I had just returned from Peterborough, Ontario where I spent my year abroad, when I received an email from my department inviting me to apply for the Alumni Leadership Mentoring Programme (ALMP). As a first and second year at University of Birmingham I tended to ignore emails that even hinted at me trying to think about establishing some sort of career after university. First of all, it all felt way off in the future and second, I really had no clue as to what I what job/career/even industry I wanted to pursue. This completely changed whilst I was in Canada. Fine, I still had no clue as to what I wanted to do, nor how I would go about looking for a ‘real’ job even if I wanted to, but I had an itch to start thinking about my future, and my ‘dream career.’
My first step was to turn up at the local paper in Peterborough, Arthur and offer my services as a writer. They took well to the idea and I began submitting weekly articles. After about 2 or 3 weeks, whilst on a job covering a local fashion show, one of the editors offered me a four month internship with the paper. I was the first intern at Arthur, so the editors could really have fun with what I had to do to complete it. I went from submitting feature articles, to interviewing and reviewing bands, to interviewing theatre directors, to editing the editorials, to working on production, to designing a cover. Getting a taste for so many different sorts of positions seriously got me thinking about what I actually wanted to do after university.
The ALMP email instantly caught my eye and I was excited about the prospect of having one of University of Birmingham’s famous alum actually help me establish a post-uni plan.
The application process is reasonably simple. I attended all of the meetings and presentations prior to the application due date to gather as much information as I could regarding the opportunity. I pestered professors to take a look at my application and worked hard on my responses to Careers Network’s questions. The hard work paid off and I was offered an interview.
I am usually quite confident when it comes to my interview skills but I left my interview feeling deflated. I was absolutely convinced that I wasn’t the sort of person Careers Network were looking for for the programme.
To my absolute surprise (and excitement) I received an email a couple of weeks later offering me Baroness Patience Wheatcroft as a mentor. So not only had I actually got on to the programme, but I had been assigned one of the most incredible mentors I could imagine. This was at the beginning of the summer, so I knew I had some time to wait before I could meet my new mentor.
Patience has had an incredibly successful and impressive career in the journalism industry, so as the prospect of finally meeting her drew near I became increasingly excited. We made email contact at the end of September and by mid-October we made plans to meet in early November at the House of Lords, where Patience now works as a Peer.
At this point it all felt rather odd. The idea of meeting an award-winning journalist in the House of Lords isn’t really something you dream up everyday. As the reality neared I prepared my outfit and my questions. My mum kept asking “oo, are you nervous, are you nervous?!” And I always responded “hmm..no” – because I wasn’t, I was just really, really excited.
Well, that didn’t last long. Arriving in Westminster and tackling the slow-moving tourists to actually enter the building they were all gawping at and photographing – that is when the nerves set in.
I went through security and sat on a red leather couch feeling stupidly nervous and somewhat out of place. Patience arrived and I immediately settled as she offered me a reassuring smile and we small-talked our way to the tea room.
Her approach to her role as a mentor, and mine as a mentee was simply fantastic. She was quick to ask me what I wanted to do, and how I thought I was going to do it. I told her: “I want to be a creative director of a magazine,” something I had been thinking about for a while but had no real idea of how to get there.
She immediately asked me more direct questions to establish a focus and understanding of my experience and my future aspirations. Patience offered advice and recommendations on postgraduate courses in journalism, and suggested that a year-long course in the arts would be useful. We talked about the world of interning and that I should really apply to and get onto as many as I could during the summer to get a proper taste for the industry.
Patience stopped me if I lacked focus or if I offered an ill-thought out idea or plan. She directed me and advised me in a way that no one ever had before; I am not used to someone being so sharp and so accurate – usually people fluff around telling you that you’ve had a silly idea. She was never too harsh when rejecting something I said that wouldn’t work, but rather she redirected and refocused the conversation and was very encouraging, which made me feel like I really could pursue anything if a) I knew how and b) if I was truly willing to work for it.
At the end of our chat I hadn’t really got round to asking Patience any of the questions I had set out to, but did leave with an overwhelming sense of focus, something I definitely didn’t expect, but something I was extremely grateful for. My first targets/aims set by Patience is to write a series of letters to publications and various professionals simply asking for advice regarding what they would personally look for on a CV. This will hopefully give me the opportunity to establish short-term achievable goals in making the slow but exciting journey on a career in the media industry. We agreed that we would meet again mid-December – and I cannot wait!