Shoot straight and hit the mark – assessment centre success

Our brand new edition of In the Zone, your essential careers magazine, launches today.

 

 

We’re taking Tokyo 2020 as our theme and looking at how to make your career journey a success. Hear from current students, recent graduates and the Careers team on everything from scoring a 10/10 at interviews, winning the postgraduate relay, standing out on the podium with LinkedIn, and sprinting across the finish line to land your dream graduate job.

Katie Bennett, BA Spanish and Management with UK Work Experience

In an extract from In the Zone, Katie Bennett, current BA Spanish and Management with UK Work Experience tells us how she hit the mark to succeed at a Deloitte assessment centre. 

 

Be prepared

The Career Zone were extremely helpful when applying for my industrial placement. I booked onto the Deloitte Autumn Careers Evening through My Career Zone, which was instrumental in inspiring me to apply to their scheme. I subsequently attended a talk about how to prepare for psychometric tests, explored an array of online practice tests, and borrowed numerical reasoning books to refresh my maths skills and explain how to answer typical psychometric questions. Using the Industry Reports on My Career Zone Digital gave me a better insight into the Consulting sector, and what key skills are required. I also sought advice from the Business School Career Zone team, and attended their Careers Café to refine my CV, and get some last-minute advice for my assessment centre.

 

Do your research

The ‘Assessment Centre Tool’ on My Career Zone Digital was helpful in giving me an insight into what format the assessment centre could take, as well as information on how to best-perform in a group exercise, e-tray exercise, and interview. I researched the placement role, the company, and the industry by reading the company website, as well as forums, blogs and news articles, and by listening to podcasts. Doing so gave me a good foundation of knowledge which I could draw upon during interview. I looked at practice interview questions online, and planned out possible answers and practised answering them out loud. I re-read my CV and thought about where I had developed or demonstrated particular skills, linking these to the espoused values of the company.

 

On the day

For the presentation, I drew on my academic knowledge and online research, using company reports and reputable websites to form the basis of my ideas. Practising your presentation to a trusted friend/family member is helpful for making sure you can articulate your ideas fluently and keep to the time limit. Like my friends, I was most nervous about the group exercise. A useful tip would be to speak up as early as possible – you don’t have to be the first one to speak, or take on the role of primary leader, but try to say something early on so that you can find your voice and not get lost amongst everyone else’s ideas. This also stops the experience from becoming too overwhelming and enables you to become a confident and active member of the group. Remember that nominating yourself to be the timekeeper, and bringing quiet members of the group into the conversation, or showing your agreement with your teammates’ ideas, are effective ways of showing leadership and teamwork.

 

What’s it really like?

The assessment centre is a chance for you to perform to the best of your ability. Everyone is in the same boat as you, and will be a lot more collaborative and friendly than some of the forums suggest! I would advise you to bring along snacks to give you that boost of energy you might need throughout the day! Thorough preparation is key to building your confidence, but you should also have confidence in your abilities and who you are – the company sees potential in you and wants to get to know you better, so have some self-belief and do the best you can.

 

Result!

I’m pleased to say that my hard work paid off and I was delighted to accept an offer from Deloitte for an industrial placement. I’m really glad that I put a lot of time and effort into my application and the assessment centre, and I’m excited to start my placement next year.

 

A creative career with IBM

Graham White graduated from the University of Exeter in BSc (Hons) Computer Science and Management Science in 2000, and has been working for IBM for 20 years since joining their graduate programme. 

Graham White, Certified Expert Technical Specialist, Emerging Technologies (IBM Research)

I work for IBM in the world-renowned IBM Research division. My focus is applied research within the Emerging Technologies group. In this role, I generally take new technology to our clients as part of a first-of-kind project which is always hugely interesting and very exciting. It is extremely varied as I can be talking to a client about a particular solution in the morning and in the afternoon I might be working on some fundamental research with my university partners. Hence, people in my job are typically very broadly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about technology but also have at least one area of deep technical skill.

It’s hard to pick just a few, but I wanted to share 3 projects I’ve been involved with in recent years:

 

  • I was involved with creating a system to automatically translate spoken English into British Sign Language. The project was created by IBM interns under the Extreme Blue programme (for which I would encourage everyone reading this to consider signing up to) that hooks up experienced technical people from IBM to mentor students during a summer project. Rather than describe it in detail, take a look at this 15 second clip to get a rough idea or listen to Helen explain it. Helen has since gone on to become one of the managers in my department. This is still one of the project we get asked about on a regular basis.

 

  • During 2018 I worked on a system to enhance rail travel codenamed Stepping Stone for people with disabilities and older people. This group of passengers find it harder to travel by train, and can often be extremely anxious while travelling. My solution was to create a mobile application that walks the passenger through their journey but does so by continuously linking them with a member of staff. So they can ask questions, get help, meet up with passenger service assistants and anything else they want at any point during their journey. It’s a bit like a WhatsApp type of interface where people can chat to station staff and staff on the train. It detects when they arrive at a station and contains a lot of features resulting from accessibility research so it can be used by people with visual or hearing difficulties, people with physical disabilities, learning difficulties, or older people.

 

  • A more commercial example of something very creative I’ve done is through our partnership with the Knorr food company. They approached us for help with a marketing campaign and through a period of consulting with them we came up with the idea of profiling flavours. The idea and tech we needed to implement involved working out the flavour profile in two respects: how people experience flavour and which ones they prefer; and which flavours different foods contain. In a broad sense, this allowed us to come up with a mapping between preferred flavour and different foods. It allowed Knorr to recommend certain products to particular individuals based entirely on the science behind which flavours they are most likely to enjoy.

 

To give a little more background to my career, starting from when I graduated with a Computer Science and Management Science degree, I still wasn’t entirely sure what career I wanted. I had narrowed my options to management consulting or computer programming. I applied for a few roles but was really attracted to IBM as it fitted my preference of a more technical job. After a 1 day interview in London and 2 day assessment centre in Winchester I was offered a place on the graduate scheme and started work at the rather lovely IBM Hursley on 4 September 2000. The site has a similar stately home history and campus feel to it as the Streatham Campus.

I formed the first Linux support team when the company invested $1 billion in transforming the IBM product line to work on Linux. My job was to provide support to the 3000 people working on site and consisted of being away from my desk a lot, either in a huge machine room working on servers or at people’s desks helping them more directly with one-to-one support. Since then, I have worked in a number of different roles that have taken me around the world. I have set up and worked on some of the world’s fastest super computers (they all run Linux); helped scientists crack some particularly hard problems such as mapping the human genome, weather prediction, seismic surveying and nuclear simulation; worked on teaching computers how to understand human speech, something we now fashionably call machine learning or artificial intelligence.

For more information about careers at IBM, see our website: https://www.ibm.com/uk-en/employment/

 

My Experiences on the Civil Service Early Diversity Internship Programme

Joshua Peters is a second year Politics and International Relations undergraduate at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus. 

Joshua Peters, Politics and International Relations student, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus

Last year I made the decision to apply for various first year schemes on offer by many companies. I applied to companies in Law and in Banking but being a Politics student, and someone whose family has had a history in the Civil Service, I also made the conscious decision to apply to the Early Diversity Internship Programme (EDIP). Fast forward 6 months, an application process and a telephone interview – I found myself at The Oval cricket ground in South London attending the opening ceremony of the EDIP scheme.

On the train journey to The Oval I had no idea what to expect from the opening ceremony. I felt nervous, excited, anxious and curious all at the same time! When I finally arrived, I was greeted so warmly by the staff that I quickly lost all the anxiety and nervousness that I came there with, and instead I felt eager to hear and see what the opening ceremony had to offer. A quick scan of the room and it was almost impossible not to notice the diversity that existed. This certainly helped me feel more at ease. Everyone on the scheme had been allocated places to sit at a table. It was great talking to the other people partaking in the scheme. Speaking to the other interns showed me diversity in terms of degrees being studied. One person studied PPE, another was studying Law and someone was studying Finance and Mathematics! This showed me that anyone from any background can have an interest in a career in the Civil Service. The opening ceremony itself was really illuminating. We heard from a number of motivational speakers who detailed to us the trials and tribulations they had gone through and how they had overcame them to be where they are today.

“On the train journey to The Oval I had no idea what to expect from the opening ceremony… When I finally arrived, I was greeted so warmly by the staff that I quickly lost all the anxiety and nervousness that I came there with, and instead I felt eager to hear and see what the opening ceremony had to offer. A quick scan of the room and it was almost impossible not to notice the diversity that existed.”

When you gain a place on the EDIP scheme you are allocated a government department. I was assigned to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Within this department I, along with another EDIP intern, was assigned to a civil servant, Mel, who worked in the food section of the department and even more specifically, the ‘food labelling’ sub-group (I didn’t know this was a thing either!). Shadowing Mel for the week was great and extremely insightful because I was able to see first-hand what working in the Civil Service actually looked like. I attended every meeting that she attended and saw most tasks that her and her sub-group were working on. I felt as though I came at a bad time as quite literally all work in the department was related to Brexit and creating contingencies if we left the EU with no deal. However, seeing how the Civil Service dealt with an issue such as Brexit was very interesting. Also, during the week, we were given a talk by Fast Streamers on different streams. The Fast Stream is the graduate scheme within the Civil Service, which offers many different streams, including a diplomatic stream, and an economic stream. I’d recommend paying a visit to the Fast Stream website to find out more about this.

I would highly encourage first years to apply for the EDIP scheme. The scheme allows for a first taste of networking at the opening and closing ceremonies and also a unique insight into a workplace as varied as the Civil Service. If you’re having trouble deciding on whether you’d be more suited to corporate employment or public sector employment, EDIP can certainly be a great starting point in helping to figure this out!

Interning at the United Nations, New York

Eleanor Nicolaides is a current BA History and Ancient History with EEA (Employment Experience Abroad) student at the University of Exeter, Streatham campus. For her EEA placement she was an intern at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Cyprus to the United Nations in New York City.

Eleanor Nicolaides in the Security Council Chamber of the United Nations New York City

This was the best experience of my entire life, and it is really hard to summarise in one post, so I will do my best!

I found out about this internship years ago, through Nepomak, an organisation which aims to preserve Cypriot cultural roots and identity by bringing together young Cypriots in different branches all over the world. They do this through organising events, and running language and cultural tours in Cyprus in the summer. Other opportunities they provide are internships with the Government of Cyprus, the Cyprus Space Exploration Organisation, and the Cyprus Mission to the United Nations.

In 2014, whilst on holiday in New York, I went on a tour of the UN, and was fascinated by what I learnt, and the work that the UN has accomplished. Shortly after I found out that Nepomak offered an internship there, and ever since I had been desperate to sign up. Everything fell into place in October 2017 when Exeter offered the chance to do “Employment Experience Abroad” for the first time, and I realised that this was my chance. My application was accepted and in August 2018 I flew to New York.

“At times, I felt like I was watching history happen right in front of me.”

I was beyond nervous for my first day at the UN, however I quickly settled in. Everyone was so lovely and welcoming, and I greatly appreciate all the support they gave me over the year. During the first couple of weeks, I helped my colleagues prepare for the 73rd General Assembly – for example, by helping the Ambassador plan the President of Cyprus’ schedule for the High-Level week. During this week, my main role (much to my surprise) was to sit in on the General Debate and write this up in a report. I estimate that I saw between 70 – 80 Heads of State in this week, including: Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, and Jacinda Arden (other famous figures I saw throughout the year at the UN include Antonio Guterres, Mike Pence, Amal Clooney, Angelina Jolie, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). It was an extremely surreal week. I couldn’t believe that I was already trusted enough to solely represent the country of Cyprus at the most prominent political event in the entire world. My internship had completely exceeded all expectations in just a couple of weeks.

My main role at the UN was write up reports on the meetings I attended which would then get sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These included General Assembly and Security Council meetings, conferences, humanitarian briefings, and resolution negotiations. At times, I felt like I was watching history happen right in front of me. For example, I attended an emergency Security Council meeting in November after Russia attacked Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait and took 24 Ukrainian sailors prisoner. Tensions were extraordinarily high, with Russia trying to justify their actions, and Ukraine threatening to declare martial law. Although the situation between these countries is far from resolved, these sailors were finally released back to the Ukraine this month.

I also attended European Union Coordination’s around three times a week. These meetings were fascinating, as it was a private, behind-the-scenes look at how the 28 Member States work together to achieve their common goals (the way they discussed this never ending Brexit crisis was even more interesting!). One of the most memorable meetings I had here was during the 2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis. Both Maduro and Guaido were sending delegations to a United Nations conference in Buenos Aires, and the EU needed to decide on a common approach on how to diplomatically act in this situation. The issue was time sensitive, yet they also had to keep in mind how to deal with this in the long term. The cooperation and I saw during these meetings was so impressive!

“Living in New York was also a dream. The city is so full of life and opportunities, with something new to discover every day.”

Living in New York was also a dream. The city is so full of life and opportunities, with something new to discover every day. I made some incredible friends there, and some of the things we did were go to: all of the classic sight-seeing (Empire State, Statue of Liberty, Central Park etc.), Broadway shows, museums (the best is the Met by far), NBC studios to watch live recordings of SNL, concerts and festivals and Instagram popups, food markets, and travel. During my year I was lucky enough to go to San Francisco, Yosemite, Miami, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Washington DC, Virginia, and Philadelphia. I am trying hard to not be too critical of Exeter this year, but it feels so much smaller and unexciting after these experiences.

I am so grateful to the University for giving me the opportunity to live and work in New York for a year. Words can never justify how much I loved it and how much I want to return. To other students, I highly recommend working abroad, as it offers so much more than studying, and will be something you won’t regret!

If you’re interested in adding an EEA year into your course, contact the College Employability and Placement Advisor for your College or email careers@exeter.ac.uk  

Creative Business

Emma Hooton graduated from the University of Exeter in 1993 and now runs Studio Hooton an interior design studio based in Winchester

Emma Hooton – Exeter Alumn and owner of Studio Hooton

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.

One of Studio Hooton’s design projects

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.

Global Leader Experience – Mumbai

Jeeves Sidhu is a current BA Liberal Arts student at the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus. 

Jeeves Sidhu (second left) and other Exeter GLE students in Mumbai.

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.

Juhu Beach, Mumbai

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.

Creative Visualisation

Henry White graduated from the University of Exeter in BA English, 2012. He’s currently Photography and Videography Editor for P&O Ferries. 

Henry White, Exeter Alumn, and current 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.

Insight Weeks Explained

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. 

Maxine Mukunga, BA Business and Management student, University of Exeter

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:

KPMG

Deloitte

PWC

EY

McKinsey

Study Abroad – The Netherlands

Mel Watt is a BA History with Study Abroad student at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus. 

Mel Watt, BA History with Study Abroad

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.

Find out more information about Study Abroad here. https://www.exeter.ac.uk/studyabroad/outbound/

Guest post from IBM – Is working for a technology company for you?

Jasmine Cottrell is a recent International Relations and Politics graduate from the University of Exeter, working for IBM as a Business Consultant on the Graduate Consulting programme. 

Jasmine Cottrell, Exeter alumni and Business Consultant on the IBM Graduate Consulting programme

Come and meet IBM at our STEM Careers Fair on Tuesday 5 November

Employer Skills Session – Application Form Masterclass with IBM

Starts: 18 Nov 2019 2:30 PM

Employer Skills Session – Assessment Centre Masterclass with IBM

Starts: 28 Nov 2019 2:30 PM

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.”

 Top tips

Keep up-to-date

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.

Interested in a career at a leading international technology company? Head to https://www.ibm.com/uk-en/employment/