Just don’t be an arsehole: the importance of a good reputation for a successful career

Rule number 1: Don’t piss anybody off. Rule number 2: Don’t piss anybody off!

Schmoozing, rubbing elbows, word-of-mouth, networking, whatever you call it, part of your career involves interacting with other people who work in your industry (and sometimes even outside of it). Generally being nice when building these relationships will make your working life easier and more pleasant. Occasionally you will meet people you don’t like. Occasionally you will meet people who give you the distinct impression that they do not like you. Get over it. Just. Be. Nice. To. Everyone. It really is best to avoid getting a bad reputation.

Joan Jett – Bad Reputation. It is advisable to enjoy the reckless sentiment of this song without applying the message to your own business life

As a new member of the business world you will be building your own reputation: in your workplace, online, face-to-face, at events and even through introductions from within your existing social circle. The importance of interacting with people and forming positive relationships is exemplified by the many businesses that exist purely as conduits for business relationships. One such organisation, Melbourne Business Network says ever so aptly on their website, “Let’s face it: we’re social creatures and since time immemorial, humanity has always thrived on the strength and quality of relationships.” It’s true.



  1. The estimation in which a person or thing is held, especially by the community or the public generally; repute: a man of good reputation.
  2. Favorable repute; good name: to ruin one’s reputation by misconduct.
  3. A favorable and publicly recognized name or standing for merit, achievement,reliability, etc.: to build up a reputation.
  4. The estimation or name of being, having, having done, etc., something specified: He has the reputation of being a shrewd businessman.

1325-75; Middle English reputacioun  < Latin reputātiōn-  (stem of reputātiō )computation, consideration, equivalent to reputāt ( us ) (past participle of reputāre;  seerepute) + -iōn- -ion

According to Dictionary.com reputation has been part of our language since the 14th century and it is still an important word today

Think about it in terms of social media. Want to get a recommendation on a restaurant, movie or travel destination? Visit Urbanspoon, Rotten Tomatoes, TripAdvisor or their equivalents and you can see what’s good, and more importantly what’s bad. The same applies to people. Aside from the obvious forums like Facebook and LinkedIn, people talk. ‘It’s not what you know it’s who you know’, ‘Good news travels fast but bad news travels faster’, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all’ and even ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ – there are countless sayings in various forms that all point to the same salient point: play nice.

Of course there are anomalies in the business world. You know the kind. The boss that flips out every couple of weeks and delivers a verbal lashing to their employees. This is indulgent and ridiculous. Instilling fear is such a flawed way to interact with people in a professional environment and you might even wind up being publicly defamed for it. Inspiring confidence and commitment is far superior. Besides, in the beginning of your career it would be rare for you to act this way and get away with it.

David Brent has a questionable working style

David Brent has a questionable working style

Behaving badly towards people you work with is just bad business. The Journal Of Business Ethics concedes that “reputation is one of the main business assets responsible for sustained financial outcomes,” (de Castro, Lopez & Saez 2006, Business and Social Reputation: Exploring the Concept and Main Dimensions of Corporate Reputation). In other words, it is part of surviving and making money in the business world. Australian company Business Network International is another business referral organisation that provides opportunities for paying members to network. BNI claims that their members in Australia reported that these business referrals generated more than $230 million of business last year. So meeting people, being nice and working with them is not only a good idea for your personal professional development, it is one of the biggest drivers of the way people conduct their business.


Shake hands and play nice

So business relationships are not only key factors behind success, bad relationships, i.e. annoying someone, can come back to bite you ten fold. Take for example an Australian expat who spent years growing a business showing Australian tourists around in Italy, only to be taken down by a revengeful ex-employee who proliferated bad reviews on Trip Advisor as reported in The Age article Bad reputation: blackmail, corruption plague online reviews. The same article reports that “Nielsen Research has estimated that 71 per cent of Australians base their purchasing decisions on User Generated Content reviews that appear on sites such as TripAdvisor”.


A bad review or reference may cripple the future of your career

So it seems there is a general consensus that you should conduct yourself in a way that fosters positive relationships. You never know when your name will come up and when it does you have hopefully done you darnedest to make sure it is for all the right reasons.


What do you do?

There is a slightly awkward task that we all have to do at one time or another, whether it be when you’re applying for a new job or introducing yourself at a party. It’s tempting to fudge it, skip this step, but I think in the long run sooner or later you will have to start putting in the effort to do it well…

I’m talking about describing your job. In other words, making what you do sound as good as possible. You may do it so that you seem competent and uber employable on cover letters and CVs. Or socially, because people tend to ask when they meet you and you don’t want to kill any chance of getting to know each other with a boring job title.

Some jobs need no description.

Some jobs need no description

Not all of us are fireman, rock stars and brain surgeons [if you are you can probably skip this article, although you might want to consider how to drop your awesome sounding profession into the conversation without sounding like a douche or a liar].

Not everybody is a fireman

Not everybody is a fireman

Masters of this art can make a  dead-end job sound highly skilled or cool and interesting. I was swept up by a job description once. I ended up applying for [and taking] the job because a friend of mine already working there waxed lyrical about how great it was. Turns out it oscillated between tedious  [waiting around for people to stop and talk to you] and terrifying [the contestant threat of losing your job if you do badly]. Now that I have illustrated how effective this technique can be let’s look at how to do it. Also, although I don’t think this blog is frequented by sleazy pick-up artists, I recommend you don’t outright lie about your job.  It’s unethical and, unless you are a Machiavellian master, a recipe for disaster.

The title; some job titles are just better than others. Many are super vague; if you are an analyst or consultant you are going to have to try a bit harder if you want exciting associations sparking in your new acquaintance’s head. Not that vague job title are all bad. For example, as an expat in Germany you can only work in the job written on your visa application. So a colleague of mine was officially a ‘Creative Producer’; she could do pretty much anything in a whole swathe of industries without breaking the rules.

Do not despair if you have had a boring job title bestowed upon you. The internet yielded some creative job title manipulation. Including, an Information Distribution Agent – a newspaper delivery guy and a Customer-Facing Pharmacist Facilitator –  the person you talk to at the chemist. In my opinion [feel free to disregard at your own peril] these are too contrived for a social setting. But it may work at work, depending on how into buzz words your target industry is and how bad the original job title was. However, I think they are bit too far fetched to be useful; the weasel words ringing alarm bells for attentive recruiters.

Maintainer of legal codes and protector of customer safety - or dishwasher?

Maintainer of legal codes and protector of customer safety – or dishwasher?

For describing your job when trying to get a new one ehow suggests using vibrant style, a sense of purpose and dynamic verbs; ‘I actively engaged with students, kept learners on task, managed divergent learning styles within a classroom and presented material in a creative way.’ Instead of ‘I was a teacher for two years’. Rather than having people’s opinion rest on their preconceived notions of your job tell them what you actually do [highlighting the difficult and exciting bits].

Blogger Greg Thomson, who may or may not be qualified to speak on the subject, adds to this advice. He suggests talking about what you actually do rather than just the job title. [Although the opposite is surely true for impressive sounding jobs that don’t actually amount to as much, like stock brokers or lawyers.] If you are an inbound call centre worker , then say that you help people solve problems with their products. An office administer; you organise tasks for your team and field phone calls.  Throwing in a funny anecdote about your work surely can’t go astray, it might even change their perception of a boring sounding job.

The internet advice pretty much boiled down to; use fancy word.  I’m not sure this would be that effective, as those weasel words tend to raise suspicion and I think an attentive recruiter would see through it. At a party I think this kind of approach may make you look like a  bit pompous.  I think good advice is to fit what you did into the big picture, what the results were and how they contributed to a larger goal. Like this woman who worked in a factory in the 40s, probably doing something mind numbingly boring.

Certificate received for helping build the atomic bomb.

Certificate received for helping build the atomic bomb.

Unbeknownst to her she was contributing to a major scientific breakthrough and quite probably the allies’ victory in WWII. Not everybody works on the atom bomb, but seeing how things contribute to the big picture can give them much greater significance.

I also think, especially socially, actually describing what you do is much more emotive than just a job title. Especially, if you focus on the elements of your job that you are passionate about. To sum up, rather than using big words and pretending your job is impressive actually describe what you do and the results, which in itself may end up being impressive, or at least interesting.

Getting an arts degree: why should I bother?

Q: What did the Arts Undergrad say to the Science Undergrad? 
A: Do you want fries with that?

The National Fast-Food (33th/52)

I went to a high school where it was compulsory to submit your VTAC application in the classroom. I had no idea what I wanted to study, and only a relatively clearer idea of what I didn’t want to study. I was 18! So, despite beginning the next year enrolled in a bachelor of arts at a prestigious university, I withdrew from the course before the census date and didn’t choose to study again until I had spent a couple of years working in a job that didn’t have a degree prerequisite. After that I knew a tertiary education was a benchmark requirement for almost every career pathway I had been contemplating. But is a degree in the broad field of humanities really worth the time, money and effort?


In the ten years between 2001-2012 the percentage of the Australian population with a bachelor’s degree or above increased from 17 per cent to 25 per cent. These studies could be in anything from engineering to agriculture. Fourteen per cent of people chose to qualify in the broad field of ‘society and culture’. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you look at the overall numbers it is – especially if these people aren’t going on to find jobs, and all of us will attest to the difficulty of finding a job in the arts, especially the creative arts where it seems that any jobs are usually in administrative roles rather than creative roles.

guys_sleeping on bench

Interestingly, The Beyond Graduation Survey 2012 report compiled by Graduate Careers Australia found that in the years following graduation, those in the field of society and culture saw one of the largest increases in securing employment in relevant jobs between 2009 and 2012. This was not in the first months after graduation, but a few years down the track people reported that they felt their studies were relevant to the job they had. So the message seems to be enroll now – get your arts degrees while you can!

Steven Schwartz, Executive Director of the Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences, says he often sees middle-aged people return to study in the field to pursue a life-long passion, but believes people shouldn’t wait so long. “It is foolish because is it not necessary to choose between building a bank balance and nurturing our souls.” Schwartz says Google is just one example of a business that recruits humanities graduates specifically for their ‘problem-solving, clear communication and cultural understanding’. So you can enjoy studying topics you are curious about, then apply the skills learnt in learning them to pretty much any type of job out there.


But we are all more familiar with the other school of thought. Arts graduates are overqualified and underemployed! Soon even baristas will need a degree to get a job due to credential creep! It’s more difficult than ever to enter the job market! There is only so long you can survive on Youth Allowance!

BRW Columnist and former Managing Editor Tony Featherstone believes a shift in impetus from governments and not-for-profit sectors to Corporate Australia is necessary. That way courses could be tailored more to what employers are looking for in a combined effort with universities to ensure academic rigour is maintained.

“One can’t blame universities alone for the soft graduate market, as companies cut costs. Surely, if there is a strong demand for university courses such as journalism, universities should supply that education. Nobody forces students to take university courses for fields that have uncertain long-term job prospects…we have conditioned students to believe a full-time university degree is the best pathway to career success.”

job search brainstorm

But isn’t an arts degree as much about what it isn’t as it is about what it is? Let me explain.

I started my first year of university the year I turned 21 rather than when I turned 18 or 19. It may not seem like much of a gap, but in those years I moved out of home, got a full time job, travelled overseas and generally came to rely on myself instead of my parents. So I had a different view on studying compared with the more recent school-leavers. I also know that many people begin their arts-based studies much later than I did, having put far more thought into the why and how of it. My reflection is this:

To my mind there is no question that a sizeable chunk of what my studies taught me can be learned outside university and for the cost of an internet connection (note: library cards are free!), but perhaps an arts degree is just the framework and impetus to learn a whole lot that many of us need. Not to mention it gives you the piece of paper you need to get a lot of jobs out there. It is also a pretty nurturing place if you take the time to utilise the resources made available to you rather than rebel against them because university is just another step you are ‘expected’ to take in life. Or if this doesn’t sit well with you, you can just choose a different way of learning because as I said before, university isn’t the only way you can learn.

learning styles

I once did some temp work for a Dentist who, upon finding out I was studying in the humanities field, pointed proudly to the framed Bachelor of Arts certificate alongside his Bachelor of Dental Science. He explained that after ten years in a ‘boring’ job he had decided to study a BA part time ‘just for fun’. I was at once angry with the way he trivialised my studies, yet sympathetic that he decided to go for a ‘safe’ career instead of one he felt more passionately about.

So I will finish with this: rather than whinging about what your studies don’t afford you, I think it would be a far better use of your time putting thought into what they do afford you. And hey, if all that is a chance to answer the question ‘what do you do?’ with a guilt-free ‘I’m a student’ for a certain portion of your life, then so be it. Besides, there are qualifications a lot more useless than an arts degree out there. It really just depends on what you do to make use of yours.

Unpaid internships: experience or exploitation?

Unpaid internships are almost de rigueur in the United States and parts of Europe. Many industries expect graduates to have at least 6 months of experience before they can get paid positions. Does that sound like a great way to get a foot in the door, to  you? Or more like just working for free?

Are you actually just doing a real job, for free?

Some companies rely on teams of unpaid interns

Long term unpaid internships are not as common in Australia. Yet. A report released by the Fair Work Ombudsman in February this year stated that unpaid internships are on the rise here and that, unsurprisingly, new graduates are the most likely to be exploited.

While internships are a valuable way to get experience, often in a more in depth way than a volunteering position. I think there are some serious issues with unpaid internships becoming the norm. I’ll explain why. Luckily, in this case, the bureaucracy is on my side; the Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson stated:

‘if you’ve got a pretty firm agreement with your employer and it doesn’t have to be in writing to come into work and to get something in return and that might be just experience or being able to add to your resume, your CV, that is capable at law of amounting to an employment contract, [you] therefore should be paid at least the minimum wage.’

He differentiated this kind of quasi-job from work experience as part of higher education or training, which he says is ‘perfectly ok’.

I think that time is a big distinction between the two. A two or three month internship  you can fit in over summer is very different to six months. Unless you have parents who can support you, who has the money to work full-time for six months unpaid? Living in Berlin I found this was the norm required to enter many creative industries, making it really difficult for people who can’t afford to work for free for months on end.

Let me make it clear that unpaid internships are different from volunteering. Volunteering is usually part time, you fit it around paid work or uni. Also, the Fair work report highlights that unlike volunteering unpaid internships are for non-altruistic purposes. You may not have had completely selfless motives volunteering, if you  were doing it to try to get your foot in the door.  But, the organizations themselves are not-for-profit. This is different from for-profit companies using unpaid internships, which are making money from your unpaid work.

If you are spending a lot of your time getting coffee, is it worth working for free?

Getting coffee is probably not teaching you enough to be worth doing for free.

In Berlin I heard of companies relying on interns, one had two staff and six interns. You have to wonder, if you can’t afford to pay your staff, if your business model is actually viable. It also raises the question of whether these unpaid interns, who appear to be actually running the company, are filling what would be paid jobs. Probably the entry level positions the interns themselves were hoping to use the internship to get.

I’m not trying to say that you should avoid doing unpaid internships, especially if you can fit them around uni or paid work.  As the Fair Work Ombudsman states, the onus is really on companies not to exploit people trying to get into the industry.

Louise O’Conner from the Arts Media Alliance, the Australian Journo’s union, agreed, stating that the union tries to encourage employers to pay people if they are doing a job, rather than sanctioning journalists who work for free.

If you are working for free, you should be getting to work in your area of expertise

If you are working for free, you should be getting to work in your area of expertise

I figure if you’re mostly learning it’s worth doing for free, but if you’re actually doing a job you should get paid. It’s a conundrum where to draw the line, especially if you are trying to get your foot in the door to a competitive industry. I guess if you can afford to work for free, and feel you’re learning enough from it to make it worth it – do it. But I’m glad it’s not a necessity to enter the workforce in Australia.

Volunteering: the best and worst of it

If you have your sights set on any competitive or creative industry (read: all of them) you are likely aware that volunteering is pretty much crucial to your career path. Let me use myself as the first example. I am currently working as a publicist in the music and entertainment industry. It is the first job I have had that doesn’t feel like something I’m just doing to earn some money until I get a job I actually want. I actually want this job. And I got it through volunteering (albeit I was working with publicists in an entirely different role, but it was in the music industry). Having said that, I am contracting (i.e. making ends meet). I think most people who work in a creative field are, which is another topic entirely. The point is that volunteering is important.


1972 Olympic Games volunteer clothing

People entering a new field need experience and connections. On the flip side employers often need assistance that doesn’t strain the budget. They also benefit from having the opportunity to gauge the viability of potential employees that are high risk (i.e. unknown to them, young, relatively unskilled). It makes sense.

I want to give a rounded overview on the pros and cons of volunteering, so rather than just tell you what I think, I asked some friends of mine who have plenty of experience in the world of volunteering to tell me what they think are the best and worst parts. Turns out their experiences resonate with mine, so it seems there are some common themes. Their experiences cover the following fields: legal, fashion, radio, research, visual arts, events, fundraising, administration, photography and film. See their reflections below.

Best bits

“Exposure. Particularly because you’re not locked into a position of employment and I think also because people are getting you for free you’re more able to float within the organisation and in a less defined role or responsible for getting a minimum amount of work done. You’re often just a bonus person”

“Job prospects increase when you have volunteering on your CV”


“You get experience in areas you wouldn’t in paid employment. Often volunteer positions are very different in nature and often organisations wouldn’t take someone on/create roles if they had to pay someone, so if you’re willing to put your hand up, doors open”


“The best thing about specific volunteer organisations is access. It allows people of any experience level to volunteer and then, if they wish to, to move into an executive position. Regularly rotation in these organisations also fosters tremendous development in a short space of time”.

“The freedom to develop creative content and ideas without fear of failure, as well as the freedom to make any and all decisions (within reason) and therefore make mistakes, grow from them, and develop skills in a safe and encouraging environment”.


“The connection to real industry was strong and I made many connections and learned much that has been valuable upon professionally entering the music/media industry.”

“One of the best parts, if not the best part of volunteering was meeting and making friends with many like-minded people and chat about our hopes, dreams, and frustrations.“


“Good opportunity to network with people in the industry your interested in getting into.”

“Looks good on your resume!”

“Develops your social skills by having to work with a diverse group of people.”

“Expands your skill set.”


Worst bits

“Getting taken advantage of because you’re free”

“Misunderstanding. While most people I dealt with outside of the organisation were pretty good, occasionally I felt that the aims and abilities of the organisation (and myself) were misunderstood by those outside of it, which led to unrealistic expectations e.g. sometimes people with full time roles within the industry didn’t understand that you weren’t at a desk from 9-5 awaiting their call/email.“


“Trying to fit it around paid work plus study” 

“Lack of structure. Often because it’s unpaid and therefore often less serious in people’s eyes you can just be left to your own devices and no one wants to deal with creating, structuring or overseeing a volunteer role. This can have a particularly significant impact on shy personalities or young people. Employers can combat this by teaming junior volunteers with seniors employees.”


“Time was always against you. I was working fulltime when I undertook my first executive volunteer role so on top of my regular 38 paid working hours I would have to spend at least an hour a day on emails. Lunch breaks were also spent frantically checking, writing and responding on my phone. I never quite felt like I was completely and thoroughly on top of everything.”

“When you don’t receive a sufficient briefing it leaves you feeling unsure about what exactly you’re meant to be doing.”


“Having to do things like clean and stand around for long periods of time but doing crummy tasks is part of being a volunteer!”

“Working weekends.“

“The know-it-all volunteers who try and boss you around.”


“At a volunteer organisation there are so many different reasons for people to be there and levels of commitment vary accordingly. They say you are only as strong as your team and there are always people just there for a bit of fun, some because Uni said they had to. As someone who was treating my experience as a pre-cursor to entering the industry, it was sometimes frustrating for me to deal with those people. I was always trying to buck the beliefs of those outside the organisation that we were just a bunch of rowdy kids. Other executive volunteers would sometimes bandy about the adage ‘but I’m just a volunteer’ to cover the fact they weren’t doing their job properly – and it was a hard one to argue against! I suppose whether you are a volunteer or in a workplace getting paid you always find difficult personalities that you would prefer not to work with.”


So there you have it. The best and the worst bits. My own two cents is this: I continue to embrace volunteering as part of my weekly routine. I enjoy the community and the sentiment. Not to mention it enables me to continue to keep certain skills up to scratch. Sometimes I lack motivation and think it would be nice to get paid for every minute I work – volunteering and otherwise. But then I remember how amazing volunteering is as a way to learn, develop, meet others, create and achieve. This always seems to be the salient point in any reflection. And hey, when it ceases to be I should probably stop volunteering!

Hopefully this post has given the uninitiated a new thirst to become involved, or at least provided the hesitant with a bunch of reasons why it ain’t so bad!

Exchange… to or not to go?

Are you at uni? Have you thought about going on exchange? In my experience most students don’t even ask the question: to go or not to go?

Let’s sit, have a coffee and chat about student about exchange – why, why not and how to go about it. If you have already finished uni skip to the end for a heads up about what to do instead.

A short train ride from Berlin where I did exchange. Poznan, Poland

Poznan, Poland, a short train ride from Berlin, where I did my exchange

Go. This is my unequivocal answer to anybody asking if they should go on exchange. Exchange looks great on your CV, it shows you have initiative, and if you pass your subjects it shows you can be flexible and successfully adapt to new environments. It also gives you something to talk about in your personal statement, if you’re doing Postgrad or some exotic places to name drop in job interviews.

Not only does exchange look good, it is actually good. You do actually learn all those things: resilience, independence, flexibility and how to be self-sufficient. Of course some people learn more than others, and some exchange students definitely focus on the layout of the local drinking scene. But at the very least you will learn first hand that people live different lives in other cultures, and that some things are universal.

Dealing with tricky situations on exchange;  negotiating repairs in Inner Mongolia, China

Dealing with tricky situations on exchange; negotiating  motorbike repairs in Inner Mongolia, China

Mula, money, dough, cash is the first big question. ‘I’m not going to go on exchange because I can’t afford it.’ If you’re not applying because you don’t have the seven grand in your bank account you think you will need, think again.  For those of you who haven’t traveled I’ll let you in on a little secret: almost everywhere in the world is cheaper than Melbourne. Except Perth, and maybe Geneva, Tokyo, Scandinavia and London, depending on the exchange rate. I always thought Europe was more expensive than Australia. Imagine my shock when AU$1.50 bought me half a litre of beer in Berlin and AU$3.00 the best  kebab I’ve ever had. I rented a room in Madrid, Spain for less than in Melbourne. It was basically at a Metro station, a stones throw from more cool bars than I could count and walking distance from Retiro, Madrid’s central park and I was getting ripped off compared to most people in the area. If you are going to South East Asia or China leave your money worries at home, seriously I have never experienced money being the limit to where I can go and what I can eat and drink like in Asia.  Check out this nifty site to compare cost of living in 800+ cities.

AU$3.00 Berlin kebab

AU$3.00 kebab, Berlin, Germany

‘Yeah it might be cheap but I still have no money at all’.  Fear not… money pretty much gets thrown at exchange students. Most universities give a few grand to every exchange student. Bam plane tickets done. I guarantee you there is nowhere in the world that costs more than that to fly to. Still need to eat and sleep right? And you’re a totally broke student who only survives in Melbourne because you work every weekend/live with your parents/ have a sugar daddy. All Australian students going on exchange are eligible to get a several thousand dollar loan. Click here to find out about student exchange loans for Australian students. You do have to pay it back but only with your uni fees, so not for ages, and without any interest. Also check out your uni scholarships page.

‘But I don’t speak another language’. I don’t recommend enrolling in a course in a language you don’t speak, unless you are just going to party and are happy to kiss a good transcript goodbye. However, a lot of universities offer courses in English. Exchange is also a good opportunity to learn another language, to the level of proficiency you can only get from using it day in day out – to make friends, get laid, get your enrolment sorted out, or your dry-cleaning done.

University exchange is the easiest way to live in another country, you have the support network of your university, the exchange committee, and a bunch of instant friends in the other exchange students.

If you’ve already finished uni I think the closest thing is a Working Holiday Visa. It gives you the right to work for one year at any job. Australians can go to places as far flung as Belgium, Canada and Taiwan, click here for the full Working Holiday Visa list. It might be a bit slower to build a network, but if you pick a job that lots of young expats do (working on a ski-field, teaching English, or at a bar or summer camp) you will probably meet a bunch of equally friendless, new people – a potential instant gang who are all inspired and brave enough to head overseas.

Countries Australia has Working Holiday Visa agreements with

Australian Working Holiday Visa partner countries

Being at uni or working gives you an in to the city you’re in. You are more than a tourist you have a purpose for being there, so it’s your real life not just a holiday.

Speed reading

Fields of vision. The inner circle shows what we normally take in and the outer circle shows what is possible to take in (Buzan 2006 p. 38)

Fields of vision. The inner circle shows what we normally take in and the outer circle shows what is possible to take in (Buzan 2006 p. 38)

When you’re studying everything is laid out for you. From which books to read and when you need to finish them, to how well you absorb, write and talk about them (a critique delivered to you when your assignment grades come back). When you finally finish handing in the assignments and reading the required texts and graduate it is a HUGE relief. So you celebrate. But then some of us (if not most of us) go on to experience a kind of post-uni blues, like the feeling you get returning to regular life after a holiday. Kind of strange seeing as technically graduation marks the start of your holiday from study. But what happens then is you have to start putting your plans into action. Plans you have theoretically been making throughout your studies. Volunteer work. Networking. Graduate programs. All the things you know you should do because that’s the way to get where you want to go.


The thing is, whether you know the destination you’re moving towards or not, there will always be some form of ‘application’ process you need to go through which will forces you to assess yourself. Assess where the gaps are. So what do you do in that next stage of the journey while you’re trying to figure it all out? The answer is not in reaching one specific conclusion, but at least finding things to occupy your time.

I think doing things that will give you general sense of achievement and improvement can’t be a bad start to getting wherever it is you eventually end up. One of the things I’ve thought about since graduating a couple of years back is whether the skills I practised during my study years are slipping. For me personally reading is a big one. I want to do so much more than I do in reality. One of the big reasons for this is that I’m kind of a slow reader. But I did do a lot of reading at university and I wanted to tap back into that skill. So I moseyed along to Coburg Library and picked myself up a copy of ‘Speed Reading’ by Tony Buzan. I figure if Tony has the word on how to “accelerate your speed and understanding for success” that could definitely be a way of tapping back into my study reading habits.

Tony Buzan cover

Buzan, T. (2006). Speed Reading: Accelerate Your Speed and Understanding For Success Essex: BBC Active.

So what did I learn from Tony? Three main points:

1. Don’t read everything

Skimming, scanning and using something like a pen or even your finger to trace what you’re reading at a much faster pace will actually increase your focus and use your brains ability to quickly take in large pieces of visual information. Turns out we don’t need to skip back or read every single preposition and determinator in a sentence.


The double-line, variable and reverse ‘sweep’ techniques of speed reading (Buzan 2006 p.40-1).

2. Speed readers rule the world (but they work for it)

The more you practise speed reading and master it the more focus you have, the more knowledge you absorb and the smarter you are. Nothing bad can come from speed reading unless you absolutely need to know something in detail. If this is the case speed read first then go back for the details. Tony event says “Reading is to the mind what aerobic exercise is to the body”. So my feeling that my reading skills were slipping is absolutely true. Use it or lose it applies to your BRAIN too!

3. You can’t be a speed reader on your first day of school 

No amount of practice will overcome poor vocabulary, concentration, organisation, interest and motivation. You can and will need to address all of these before you can actually excel at speed reading. There is all kind of helpful advice out there about posture, environment, timing etc. that will help you to focus (in Tony’s book and elsewhere). You can also learn a buck of word ‘parts’ – prefixes, suffixes and roots so you can readily understand new words.

Now not everything I read applied to me and a lot of it I had heard over the years or knew intuitively to some extent, but the book was like university – it gave me the structure or plan to read faster (and hopefully more). Any skill you learn, inside or outside university is always learnt using a basic set of actions but the choice of what to apply ourselves to can seem daunting or maybe just too hard to think about on top of everything else in life. But I enjoyed the little assignment I set myself and Tony’s book gave me the structure to get things going. So do I read faster now? Well I know how to read faster. And much like the feeling of studying for the ‘real world’ at university, I just need to use the neat little tips and tricks I read about as a compass. I don’t even need to remember exactly what I’m supposed to do, as long as I get the gist. I think that’s what helps keep you focussed after you have reached your study goals and your ‘life’ is supposed to start actually happening – the practice phase is over.

Learning to speed read is just one example of how to approach the huge sea of options and possibilities you’re confronted with once life is not laid out for you in in a series of lectures and exams. Why not learn a new skill and keep the journey going?