‘The Reader’ is a national reading charity with a unique shared reading model that reaches across all ages, demographics and settings, and began in Liverpool in 1997. They use great literature as a tool for living which helps people better connect with themselves and others, enabling them to realise the changes they want to make. Christopher Lynn, a recent LJMU English Graduate, began as a volunteer for the organisation back in 2014, and has gone on to secure a permanent position.
Here, Chris gives LJMU English students some inspiring advice as to how to make the most of your skills, and to get a career that’ll really mean something to you:
‘I discovered “The Reader” through a vacancy on the LJMU graduate website (sign up folks!). Alas, it was for a senior management position, but after reading about the work The Reader does, I just had to get involved. Luckily, The Reader has a number of voluntary projects, so I signed up, and was trained to deliver weekly poetry groups in Care Home settings.
After volunteering for 4 months, I applied for a graduate vacancy but was unsuccessful. However, I managed to make a good impression so was ‘on their radar’. Two months after that, I applied for a second position and was successful! This feels like an important detail, things don’t always fall into place straight away…
The application process involved a bespoke application form (similar to a CV). With that, I managed to secure an interview that involved an Excel test and a formal panel interview. Volunteering put me in a good position to apply, because I could talk with confidence about the work I had been doing thus far and build on the relationship I already had with the organisation. Now I help to run the volunteer programme I used to volunteer on myself!
These are the skills from my degree that have been particularly useful in my job so far:
Autonomy – working independently and being self-motivated is vital to the work I do at The Reader, often unsupervised and working to my own deadlines.
The reading awareness that I developed at uni is central to my role – what is going on for me when I’m reading? How am I responding? What’s important? As well as close-reading texts in discussion groups, it’s helped me ‘read’ people and situations with similar sensitivity; especially when working with people with mental health issues or dementia, recognising what’s happening ‘under the surface’ of things.
Effective communication skills – I need these all the time, everyday.
Listening – Reading is a form of listening which has helped me hone my listening skills (something I’m trying to improve all the time): this is definitely a skill seeded in my degree.
At the centre of my role I get a wholesome satisfaction of having helped someone, in however small or large a way, through literature. I feel lucky to be able to wrestle with challenging, inspiring poems everyday. I get to work with volunteers who generously contribute their time and energy to making a difference, so I take pride in making their journey with us a quality experience from the very start.
Looking back, there are a number of things I wish I’d done differently as an undergraduate, to make better use of all the careers support on tap whilst at LJMU. For example, I could have worked harder in the course of my degree to get my skills down in words! I did go to a CV workshop in my final year, which illuminated the skills you are all developing whilst studying English at LJMU. I found that the bigger narrative about what you’re achieving can often pass you by when you’re in the thick of it. You’ll have to re-write your CV with every application, so it’s a good idea to know your strengths in this process, and have solid foundations to work with.
Interview practice – looking back, I know I would’ve benefitted from a mock interview with some structured feedback at the end, and these can easily be booked with the Careers Service. Articulating yourself well in the pressure of the moment is something we all have trouble with, and some practice runs with a ‘critical friend’ would have improved my confidence.
Volunteer! I wish I had volunteered more during my degree. Not only does it look good on your CV but more importantly, you’ll find out more about yourself and what works for you. For example, I also volunteered as a high school teaching assistant, after which I decided not to pursue the road to teaching. That didn’t work out, but I had the skills to reflect on why that was the case, and I moved closer to understanding what was right for me. Put your energy into things you believe in and that in itself is ‘success’ in my book.*
I think Walt Whitman says it better than me, so my last piece of advice comes in the form of a poem. I wish I could read this aloud to all of you! It reassures me to be patient, to build a web and that I’m not alone in feeling ‘Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space’ – especially looking back in that common post-grad lull. Try things, get out there! Learn what you like, learn what you don’t. Fling your filament ’til the bridge you need be form’d, till the ductile anchor holds’…
Walt Whitman, ‘A Noiseless Patient Spider’
A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where on a little promontory it stood isolated;
Mark’d how to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my Soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my Soul.
*One last thing: Postgrad survival reading! If you’re skint and at a loss – I’d highly recommend reading Down and Out in London and Paris by George Orwell, which gave me gave me lots of pleasure and reassurance when I was trying to make meaningful things happen in my life against the tide.