Graduate in Focus: Jessica Metcalfe

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Full name: Jessica Metcalfe

Degree title: BSc International Relations and English Language

Year of graduation: 2017

Name of the organisation where you work: Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils

Job title: Communications Business Partner


What does a typical day in your job look like?

This is a difficult question when you work in communications! With any comms role, you’re constantly juggling corporate, political and media priorities within tight deadlines. On any given day I might have thought I’d be drafting out a communications plan or strategy, posting on social media and preparing a briefing for councillors, but that can change in an instant – a story might break in the press, the local radio are enquiring about an interview or there might be an emergency that needs crisis comms. All this needs capacity built in at the last minute so you have to be pretty good at managing a flexible diary and leaving things at the drop of a hat while remaining calm at all times – unless someone brings food in to share, then obviously go wild!

When I’m not dealing with media requests, my job involves a significant amount of writing and a natural ability to work with people and partners – I manage social media accounts, campaigns, newsletters, briefings, photography, filming, council meetings, press releases – the list is pretty long – and of course emails (who doesn’t)!

What has been the highlight of your job so far?

I’ve had a couple for different reasons: managing the comms aspect of our community awards where I managed to work with the team to increase applications by more than 50%, and dealing with my first ever crisis comms on high profile emergencies – this sort of work is quick-moving, involves thinking on your feet and making sure everyone knows the complex things that are happening in concise, clear, plain English.

What skills have you developed in your role?

If I were to name a few I’d pick: managing and developing complex political relationships (it’s the nature of the work and requires a significant amount of diplomacy); media relations (which comes with the territory, but building rapport with journalists is really important); and my ability to lead on projects and offer sound advice. I’m sure there are plenty of grads who may experience ‘imposter syndrome’ but grab every opportunity that comes your way, ask for feedback and the more you’ll find yourself naturally being able to guide teams towards great results.

How has your current role shaped your career plans?

I enjoy working in the public sector (I also had previous experience from my A-level years) – it suits my character and I like working with people and seeing the results of my team’s work out in the community we serve and within the organisation too. I think I’ll be staying in public sector for a little while longer, but I do have a taste for working with a charity or heading back abroad like I did on my placement year in Paris – maybe Copenhagen or Stockholm this time instead. You never know.

How did you secure your role?

In Suffolk, public sector roles are advertised in a central place – a former colleague made me aware of the post, I interviewed and here I am, five days from my one year anniversary. I would definitely recommend using Careers+Placements though for their network connections and especially to get some tips if you’re starting to plan for life after graduation.

Did you secure your role while you were still a student?

Not this role – I started in 2018, one year after I graduated. For my previous job I was actually approached on LinkedIn.

I’d say for anyone applying for jobs be open-minded, don’t sit on applications waiting for them to come back (a lot don’t, so you’ll be waiting a long time) and be honest with yourself at interviews – if you don’t get the right vibe from the place, people, location or workplace it might just not be right for you, even if it’s an amazing company. You know yourself better than anyone else does and something else will always be out there.

Did you do a placement or gain any other work experience (e.g. part-time job or volunteering) before securing your graduate role?

Yes quite a bit – as soon as I was able, my parents have always encouraged me to do work experience. I worked at a local council in between my studies and was a student ambassador until second year.

I then moved to Paris for my placement year for two roles: the first was at HSBC in a French-speaking translation and teaching role and the second was at Digimind in an English-speaking marketing role – it was amazing and I would encourage anyone who is brave enough to take the plunge!

I then returned to be a Careers+Placements Associate in my final year to get second years interested in and thinking about their placement and future career.

Here’s what I think the benefits of the placement year are:

  • Meeting new people with different life and career experiences to learn from
  • Understanding what it means to be a modern, working professional
  • Developing new skills – it’s whatever you make it, so the more you are proactive the more you’ll learn and the more others will want to help you
  • Understanding the demands and needs of a given sector
  • Discovering without any ties whether you like the sector or not!

I’d recommend doing a placement abroad for the following reasons:

  • You get to learn and explore a new language
  • You’ll develop new networks you just wouldn’t have staying at home
  • You can make new, international friends – which might even mean free Airbnbs when you want to travel!
  • There will be the opportunity to travel in your free time
  • It’s a good thing to throw yourself out of your comfort zone
  • Adapting and embracing a new culture – I really miss the subtle differences in French culture that I just don’t get here such as laid-back work attire, coffee breaks (the French way) and a decent lunch!

What advice would you offer to final year students or other recent graduates looking for a role?

  • Do your best – it’s all you can do and stop comparing yourself to others, as it’s not healthy!
  • Don’t narrow your thinking. Be open-minded – you might be looking for fashion roles, but you could be a data analyst and move to fashion merchandising…who knows?
  • You are your own worst critic. I’m the worst for doubting my abilities, but I’m afraid fortune favours the bold (and the proactive).
  • Don’t be cocky – having a degree doesn’t mean you know everything, as there is always room for more learning.
  • Know yourself and don’t follow the crowd (I mean who are they?) – if home is important to you, you don’t like busy environments or late work nights, perhaps think a little harder about whether a big city job would be right for you.
  • If it doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t – a job might sound like the best thing in the world on paper, but it just might not be for you. Words can make things sound completely different – I should know!
  • Enjoy your time at university and learning – it’s much harder to spend time learning around a full-time job. I’m not saying don’t do it, but relish the opportunity to do it with fewer other responsibilities or bills to pay.

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