How to make your career ambitions come true in the digital age – Alastair Stewart

'Jack of all trades and master of none' is a pretty typical insult for someone good at a few things but nothing precisely. It might also be the phrase bandying around the heads of the 130,000 Scottish students who endured their SQA exam results last week.
Getting your porfolio online can help demonstrate your commitment to your chosen career (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)Getting your porfolio online can help demonstrate your commitment to your chosen career (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Getting your porfolio online can help demonstrate your commitment to your chosen career (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

There are a plethora of arguments both for and against why secondary school examinations are essential. What's dangerous is how much they falsely ingrain into kids heads that the world of work is split into As, Bs and Cs.

Skip ahead four years, and one day, the SQA is a happy afterthought. A degree alone is not enough to cut it in today's job market. As every student or apprentice will tell you, skills, skills and skills are where the action's at. Whether you're a social sciences graduate, a mechanic, a budding entrepreneur, everyone launches into a world that requires you to show that you don't just have the know-how but the can-do.

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On reflection, honing a self-starting ability to write was my greatest decision post-university. This comes with several caveats. Firstly, motivation is a practice rooted in overcoming profound self-doubt. "Why should I write?" or "why should anyone read what I have to say?" are typical trains of thought. Nihilistic indulgence has a time and a place, and Napoleon rightly clocked that "2am courage" is the most difficult to find to battle the doubts in your head.

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The biggest problem facing young people starting out professionally, whatever their educational background or demographic, is demonstrating skills that are either raw, untapped or untried. As vulgar a term as it is, "the digital age" presents innumerable opportunities through blogging, vlogging, podcasting or whatever gets your idea out there.

The internet is one big professional showroom, and it's remarkable how few people take advantage of it. Immediately after finishing university, I continued working at my student job to make ends meet. I was continually trying to break into politics, but the need to prove that I understood policy and politics beyond having a degree in it was a constant challenge.

If there's one call to arms that works it's refining your thoughts and sharing them; creating an internet footprint and portfolio of a candidate who is engaged in their subject to demonstrate you understand it in ways you can't express through first-time CVs. Internships aren't possible for everyone, nor is further education, but everyone – everyone – needs and can show they possess the skills to break into their chosen field, whatever that may be and whatever it may be about.

According to Meltwater Social, there are four more times as many bloggers in the United States (29.2 per cent) than the UK (6.75 per cent). Japan accounts for the third-most bloggers (4.9 per cent), followed by Brazil (4.2 per cent), Canada (3.9 per cent), Germany (3.3 per cent), Italy (3.2 per cent), Spain (3.1 per cent), France (2.9 per cent) and Russia (2.3 per cent).

The metrics behind what makes one successful or popular are almost irrelevant. Setting up a Wordpress portfolio or a dedicated Twitter feed and LinkedIn (please, God, ensure you've removed your teenage 'AmAzIng94' username when embarking on this) is of immeasurable value.

No one is saying you have to craft a masterpiece, but the guts to try and put your ideas out there – when your name will likely be googled anyway by a prospective employer – is critical. The fabled cliche of transferable skills is true; pick a subject a run with it, demonstrate some critical analysis, discussion or unconventional thinking. Use expert spell-checking technology to make your writing seamless; harass critical peers to give you honest feedback. Avoid your family and sycophants and yes, don't diatribe. Indulge an original thought, don't get into street fights on Twitter and present yourself online as if you're in the room with an employer.

Whatever your skill-set, it needs to be taken from the abstract to the possible to give your CV tangible evidence. Whether it's an Instagram account or a blog, showcase your abilities. Do it because you want to and because it's the most fruitful, measurable way to prove your insight from what you've interpreted from years of studying or learning from others.

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I've found myself restless recently and intimidated by the prospect of writing anything at all. What right do I have to put a finger to key on anything? I think, therefore, I am. So what? If ever the doubt lingers, I read my early work as a reminder that writing is an incomplete journey. If you instinctually want to insert a new comma into a 10-year old article, with an obsessive enthusiasm, then the game's still afoot.

Conservatism, in its small 'c' variety, has always held a unique appeal for me because its central tenants are you cannot know everything and change should centre on disregarding the bad and keeping the good. Writing, as a process, is very much the same, you learn and keep going.

None of us can claim absolute knowledge or skill. Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything, and with deliberate practice. There is no model for what a writer looks like, but there is one commonality they possess: one does not need to be a globetrotter to find inspiration in the day-to-day.

Most graduates or young people are working jobs they'd like to move beyond to start their professional careers. Everything offers experience and stimulus. The internet is too perennial for caged ideas; a mobile phone, a busted laptop is all you need. Working in a bar or abroad and everything in-between can be sources of inspiration all while affording the time and financial means to put pen to paper to build your ambitions.

I've focused on writing because it means and did so much for me at the beginning of my career. It still does. Whatever your idea, whatever your trade or speciality, light the fire. I implore you to demonstrate your worth and build your portfolio online. If nothing else, at the testing time of finding a job, working towards an ambition, it will serve as an outlet and will pay off.

Christopher Hitchens, in 'Letters to a Young Contrarian', articulated it far better than me. If you have something worth saying, say it, and don't let anyone stop you.

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