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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.

There are 3 types of job you might be considering; a part-time during your studies, a sandwich placement, or a job after you graduate. 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.

Part Time Work

Think 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, and especially from pay-day loan companies, 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 your university’s Job Shop web page, or similar.

Sandwich Placements

If you are applying for a job as part of your degree programme it is essential that you read any documents on placement arrangements produced by your Industrial Training (or equivalent) offices. These will contain lots of advice, especially about filling in application forms and interviews; it is well worth reading even if your degree is non-sandwich and you just want a vacation job or part-time work. Your Professional Development / Careers Centre will also produces a useful set of job hunting notes and keep directories of employers.

Sandwich students are much more likely to get a job through their university’s placement office than by themselves. This office will be dealing with jobs that already exist in companies who know your university and regularly take its students. Meet all deadlines and be businesslike in your dealings with the placement office. The staff there will 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.

You 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.

Getting a job is not difficult but requires:

  • keeping track of the opportunities;
  • seeing the Careers or Professional Development Centre at your university;
  • looking at web pages for specific companies;
  • For mathematics students the MathsCareers site is a must!
  • preparation; find out about the company from the Placement Officer at your university, their datasets, the company’s literature and Web pages, and especially from students who have already worked there;
  • a perfect CV or online application;
  • a perfect letter of application or online application; tailor it to the particular job you are applying for. Have at least one current application through the Placement Office all the time (if applicable). You should make and exploit your own contacts (include academic staff and other students) in any way you can
  • 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.

A few months before you want the job, start looking on employment web sites, including those run by your university. The jobs advertised on commercial sites will probably be permanent, but there is nothing to stop you contacting 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 university and are not applying for a permanent position (otherwise you may end up in court!).

Many jobs require you to fill in an online application. To do this effectively, you will have to decide what information goes where and it is a good idea to collate that beforehand on a traditional CV (which still may be required). Give your tutor a copy of your CV and regular updates. Ask for help with it and discuss your letter of application with your Careers Centre advisers. Keep your tutor and the IT Office/Careers Centre advisers fully informed of your progress. The Career’s Office will also be able to help, for example by showing you a selection of sample videos and CVs. Make an appointment to see them, especially if you do not seem to be getting anywhere.

CVs and Application Forms

Before writing a CV, 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 CVs are initially just scanned, rather than read by employers, an attractive CV is essential, so pay particular attention to the layout. Scruffy or poorly laid out CVs do not get read by employers and you will be rejected.
  • You are not likely to be able to use the same CV for applications for summer jobs, Industrial Placements and permanent jobs. CVs 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 CV on a single side of paper.
  • When completing a paper application form photocopy the form first and practice on the photocopy. First impressions are crucial, so be neat and don’t use tippex.
  • Answer ALL questions using ALL the space provided. If a question does not appear relevant to you, ask for advice from your tutor, the IT / placement officer, the careers office or even the company itself. If it really is not applicable, state that on the form.
  • Many 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!
  • Photocopy paper forms before you send them; it will make the next one very much easier.
  • Keep a copy of all letters and replies.
  • Do not grovel or ask for help; you are offering your time and skills in exchange for a salary.
  • 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”.
  • 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.

For up to date advice on CVs and cover letters look at

Before an interview

Applying for a job is just the start, not the end, of the process. Have a practice interview with the careers service if it’s your first time, or if you don’t think you’ll do well. If you share a landline tell whoever you share accommodation with that you have applied to the companies listed by the phone so they can sound knowledgeable when you aren’t 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. Have your own notes to hand so that you don’t have to think on the spur of the moment too much, and are prompted to ask about points you want covered. Obviously, having a pen and paper to hand are essential.

Confirm that you will attend in writing. Ask who will interview you and ask if they want you to bring certificates or samples of your work with you. Make sure to read the job specification, and company literature / 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.

At the interview

Arrive in good time and be smart; if you are delayed, phone them as soon as you know you will be late.

Be 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. They 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 role /,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 their report.

Ask 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 “do you have anything you want to ask us?”; have a few questions ready, but if these have already been covered then say so.

Sometimes 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. An excellent link, including some sample tests and explanations can be found here

Report back to your tutor and IT / placement 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.

Getting the most out of the job / placement

If you are on a placement then keep a logbook throughout your placement; it will make updating your CV and writing your placement report much easier.

Your 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 (especially 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.

Before you leave a placement 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. If you are returning to university have a real holiday for at least one week so that you return to your studies fresh. Don’t just hang about at home – go somewhere new.

About the Study Skills for Mathematics pages

These pages were originally created by Martin Greenhow.

Creative Commons Licence
Study Skills in Mathematics by Martin Greenhow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Study Skills – Introduction

Study Skills – Time Management

Study Skills – Lectures

Study Skills – Reading

Study Skills – Projects and Essays

Study Skills – Using Charts and Graphs

Study Skills – Problem Sheets

Study Skills – Experiments

Study Skills -Presentations

Study Skills – Revision

Study Skills – Exams

Study Skills – Getting a Job

Study Skills – Help

Study Skills – Postgraduate Research

Image Credits

Featured Image by Marten Bjork on Unsplash
Young Man on a Job Interview” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by amtec_photos
Youth Job Fair draws eager young job-see” (CC BY 2.0) by Fort Meade
Big Business – Opportunity Knocks” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by joeywan