Graduate of the month
Nicola Hilliard

Choosing a university

The factors that influenced my decision were the course itself and if I could travel, the university campus, the social activities on offer, the halls of residence, and the city and how close it was to home.  As I wanted to work in television, I also looked for what media related activities and experience I could find. There was a lot I was looking for!

When I went to the open day, the staff who led the Geography talk at The University of Manchester were inspiring, enthusiastic and passionate about the subject, so I knew I wanted to be taught and learn from these people. The course also offered a year abroad if I wanted and a chance to travel during my modules. The city and place as a whole was an important factor and Manchester had a lot on offer – huge music venues, bars and nightclubs, good public transport, lots of interesting places to visit, eat and shop, and events such as The Christmas Markets.

Manchester to me was close enough from home to feel comfortable, there was a wide selection of halls of residence both close to campus and further away in student focused areas. It is a huge city with a range of different opportunities and, most importantly for me, it had a variety of busy production companies including MediaCity. Both ITV and the BBC have bases here and it was something I couldn’t resist plus the University had multiple societies, including Fuse TV and Radio and The Mancunian, so my love for television would be met. The University is also embedded throughout the city and is a huge part of it so I knew I could easily explore past the main campus.

From a social perspective, the University organised events during Welcome Week and had a range of societies on offer, from circus skills to kickboxing, as well as various forms of dancing and sports, including football, netball and rugby. There was also a fantastic voluntary scheme, which helps out every week either with homework/after school clubs for children or delivering necessary items and food to the homeless, which definitely became a solid staple in my three years there.

The location and career prospects were the final factors that influenced my decision but the University and course had a lot to offer socially and academically. I couldn’t resist and it ticked all the boxes!

Choosing a course

I definitely chose a course that I would enjoy waking up to do over three years and I wanted to do something that came easily to me compared to other subjects. So after enjoying my A Level Geography course I chose Physical Geography.

The broad range and choice of modules at Manchester seemed fantastic and allowed me to do a balance between Human and Physical Geography if I wanted. The field trips seemed incredible – I ended up going to both India and Iceland during my three years and couldn’t resist this travelling aspect of the course. Again, the lecturers and staff who led the open day at Manchester were full of enthusiasm, made me laugh and were memorable compared to other open days, and I felt that I could learn easily from these passionate, energetic people. They also mentioned that before the first lecture, we went on a residential trip to allow you to meet the other students, which proved fantastic and definitely swayed me towards choosing Manchester.

The course allowed me to pick up transferable skills and some of the past Geography graduates had gone on to work in Television, which further inspired me. When I eventually went to Manchester, my personal tutor was also supportive of this career path and understood that the work experience I was gaining was just as important as the academic side of university.

The course, the university as a whole, and the place played a part in my decisions as I knew the course had to be right for me to study one subject for three years and allow me a career I wanted.  Also, the university and city had to be somewhere I could develop socially by meeting new, like-minded and fun people, as well as try new things like as kickboxing.

Transferable skills

My degree and my university experience allowed me to develop skills such as budgeting and finance, public speaking, teamwork and working in group projects, as well as working independently. My course, particularly my dissertation, helped me to plan my time and organise my work efficiently to reach deadlines. Through being Social Secretary of the Kickboxing Society I also learnt how to promote the club at events and through social media. My Geography degree in particular encouraged me to complete in-depth research, both in the field and on campus, and by using a variety of research methods. It has also allowed me to develop my mathematical skills, critical and creative thinking, and communication skills.

These skills have played a crucial part in my current role as I am dealing with budget and numbers on a daily basis. I am also often met with problems and changing deadlines, which I can plan to accordingly. I work in a fast paced, challenging and constantly changing environment so being able to work and communicate with different people and speak in front of large groups has allowed me to complete tasks as a team. My confidence in working independently has been beneficial throughout my career so far. Also, being able to use creative thinking and consider challenges or things from different angles or sensitively, which I focused on more during my human geography modules, has allowed me to work with sensitive topics and confidential data with respect. Finally, the research skills and self-motivation I developed throughout university has allowed me to complete in-depth research and should further my career in the future as I look towards being a Researcher.

Current role

My current role is within CBeebies and I am a Production Management Assistant (PMA) for the Radio and Development teams. I act as a support to the Production Management team, who sort out the budgets, travel and accommodation, insurance and call sheets for the whole team. I also attend shoots/recordings and take part in the ideas meetings.

I have been aiming towards working in Television since the age of fifteen and have constantly done work experience throughout sixth form and university and eventually started doing paid runner days for Britain’s Got Talent, The Apprentice, Catchphrase, Jeremy Kyle and The X Factor. In 2016, just after I graduated, I managed to secure BBC work experience on Blue Peter, which was utterly brilliant and allowed me to meet a huge number of people, including the talent teams. I then worked at The Edinburgh Festival in August 2016 before moving home and starting looking for work in September. I tried sending out speculative emails to production companies and theatres, which gained me some interviews, work experience or meetings with different companies. I then began to apply for things on the BBC careers website that I was eligible for, as well as any role that was Manchester based as I was eager to move back. After what felt like hundreds of applications, I secured a full time position in retail but then heard back from one of my BBC applications that I could go for an interview. I eventually got the role of a PMA on Songs of Praise and have not looked back since. In April 2017 I moved across to Children’s and have loved every minute so far.

The application process often felt long and I was often fed up having to repeat myself to answer all the questions but it was worth it. I tried not to be too hard on myself for having a day off from job hunting and applied for jobs that I was passionate about at the BBC and ITV throughout my search. I was incredibly lucky and could not be more surprised with how quickly everything happened for me. The job hunt definitely helped me to improve my application writing style, allowed me to develop effective cover letters and also allowed me to develop my confidence at the interview stage. Every job that you apply for and every interview that you do, even if you don’t get it, definitely helps you to become better at tackling each stage but my experience definitely taught me to prepare for each interview and to know each company or production inside out. I would highly recommend doing as much research as possible for every job you apply for – check out websites, visit the company if you can, look at it’s history, use/watch or try its products!

Getting a job

The University of Manchester’s Career Service have fantastic online resources that helped my CV and cover letter come on leaps and bounds. For anyone interested in television/radio etc, they also have The Media Club, which is an amazing service so do attend their events and follow them on Facebook.

I think that keeping trying is the most important thing – giving up is always the worst thing you could do. Finding a job that you want to do can be tiresome so allow yourself to have days off and don’t feel guilty that you’re not spending every minute of every day applying for jobs. Getting where you want to go can take a lot of time, perseverance and effort and not everyone takes the same route. Also, consider going to Graduate Career fairs or checking out graduate schemes, especially in areas that interest you.

To succeed at applications remember to use the job descriptions as a tick list when writing answers to application questions and refer back to it as much as possible, but also make sure the written application flows nicely. Use examples of when you’ve used your skills, for instance say when you worked as part of a big team and what you did rather than saying you’re good at teamwork. I always send thank you emails after an interview too to thank the people for their time and consideration in interviewing me.

Make sure your CV is easy to read, saved as a PDF, a maximum of two pages and your contact details are clear and stand out to an employer. A cover letter should be short, a summary of your key skills and experience with your contact details and location as well as availability. Also, if there is a named person to address your cover letter to use ‘Dear Mr/Mrs…’ instead of ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ and personalise your email/letter to the company, especially if it’s speculative. Make sure you do your research about any company you want to work for and that you know it inside out too.

I have often struggled or had setbacks with the application process. It took me five years to get BBC work experience but I never gave up on applying – it made me want it even more! I have also struggled with interviews but more recently have come to enjoy that after using a STAR technique for questions and also learning to ask questions to the employer too and researching the role further. The STAR technique is Situation Task Action Response. What situation where you in? What was the task? What action did you take? And what was the response/outcome? It really helps me make sure that an example is given for each interview question and I can demonstrate my skills set to my employer.

And for anyone that has started or is about tot start university, I’d say to focus those three years on boosting your CV through work experience or paid experience, which for me was runner days and Blue Peter work experience at the BBC. I’d also say to increase your CV through voluntary work or through being part of societies and taking on responsibility that way. Both can help you in the long run and the majority of roles have transferable skills!

Working life

I am based at MediaCityUK in Salford, Greater Manchester, though the BBC is also based in Cardiff, Bristol, London, Glasgow and in many more towns/cities. I usually work from 10am to 6pm but depending on the production or what I am working on this can also include weekends, evenings and early mornings! Within television production, the times can be quite flexible and when you start off as a runner the days can be very long but it’s worth it!

My job responsibilities include booking travel and hotels for members of my team, helping track budgets, managing diaries, looking after our equipment and logging it in and out, updating the teams’ whereabouts, setting up meeting rooms and producing call sheets. When we are in studio for pilots and taster tapes I act as a runner, which can include getting lunches, looking after talent and guests and helping the production to flow smoothly in general.

Future career

I quite simply love what I do and my job is varied – one day I could be helping in casting new pirates for Swashbuckle and another I am meeting Hacker for the first time in the CBBC studios – so I am thoroughly enjoying the present at the moment. However, looking towards the future, I would be thrilled to remain within BBC Children’s and hope that I can progress to be a Researcher or Production Co-ordinator when I am ready for the next step. I’d also love to be a Children’s author but that one may take a while!