Alexa Sage

Alexa Sage, Politics and French

Alexa works as the Employment Development Manager at a sight loss charity supporting blind and partially sighted people into work.

I was brought up in South London and by the time I was 18 I was fed up with the city and felt I needed a break from all the rush and chaos. When I visited the campus at Exeter, I was so impressed with how green and peaceful and beautiful it was - it felt like being on holiday 24/7.

I wanted to do a degree that combined two subjects and there weren't many universities offering that choice - Exeter was one of them. When I looked at how Exeter ranked in terms of research and teaching quality, it wasn't really a question that Exeter would be anything but my first choice. Exeter felt like a very safe and inclusive space to be.

Certainly the people I met whilst studying and living in Exeter were what made my experience. In my first year I lived in university accommodation in a flat with 11 other people and it was the best year of my life. I met people I would never have usually have been friends with at school, but because we lived together I got to know such a great variety of people with so many different experiences, and now these are the people who remain closer to me than my family.

The societies at Exeter are brilliant too and you soon come to learn that no matter how strange or unusual or unpopular you think your hobbies and interests, you will always find others who enjoy the same thing! I really learned to just 'be myself' at university, rather than trying to fit in the limited boxes that were provided to me at school. And being in a place like Exeter, you have the city and the countryside all in one place - there aren't many places where you hike through Dartmoor hills one day and go out salsa dancing until 2am the next day!

I went to some workshops on CVs, interview skills, mainly as part of the Exeter Award and Exeter Leader's Award. I even ran one of the workshops myself which was a great opportunity to have. Although now I work in careers/employment myself I realise that the world of careers is much greater and varied than I understood at university. As I now run my own business, I wish there had been more support around business start up outside of the business school. There was some provision but I think people underestimate this route as a full time career. The emphasis was certainly on getting employed by the likes of KPMG, PwC, Deloitte etc. Having quit working Deloitte after 3 months, I was rather frustrated at where I thought the focus had been.

In my final year at Exeter, I was teaching ESOL at a language school in Exmouth. I also worked as their welfare coordinator on leaving university. I enjoyed this, but felt that career opportunities were lacking and decided to move back to London where I pursued my work as a professional musician.

I worked briefly at Deloitte to bring in extra money but didn't enjoy the work as I missed contact with end users. Consequently I started volunteering with job seekers in the evening supporting them with CVs, IT skills, self-employment advice. I enjoyed this so much I went to work as an Employment Adviser full time. From here I went on to work for a women's charity as their Education and Employment Coordinator, supporting women who had experienced violence and homelessness to gain work, training, education and to start their own business at the same time as I was developing my own business in eCommerce and training. The service then expanded to support women involved in the criminal justice system and I was able to work alongside probation services in the delivery.

When I felt like I had got the service to a good place, I decided to leave to spend a few months focusing on my own business again and with a view to progressing to a more managerial role in my next job.

I now work as the Employment Development Manager at a sight loss charity supporting blind and partially sighted people into work and also supporting people to retain their jobs when diagnosed with sight loss and I have time to focus on my own ventures outside of work - it's the best of both worlds!

My job as the Employment Development Manager in the sight loss sector is fantastic! As a sighted person, it has been a real challenge professionally and personally trying to understand the needs and concerns of people who are blind and partially sighted. I work in a very supportive organisation with a fantastic vision. I have found the charity sector to be much more accommodating to employee needs - often with flexi time; home working arrangements; fair holiday policies; fair pensions. I love being able to work with such a variety of staff and service users and being able to use my creativity to develop new projects and programmes. In an operations role, you can see much more clearly the effect that your work has on your end user - much more so than policy or research perhaps, which really helps with job satisfaction. When I wake up in the morning and go to work, I know what my purpose in life and that I'm having a positive impact in the world. The only thing with the charity sector is that is can be very unstable and redundancies due to loss of funding are unfortunately not unusual so you need to be robust and resourceful. So long as you understand the dynamics of the charity sector before you are employed in it, then you will be fine.

My degree at Exeter really taught me about the importance of evidencing my arguments. Even though my work is around service delivery, I use a lot of research and policy work to inform how I will design employment services, and always evidence in my planning where the needs come from. It makes it very hard for people to argue with what you're doing! My French has also allowed me to go into teaching roles and even in employment roles I have been able to support non English speaking clients in French for example migrants from the DRC, even though I never imagined that I would use my language skills in that context when I was still at university. My Politics gave me a totally different perspective on life, particularly discovering feminism and postmodernism. I also have an appreciation for different ways of thinking and how to manage views and approaches I don't always agree with. Certainly the friends I made at university have now become fantastic professional contacts too and I often call on them for favours at work and they know they can depend on me for professional input too.

I think for anyone thinking about what to do after university, don't rule out the role of the charity sector. I know that doing a degree in Politics it's hard to think of anything beyond the civil service, and doing a degree in French, I found it hard to think about doing anything other than being a French teacher! Be creative in your thoughts and don't make assumptions about any sector. Public, private and charity sector are ALL huge - you get the same variety in types of job, levels of management, degrees of salary in any of these sectors. Don't assume that if you want a larger salary you have to work in the private sector, or that if you want to be involved in politics you have to be in the public sector or that you can only have a positive impact on the world through the charity sector. I came across my career entirely by mistake. So long as you know what you DON'T want, then the rest always works itself out. And never be afraid to quit jobs. There is a lot of scare mongering about job security and often people remain in jobs they are unhappy in because they fear they won't be able to find another one. If you are creative, resourceful, confident and sensible, you will ALWAYS be able to find work. And don't rule out starting your own business either! It's scary and unpredictable so try and do it when you only have yourself to worry about rather than when you have a mortgage and four children to support! But enjoy the uncertainty because it means that anything is possible.

I'm never able to predict what I'll do from month to month let alone from year to year! But I try to keep my options open. I undertake lots of professional training where possible in as many different areas, and get a variety of qualifications under my belt from being a qualified trainer to a certified project manager. That way, even if I don't know for sure what I want to do next, I am able to pursue a variety of career options because I can build a profile to reflect that area. After going through lots of different companies and roles since graduating I think I've finally found an organisation that works around my personal life whilst being an organisation in which I have a lot to contribute. I hope that I will be there much more long term now, but I never like to rule anything out.

Be likeable! You can have all the qualifications and meet all the criteria you like but if people don't like you, they'll never employ you. Some people end up spending more of their life at work than at home, so they need to like the people they're working with!

Keep in touch with as many people from your time at university as possible because you never know when you need to call on each other in the professional world - don't burn bridges!

Don't be afraid of rejection - the employer needs to be right for you as well as you being right for them. I've talked myself unapologetically out of jobs when explaining my values and approaches to employers and realising that their values don't fit with mine. I think this is particularly relevant when you're a Politics graduate! The recruitment process in many scenarios is very automated: I've had rejection letters from interviews I never attended, and the current job I'm in now is one I was already rejected for by a recruitment agency that then asked me to apply for the very same job! If you learn resilience and not to take rejection too personally at the start, you will progress much more quickly through work or education. People who never fail are the ones who never try.

Also remember that it's never to early to do training or get particular qualifications: do project management training before you are given the responsibility of managing projects; do management training before you have a team to manage... don't simply wait until someone expects something of you - be proactive.

Finally, make your CV the most beautiful, fantastic, interesting document that you possess. If you don't absolutely love your CV and are a proud of what you've put on there, you're never going to be able to convince anyone else. Everyone will tell you a million and one different versions of what the perfect CV looks like - in truth, the only proof that you have a good CV is that it gets you interviews. If it does - ignore everyone else. If it doesn't, you HAVE to change it.