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Test 1 / 20

Starting out on your career

Are you a graduate trying to plan out the best career path for yourself? We’ve asked five careers consultants to give some tips on how to go about it.

A
A university degree is no guarantee of a job, and job hunting in itself requires a whole set of skills. If you find you are not getting past the first interview, ask yourself what is happening. Is it a failure to communicate or are there some skills you lack? Once you see patterns emerging it will help you decide whether the gaps you have identified can be filled relatively easily. If you cannot work out what the mismatch is, get back to the selection panel with more probing questions, and find out what you need to do to bring yourself up to the level of qualification that would make you more attractive to them: but be careful to make this sound like a genuine request rather than a challenge or complaint.

B
Do not be too dispirited if you are turned down for a job, but think about the reasons the employers give. They often say it is because others are ‘better qualified’, but they use the term loosely. Those who made the second interview might have been studying the same subject as you and be of similar ability level, but they had something which made them a closer match to the selector’s ideal. That could be experience gained through projects or vacation work, or it might be that they were better at communicating what they could offer. Do not take the comments at face value: think back to the interviews that generated them and make a list of where you think the shortfall in your performance lies. With this sort of analytical approach you will eventually get your foot in the door.

C
Deciding how long you should stay in your first job is a tough call. Stay too long and future employers may question your drive and ambition. Of course, it depends where you are aiming. There can be advantages in moving sideways rather than up, if you want to gain real depth of knowledge. If you are a graduate, spending five or six years in the same job is not too long provided that you take full advantage of the experience. However, do not use this as an excuse for apathy. Graduates sometimes fail to take ownership of their careers and take the initiative. It is up to you to make the most of what’s available within a company, and to monitor your progress in case you need to move on. This applies particularly if you are still not sure where your career path lies.

D
It is helpful to think through what kind of experience you need to get your dream job and it is not a problem to move around to a certain extent. But in the early stages of your career you need a definite strategy for reaching your goal, so think about that carefully before deciding to move on from your first job. You must cultivate patience to master any role. There is no guarantee that you will get adequate training, and research has shown that if you do not receive proper help in a new role, it can take 18 months to master it.

E
A prospective employer does not want to see that you have changed jobs every six months with no thread running between them. You need to be able to demonstrate the quality of your experience to a future employer, and too many moves too quickly can be a bad thing. In any company it takes three to six months for a new employee to get up to speed with the structure and the culture of the company. From the company’s perspective, they will not receive any return on the investment in your salary until you have been there for 18 months. This is when they begin to get most value from you – you are still fired up and enthusiastic. If you leave after six months it has not been a good investment – and may make other employers wary.

Starting out on your career

Keep your final objective in mind when you are planning to change jobs.
Consultant D
It takes time to become familiar with the characteristics of a company you have joined.
Consultant E
You should demonstrate determination to improve your job prospects.
Consultant C
Make sure your approach for information is positive in tone.
Consultant A
It is not certain that you will be given very much support in your job initially.
Consultant D
Stay optimistic in spite of setbacks.
Consultant B
Promotion isn’t the only way to increase your expertise.
Consultant C
Ask for information about your shortcomings.
Consultant A
Some information you are given may not give a complete picture.
Consultant B
It will be some time before you start giving your employers their money’s worth.
Consultant E
Test 2 / 20

Why Do We Read Novels?

We asked a group of academics for their views on the appeal of fiction

A Cathy Smith

Is a work by a prize-winning novelist better than a trashy summer blockbuster? Undoubtedly, if you’re looking for a literary masterpiece. But it’s not ‘better’ if you’re simply looking for escapism. ‘Literary fiction’, unlike ‘genre fiction’ such as mystery or romance, is not about escaping from reality. Instead it provides a means to better understand the world. What makes a work deserve the title of literary fiction can be pinned down, to a certain extent, by critical analysis of the writer’s techniques. Yet a huge element of the appeal of literary fiction lies in something almost indefinable – the brilliant, original idea; the insight that, once written down, seems the only way to say something. Writers of fiction have to recruit or seduce us into their world – only then do we trust them to take us on a journey with them. The books we put down after only a few pages are those which have failed to make that connection with us.

B Matteo Bianco

A novel – whether for adults or children – takes you places, emotionally and imaginatively, which you would never otherwise have visited. However, I don’t think you should put yourself under any more pressure to finish ‘a classic’ than a kids’ comic. And if by ‘classics’ we mean Tolstoy, Proust, Hardy and so on, then my own reading is distinctly patchy. The author Martin Amis once said that the only way we have of evaluating the quality of a book is whether it retains a readership. I think that’s fair enough, though it’s imprecise. A work of fiction can always be fine-tuned in such a way that the final experience for the reader is enhanced, and this fact must say something about the theoretical (if not practical) possibility of stating that one book is better than another. And while I can’t prove that a single copy of a classic work of fiction is a greater gift to the world than a million trashy romances, I’m going to go ahead and say it’s so anyway.

C Gita Sarka

The author Albert Camus says that the appeal of narrative art lies in its power to organise life in such a way that we can reflect on it from a distance and experience it anew. Distinct from television or film, literature allows us significant control over our experience of what’s being presented to us. One book I would always tell anyone to read is The Life and Times of Michael K. – a literary prize winner, but hated by some of my colleagues. It’s a classic for me because of what it says about living in difficult times; to a lot of people it’s just a bit boring and the main character doesn’t speak enough. Categories such as ‘literary masterpieces’ and even ‘literature’ do not exist independently of their assessors – assessors who are bound in an era and see value in part through the eyes of that era. Personally, I find it impossible to make claims that one work is better than another. I can say why it might be worthwhile to study it, but that’s all.

D George C. Schwarz

If, at a certain time in their life a person is interested in just one particular genre or author, that’s fine as long as they have the opportunity of reading a wide range of books throughout their lives. These opportunities can come through family members, teachers and friends who can create the reading landscape and encourage them to look wider and further. A famous writer once said that it’s easy to recognise the people who don’t read fiction, as their outlook on life is narrower and less imaginative, and they find it hard to put themselves in other people’s shoes. It’s a generalisation, but with elements of truth. The power of fiction begins with fairy tales, nursery rhymes and picture books, which give children ways of looking at the world outside their own experience. Literature teachers often recommend reading ‘the classics’. But what classics, whose and which era? In a way it doesn’t matter – the key point is that one can’t escape from a need for shared references and reading experience.

Which academic …

compares books to other story-telling art forms?
C Gita Sarka
admits to gaps in their literary knowledge?
B Matteo Bianco
suggests a possible consequence of not reading novels?
D George C. Schwarz
points out that opinion about a book depends on the period in which it is being judged? .
C Gita Sarka
explains why readers sometimes choose to read books which are not considered classic works of literature?
A Cathy Smith
believes that it is possible to improve any novel?
B Matteo Bianco
gives reassurance about people whose choice of reading is limited?
D George C. Schwarz
says that no-one should feel obliged to read a particular type of book?
B Matteo Bianco
gives another writer’s opinion on why people enjoy reading literature?
C Gita Sarka
defends their right to judge particular types of novels?
B Matteo Bianco
Test 3 / 20

Tell us something about yourself

Being interviewed for a job can be a stressful experience. We asked four people what they learnt from being in that situation.

A
My first interview for a job taught me a great deal. I was applying for the position of junior account executive in an advertising company, which involves dealing with clients on a face-to-face basis. It follows that you have to be good at interpersonal skills, and unfortunately, that’s not the impression I gave. Like a lot of people, I tend to babble when I’m nervous. The interviewer began by asking me to say something about myself, and I started talking about my hobbies. But I got carried away and went off at a tangent, which made a bad impression. The other lesson I learnt was that if you are asked to talk about things you aren’t good at, you really shouldn’t be evasive. You could mention something that can also be a strength. For example, being pedantic is not always a bad thing in certain circumstances, and you should explain how you cope with that deficiency, but you have to say something.

B
In my present job, I have to interview applicants, and I can offer a few general tips. Firstly, a candidate should not learn a speech off by heart; you will come across as insincere. Secondly, it is crucial to understand what the interviewer wants you to talk about. For instance, an interviewer might ask about a situation where your supervisor or manager had a problem with your work. Now, what the interviewer is really after is to see how you react to criticism, and the best thing is to say that you tried to learn from this. Finally, don’t try to conceal your real character. Many years ago, an interviewer asked me at the end of our talk if I had any questions. I was very keen to get the job, so I asked what opportunities there were for promotion. I wondered if perhaps I had been too direct, but I later discovered that employers like you to seem eager and ambitious.

C
I remember one interview I attended with a company that makes ice cream and other dairy products. I turned up in a smart business suit and tie, only to find that my prospective employers were in jeans! They believed in being casual: no private offices, everyone ate in the same canteen, people all used first names with each other. I realised I should have done more research. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. On another occasion, as the interview was drawing to a close, I was asked if I had anything to say. I was so relieved it was over that I just smiled and blurted out: ‘No thanks!’ I later realised this was a mistake. A candidate should decide in advance on at least ten things to ask the interviewer: it’s not necessary to ask more than two or three questions, but you need to have some in reserve in case the question you wanted to ask is answered in the course of the interview.

D
Preparation is of extreme importance; things like finding out what form the interview will take. Will there be any sort of written component, for instance, and will you be talking to one person or a panel? And of course, you need to prepare answers to those awkward questions designed to find out more about your character. For example, you might be asked about your most important achievement so far; don’t answer this in a way that makes you seem swollen-headed or complacent, as this will suggest that you don’t learn easily. Actually, it’s not so much what people say that makes them seem arrogant as the way they sit, how they hold their heads, whether they meet the interviewer’s eye, so bear that in mind. Another question interviewers sometimes ask, to find out how well you work in a team, is about mistakes you have made. You should have an example ready and admit that you were at fault, otherwise it looks as though you are the kind of person who shifts the blame onto others. But you should also show that you learnt from the mistake and wouldn’t make it again.

Which person mentions the following?

establishing how the interview will be conducted.
Person D
the importance of keeping to the point
Person A
a relaxed atmosphere in the workplace
Person C
an abrupt ending to an interview
Person C
taking responsibility for past errors
Person D
appearing to have rehearsed responses
Person B
preparing inquiries to put to a prospective employer
Person C
awareness of body language
Person D
revealing what motivates you
Person B
advantages in being honest about your weaknesses.
Person A
Test 4 / 20

Reviews of psychology books

A Missing Out: in Praise of the Unlived Life by Adam Phillips

In Missing Out, a slim volume peppered with insights that may never have been expressed quite like this before but which make you want to scrawl ‘yes’ in the margins on almost every page, the psychoanalyst and writer Adam Phillips asserts that we all ‘learn to live somewhere between the lives we have and the lives we would like’. For ‘modern’ people, ‘the good life is … filled to the full’; we seek complete satisfaction. But what we need, argues Phillips, isn’t satisfaction but frustration. You can’t get instant satisfaction because you can’t control people or the world. You can’t ‘get’ other people because no one can be fully understood and neither, of course, can you. But a capacity for tolerating frustration allows us to develop. Appropriately, given the subject matter, this book can be a frustrating read – sometimes you think you’re just getting to grips with an idea, only for it to slip away. But, as is often true of Phillips’s books, what you do feel when you’ve finished it is that it offers glimpses of the real, messy and never fully knowable human heart.

B Together by Richard Sennett

Together is the second book in a planned trilogy about the skills modern humans need for a happy co-existence. The first addressed the joys of making things with your hands, and the third will be about cities. This one looks at how we can all get along together. Sennett explores the importance of equality and how, in unequal societies, people are less willing to co-operate. He argues that our society is becoming atomised, ‘deskilling people in practising co-operation’. The trouble is it all feels atomised itself. Sennett’s argument seems to bounce from place to place, and he relies on anecdotes and experience more than data. It aims to be a practical, how-to guide for maximising co-operation, but ends up a sort of unsystematic self-help book: listening is as important a skill as the presentation of your own ideas; discussion need not reach agreement but can teach us new things; assertiveness is valuable, but so is politeness and diffidence. All true, but don’t we know it already?

C Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks

A few years ago, a number of writers dealt movingly about what it’s like to have a serious illness. If Teach Us to Sit Still does well, we could be in for a glut of writing by people who don’t have much wrong with them, yet still write about it at length. But if they are anything like as good as this, it might not be such a gloomy prospect. A few years ago, Tim Parks couldn’t sleep and had serious pains in his side. Medical tests all came back negative, but the pain persisted. So, he embarked on a sceptical exploration of the possible causes of and cures for his woes. He tried out an array of theories and therapies. The intensity, of Park’s search makes for a less than relaxing read, and, in all probability, there will be readers who fail to make it past the first couple of chapters. Parks, an innovative and prolific novelist, writes wonderfully however, and despite the subject matter, a layer of wit runs through it Parks eventually achieves some relief through special breathing exercises and meditation, but uncovers no magic formulas.

D The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman

Should we all be striving for happiness? Should we think positively? Should we try to ignore any difficult thoughts, feelings, or situations that arise? Many self-help books these days would shout ‘Yes!’ Oliver Burkeman isn’t so sure. A leading writer in what could be called the ‘antiself-help self-help’ genre – which happily seems to be swelling – Burkeman’s work, as represented in The Antidote, is not about positive thinking, finding partners, and getting promotions at work and doesn’t offer facile instructions for living a happy, easy life. Rather, it uses research to suggest that we reconsider our assumptions and find new ways of thinking and being. Help! How to Become Slightly Happier, his previous book, comprised a series of short sections, each a page or two long, which presented an idea fairly quickly. The Antidote has just eight chapters and each one explores a subject like success and failure in detail. So what are his conclusions? Well, one is that we have to stop searching for firm answers and quick fixes.

About which book is each following point made?

It is likely to put certain kinds of people off.
Text C
It has aims which resemble those in other recently published books.
Text D
It offers unnecessary advice to readers.
Text B
It makes seemingly original but convincing observations.
Text A
It avoids obvious answers to an issue which is familiar to many people
Text D
It may prompt the publication of other books exploring the same subject matter.
Text C
It is organised differently from other writing by the same author.
Text D
It lacks a clear structure.
Text B
It challenges a modern trend in psychology.
Text D
It is difficult to understand in places.
Text A