How to use your skills to land a top job

By Jennifer Lipman, May 31, 2012

In a bleak job market, we asked four professionals how they got their big break:

Josh Katz - Head chef

"I wrote to five of London’s top chefs asking for advice on how to get started. As I was slightly older and had done degrees that had nothing to do with food, I was unsure whether to enrol in a catering college or try to go straight into a restaurant.

"The chef Chris Galvin suggested I do a week’s trial in his restaurant on Baker Street — I ended up staying for nearly 16 months.

"To work in this industry, students who are not already at catering college should be cooking a lot at home, reading recipe books to build their knowledge base, eating out and trying to organise internships or work experience to see if the profession is of interest to them.

"If they are already enrolled in cooking-related studies, they should be seeking work experience at every opportunity.

"Employers look for an ability to work long, unsociable and physically demanding hours for little pay, driven by a passion for what you are doing and a belief that it will get you to where you want to be eventually.

"Honesty, reliability and punctuality are very important in a kitchen, as they are for any profession that is heavily team-orientated."

Lisa Stock - publisher

"I did an MA in sociolinguistics and have worked since 2007 as an editor at Dorling Kindersley.

"I had done a week’s work experience at DK. A friend had a contact at the company and kindly put me in touch. One week turned into two, a short freelance contract followed and I’m still here four-and-a-half years later.

"Breaking into publishing is like many other careers; get as much experience as possible, whether in a publishing house or a local newspaper. Even editing marketing materials is a good basis for learning how to manipulate language.

"It’s also useful to think about which genre you would like to work in. Organisational skills, attention to detail and diplomacy (in order to maintain a good relationship with authors) are also important. You will need strong language, grammar, and editorial skills plus some creative flair.

"Do it only if you are passionate about it — the financial rewards are not vast, but the job satisfaction is worth the effort."

Lucie Graham - international development worker

"I graduated with a degree in experimental psychology and then trained as a teacher before working in the voluntary service overseas. For the last five years I have worked in Malawi and southern Africa in education and HIV prevention.

It is important to have a profession or a hard skill first — the more technical knowledge you have the better.

"International development organisations want people who are qualified, from teachers to accountants and lawyers, doctors or IT experts.

"Spending a gap year volunteering isn’t necessary. Schemes raise awareness but the benefit for the community is often limited.

"Be flexible — you won’t usually get your first choice of position. There aren’t many schemes you don’t have to pay for. Expect it to be frustrating. The cultural difference can be phenomenal and people aren’t always receptive. It’s all about building relationships rather than getting things done immediately."

Kenny Wax - Theatre producer

"I spent a year at Dixons’ head office and then decided to become a theatre producer. I started out as an usher on Miss Saigon. Cameron Mackintosh was around the theatre and he gave me some great advice.

"I spent the next few years following that advice, working in all the departments of a West End theatre: the box office, the stage crew, the fly floors and the lighting department, and then for a fringe venue before producing my first show.

"I really believe that you can only truly understand the world of a theatre producer by working in a production office. But good legal, accounting and computer skills will be useful and make you more of an asset. Someone with a genuine interest in the industry, who sees a lot of theatre, will be attractive to an employer.

"Know your stuff. Then use it at the right time. The best thing is to get your foot in the door by offering a few months unpaid work to a well chosen prospective employer. Then make yourself indispensable. The Society of London Theatre offers a very good 12-month internship but only to candidates who have two or three years’ work experience."

Last updated: 11:23am, May 31 2012