Ellie Mayner, 22, a Creative Digital Design graduate of the University of Worcester, was becoming frustrated by her lack of progress in job hunting. She felt she’d missed out on critical one-to-one careers advice in her final year of university, due to the impact of the national COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
'I wanted help with my job search. University closed, I had to finish my degree at home and I felt there was no careers guidance. I needed support with interview skills, writing my CV and cover letter. I think I’ve applied for close to 100 jobs. I didn’t have any feedback on those, I did get a couple of interviews and got some feedback afterwards.'
Turning a hobby into a career
Ellie had initially been planning to study history at university. However, the decision to defer her university place changed her thinking and career path. In that gap year, her lifelong passion for creative photography caught the eye of friends and family, and she landed a few paid photo assignments.
'Photography started out as a hobby when I was a teenager. I knew I wanted photography to be my career, I just wasn’t sure how to make that happen.'
She started a Creative Digital Design course at the University of Worcester, graduating in the summer of 2020. During the course, she’d developed a range of skills beyond photography, including design, social media marketing and creative campaigns.
'My course had a couple of photography modules. It broadened my experience and I was able to think about wider roles in social media, marketing and videography. I still wanted photography to be my focus and to take all I’d learnt and use those skills to develop and produce creative content, working with an agency or in a company.'
Together with other creative students at the University of Worcester, Ellie showcased her final work in the annual show, which took place online because of lockdown restrictions. Her work was central to the show’s online promotional campaign (see photo).
'We did a virtual final degree show to present our work to a wider audience. I’m not sure if anyone received jobs directly as a result of our degree show, whereas in previous years an in-person degree show has led to jobs for many students straight from university.'
Ellie didn’t waste any time starting her job search after graduation but wasn’t sure where to begin.
'I started my search on job sites and applied for anything I saw locally. There were lots of social media roles, as businesses wanted more social and virtual content. I looked at executive level jobs, junior content producers and property photography roles and I applied for them all.'
Getting to the interview stage, following around 100 job applications, was a brilliant achievement. So too was getting constructive feedback, which gave her the incentive to ask for help.
Ellie asked her work coach at Kidderminster Job Centre Plus for help with interview preparation and her CV.
'I applied for Universal Credit as I’d been so long looking for jobs and needed help. I’d not heard of Steps Ahead, but my coach told me it’s a really good way to get the help I needed with my job search.'
Working with a mentor
'I didn’t feel nervous before my first mentoring session. I’d been searching for a job for so long and hadn’t had much luck and I was looking forward to having help. When university closed in March, I had five modules and a dissertation to finish. There was no online learning, I just carried on and got my work done and kept on track for a 2:1 degree. I never got much career advice because of lockdown. I just wanted some support from my mentor.'
Ellie asked her mentor, Samantha, for advice on improving her CV and how to write a cover letter. She also planned a specific mentoring session to tackle interview skills and preparation.
'I told my mentor Samantha, that I wanted to work on my CV and that was our first chat. We talked about my skills and what I learnt at uni so I could include that in my CV. My CV has changed many times in the process. I’m now happy to share it and I’ve put it on my LinkedIn profile with a link to my photography website.'
Having set up her own website in her gap year (www.ellie-mayner-photography.com), Ellie started taking photos of friends and family and they were so impressed, they offered to pay!
She created Instagram and Facebook profiles for her photography and had begun to build a small number of clients, until government restrictions meant the opportunity to take photographs stopped.
'I have always thought I might set-up my own photography business and for that to be my full-time job. When graduating, I decided I wanted to get experience working for a company or an agency and at the same time freelance work dropped off. I have only had two photoshoots since last July and it’s been doubly hard.'
The expert support and advice from Samantha had a very positive impact on Ellie. She’s now got a CV she’s proud of, as well as leads for photography work via her website.
Ellie has since secured a role at Paisley Flour Catering, a wedding and event catering company, as their Marketing and Social Media Manager.
'I am really enjoying my job, working with an amazing team and using all the skills I learnt at university about social media marketing, graphic design, web design and of course I am able to create content using my photography skills. I have done so much since starting, controlling the social media channels, creating marketing materials and managing the website! I have had the incredible opportunity to attend events to photograph such as going to the British Grand Prix, which was a dream come true (as a huge F1 fan).'