As the build up increases to the Paralympics, Channel 4 have launched a trailer called, ‘We’re the Superhumans’ which is receiving a lot of positive press and has even been described as the “best TV trailer ever”. It is great in so many ways; uplifting, insightful, educational and inspiring, it really shows what people can achieve. But one aspect of it left me feeling very frustrated. Throughout the trailer people are singing, saying or signing the words “yes I can” but at 2 minutes 15 seconds the shot goes to an office with a ‘careers’ sign on the door and a man is his 50s, wearing a grey suit, is talking to a schoolboy who is a wheelchair user and saying, “no you can’t”. It only lasts a couple of seconds and then returns to the previous, positivity but the message is very clear. Careers advisers will tell you what to do, or more likely, what you can’t do, they’ll judge you and will ultimately trample all over your dreams and aspirations. Don’t take my word for it, have a look yourself. But do come back and read the rest of this post!

It isn’t the first time careers advisers have been portrayed in this way and it won’t be the last. We’re often subject to the same level of scorn as estate agents, investment bankers, second-hand car salesmen and tabloid journalists. But to be portrayed so negatively in amongst such inspiring messages was a bit much, especially when you know it is so inaccurate. Having said that, careers advisers do have to take some responsibility for improving their image and re-educating people about their role.

I thought I’d start here by making sure that you as researchers are aware you have access to specialist researcher careers advisers and understand the range of ways that we can work with you to achieve what you want to achieve. I thought I’d do this by busting a few myths.

I don’t know what I want to do so you won’t be able to advise me.

Our role is not to tell you what the ideal career is for you. But we can work with you to better understand yourself and identify what skills, experience, knowledge and interests you have and how you could (not should) use them. Perhaps more importantly, we can assist you to recognise what motivates you, what your values are and how these relate to the life you want to lead. Career choice isn’t about coming up with a specific job title, especially when you have so many options. It is more about identifying priorities and opportunities and looking at what works best for you. You may know more about what your future career looks like than you think you do.

I know what I want to do so I don’t need your help.

It’s great that you know what you want to do but there is still so much that we can offer. Once you have a direction in mind, we can support you to develop a strategy to achieve it.  Whether it be how to find vacancies, develop contacts, target a speculative approach, role-play a networking conversation, provide feedback on your CV, cover letter, application statement or offer interview coaching we can work with you to get to where you want to be. Once you’ve got an offer (or two) the support could extend to how to negotiate salary and benefits or choose between offers!

I want an academic career so my supervisor or PI is the best person to talk to.

Getting advice and support from both those around you and those who work in the area that interests you is very wise. They will have experience, knowledge, contacts and professional expertise to share. But that expertise is based on their own experiences and career path and while that is useful and highly valuable, an effective researcher will always want to explore a variety of sources. We are experts in supporting researchers to  develop an academic career too!

I’ve got a job lined up already so I don’t need any support.

Our goal is to equip you with the skills, confidence, self-awareness and decision-making ability to manage your career for the rest of your life. We can work with you to make the most of the opportunities that come along both now and in the future. Despite the negative portrayal, professional careers guidance and coaching is expensive if you are paying for it, so we’d encourage you to make the most of it while you can!

You won’t know anything about the career I am interested in.

That could be true! Our job title doesn’t help our cause. Our role encompasses advice, guidance, counselling, information giving, teaching, training, strategising, research, writing and lots of other things. It isn’t about swotting up on every job there is and knowing everything about it. Having said that, we have spent many years working with researchers so we have picked up a bit of knowledge about the career paths that researchers go into! What we will be able to do is enable you to find the right resources, people or professional associations to explore and research a career, however obscure it may be.

Aren’t careers advisers just well-meaning women in cardigans?

True, there are more women in careers guidance than there are men and we have been known to wear cardigans. But we are also professionals, with degrees and postgraduate qualifications in careers guidance and a commitment to developing and enhancing our professional practice. We undertake peer review, evaluation and quality assessment of our competence. We have made a very specific career choice to work in HE with the researcher community and enable you to manage every aspect of your career decision making effectively and successfully. We do so with respect, objectivity and confidentiality alongside a good sense humour and some fun thrown in. That doesn’t mean we won’t challenge what you say – this is an academic institution after all!

I won’t say that poor careers guidance doesn’t exist; unfortunately, there is bad practice in every profession. But don’t let a negative experience or an image in the media put you off. Make the most of the support, advice, guidance and coaching on offer throughout your time as a researcher!

Image credits: Channel 4