|Politics & Sociology|
|Politics and public affairs|
|Small business (0-49 employees)|
More about Kerry
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A day in the life of a Freelance researcher/analyst in the United Kingdom
When I first graduated I did not think I would ever be self employed or run my own business, but I was inspired by others who have done it.
Briefly describe the organisation you work for
I am self employed. As a freelancer I do pieces of work for different organisations
What do you do?
Most of my work involves researching issues and writing briefings, summaries or reports for clients. I write policy briefings for a local government think tank. I write bids and tenders for organisations who want to win contracts - companies often have a great product or service to sell but may not have the time or skills to write an effective bid - that's where I come in! I do some fundraising research for charities and help clients write applications for funding. I sometimes carry out reviews into problems that clients have and make recommendations (like a management consultant).
Reflecting upon your past employment and education, what led you to your current career choice?
My first job after graduate was as a research assistant for a trade union. I have moved jobs and sectors several times since then, but my career has mainly been in the public sector working in research or policy related roles. I have used my 20 years of knowledge and experience built up in the civil service and local government to set up as a freelancer. Public sector organisations typically have competency-based application processes for jobs - these are designed to be objective and to give everyone who can show the required competences a fair chance. There is typically a structured career path (for those who want to rise up the organisation). However as a freelancer it is much more of a 'who you know' world, which is a change for me.
In 2017 I decided to leave my career as policy team leader in a local authority and go back to University to do a masters in Politics and Contemporary History. I felt the time was right for a chance of direction and I was also intrigued by the tumultuous political events of 2016 - Brexit, election of Trump as US president etc. So I decided to study for my masters part time at the University of Nottingham while also doing some freelance work on a part time basis. I feel my masters gives me the credentials to demonstrate the skills I use as a policy analyst/researcher (research methods, policy analysis, making a clear case or argument) to potential clients.
Is your current job sector different from what you thought you would enter when you graduated?
When I first graduated I did not think I would ever be self employed or run my own business, but I was inspired by others who have done it. However, I have always had a passion for working in the public/ not-for-profit sector because I want to make society a better place. When I was looking for graduate jobs I wanted to work in the civil service but there were very few jobs going at the time. I applied several times for the civil service fast stream but was rejected. I had to wait a few years but eventually did get an amazing policy job in the civil service (not in the fast stream). In the meantime I worked in different roles that built up skills that would be relevant to the civil service.
Describe your most memorable day at work
While working in local government I helped organise a large 2-day conference for councillors and policy makers from cities all over the UK. Four Government ministers spoke at the conference over the 2 days. I had to liaise with their support staff about the arrangements on the day and make sure the speakers all understood the conference aims, audience and programme. On the day I had to ensure they speakers all turned up on time and were well looked after during their time at the conference. It was a hectic couple of days. I remember it because many weeks of planning and hard work came together. Naturally there were a few hiccups behind the scenes but the conference was a success.
Are there any challenges associated with your job?
The public sector can be quite a bureaucratic place to work - there are lots of processes to follow and a 'right' way of doing things. However I met lots of hard working, highly capable and inspiring people with a passion for public service, which was great!
As a freelancer the main challenges are the unpredictability of work - sometimes I have lots of work and other times I don't know if I will have any work or income next week or month - and it can also sometimes be a bit lonely as I work mainly on my own at home. I find it helpful to keep in touch with other consultants/freelancers who are in a similar situation.
What’s your work environment and culture like?
I work mainly at home however I can work wherever I have my laptop and an internet connection, which is liberating! On a typical day I wear anything I like and work the hours that I want. I sometimes have meetings, telephone calls or video calls with clients so will have my 'professional face' on then. Because I work at home, work and home life can be a bit blurry at times so I try to set some boundaries around working hours/days.
In terms of values I believe it's important in my role to be objective, honest and ethical - I would never help a client to lie or over-exaggerate on an application form or tender, for instance. When writing articles or making recommendations I sometimes need to challenge assumptions and tell the client something they will find difficult, which I try to do honestly but with tact.
What extracurricular activities did you undertake at university and what transferable skills did you develop through these?
I did a work placement in the civil service during my undergraduate degree -this developed transferable skills in team working, working under pressure, negotiation skills, problem solving etc as well as direct experience of policy and research projects in a working environment. This was very helpful in my getting my first graduate job after leaving uni - I would say it probably gave me the edge over the other applicants. While studying for my first degree I also worked every summer, albeit in a relatively low level job in a factory - it was all useful work experience and gave me transferable skills and some real life examples for job applications/ interviews.
What would you like to do next with your career?
More of the same at the moment! I am still building up my business so my aim is to continue to secure more work from existing clients and to find new clients.
What top tips do you have for York students preparing for today’s job market and life after graduation?
Even the most boring, repetitive or menial job can provide useful experience and build your character.
Once you've got some quality work experience under your belt, employers won't be that interested in your academic qualifications (unless it is a vocational degree or professional requirement of course).
All jobs have good points and bad points - it won't always be great but if your job makes you miserable it's time to move on.
Learn as much as you can from more experienced colleagues - listen, watch and learn how they approach their work, how they handle challenges and difficulties, how they get things done. It will help you develop your 'softer' skills and judgement
What topics from students are you happy to answer questions on?
Policy analysis/political research, what it is, why it's interesting, what skills you need
What it's like working in policy making, government or public administration, especially outside London
Freelance work - what it is like, pros and cons
What it's like going back to university after 20 years!
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
I was the first person in my family to go to university
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