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James Bennett; (BA Philosophy, 2014)
Three Questions on Careers: Philosophy
How has your philosophy degree helped you with your career decisions?
I’m working as a Fundraising Programmes Officer at Saïd Business School (University of Oxford), responsible for developing and implementing fundraising strategy at the annual giving/individual alumni level. I think there are two broad categories where having studied philosophy has informed my career decisions: working with ideas and working with people.
To the first point, studying philosophy means that you learn how to deconstruct big, complicated problems that require you to think originally and creatively. You also learn to present your solutions and ideas clearly. That experience has helped inform my career choices because it gives me the confidence to work in a strategic environment that expects independent thinking.
And working with people? Studying philosophy teaches you to negotiate. It teaches you how to persuade, how to compromise and even to recognise when you’ve got something wrong! Fundamentally, studying philosophy necessitates being charitable to other peoples’ views while being able to criticise your own and that process definitely helped point me down this career path.
How did your career path develop whilst at University?
Despite having worked as a fundraiser both before my time as a student and in fact for the University as a student caller, it wasn’t the long-term plan. I’d had vague, uninspired intentions to work in law but hadn’t really done anything with it – meaning I was two summers of internships behind my friends who had.
Come third year, the job hunt began and I fell into the same trap that many final years do, which is to apply for literally every grad scheme. At the time, the fact that I didn’t want to be a Compliance Analyst didn’t appear to be an obstacle to me. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing a grad scheme but if it’s not for something you really want, then the hours spent on psychometric tests alone can be miserable. It was at that time and because of this that a friend pointed me to a job at a fundraising consultancy in Bristol, which is where I started out after uni.
What advice would you give to current students who may want to follow in your footsteps?
Higher Education Development isn’t a huge place, so getting to know people isn’t too difficult and as a student at the University of Exeter, you also benefit from the fact that the Development Office there is particularly big and runs huge telethons that you gain invaluable experience from working on. That also puts you in touch with development professionals who will point you towards the right opportunities.
My biggest piece of advice is that if you’re going to study something non-vocational like I did then you need to be able to identify the skills that you have developed and how they translate into a work environment. Accruing work experience is especially valuable, more so than a first class degree from what I’ve seen. If you can manage both then that’s amazing, but don’t be afraid to shoot for a 2:1 if it means you have the time to work a temp job in the summer or a tutoring gig in the evenings.