) name and dates, qualifications obtained with dates and grades in a table.

      Other skills (preferably in this order of importance):

      • computing skills (inc. list of ALL software include version numbers and programming languages you know),
      • foreign languages (include level of fluency),
      • driving licence,
      • personal skills (e.g. ability to work in groups, take initiative, meet deadlines etc. giving evidence of why you claim you have such skills),
      • any other skills (e.g. first aid, awards, musical and drama grades, practical and lab skills, etc).

      PAGE 2

      • Work experience (in reverse chronological order) dates, addresses etc. and a full description of what you did and what you learned from it. Write in complete English sentences here. This is a good place to talk about your personal transferable skills such as: written and oral communication; problem solving; imagination and creativity; determination; ability to work under pressure, in a group, to a deadline etc; initiative and leadership.

      • Hobbies and interests: give a picture of yourself as a rounded person with wide interests (sport - state level of performance, cultural, concerned for others, involvement in clubs and societies, positions of responsibility, etc.). Write in complete English sentences here, again bringing in some of the above points. Do not simply say that you like reading and listening to music - give the names of the authors/composers; avoid Sci Fi, horror and fantasy - they will not want to employ weirdos!

      • Referees: (ask them first!)
        There is some divergence of views on this, with some people recommending that you simply put 'Available on request'. I think this is likely to be fatal to your application! Employers are busy and work to short deadlines, so if they want to get a reference before asking you for an interview, forcing them to contact you for information you could already have provided will put up a barrier where none needs to be. So I really think you need to include:
        1. Your Brunel tutor inc. full address, postcode, Tel, fax, email. If you do not use your tutor here, the company will wonder why you didn't.
        2. Another person with above details (preferably a previous employer or professional - not a relative). State this person's relationship to you e.g. Mr F. Smith (previous employer).

      Check there are no gaps in the chronology of your cv; if there are the employer will suspect you are hiding something.

      red dot Click here to view an example of an FoS Student's Curriculum Vitae (Word 6).

      red dot Click here to view an example of a Fresher's Curriculum Vitae.

      red dot Click here to view an example of a final year student's Curriculum Vitae (Word 97).


    12. The letter of application should be tailored to the company and not look like a mailshot. Use 12 point font and a laser printer; never use a photocopier. Make a real effort to find out the name of the person you are writing to. Lay it out like a business letter, as follows:

      										your address inc. postcode,
      									        phone, fax and email 
      their address inc. postcode

      Ref.: Job Application for ...(Name of job and ref. no.)

      Dear Title and Name of person if known or Sir/Madam,
      para 1: if you are responding to an advert, state where and when you saw it e.g. The Times 12/3/98. State what you want (i.e. the job as the industrial training component of your BSc degree programme in Mathematics ..., regular part-time employment, summer job, etc.). If you are not applying for a particular job, state what sort of work you are looking for.
      para 2: why you think you are suitable, what experience you have to offer, why you want to apply for this particular job in this particular company (you will need to do some company research here).
      para 3: Ask them for an interview and state when you are not available (e.g. during exams), refer to enclosed C.V., state that they may get in touch with you for further details and that they may contact your referees directly.

      Yours faithfully,

      sign it
      Typed name after signature.

      encl: cv

      red dot Click here to view an example of a letter of application.

      red dot Click here to view an example of another letter of application.

    13. 9.10Keep a copy of all letters and replies.
    14. 9.11Do not grovel or ask for help; you are offering your time and skills in exchange for a salary.
    15. 9.12 Do not say cheeky and insulting things like "I am just what your company is looking for!" or "I feel I can bring fresh insights to your company".
    16. 9.13 Before sending anything to a company, run it through the spell checker and get at least one other person to check what you have written. Trivial mistakes indicate a careless attitude or that you don't really want this job.

    18. 9.14Photocopy the form FIRST and practice on the photocopy. First impressions are crucial, so be neat and don't use tippex.
    19. 9.15Answer ALL questions using ALL the space provided. If a question does not appear relevant to you, ask for advice from your tutor, the IT Officer, the Careers Office or even the company itself. If it really is not applicable, state that on the form.
    20. 9.16Many questions are straightforward; others require you to know about the company, so do some research. Answers about you career plans should indicate that working for this company after graduation is something you are considering, so don't put down that you will start your own business or that you plan to live in Argentina!
    21. 9.17Photocopy the form before you send it; it will make the next one very much easier.

    23. 9.18Applying for a job is just the start, not the end, of the process. Have a practice interview with the Professional Development Centre if itís your first time, or if you donít think youíll do well. Also tell whoever you share accommodation with that you have applied to the companies listed by the phone so they can sound knowledgeable when you arenít there/still in bed at 11am! It might be better to brief them to say you have popped out, but will ring then when you get back in 10 minutes. Put your own notes by the phone so that you donít have to think on the spur of the moment too much, and are prompted to ask about points you want covered. Obviously a pen and paper by the phone are essential.
    24. 9.19Confirm that you will attend in writing; ask them to post/fax you a map; ask who will interview you; ask if they want you to bring certificates or samples of your work with you.
    25. 9.20Read the job specification and company literature and web site beforehand. Read your cv, letter of application and/or your copy of the application form again. Take these with you and a few samples of your better work (e.g. essays, experimental log book, past employment reports or products etc) in case your answers to their questions can be emphasised by showing this material.
    26. 9.21Arrive in good time and be smart; if you are delayed, phone them as soon as you know you will be late.
    27. 9.22Be assertive but not bossy! Don't try to take over the interview, but be confident and speak clearly. Volunteer information if it is relevant rather than just answering the questions. Be yourself and tell the truth! If you don't know the answer to a question, say so; they are looking more for willingness to learn that high-tech knowledge.
    28. 9.23They may start by talking about football; this is to free you up. The real questions come later, and an interviewer will find out all he/she needs to know just by seeing how well you communicate. If they ask you questions you have covered in your cv, don't refer to it, but tell them again. They will almost certainly want you to explain why you chose them, chose your course, modules, university, what you hope to achieve from the placement, your career etc so have some good reasons ready. This would be a good excuse to refer to previous student placements with that company - mention the student by name and say you have read his/her report.
    29. 9.24Ask a few questions yourself, but don't start with "What's the pay?" or "How much holiday do I get?". Get the job first; if you are not sure by the end of the interview, wait for the letter of appointment. They usually end with "Well Mr ... do you have anything you want to ask us?"; have a few questions ready, but if these have already been covered then say so.
    30. 9.25Sometimes employers give you employment tests; remember that these are designed to be challenging (even impossible) and they are looking for how you approach a problem rather than its full solution. Saville and Holdsworth have some sample tests on
    31. 9.26 Report back to your tutor and IT Officer; reflect on what went well and what did not. If you did not get the job, you might consider asking the company for advice on why they did not employ you.

    33. 9.27Keep a logbook throughout your placement; it will make updating your cv and writing your report for Brunel much easier.
    34. 9.28Your employer will not expect you to know everything at once, so get help if you need it and check that you are doing what is required. Get as much training (esp on software) as you can; produce a report for your boss/customer; give a presentation to your group; talk to customers; these are all good things to put down on your cv for the next job. Keep your tutor informed of your progress from time to time (you will be visited at an IT placement but only usually once) or immediately if there are problems.
    36. 9.29Before you leave the job find out if you can include any reports or software you have written in your portfolio to show future potential employers. If things go well, ask about sponsorship for the rest of your studies, about another placement or employment after you graduate and whether you can use your boss as a referee.
    37. 9.30Before you return to Brunel have a real holiday for at least 1 week so that you return to your studies fresh. Don't just hang about at home - go somewhere new.