Emma Hooton graduated from the University of Exeter in 1993 and now runs Studio Hootonan interior design studio based in Winchester.
I remember my time at Exeter in the nineties fondly – it was an idyllic place to study with a great sense of community on and off campus – you’d always see a friendly face when you walked to lectures. The social life was fantastic too, with some of my favourite memories being fun gatherings in students’ cottages in the depths of the surrounding countryside or down on the coast at weekends.
I started my Classics degree whilst settling in to Hope Hall and absolutely loved the variety it gave me from philosophy and poetry to art and architecture, all of which appealed to my creative side which I went on to develop in my career.
It wasn’t a typical career path in that I came out of my degree without a clear plan which seems to be part of the journey as you find your way to where you want to be. I worked in a consumer PR agency in Covent Garden as my first job before moving onto sales and recruitment roles as they seemed to suit my nature, working with people in fast paced environments and jetting around the city.
“I learnt so much from my time at Exeter, not just about the inspirational world of Classics, but also independence, confidence and self-motivation which have stood me in good stead for setting up and running my own business.”
I then decided to take a year out travelling in my late twenties which I still value as one of my greatest experiences and it seems more and more that it really doesn’t matter when you take your gap year these days, post-university is as acceptable and beforehand.
It was in my early 30s that I decided to undertake a year’s diploma at KLC, one of the best interior design colleges in London. This was to help me firm up my pathway into the industry which was helped by a prestigious Exeter degree.
Following my design course I consolidated my CV with experience at a top interior designer in London where I learnt so much about running a business and the design world I was entering into.
After around 3 years I decided to set up my own practice here in Winchester 8 years ago and have a team of five talented people working with me. Establishing your own business can be challenging but it’s ultimately very rewarding and overall a lot of fun, especially in the creative industry.
We work on big country house projects across Hampshire, Berkshire, Surrey and London and often these are historic with classical elements of the ancient architecture I learned about at Exeter, so it gave me a good grounding of knowledge for the buildings we are working on every day.
The business is going strong and we are all passionate about the designs we are carrying out, from the very technical lighting drawings to the all-important furniture and furnishings. We love working with people and reaching the full potential of properties, both old and new.
I learnt so much from my time at Exeter, not just about the inspirational world of Classics, but also independence, confidence and self-motivation which have stood me in good stead for setting up and running my own business.
Tips for setting up your own creative business:
Network locally and online – Instagram is one of the best platforms for creatives
Ask for advice from suppliers and craftsmen you work with – there is so much you can learn from collaborating
Constantly work on evolving your design work to stay fresh and at the top of the market
If you’re interested in setting up your own business while you’re a student the Think Try Do team will be able to help.
Jeeves Sidhu is a current BA Liberal Arts student at the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus.
In November 2018, I had the fantastic opportunity to travel to Mumbai with 30 fellow University of Exeter students to take part in one of Common Purpose’s renowned Global Leader Experience (GLE). After an early rise and a 9-hour flight from London Heathrow, we arrived in sweltering hot Mumbai and endured a two-hour long customs queue before finally arriving at our wonderful hotel. Before the programme began, we had some free time to explore for a couple of days and get fully adjusted to the crazy new environment.
Common Purpose was founded by Julia Middleton in 1989 in order to deliver worldwide leadership development programmes, equipping individuals at various different levels with the skills to work across boundaries in an increasingly globalised world. This was a key aspect of our GLE when exploring the concept of ‘CQ’ – cultural intelligence. It was made clear to us at the beginning of our experience that CQ was a core skill that the team wanted us to develop, as in an increasingly global working environment, it is incredibly important to be able to work with colleagues from different cultural backgrounds.
“My ultimate career ambition is to secure a place on the Civil Service’s Diplomatic Fast Stream, so I have always been keen to build up as much international experience as possible, and the Mumbai Global Leaders Experience seemed like the ideal opportunity.”
Through a range of sessions with local business leaders, visits to multiple NGOs & corporations, and a range of engaging group sessions and activities – we worked towards the following challenge question: How can we make smart cities like Mumbai more inclusive? The week-long programme culminated in us being put into groups and bringing together what we had learned throughout the week towards a solution to the aforementioned question.
My group decided to put together a campaign called ‘Speak Up!’ which was designed to encourage citizens to talk about issues affecting them, in order to break the cultural taboos around a lot of different issues. We came to the conclusion that many conversations we have in the UK around a range of social issues, are simply not taking place in India due to cultural taboos around these issues. We decided that a campaign to encourage conversation around social issues would be the best way to make Mumbai are more inclusive city – contributing to our tagline “because conversation sparks change”. The challenge involved putting together a one-minute video promoting our solution.
Although ours did not emerge as the victorious project, we certainly learned a lot about India, and were really inspired by the changes sparked by many of the local NGOs and businesses. Our experience in Mumbai opened our eyes to an energetic and liberal youth slowly emerging in the country and beginning to take the reins of power, and I feel that this really symbolised the growing power and influence of India which itself is slowly emerging as a major player on the world stage.
Why did you apply?
My ultimate career ambition is to secure a place on the Civil Service’s Diplomatic Fast Stream, so I have always been keen to build up as much international experience as possible, and the Mumbai Global Leaders Experience seemed like the ideal opportunity! Furthermore, I had heard really positive feedback from other University of Exeter students who had taken part in previous GLE’s to Philadelphia, Budapest & Barcelona – so was really motivated to get a place on one myself. Furthermore, I felt really inspired by Common Purpose’s goal of bringing people together from different cultures in order to increase cultural intelligence levels, so was keen to build up a more global network through an experience like this.
What did you gain from it?
One of the most valuable experiences gained from my GLE in Mumbai was the opportunity to interact with local businesses and NGOs such as She Says India. She Says is a grassroots woman’s advocacy group that managed to fight for the removal of the tampon tax and are currently campaigning against the legality of marital rape – their achievements and mission really inspired me personally and revealed to me an activist and truly liberal side of India that I had never really expected or experienced before.
“I felt really inspired by Common Purpose’s goal of bringing people together from different cultures in order to increase cultural intelligence levels, so was keen to build up a more global network through an experience like this.”
Additionally, the fact that our project team working on ’Speak Up!’ was made up of a mixture of both British & Indian students meant that we had multiple perspectives on different issues, and it really taught me the value of surrounding yourself and working with people who do not necessarily agree with you or have the same background as yourself. Whether it was through interacting with my Indian colleagues or stumbling across an awe-inspiring religious festival on Juhu Beach, I was inundated with both challenging and fascinating aspects of Indian culture, unequivocally improving my CQ.
The final day of our trip coincided with an alumni event at the Taj Land’s End Hotel, which was attended by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter Sir Steve Smith, and he very kindly made some time available before this event to speak to me about the challenges Brexit might bring about for our University. After discussing Erasmus, the potential effects on Staff & Students from the EU27, as well as the potential opportunities that could be brought about, we headed down to the event and had the brilliant opportunity to network with a range of Exeter alumni based in India. The opportunity to interview the Vice Chancellor in India of all places was brilliant, insightful and undoubtedly one of my personal highlights of the trip.
How can you apply?
You can find information about the GLE programme and to sign up to the mailing list to receive regular updates here.
A special thanks goes to our chaperones, Bela Coelho-Knapp & the Career Zone’s very own Oli Laity, NMIMS University for hosting us at their wonderful institution, Dr James Smith for arranging my interview with the Vice Chancellor, and Lewis Davidson & The Outbound Team for organising this brilliant experience for us.
Henry White graduated from the University of Exeter in BA English, 2012. He’s currently Photography and Videography Editor for P&O Ferries.
After graduating, I moved to London and worked for children’s charity Action for Children as a web content editor. The role gradually involved more and more photography and video production and after two years my job was formally changed to Multimedia Editor and I took up full responsibility for video and photo production. After five years with Action for Children, I moved into management for The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust as Digital Content Manager. This job didn’t really suit my interests or passions, taking me away from the practical creation of imagery, so after four months I secured a new job, with P&O, and moved to the south coast to start my new role, plus get some fresh sea air and a quieter life away from London. I now work for P&O Ferries as Photography and Videography Editor, responsible for all of the company’s imagery across social media, advertising, B2B and internal comms. This can be as varied as filming stories about crews working on the North Sea to making stickers and animated gifs for Instagram posts, or photographing hazardous waste being shipped between Ireland and Belgium. No day is the same and there is huge variety. I am also gaining loads of new skills and even being trained in seafaring practices to help me do my job whilst at sea. From my desk, I can see France across the English Channel, but more often than not I’ll be scrambling around a mooring deck or deep in an engine room, trying to take photos or capture footage for the next bit of promotional work. It’s good fun.
“I’m responsible for all of the company’s imagery across social media, advertising, B2B and internal comms. This can be as varied as filming stories about crews working on the North Sea to making stickers and animated gifs for Instagram posts, or photographing hazardous waste being shipped between Ireland and Belgium.”
Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?
I studied A Level photography, and always enjoyed creating images and capturing those moments. It just seemed like a natural thing to do – to be the fly on the wall recording events for posterity, or amusement, or to share with others. I like the idea of capturing things which future generations will find useful or interesting to view, and being able to tell stories about the world we currently live in.
Were a member of any societies, groups or sports clubs?
Exeposé Photography Editor 2010-2011, then Exeposé Editor 2011-2012.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Exeter?
The course was varied and had enough modules to cater for all interests, especially in some more niche areas. I still find myself using knowledge I gained on the course, although annoyingly nobody has ever asked to see my Degree Certificate. Overall, it definitely helped me to better understand ways of interpreting our world, interpreting motivations and viewpoints, and to work independently and efficiently.
What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?
Patience, perseverance and resilience. Sometimes you won’t hit a target, or a project you work on goes wrong. Sometimes technology lets you down. The ability to bounce back and try harder, adapt plans and aims, or to completely switch directions is fundamental to doing well. The seeds of these skills are sewn at university; when doing research for essays, preparing for exams, failing to achieve the mark you wanted, or just struggling to juggle workloads, they all teach valuable lessons for the future.
“The creative arts sector is incredibly cutthroat and challenging, even for established people, but never, ever work for free – it simply devalues yourself and makes it harder to start charging at a later date.”
Do you have any advice for beginning a career in your area?
Practice; anyone can buy a camera and use it, but creating imagery which works for your audience, which sells a product or tells the exact story you want to, takes practice and hard work. For every good image you take, there will have been 100 bad ones previously, so go out with your camera, set yourself clear aims and briefs, and try to achieve them over and over again, getting better each time. Nobody ever stops learning, especially with modern technology changing so fast, so practice what you do, watch what others do, and evolve your skills.
The creative arts sector is incredibly cutthroat and challenging, even for established people, but never, ever work for free – it simply devalues yourself and makes it harder to start charging at a later date. If other people want to work for free, that’s up to them, but know your worth and stick to it, it’ll work out better for you in the long run. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to work for money – time, favours and experience are all types of currency, especially when starting out. You may find you can provide someone with photography in return for drinks/food and travel costs. This gives you the chance to show off your skills, make connections and practice your craft. If it goes well then the next time they hire you, they may pay in cash instead. Stick with it, find another job to cover your costs if you need to, and practice constantly. But set yourself realistic goals too. If you haven’t got to where you want to in five years, 10 years etc., then change your approach. Be realistic about your chances, options and abilities, if you fixate on one area or idea you may miss other exciting opportunities, there’s always more options in the area you want to work.
My name is Maxine and I’m a 3rd year Business and Management student at the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus. In April 2018 I participated in an insight week at KPMG on their ‘Women in Deal Advisory’ programme. This summer I completed a summer internship at KPMG in the same department and in 2020 I’ll be joining them as a graduate.
What are insight weeks?
Insight weeks, also called spring weeks, are short internships offered to early year university students so that they can learn more about a company. They are intended to give students an ‘insight’ into what a company does and what career options they offer. Despite the name, they vary in length depending on the company, with some being a full week and some only a couple of days. Insight weeks are often used by companies as recruitment channels for future internships and placements.
What time of year should students apply for them?
Applications open from as early as August up to around January but the exact dates do vary from company to company. On many company websites, there will be the option to sign up to be notified by e-mail when their applications open. Application deadlines also vary, with some even closing early.
Some people I know who applied to many spring weeks found it useful to create a spreadsheet with the opening and closing dates for all of the companies they intended on applying to, and the stages they were at with each application.
Most insight weeks will be for first year students if they’re doing a three year course or second year students if they’re doing a four year course. Some companies will accept penultimate year students, so it’s still worth doing your research if you’re a second year student on a three year course, or a third year student on a four year course.
Where did you find out about your insight week?
I wasn’t aware of insight weeks until I attended an employer event on campus where they talked about the one they ran. After the event, I did a Google search of other companies that did them. Google directed me to websites like e4s which list opportunities from many different companies, and also official recruitment pages on company websites. I was mainly interested in consulting so I looked at consulting and professional services companies.
When I first started looking, I planned on applying to management/strategy consulting but as I had (surprisingly) enjoyed the accounting module I had done in my first term, I decided to also apply to the KPMG Women in Deal Advisory insight week as a wild card. I applied for 4 insight programmes but decided that KPMG was the one I wanted.
What was the application process like?
The first stage of the application was completing a form with information about myself, work experience and education. The next stage was completing a situational judgement test and a numerical reasoning test. In preparation for these tests, I practised with ones I found online and through My Career Zone. After that, I was asked to record myself answering set questions related to why I was interested in deal advisory, and why I was interested in KPMG.
The final stage of the process was an invitation to their London offices where I had to complete a case study exercise on one of their laptops in a room with the other candidates. The case study involved reading through a booklet of information with written sections, graphs and tables, and financial statements about a company. After given time to read the case study, I then had to answer questions and make recommendations for the company based on the information provided. Spellcheck and autocorrect was disabled on the laptops during the case study exercise. I tend to type quickly and hope that spell check corrects me, so not having that safety net did make me a bit nervous. So, if you type like me, I would recommend getting comfortable with typing without autocorrect and spellcheck in case you encounter something similar!
Was it paid?
I was paid for the duration of the internship which was great. Luckily I was able to stay with family members which meant my costs weren’t too high anyway, but lots of companies understand not everyone is that fortunate which is why many insight weeks are paid. If you find one that isn’t paid but the travel/living costs would be affordable, I would recommend doing it as the experience is worthwhile.
What did you do during the week? Who did you meet?
During the week, we had presentations from various employees, from recent graduates to partners. They talked about their career paths and the projects they had worked on. Throughout the week, we were given group activities to do related to the roles available. One of them was working together to come up with a solution to a problem and then presenting our ideas to senior members of staff. We also got to shadow employees at various levels of the business.
The final day was an ‘assessment centre’ style session where – if successful – led to a summer internship offer. The first part of the assessment was a group exercise with several stages. The assessors swapped tables for each stage so we were judged by a different person at each stage. The second part of the assessment centre was an interview with a senior member of staff asking us more about our motivation for deal advisory, our career goals and also some competency questions. Having spent the week learning about the work employees did, the interview was much easier than others I’d had in the past as I had lots of information to draw on for my answers.
After the assessments, there was a networking drinks session with employees we had interacted with during the week and others. They were all happy to answer any questions we had and keen to find out more about us.
Was the insight week useful?
I found the internship to be very useful. As it was an area of business I hadn’t had much exposure to, I learnt a lot from hearing the experiences of current employees, getting to ask them questions and shadowing them. Getting to see what they did day to day made me feel less nervous about going into work after graduating as the tasks were not as complicated as I had imagined them to be.
Has it influenced your career choice?
The insight week led me to choose a completely new career path. I was set on going into management consulting before it but now I have accepted a graduate offer from KPMG in deal advisory. I am very glad I took a chance on something new and started thinking about my career early on.
Which professional services and consulting companies offer spring weeks in 2020?
To find out if a company offers insight weeks, head to their careers website. Here is a brief list of some of the most popular insight weeks:
Mel Watt is a BA History with Study Abroadstudent at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus.
I admittedly applied to study in the Netherlands on a last-minute whim, frantically submitting my application on the night of the deadline. In a spur of the moment decision to further my career prospects, I found myself studying for the year at University College Utrecht. After two months of settling in, exploring the country and sampling the local food, I thought I would share my thoughts on this roller coaster of an experience.
To me, studying abroad provided the perfect opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone and develop those skills you can’t readily find in the classroom. This was the prime time to grow in confidence and self-reliance as I navigated my way around an unfamiliar country. As it stands, I am working towards a career in freelance journalism, with a focus on sustainable living. The Netherlands seemed the obvious place to work on my portfolio: as a low-lying country (where everyone and their dog seems to ride a bicycle), Holland is at the forefront of sustainable innovation.
My choice was also informed by employers’ increasing preference for foreign language skills and familiarity with diverse cultures. Studying abroad would highlight my ability to adapt to new surroundings. During my stay, I have also vowed to try and pick up some conversational Dutch. UCU is a very international campus which hosts students from all over the world. This offered the prospect of networking, developing my social skills and cementing long lasting connections. Embracing a foreign culture would also go a long way in broadening my horizons and perspective on life. I was most excited to get involved with the student print newspaper, the Boomerang, and hopefully get some of my work published.
“My advice for anyone looking to study abroad is to go into the experience open-minded and embrace every opportunity that comes your way. Immerse yourself in the culture, even the parts that make you uncomfortable… If this experience has taught me anything so far, it’s that practice makes perfect, and this is easily transferable to the workplace.”
Sadly, this experience hasn’t been all stroopwafels and windmills; adjusting to a new country took a lot of time and patience. If I’m being honest, I found the settling in period very stressful. None of my bank cards worked in stores, I crashed my bike more times than I care to admit, and I even missed a few classes because I read my schedule wrong. To top it all off, my mobile phone broke! Everything that seemingly could go wrong did. Slowly but surely, things worked themselves out and I felt increasingly like I belonged.
Above all, moving to an entirely new country by yourself is an intimidating but worthwhile challenge. Studying abroad has already made me so much more resilient and independent. Whether it’s through addressing any Dutch administrative issues or gaining my bearings in a new city, I’ve continuously shown my ability to problem solve and think on my feet. It’s experiences like these which prepare you for the real world.
So, my advice for anyone looking to study abroad is to go into the experience open-minded and embrace every opportunity that comes your way. Immerse yourself in the culture, even the parts that make you uncomfortable. Having not cycled for over ten years, biking in the Netherlands felt like my worst nightmare. After forcing myself to cycle everywhere, it has quickly become my new favourite hobby. If this experience has taught me anything so far, it’s that practice makes perfect, and this is easily transferable to the workplace.
When you look at a technology company like IBM, you might read about historical inventions such as the airline reservation system, barcode, or ATM machine. Looking more recently, you might see a lot of new technical terms. Blockchain, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, cyber security…the list goes on. It’s really easy to be intimidated by this, and to feel like working for a technology company isn’t for you. I certainly thought this when I was looking for placements at the beginning of my second year. But the more I researched, the more I realised this is only a small part of what a lot of technology companies do.
“Start building a professional network as early as you can. This can be as simple as chatting to technology company representatives at a careers fair. I’ve found that the majority of opportunities I’ve got outside of my day job have been by reaching out to people and speaking to them.”
IBM are involved with a range of clients and industries around the world – and that broad scope is what attracted me to working for an international company. From sport, to health, to finance, to retail, there is a range of industries that IBM work with. This means if you have a passion helping the public sector, want to make production more sustainable and efficient, or you want to help sports teams gain insights into their performance, you could do this in a technology company. I knew that I wanted to be involved in the public sector from taking Public Policy modules in my final year – I’ve been able to tailor my career path, and I am currently working in Healthcare and Life Sciences.
Whilst there are definitely roles that require specialist technical knowledge, for many roles, any degree background is welcome. I was unsure what skills I could transfer from social sciences. However, I quickly found that my research and critical thinking skills were in high demand – I was able to synthesise a lot of information quickly and think about alternative ways to tackle problems. In the group of graduates that I joined with, degrees varied from History, Languages and Politics, to Business, Psychology and Finance.
As for those technical terms? I took advantage of the free education available to me, and within a few weeks learnt enough that I can talk about what really interests me. I’m now looking at pursuing IT architecture, where my non-technical background is a strength due to the different ways that I will problem solve, and I can learn the practical details along the way. Not bad for a ‘non-technical’ person.
“Being well-informed is the best way to ensure that you pick a path that makes sense for you. Don’t be afraid to explore your options and reach out to different people. Everyone’s career path into technology is different – you just might discover your dream job in the process.”
I started a separate Twitter account where I followed technology companies, key people within those companies, as well as industry experts. LinkedIn is another great way to build your professional connections and industry knowledge. I’ve found both are a really easy way to keep up to date with what people in the industry are saying, as well as being exposed to different opinions and viewpoints beyond ‘factual’ news. This can help with interviews also, as you can draw on those soundbites and stand out from other candidates.
Start building a network now
Start building a professional network as early as you can. This can be as simple as chatting to technology company representatives at a careers fair. I’ve found that the majority of opportunities I’ve got outside of my day job have been by reaching out to people and speaking to them. Sometimes this is people I’ve worked with before, and sometimes this is with new people. Just remember, if you contact someone, always have a purpose in mind, and an action that you want to achieve as a result of the meeting or phone call. This will make sure you keep the meeting focused, and that it’s productive for everyone.
Use university resources
Use the Career Zone! It’s a great place to get career information, or to connect with alumni. Having a mentor can be beneficial for your personal and professional development, and worth considering if you want to learn from those on the ground in the technology industry. Being well-informed is the best way to ensure that you pick a path that makes sense for you. Don’t be afraid to explore your options and reach out to different people. Everyone’s career path into technology is different – you just might discover your dream job in the process.
Bethan Watson is a third year BA English mature student on the Streatham Campus, currently pursuing graduate schemes in the UK and graduate opportunities in Australia.
University is already tough – a careful balancing act between part-time work, societies and additional responsibilities; all on top of your degree. Just when you think you’re catching a break, final year rolls around, bringing with it the stress of securing graduate employment.
We’re told we need an internship to impress graduate employers, but they’re also an opportunity to help students at every stage of their university career. They help you narrow your options; they also help you practice skills in a formal workplace setting. At their best, internships function to alleviate rather than intensify the stress of graduation.
The journey is arguably as important as the internship itself. In my experience, securing any work placement requires discipline, engagement and commitment. It’s not a question of intelligence or connections, as long as you’re determined to “make your own luck.”
Beyond traditional routes offered by public sector routes or multi-national private sector employers, which follow a linear path of application form, aptitude tests, interview and then assessment centres, there are plenty of options available.
In an effort to explore every sector that interested me and develop a practical understanding of the career routes I would be entering – beyond the glossy marketing material – I threw myself into every opportunity. I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up and as a first year, my interests were more inklings than fleshed-out plans. For example, I was interested in a media career (I had always liked the idea of working for Sky News), the public sector (I’d heard other students talking about the Civil Service Fast Stream), and business and technology-focused careers (I’d listened to a lot of tech podcasts). I used my next three years at university making sure I’d thoroughly explored my options, and internships were my vehicle to do so.
The journey is arguably as important as the internship itself. In my experience, securing any work placement requires discipline, engagement and commitment. It’s not a question of intelligence or connections, as long as you’re determined to “make your own luck.”
Firstly, I spent some time researching the schemes offered by the Career Zone. Access to Internships allows students to create their own fully-funded internships. Pathways would give me a one-week paid internship in several different sectors, depending on the stream I chose. The Career Mentor scheme would allow me to build a professional relationship with an industry professional. These were the schemes that interested me the most, so I set myself the goal that I would engage with each at least once in my university career.
The career pathways I decided upon pursuing in my third year were a direct result of the experience I gained over my internships; both positive and negative. I want to discuss my journey towards securing internships, and then how these internships shaped my future career decisions.
My first interest was in television. Paid media opportunities are difficult to secure, with a focus on practical work experience. I started with nothing. To further this interest, in my first year I became involved in XTV, a media society at Exeter University. I was elected to committee position in my second year, as Alumni Coordinator. I scheduled events and talks with alumni who were successful in the industry. I found an alumna on LinkedIn who interested me. I organised an event for her to speak about her career to our society members and I expressed a genuine interest in her work. She kindly introduced me to the recruitment team at her company at my request – Alpha Grid, a media company affiliated with the Financial Times. Due to the company’s size (250 employees or less), I was able to arrange a fully sponsored internship over the Easter holidays through the university, where the university reimbursed the company for my wages. I was also able to secure a travel grant of £250 of Widening Participation funding which paid for my living costs whilst in London. I stayed with a friend at her apartment in North London for the duration of the internship.
Secondly, I wanted to experience working in a multi-national company with a formal graduate entry route. I researched companies extensively in my first year and found that the values and strategy of Aviva aligned with my own, and loved the global structure of their graduate scheme. Whilst I knew nothing about insurance (why would I, as a first year?), I was attracted to how the company portrayed themselves across their social media platforms. I read their news bulletins, posts, blogs and read their annual reports. They were firmly in my mind as a potential graduate option.
A 10-week internship in London was an unattainable option for me; as a student from a low socio-economic background, I would struggle to cover living and accommodation costs.
Each internship gave me a different perspective on the industry I was interested in applying for. It was only by being in those work environments that I was able to develop a sense of the progression opportunities, the day-to-day work and the company culture.
With this in the back of my mind, I started attending Career Zone networking events. Everything from visiting speakers in law and finance to interview and leadership skills workshops. I eventually met a second year student when I was in first year, who belonged to a social mobility charity called UpReach. She encouraged me to join. As well as many professional development events and workshops, UpReach offered an internship opportunity with Aviva, which was 6 weeks long with fully covered travel expenses. I completed a multi-step interview process and was accepted onto the scheme, which enabled me to afford to do the internship. Even for students who don’t qualify for these charities, there are other organisations that run similar partnered internships, such as Wiser Academy.
I had inklings about career routes I might be interested in, but wasn’t sure if they were for me yet. For example, I flirted with law briefly as an option and attended a Women In Lawsociety event about in-house legal services. I met an individual who worked for Plymouth County Council’s legal team. She invited the students attending the event to contact her about organising a one week work experience placement. I recognised this as a unique and unconventional law experience opportunity, and whilst it was not a paid placement, there were opportunities for graduate employment with postgraduate study accreditation. I had always been interested in law, but hadn’t thought about this kind of route previously. Whilst I did not pursue this opportunity, I know that students who did felt it was well worth it.
My third potential option was heritage sector work. The Career Zone offered a scheme called Pathways to Arts, Culture and Heritage, which gave students a week of training and a week’s paid internship. I applied for the scheme at the end of my first year and was successful; the process included an assessment centre-like group workshop interview, which was great practice for future applications. I networked with the professional speakers during Pathway’s training week; I added a heritage consultant on LinkedIn whose was in the middle of creating her own start-up and I expressed an interest in her work. I then completed a week’s paid internship at the Eden Project.
Equally, internships do provide a genuine opportunity to develop soft skills. These are the skills that are difficult to quantify – networking, resilience, leadership, collaboration and communication skills.
From working in the sector and speaking with professionals and learning about their careers, I realised that I didn’t want to pursue heritage. However, I spoke to the coordinator of the Pathways scheme and expressed my interest in a graduate employer who I also could’ve applied to work for on the internship. The company I asked about was a television production company, Two Four, owned by Channel 4. The coordinator kindly helped me organise work experience, and, upon its successful completion, I approached the company and proposed an Access to Internship-sponsored placement over the summer of my second year. Their recruitment team accepted my proposal, but funding had unfortunately elapsed at that point.
Each internship gave me a different perspective on the industry I was interested in applying for. It was only by being in those work environments that I was able to develop a sense of the progression opportunities, the day-to-day work and the company culture. My options narrowed organically. I realised that I wanted to work for a large company after graduation because of the investment in training new graduates, for example, and that if I were to work in television, I would want to work for a large public broadcaster and outside of the London area. I really enjoyed my placement at Aviva, so that has compelled me to apply for their graduate scheme and I will apply with a strong understanding of their expectations. It’s difficult to get a sense of your preferences until they are tested.
I was intimidated by the concept of internships and graduate employment, but I approached it methodically and was honest with myself about what I wanted, what I liked, what I was good at. There’s something for everyone after graduation, and internships are the ideal opportunity to find what works for you.
Equally, internships do provide a genuine opportunity to develop soft skills. These are the skills that are difficult to quantify – networking, resilience, leadership, collaboration and communication skills. They make sense when practically applied, and are all key to securing any form of employment. When I “networked” to get my internship at the Financial Times, I was genuine in my interest in the individual and her work whose connection helped me secure that placement. I was resilient when I realised I could never afford a 10-week internship and dedicated myself to finding alternatives. Leadership, collaboration and communication skills were all demanded of me when I: gained a committee position in XTV and organised and hosted events: attended employability events and became aware of UpReach: asked the Pathways coordinator to introduce me to the television production company: proposed to use Access to Internships to undertake an internship after my work experience. These situations developed my confidence and give real world examples of where I practiced the competencies that employers are looking for. Beyond employability, they made me more independent and capable as a person.
It is only a minority who come to university with a strong idea of where they want to be at the end of three years. I was intimidated by the concept of internships and graduate employment, but I approached it methodically and was honest with myself about what I wanted, what I liked, what I was good at. There’s something for everyone after graduation, and internships are the ideal opportunity to find what works for you. I would encourage everyone to look beyond what is advertised to you and pursue opportunities – even if you have to make them yourself – that you are genuinely interested in before dedicating yourself to a career pathway.
Matthew Robinson graduated from the University of Exeter in 2014 with a First in History. He’s currently a Comms Consultant for digital PR agency TopLine Comms and its sister agency TopLine Film.
When I left university, I wasn’t totally convinced about what I wanted to do. Upon graduating, I lived in Japan for three months, which gave me some time to reflect on potential career options. I like to write, learn about different industries and cultures, and have been told that I’m a strategic thinker.
I quickly found myself working in PR and digital marketing and have found it to be an incredible learning experience. I’ve been exposed to the way different businesses work, have been taught how to successfully promote a brand, and have been supported to quickly take on significant levels of responsibility.
I would recommend that anyone who isn’t quite sure about what they want to do to consider working at a digital agency, simply because of the variety of different tasks and projects you’re given the chance to work on.
If you’re thinking about a career in PR and marketing, here’s some (hopefully) useful advice.
“Provided you don’t delete the entirety of your agency’s Google Drive or say something inappropriate to a client, trying things is the best way to learn.”
Go for smaller agencies
For all of the obvious reasons, the digital industry is growing in size and scope, so you’ll have lots of choice when it comes to roles to apply for. You could go in-house at a brand, or work at an agency. Both have their benefits, but agencies are typically the best place to start for newcomers because there are clearer career development opportunities. Bigger agencies can be tempting – they sometimes offer programmes, really good benefits packages and tend to draw people in with big name clients. And that’s fair enough – working with Spotify does sound cool.
But don’t systematically decide not to apply for smaller agencies. They’re great for career building, learning and taking on responsibility. Smaller teams mean there is nowhere to hide, and you’ll be thrown in at the deep end right from the start. It sounds daunting, but you’ll learn a lot and you’ll learn it quickly.
Likewise, don’t shy away from or dismiss entry level positions. A foot in the door is a great thing and if you do a good job, you can build a strong foundation for the future. I started as an assistant and within a year I was running client calls with CEOs. Within another couple I was building their communications strategies and even interviewing new hires.
Don’t try and specialise too soon
Careers are long, and unless AI takes over and we all start living lives of leisure, we’re going to be working for a long time. Get as much experience as you can right at the start, so that you have a choice of what to do a bit further on. Having varied experience will set you in good stead for the future – employers are unlikely to turn down a candidate who has had a lot of experience.
In addition, as PR becomes more digitally-focused, it has significantly overlapped with marketing disciplines like SEO and social media. So, taking a broader view of developing your digital skillset is a smart option early on in your career – you can always specialise later.
“Get involved in meetings and ask questions. Whenever we hire a graduate who asks what the jargon means or gives an opinion, it’s valued and respected.”
Try to get some experience before you graduate
A couple of weeks at a PR or marketing agency will give you a taste of working in that kind of environment. During a short internship you’ll probably get a chance to dip into some fundamentals of the profession: pitching, copywriting, reporting, client relations, and more. I chose to do a short internship before settling down in a permanent role, so I got a feel for what I could be doing permanently.
In addition, don’t discount the value of service industry jobs. I worked in a supermarket and made a point of mentioning it on my CV. And in fact, it put me in better stead when interviewing because it showed that I had a strong work ethic. It also showed I had customer-facing experience – demonstrating an instinct for dealing with people (sometimes in tricky situations) is invaluable in agency life.
It’s OK to make mistakes
When you do get your first job, try and be confident, get involved in meetings and ask questions. It took me a while to grow in confidence when I got my first job – but whenever we hire a graduate who asks what the jargon means or gives an opinion, it’s valued and respected. Try to get involved and don’t be too afraid of making a mistake.
Provided you don’t delete the entirety of your agency’s Google Drive or say something inappropriate to a client, trying things is the best way to learn.
It’s hard to get to grips with PR and marketing before actually entering the industry, but you can definitely start reading trade magazines and blogs to get a better idea of it. If you’re interested, give our blog a read, or check out PR Week, Marketing Week, The Drum, Campaign and Search Engine Land. We’ve also put together a PR Masterclass specifically for beginners and graduates. It’ll help you get acquainted with everything from creating newsworthy stories to planning and running entire campaigns.
Take it from me – working for a creative agency, whether it specialises in PR, marketing, advertising, video production, or a combination thereof, is a great way to start your career. You’ll learn a lot, meet great people and learn management and communication skills that apply to other types of jobs (if you change your mind further down the road). Go with your gut and get applying for jobs – good luck!
Celine Gamble graduated from the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, with an MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity, 2017. She currently works as the Native Oyster Network Coordinator (UK & Ireland).
After graduation I worked within the Engagement team of the British Science Association. During which I worked on the annual British Science Festival as a Festival Officer. More recently I have started working for the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in their Marine and Freshwater Department as a Project Coordinator for the newly formed Native Oyster Network (UK and Ireland). I’m very much enjoying the role so far, as it’s a good combination of conservation science and policy, networking, fieldwork and science communication.
I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in marine conservation, and during University I was drawn towards communicating science. Therefore a role where I can combine the two is perfect for me. The most enjoyable aspect of my current role is having the opportunity to visit native oyster restoration projects across the UK and Ireland, and be able to get out on the boat and assist with their fieldwork.
“My advice for anyone beginning a career within marine conservation would be to be persistent, and to be aware that it could take a few interviews and some time before landing your dream job.”
I enjoyed studying at the University of Exeter firstly due to the amazing location of the Penryn campus, with access to marine coastal habitat on its doorstep. And secondly due to the support and expertise of the lecturers in the Bioscience department.
I would say that being involved with extra-curricular opportunities, such as university societies and groups, helped build my independent working and confidence when delivering a project. I also found that modules such as Science in Society and Exploitation of the Sea, have been useful in terms of the science communication route that I’ve pursued.
The advice I would give to a current student, would be to throw yourself into extra-curricular opportunities and to research opportunities to volunteer for projects/ organisations that you’d hope to work for in the future. I would also say, don’t hold back from getting in touch with individuals who work in roles you’d like to see yourself in, as 9/10 times they will be more than happy to provide advice.
My current contract is for two years, after which I would hope to move into a manager role within a similar marine conservation project or organisation.
My advice for anyone beginning a career within marine conservation would be to be persistent, and to be aware that it could take a few interviews and some time before landing your “dream job”. But don’t let that put you off.
Hi there! My name is Minh, and I studied Sociology and Criminology at Exeter, graduating in 2016. I am currently in my second year on the Civil Service Fast Stream, currently working on EU Exit at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
If you were to describe life on the Civil Service Fast Stream in three words, what would they be?
Fun, diverse, gratifying
Tell us a bit about your background – what did you do before joining the Fast Stream?
After graduating from Exeter, I worked as an intern in the Department for Transport (DfT) in the summer of 2016. This was part of the Civil Service Fast Stream’s Summer Diversity Internship Programme, designed to get university students from a more diverse range of backgrounds interested in working for the Civil Service. My responsibilities included designing public consultation and developing legislation on the introduction of a mandatory requirement for quad bike users to wear helmets on public roads.
I was in DfT for 13 weeks before securing a full-time job at a global law firm. I was there for almost a year, before jumping ship to join the Civil Service Fast Stream. Before working in HMRC, I have been fortunate enough to work at the Department for International Trade on US-UK Intellectual Property Trade and Department for Work and Pensions on evaluating and developing public campaigns to improve awareness of pension schemes.
“I had the misconception that civil servants and the departments they work in were faceless, out of reach… In fact, Civil Servants are just ordinary people going about their daily lives.”
Why did you apply for the Fast Stream?
A sense of public duty has been instilled in me from a young age. I previously tried to join the military. Unfortunately, as a type 1 diabetic, I was unable to make the cut. An ideal alternative, for me, was to join the Civil Service, where I can design and deliver policies to ensure the Government serves the public more effectively.
Was there anything that surprised you about the Fast Stream, or working in the Civil Service?
I had the misconception that civil servants and the departments they work in were faceless, out of reach and you never knew what was going in the political machinery. In fact, Civil Servants are just like you and me; ordinary people going about their daily lives.
For the Fast Stream specifically, I thought being diabetic might limit my opportunities. Thankfully, the Fast Stream has ensured that I have never been restricted whilst accommodating my needs so I can take care of my health. You’ll have seen that I have worked in a wide range of departments and roles, all while being supported to stay close to my registered hospital, GP and pharmacy in London.
The biggest surprise, I think, were the open, frank and honest discussions the entire Civil Service has about promoting accessibility for people from underrepresented backgrounds, and the tangible action being taken to take this forward. The late Jeremy Heywood – former Cabinet Secretary (i.e the head of the Civil Service) published a strategy which aims to make the Civil Service the most inclusive employer by 2020. The entire Civil Service is working to achieve this, alternative pathways into the Civil Service such the Fast Track Apprenticeships, Early and Summer Diversity Internships are being expanded and more senior leaders are volunteering to champion the interests of those from underrepresented backgrounds.
“The biggest surprise, I think, were the open, frank and honest discussions the entire Civil Service has about promoting accessibility for people from underrepresented backgrounds, and the tangible action being taken to take this forward.”
Do you have any top tips for the Fast Stream application process?
I strongly encourage aspiring Civil Servants – not just Fast Streamers – to study the Civil Service Behaviours (follow this link for more info). These are the actions and activities that people do which result in effective performance in a job, and not just the in the Civil Service. Think how you might have demonstrated these behaviours in previous experiences whether that be in your professional, personal or volunteering experiences. You’ll be surprised how many of the behaviours you have already demonstrated.
To finish up: tell us about your favourite moment or achievement on the Fast Stream so far.
My favourite moment – or perhaps my most surreal experience – was when I was working in DWP’s Workplace Pensions Campaigns Team making the “you work, your pension works” advertisements. I was working with the team to deliver the advertisements to be launched in April, the time when I was about to rotate to a different posting. After I had left, the advertisements popped up on television, radio, social media and on the JCDecaux billboards around the country. It was completely surreal to see my work over the last six months come into fruition in being broadcast across the UK!
If you think the Civil Service Fast Stream might be for you, visit https://www.faststream.gov.uk/ to find out more and apply to join the next cohort of future Civil Service leaders in 2020.
Employer Presentation – An Introduction to the Civil Service Fast Stream
Starts: 9 Oct 2019 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
We need talented people to lead the future Civil Service. Whoever you are, whatever your background, the Fast Stream is the fastest route to real leadership. Come and hear more at our presentation and book here