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Andrew Totten (BA War, Peace and International Relations 2009)

Biography

My favourite subjects at school were History and Politics. An active interest in current affairs, national security and foreign policy was the main impetus to study further. I had also been heavily involved with the Air Cadets throughout school and had ambitions to fly, so a secondary consideration was somewhere I could pursue this goal. The University of Reading filled both criteria. I graduated with first class honours in 2009. However, things did not go to plan for me or the global economy! I didn't pass pilot selection, and it was a struggle to find suitable graduate level employment for a while. I organised defence conferences for a year, but I didn't enjoy the work. I then returned to studying in 2011-12 and graduated from King's College London with an MA in Terrorism, Security and Society. I also undertook a couple of internships, before eventually finding my feet in 2013 when I started down my current career path.

Why did you choose to study at the University of Reading?

1. I found generalist history / politics courses were too broad. Reading was one of only a few universities that provided a more specialist course at Bachelor's level. I was genuinely intrigued by all the modules on offer.

2. The university was affiliated with a University Air Squadron. (see www.raf.mod.uk/oxforduas/and http://bit.ly/149U2Na)

3. The green campus was far more attractive than the city universities I visited.

What was the best bit about living and studying in Reading?

Everything was a short cycle-ride away. Both the campus and the town would be considered small by London standards, but in reality they have everything you need.

What top tips would you give to students who are beginning their studies?

1. Make sure you're studying something you find interesting and enjoy reading about - you'll be doing a lot of that! If you don't enjoy reading, then don't waste your time or money going to university.

2. Join several student societies, they make you a more interesting person and will potentially give you ammunition for job interviews. In addition, the drinking buddies of today could well be tomorrow's business contacts.

3. Make the most of your spare time. You absolutely must acquire other skills beyond your academic field. Employers are looking for a combination of skills, in politics/foreign policy/intelligence this is typically an thematic/geographical area of expertise married with a language. 

What are you up to now? How did you get there?

I am currently serving with the metropolitan police as a police officer. I got here through sheer persistence, and keeping my eyes open to opportunities. I submitted approximately 200 job applications in the three years I was actively looking for employment. That's more than one per week. If anyone wants specific advice on applying for the police, feel free to contact me via LinkedIN.

I am also a part-time soldier with the army reserve. This gives me fantastic opportunities unavailable elsewhere, including heavily subsidised adventurous training expeditions, such as skiing, bobsleigh, skydiving and more. The required commitment amounts to approximately 3 weeks of my spare time per year. Thankfully, my current employer allows me 2 weeks special leave in order to do this training

What would be your top tips for students interested in working in this sector?

1. Consider volunteering in order to build-up some relevant experience. Both the police and the military rely on volunteers to a significant extent. Such posts will give you a lot more to talk/write about than a part-time job stacking shelves or doing bar work.

2. Learn a language. I didn't and I regret it to this day. As I said above, employers are looking for a useful combination of skills, not just a good final grade in your chosen field.

How has the University of Reading and the Careers Centre helped in your chosen career path?

At the time I didn't feel the defence/security/politics sector was particularly well catered for. However, I wish I had used the careers centre more than I did. When it comes to cover letters and CVs, a second opinion is essential – and nothing beats a professional critique. Also, mock interviews can be very useful preparation.

What are your top tips for students graduating this year? What should they be doing to secure the job they want?

As a fresh graduate, competency interviews will be your bread and butter. In order to impress in these interviews you need to demonstrate something more than purely academic ability. So, to secure the job you want, make sure you are filling your free time with activities and experiences that sound impressive and relevant. Practice how you will phrase your answers to the standard questions.

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of having multiple options. I didn't have a plan B, and when my plan to become a military pilot failed, I was left high and dry. In your final year, you should aim to complete at least one job application per week. In interviews, it's usually good practice mention that you have multiple options. If they think they are competing for a good candidate, this can work in your favour. In the last two job interviews I did I mentioned the 'rival' opportunities; low and behold - I was offered both jobs!

What does the University mean to you and what is your favourite memory?

The University of Reading is where I matured from a dependent teenager into an independent adult. Two memories stand out:

1. Flying solo with the University Air Squadron.

2. Reading the final grade list, then reading it again and finally using a ruler to make sure I really had got a 1st! Realising the culmination of my efforts was an overwhelming moment, and made all the late nights worthwhile!

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