What does a school Careers Adviser do? A day in the life of James

Get an insight into how careers adviser James supports his clients and find out what a careers adviser does day-to-day.

The role of a careers adviser is to help people progress into their chosen pathway of education, training, or employment. They provide information, advice and guidance to help people make realistic choices about their next steps.

Our careers advisers support young people to achieve their career ambitions and get started on the right path, no matter what barriers they face. They may work in schools and colleges or support young people and adults as part of other local services.

James Davidson is a C+K careers adviser. His typical day is varied, involving a mixture of research, preparation, presenting and one-to-one time with young people. We caught up with James to see how the busy first term of 2022-2023 has gone for him.

James works as a careers adviser for three schools in West Yorkshire, providing careers advice and guidance for secondary school pupils. So, James, what does a C+K careers adviser do during a typical day?

Entry one – 15th September

I knew September was going to be an intense start and I was right. I work at three schools across three different districts of West Yorkshire. It’s a great mix and I’m enjoying it!

As careers advisers, we start working with the most vulnerable first. I’m making sure that Y11 students with EHCPs (Education, Health and Care Plans) have their guidance session as early as possible in the year to make their transition to college or sixth form a little bit easier.

It can take a little while to get the first set of appointments scheduled, and to do this we work alongside other school staff. Everybody is busy in the first week and snatching time with colleagues is the order of the day.

Preparation is key. Much like a teacher will be ready in advance of their lesson, a careers adviser must try to get ready before the start of term.

Entry two – 16th September

An extremely busy start to the year, with a very intense day yesterday. A key skill of working as an education adviser in a school is flexibility. By this I mean the ability to constantly revise a schedule around the different things needing your attention.

An example from yesterday includes guidance with vulnerable sixth form students who may struggle to progress on to university (which is their aim), alongside meeting with the Special Educational Need (SEN) Team to gain a list of all students who have an EHCP.

Alongside this, I had two online meetings, a meeting with senior leadership about the annual Delivery Agreement with the school, and a call to a couple of parents regarding one student who is facing significant challenges to progression. The ability to drop tasks and pick up others very quickly is critical. As is the ability to generate ideas about how to do things efficiently.

My focus today was on my first day in a college as their new second adviser alongside another C+K colleague. Despite a few IT teething problems, everything went well. The diversity of subjects discussed was interesting; I advised on everything from green energy engineering to pharmacy and degree apprenticeships in operating practice.

Being able to communicate basic research across all subjects is also a useful skill for a careers adviser in school. For any sector that I am unsure of, I make a note on a document called ‘research’ and schedule time in to learn about the content. The tricky bit for me is remembering all the new staff names, roles, and office locations! Luckily, I know where to get a good cup of coffee now so it’s all fine…

Entry three – 22nd September

The variety of this job is the constant appeal. This week I have done guidance sessions with students aiming for work in care homes and those wishing to become researchers in pure and applied mathematics.

I have done a mock interview for a young man applying to Cambridge to study Natural Sciences and helped analyse a personal statement for Social Work. I generally tailor questions to each student for an interview at that Oxbridge level, and this was no different. I asked questions on all aspects of their degree course (maths, physics, biology, chemistry and computer science) with a short task that included analysing a technical diagram.

This resembles the actual reality of Oxbridge interviews where candidates are assessed on their ability to think critically. The student was impressive and said his confidence had increased prior to application – let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed!

Challenges for me this week have been keeping track of the many schedule changes across schools and tweaking my workflow as needed. To help me keep on top of the number of details, requests, research projects and follow ups, I have a constantly evolving word document with lists everywhere. Keeping a diary is essential for all the events, parents’ evenings, and college visitors you may potentially have to deal with. Speaking of which, this evening is also a Y11 event at Appleton Academy.

Entry four – 28th September

Back on my feet today after the usual round of flu at the start of the school year – happens every time apart from the year we wore masks. It feels good to build my immune system up before the start of winter! Being off ill meant that I was unable to sort my schedules out for the school so it has been a bit of a quiet one today, luckily.

I did manage to deliver a quick 30-second talk about careers to all of Year 11 in Ryburn and I was asked by quite a few students afterwards if they could have appointments. Sometimes a quick verbal intro to a year group is all you need. I then had six guidance sessions, with careers ranging from Paramedic Science to Business Innovation Management.

Entry five – 18th October

Much has happened since my last update. I recently gave a joint talk to students and parents about options Post 16 at the Get Organised event at the Shay Stadium in Halifax. Pretty much all the slides were put together by a colleague called Ben, and then we split the presentation in half and took it in turns to speak. This worked really well.

Part of the job is undoubtedly to feel comfortable speaking in from of a variety of audiences, sometimes large ones (entire year groups in assemblies) and sometimes large groups of parents. I still get just a little nervous about doing it, even to this day, but overall I really enjoy it. It’s a good example of the kind of experience you can volunteer to get through C+K if you want it.

One other thing I’ve been doing is attending parents’ evenings, transition evenings (for Y6 going into Y7) and also spending time with career leads and colleagues explaining how my to do list works. This term especially, it’s massively important to make sure everyone knows how much work there is to do and that guidance sessions take priority. Within schools, it can be very easy to get sidetracked by other issues and the many millions of events that keep cropping up.

By having a system in place that works for you and that others are aware of you can not only use your time well but also maintain a work-life balance too. Critical during the time of year when it’s easy to catch a cold or just become exhausted through overwork and the long dark hours of decreasing daylight! Being comfortable with the idea of a constantly unfinished day is probably the hardest part of the job for me.

In my other role as a Progression Officer for Uni Connect I also have a trip to Leeds University this week for CPD and to meet the new team. There is a lot still to learn with that program for this year after two major changes have been made – the first was a total cut of funding and the second was a large change to the process by which the admin tasks are done. Advisers need to be positive about this change and understand that as soon as the skills have been learned with one system, it is highly likely to change the next academic year. This can be frustrating at times, but the only solution is to learn the system.

Anyway, half term is on the horizon and a much-needed rest before the final term to the winter break. There are literally hundreds of guidance appointments to be done, not all by me, roughly 8 per day (though ideally 6) and almost no time to conduct detailed research so the onus is very much on the adviser to promote good research practice to each student so they may discover details for themselves.

Are you interested in becoming a careers adviser? See what makes a good careers adviser in this article, or get in touch with us on 01484 242000 or email chat@ckcareers.co.uk.

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