Starting out in PR and Marketing

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

Matthew Robinson, Exeter Alum, current Comms Consultant for TopLine Comms and 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.

Start reading

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!

Getting into Marine Conservation

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). 

Celine Gamble, Exeter alum, and current 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.

Your Guide to the Civil Service Fast Stream

Introduce yourself. 

Minh Tri Le, Exeter alumn and current Civil Service Fast Streamer

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

We’ve got your back… forever!

Cat Holt is a Careers Consultant (PG Programmes) in the University of Exeter Business School. 

Cat Holt, Careers Consultant (PG Programmes) University of Exeter Business School

Did you know that you have access to career support even after you graduate? We’ve got your back… forever!

We provide career support throughout your degree and it doesn’t stop there, after graduation you still have access to a wealth of career resources.

Life can be unpredictable; your gap year travel plans fell through, the dream graduate job isn’t living up to your expectations, the six interviews you attended last month all rejected you… whatever position you are in as a graduate we are here to support you.

The good news is that you won’t lose access to My Career Zone (just make sure that you select the ‘Graduate’ option at log-in). This gives you access to a smorgasbord of tantalising career resources. These are my top 5 resources that I bet you didn’t realise were available for graduates:

  1. You can still search for jobs and internships

The jobs advertised on My Career Zone aren’t just for undergraduates, there are loads of jobs available for graduates. Plus don’t forget to search for GBP internship opportunities which are open to recent graduates (up to 3 years), if you haven’t found a graduate job yet then these opportunities can be the doorway into work and often lead to permanent roles https://mycareerzone.exeter.ac.uk/students/jobs

  1. You can still attend workshops and webinars

Yes, that’s right there are still lots of events that you can book onto in My Career Zone and attend in person. Or if you now live in Bali, no worries, we have a selection of webinars that cover lots of major career topics instead. Check out the current list, there’s even one called ‘Help I’ve Graduated’! http://www.exeter.ac.uk/careers/events/webinars/

  1. You can still apply for a Career Mentor

Still not found the right job and want advice from someone in the sector? Well a Career Mentor may be the right step for you. Recent graduates (up to 3 years) can apply for an experienced professional to provide career information and advice for 6 months. The next round of applications opens in September and the mentors will be listed on My Career Zone: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/careers/research/mentor/

  1. You can learn new skills that are relevant to the workplace

We have specific resources aimed at graduates to help you succeed in the workplace. From career skills like improving your work-life balance to IT skills such as Excel, you’ll find some really useful videos and articles on My Career Zone Digital:

IT Skills and Workplace Skills https://mycareerzone.careercentre.me/u/sbx65b8q

  1. You can still book one-to-one appointments

We can arrange an appointment with a Career Consultant, this can be in person, via Skype or by phone. Maybe you’re struggling with job rejections and want to talk through your feedback, perhaps you want some help refocusing your career ideas, or maybe you are thinking about postgraduate study; we can offer impartial career advice on all these areas and help you move forward on your career journey.

Just email or call the Career Zone to book: Exeter 01392 724493 Penryn 01326 253735

“I really hadn’t realised that I was still able to access the careers service after my masters had finished. To start with I updated my My Career Zone account to a graduate account and then started booking onto events that I never got round to attending during my course. I then had some one-to-one appointments to help me focus my ideas and thanks to their support I’m applying to graduate schemes. Don’t feel you are alone after graduation, the Career Zone have been so helpful.” Diana Belza, MSc in Marketing and Finance

So go out into the world, enjoy your next steps in life, but don’t forget we are here if you need us.

Getting into Radio

Annie Tricks graduated from the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, with a 1st in BA Drama in 2018. She’s currently working as Campaign Executive at Global, and hosts The Grad Pod  

Annie Tricks, Exeter alum, Campaign Executive at Global, and podcaster

Whilst at University I threw myself into the societies. I always loved learning new skills and meeting new people, and many of the societies at Exeter provided this. In my First Year I remember throwing myself in perhaps a bit too much, but that’s always a good thing as you can work out what you’re truly interested in. One of my big loves were the three Xmedia societies, particularly Xpression, the student radio station. While growing up, radio was always in the background, but in my life Drama had always been in the foreground which is why I chose to study it at university. Nevertheless, the thought of getting involved in radio intrigued me, so I signed up to Xpression at the Freshers Fair.

Joining Xpression was one of the best steps I took during my time at Exeter. Not only was it great to learn how to control a radio desk and make my own radio show, but I also met so many interesting and exciting people from different degrees, who have now become my best friends. In my First Year I mainly worked on Xpression because I found it really enjoyable. I loved music, so got involved in the music team conducting interviews and helping out at various events. However, at the end of First Year I realised that I loved it more than a hobby, and began to consider it becoming my career.

“…there are parallels in terms of creativity and organisation which I learnt from my course. However the biggest contribution towards where I am now from my university life has to be Xpression.”

I knew radio was really hard to get into, and thought I had better start early, so I emailed a lot of local stations asking if I could get some work experience. This was really key in terms of getting to where I am now, as I threw myself into lots of different roles: promoting on the streets for Radio Exe, volunteering at events for the BBC, shadowing shows, writing bulletins, and editing interviews for Phonic FM. I tried to do as much as I could, as well as doing a lot for Xpression itself whilst being on the committee. I was then very fortunate to be given the contact details of a producer at Heart, and after getting in touch with him I landed a four month internship beginning at the start of Third Year.

The internship was extremely useful in terms of gaining experience. Not only did I learn how Global (who own Heart) worked in terms of programming, but I was involved in coming up with show ideas, editing promotional trails that went on air, and event managing when I helped out at their big Christmas Fair. I made many great contacts also, which enabled me to get where I am now; working for Global in Birmingham.

Although I’m not on the programming side yet, I’m very fortunate to be working for such a big radio company, especially straight out of University. I found out I got my job two days before Graduating which was incredible. I currently work as Campaign Executive, which involves helping coordinate various campaigns on air and online e.g. competitions, sponsorships etc.

Despite my job perhaps being far from my degree, there are parallels in terms of creativity and organisation which I learnt from my course. However the biggest contribution towards where I am now from my university life has to be Xpression. The support was amazing, and I would highly recommend anyone to join and throw themselves into such an incredibly encouraging environment.

Multiple Choice

James Bradbrook is Vacancy Co-ordinator for the Career Zone. 

You’ve fired off several applications, smashed the interviews and assessment centres and you’ve had a job offer from Umbrella Corporation. It’s not necessarily your first choice, but it’s not too bad and you haven’t heard back from that marketing job you were hoping to get with  Weyland-Yutani.

Having to choose between job offers is great. And confusing. And Stressful. But great.
Photo by Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash

Umbrella are wanting to hear back from you, so you accept their job offer. After all, you think, you can always pull out if Weyland-Yutani come up trumps, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.

What does the law say?

Contracts of employment are just that: contracts! Like all contracts, they signify all parties’ acceptance of mutual rights and obligations and there are penalties for failing to fulfil them.

When an employer makes you an offer, they can only then withdraw it under very particular circumstances. This is why most employers will only make conditional offers, for example, the offer being subject to references. This means that if one of your referees points out that you happen to have been fired from your last job for stealing, the company can withdraw their offer perfectly legally.

If an employer makes an offer and you accept but then the company withdraws it without good reason, you would be able to sue them for breach of contract.

The same applies the other way around. If you accept an offer and then pull out, the company is perfectly entitled to insist that you fulfil the terms of the contract and, if you don’t, they can pursue you through the courts. (It is important to note that accepting an offer verbally has the same legal force as an agreement in writing – the only difference is that the latter is easier to prove.)

“If you accept an offer and then pull out, the company is perfectly entitled to insist that you fulfil the terms of the contract and, if you don’t, they can pursue you through the courts.”

Assuming the company won their action against you, the gains would be minimal because the losses would be limited to the terms of the contract that were violated.

This wouldn’t mean that your losses would be minimal. The damages you’d have to pay for the actual breach of contract itself would be insignificant compared to the risk that you’d have to pay your own legal costs, plus the company’s legal costs as well. That could easily amount to many thousands of pounds, not to mention a large part of your life being swallowed up for months or even years of legal action.

That’s really not the best way to start your new career.

Would they really try to enforce the contract or sue me?

This is difficult to determine – much would depend on the specific circumstances. However, such actions are rare.

Firstly, in terms of forcing you to honour the contract, you’d only be obligated to work out whatever notice period is specified in the contract of employment. With most graduate schemes you’d have barely started the training before you could leave quite legally.

Secondly, it is rarely in an employer’s interest to have a disinterested, unengaged employee working for them.

Thirdly, they will probably believe someone who pulls out of a contract in this way is, at best, unreliable and possibly even dishonest. Most companies don’t want that sort of person working for them.

All-in-all, it’s probably not worth their time and investment to force you to take the job, when you’re going to up and leave in weeks or months.

As for legal action, the direct losses a company could recoup from you would probably be minimal – this would depend on notice periods, training costs, etc. or any other loss the company could demonstrate arose from your breach of contract. By far, the worst scenario for you would be covering their legal costs.

The employer would have to balance the effort in staff time required to pursue an action against the concrete return. They may also wish to avoid long-term damage to their reputation that might arise from pursuing such an action.

But … if the contract is short-term or a further delay in recruitment would harm the company’s business, they might be far more insistent that you honour your commitment. Things would also greatly depend at what point you pulled out – retracting an offer a couple of days after accepting is far less to trigger action than doing so the day before you’re going to start.

In conclusion, the risk of a legal action is probably small, depending on the circumstances. This doesn’t change the fact that a risk remains – you need to think very carefully about your situation before making such a serious decision and consider taking legal advice concerning your specific circumstances.

Other possible consequences

Recruitment costs companies a lot in terms of time and money. They take the process very seriously and don’t make offers to candidates lightly. They expect candidates to act professionally and with integrity. Make no mistake: they are going to be very, very unhappy.

“So what?” you might say.

True, you may not suffer any immediate problems if you decide to pull out. But, you could well burn your bridges with that organisation completely, scuppering any chance of working with them in the future. That might not be an immediate worry, but who knows where you’ll be in five- or ten-years’ time.

The personal circles in some professions are surprisingly small. People have long memories and reputation matters, especially in occupations where honesty and integrity are vitally important, such as law and accountancy. No-one likes the players on reality TV and they don’t like them in professional life either.

“The personal circles in some professions are surprisingly small. People have long memories and reputation matters.”

And, if you’re the sort of person that cares about other people, you might want to think about this. Employers might not be willing or able to take action against you, but they can (and do) complain to us! Take it from me, it’s very uncomfortable to have an employer phone up complaining about the poor conduct of a student.

Employers also take these sorts of things into account when they’re making commercial decisions about what universities they want to work with. If they have a poor experience with an Exeter student, they might well reconsider how much they want to work with us in the future, damaging opportunity for future students.

Last, but not least, there’s the matter of your personal integrity. If you value ethical conduct in the world, from other people and organisations, then you shouldn’t be too free with your own.

So, what’s the right thing to do?

If a company makes you an offer and you’re either not sure or waiting on another offer, tell them you need time to think. You don’t need to tell them exactly why.

Most companies don’t rush their recruitment decisions and they shouldn’t expect you to either. If you feel they’re trying to pressure you into a quick decision, then that tells you something about the culture of their firm and you may need to reconsider whether they’re right for you in the first place.

Only you can decide what sort of time frame is reasonable to you, although you can’t expect a company to hold an offer open indefinitely.

Need help making a decision?

Risks and Opportunities

It’s Never Too Late… helps final-year Humanities students get advice from successful Exeter alumni, and showcases opportunities from the Career Zone.

Carly Turpin, Head of Talent Acquisition at Crowdcube, graduated from the University of Exeter with a Master of Arts, European Languages and Cultures in 2008. 

Carly Turpin, Head of Talent Acquisition at Crowdcube, and Exeter alumn

There isn’t one career path for everyone… your career can take a number of twists and turns before finding something you really enjoy and want to excel at, but don’t down play the skills you pick up, and the experiences you go through along the way.

I came to Exeter to study a Masters in European Languages and Cultures as I had my heart set on becoming a journalist, and thought that being a polyglot would help open a few doors. I had just completed a degree in Applied Foreign Languages in France and an internship at the Daily Mail, and a year out spent working in pubs in Andorra and Mallorca. However I quickly realised there was no way I could go back to an unpaid internship at a newspaper as I couldn’t afford to live in London.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do anymore. I’d talked about becoming a journalist since I was 12 years old and now I felt completely disillusioned with the industry having seen it firsthand, as well as unsure about my next move. I’d toyed with applying to the UN in translation roles, or joining an NGO. In the end I moved back home after completing my MA, did a ski season in the Alps and basically took my time deciding my next move. I still hadn’t even considered a career in HR or recruitment at this point.

“There isn’t one career path for everyone… your career can take a number of twists and turns before finding something you really enjoy and want to excel at, but don’t down play the skills you pick up, and the experiences you go through along the way.”

Over the next few years I worked in hospitality, got on a postgraduate scheme working for a small independent property firm in London, taught English to foreign students with TEFL, worked in asset management, worked in a French speaking customer support role for a major toy retailer, got a job as an office manager in the food and beverage industry, and ran a nightclub and pub with my now husband. Running a business without any prior experience was probably the most fun and challenging time of my life. We ended up closing the business after 4 years but as they say ‘one door closes and another opens.’ A recruiter approached me about joining a recruitment firm so I took the leap, and about 6 months in, along came Crowdcube. I instantly bought into their company mission and after placing 13 people into the team there, I took a risk and pitched myself into the business. I’d just turned 30 and things seemed to start clicking into place.

All of the aforementioned experiences enabled me to pick up and hone a host of skills such as communication, process management, basic accounting, human resources management, people management, market research, teaching and training, and develop resilience, work ethic, attention to detail, patience, adaptability, empathy and emotional intelligence among others. I also learnt a lot about myself, how I work best, what I value, and most importantly what I enjoy, which will help steer future career choices. But most importantly I learnt that hard work and the desire to keep learning will keep you moving forward.

So let’s fast forward almost 4 years… I’m the Head of Talent at Crowdcube and I’ve helped the business grow, managed a restructure, set up the whole recruitment and HR function, implemented systems and processes, spearheaded a values revamp, started tracking engagement and diversity and inclusion metrics to be able to create strategies to tackle these areas. I’m currently on maternity leave and still have so much to achieve to help the business continue to grow and be an exceptional place to work.

As I said at the beginning, I don’t believe in a career for life or in one set path and actually all of the experiences I have had to date have enabled me to develop skills that make me good at my job. I still have a lot to learn and who knows if I’ll still be in People Operations in 10 years time. I love what I do but the world of work is changing at such a pace that the real skill is being able to learn, to adapt, to try new things, and being able to competently explain the choices you’ve made, your achievements to date and the skills you’ve developed along your career journey. Don’t be afraid to take a few risks, who knows what doors will open!

Chance, Luck and Careers Fairs

Grace Chan graduated in BSc Geography from the University of Exeter, Tremough Campus in 2015. She’s currently an Asset Manager with Low Carbon

Grace Chan, Exeter Graduate, and Asset Manager with Low Carbon

Careers Fairs were something, that looking back, I should’ve participated in from the get-go. In my 3 years at University, I attended a single Careers Fair – one organised by the Geography Student-led Employability Committee, which I was a part of, and therefore needed to be there in any case.

This, however, set the trajectory of my career.

It was sometime in February in my final year, and I dropped in to check if everything was running smoothly. I made a few rounds to see if there were any employers who didn’t already have a crowd around them, so I could have a chat to find out more. I noticed a stand that wasn’t particularly busy, possibly due to the fact that as a renewable energy company, they stuck out amongst the other companies who were predominantly environmental consultancies. I wandered over to chat with them, not expecting anything – I’d always been under the impression that the renewable energy industry was very engineering-based, and not suitable for a Geography student like myself – but came away with a business card and email address to send my CV to after a 15-minute conversation.

The main person I was speaking to turned out to be the then-Operations Director of the company, and I was brought in for an interview straight after I sent across my CV. Following his recommendation, I was offered a job in the Planning Team at CleanEarth – before even graduating! Fast forward 4 years since meeting them at the Careers Fair, and I am now a Project Manager within the company, developing and planning for large-scale wind turbine projects in England, Wales and Scotland, with a number of impressive projects under my belt. I have recently begun the next chapter of my renewable energy journey and am working as an Asset Manager with Low Carbon, managing utility-scale solar PV farms across the UK.

Summer Recruitment Fair, Thursday 9 May 2019
11:00 to 14:00
The Forum, Streatham Campus

I would definitely advise students to attend any Careers Fairs they are able to, and to attend with an open mind. I had assumptions about the renewable energy industry that were completely proven wrong, just by chatting to the employer there. I never thought it was a suitable industry for myself, yet here I am. Spend a few minutes at each stand to find out more about their company and the industry they are in, you never know when you may have made the wrong assumptions!

I would recommend being generally inquisitive when chatting to employers – a Careers Fair is the best opportunity to find out more about a company, their culture, and what their roles entail on a day-to-day basis. It’s the information that cannot be found on a job description that you want to be finding out. As I knew nothing about the renewable energy industry, my chat helped me gain a much better understanding of the various roles and responsibilities that come into play in developing renewable energy projects. I found out that the skills I had picked up in my degree: data analysis, ArcGIS, environmental policy, to name a few, actually meant that I was well-placed for a role in renewable energy project development and planning.

If you are job hunting in your final year, or looking for a summer internship, I would recommend bringing along copies of your CV to the fairs and researching the employers that would be there. I came across my employer and fell into this industry by sheer chance, but you don’t need to leave it to luck.

Find out more about the Summer Recruitment Fair, and our others Fairs here.  

In the Zone – Shoot for the Stars

Bethan Watson is a BA English student at the University of Exeter, and current Career Zone SCP on the Streatham Campus. 

Caitlin’s cover art inspired the ‘outer space’ theme throughout “In The Zone”

This year marks the third annual student-produced “In the Zone” careers magazine launch. The magazine was a joint project between myself and fellow English student Brittany Willis, with the support and guidance of the team at the Career Zone. Just in time for Graduation, the magazine launches on Monday 29th April; make sure to grab your copy, or visit the Career Zone website where a digital copy of the magazine will be available.

At the Career Zone, we understand there’s a great deal of pressure on you to secure a graduate role. This year, we wanted to focus on anyone who feels intimidated by the more structured, well-publicised and specified job opportunities, or disheartened that there aren’t formal routes into the sectors they’re interested in. We’ve also aimed our magazine at those who aren’t interested in joining the workforce yet, at least through a traditional pathway. You might want to apply for further study, take some time off to plan your next move or travel, or even be interested in starting your own business venture.

We’ve provided comprehensive examples of the resources the Career Zone offers, with feedback from students who’ve used them. For example, My Career Zone Digital is an excellent resource for preparing you for all aspects of the job application process. The Career Zone also provides excellent frameworks to secure your own fully-funded internship, either after Graduation or during your studies. If you have no idea what kind of role would suit you, the Career Zone has you covered with our Professional Pathways scheme, which offers you the opportunity to explore a sector you’re interested in through training and a paid internship. These are only some of the resources available, and if you haven’t heard of them before, they’re worth a look.

“Because we realise formal routes might not be for everyone, we’ve included examples of students who have taken unconventional routes and the advice they have to offer you upon Graduation. This includes students who have travelled, who are now working abroad, who have made informed choices about their Masters degrees, and who are turning their hobbies into business enterprises.”

Because we realise formal routes might not be for everyone, we’ve included examples of students who have taken unconventional routes and the advice they have to offer you upon Graduation. This includes students who have travelled, who are now working abroad, who have made informed choices about their Masters degrees, and who are turning their hobbies into business enterprises.

Bethan Watson, Caitlin Thomas and Brittany Willis

As editors and contributors, the process of collating “In the Zone” has been an opportunity to both grow and discover for Brittany and I. We are both Streatham-based second year English undergraduates. Brittany is interested in a career in publishing, whereas I am still actively exploring different opportunities, which I discuss within the magazine. I feel that creating this year’s edition of “In the Zone” has allowed us to exercise skills that will be valued in our future careers. Brittany now has first-hand experience of editing and contributing to a formal publication, which will give her a basis to demonstrate her interest in the sector when applying for publishing roles. I have been able to build upon my existing skillset in terms of communication, taking the initiative and managing a project from idea to completion. Overall, we both feel better informed about what we can offer as candidates and now have examples to refer to when asked to demonstrate competencies for specific skills.

“In the Zone” has also been a platform for other students to demonstrate and grow their skills, which was a priority for the Career Zone team. Caitlin Thomas, a second year Classics student and budding fine artist, won a competition that I organised to design the front cover for the magazine, and has inspired the visual theme throughout. Caitlin currently has an active website for her art, and we hope that this opportunity gave her a platform as a talented student artist.

Like most students, Brittany, Caitlin and I are in the process of shaping our own career journeys. With graduation drawing closer, “In the Zone” aims to ensure that students feel they are in a position to make an informed decision about their career choices, without pressure or panic. Within the magazine, Exeter Alumni have kindly offered us their insight and experiences after Graduation. As a result of reading their testimonials, I felt reassured; I was able to stop, think and really consider what I want from life, rather than feeling like I should be applying for a certain role because it seems like the right thing to do. I think that one of the key messages from the magazine is that there is no one right pathway after graduation; it’s a big change but there is something for everyone, and the aim of the Career Zone is to make sure you feel empowered rather than scared to make decisions around that change.

Career Zone believes in Careers Forever; the service is accessible for as long as you need it. However long ago you graduated, and wherever you are in the world, so please make sure to get in touch. 

Growing a Sustainable Career

Abbie Banner graduated from the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, with BSc Zoology in 2018. She is currently GBP Campus Sustainability Project Coordinator (Cornwall). Go Green Week is happening on the Streatham Campus 18th – 22nd March. 

Abbie Banner, Exeter Alumn and current Campus Sustainability Project Coordinator (Cornwall)

My role is based in the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the Penryn Campus, and I work with all four institutions on the campus: the University of Exeter, Falmouth University, Falmouth Exeter Plus (shared campus service providers) and the Students’ Union (FXU).

I ensure that each of the organisations can support and contribute to making sustainability the norm on campus – this means something different most days. From data handling for creating a ‘sustainability dashboard’ for the campuses, to researching best practice for handling commercial food waste. Along with assisting with restructuring of our campuses’ sustainability governance, to ensuring practices are in line with the University’s biodiversity policy.

“..being immersed in life by the sea in Cornwall, based on a small, green campus away from the city life I was used to, strengthened my desire to be involved in sustainability within my career.”

The summer before beginning University I switched to a plant-based diet. It was my research through this change that opened my eyes to the damage that humans cause to the environment. My personality type is ‘advocate’ which means that I need to feel I’m making a difference to the world, including through my career, so sustainability is the perfect platform for this. Also, being immersed in life by the sea in Cornwall, based on a small, green campus away from the city life I was used to, strengthened my desire to be involved in sustainability within my career.

I honestly had almost zero extracurricular commitments for the first couple of years at University. It wasn’t until I gained some confidence at the end of my Second Year, when I became more involved and started to gain some relevant experience.

There are so many ways to be involved in sustainability on campus as a student. I dived into the deep end and ran for Environment and Ethics Officer in the Leadership Team of FXU. I was lucky enough to win this student-elected role, which was voluntary and part-time alongside my degree. I also participated in Grand Challenges: Food for Thought as well as the Green Consultants programme.

As Environment and Ethics Officer, I presented two ‘motions’ at FXU’s AGM. Both motions voted to pass, which included to ban all plastic straws on campus, and to halve the number of single-use plastic water bottles on campus.

Through the Green Consultants programme I had the opportunity to work with Fifteen Cornwall, Jamie Oliver’s restaurant at Watergate Bay with a “positive for the planet” ethos. My team completed a waste audit, analysing 3 years of bills to output infographics and suggested implementations. This felt like my first experience of “real life” work, and a year later I am on the other side Green Consultants acting as the client for several on-campus projects.

One piece of advice I would give to anyone wanting to be more sustainable:
Make more conscious decisions.
We lead habitual lives in which it’s easy to make subconscious unethical and unsustainable choices in our daily lives. I hold my hands up and admit that I am not perfect and believe each to their own personal journey towards a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle.

Here are some practical conscious decisions you can make as a consumer:

  • Find a zero-waste/ plastic-free shop near you for food like oats, pasta, rice, oil and sugar
  • Take your money out of fossil fuels and switch to a renewable energy supplier such as Ecotricity or Bulb
  • Choose vegetarian and vegan options more often to reduce your carbon and water footprint
  • Go to vintage, charity shops and clothes swaps for some cool second-hand clothing pieces
  • Recycle the pesky non-recyclables such as crisp packets, pens and toothpaste tubes at a local Terracycle point

“I believe there is only going to continue to be a rise in the number of jobs within this sector, with more organisations jumping on the green band-wagon.”

I believe there is only going to continue to be a rise in the number of jobs within this sector, with more organisations jumping on the green band-wagon. When my role comes to an end this summer I am eager to go back to the roots of the environmental movement for some time, looking at eco-living, minimalism and incorporating slow-living principles into my lifestyle.

Most importantly for me I am looking forwards to spending time with family and friends as well as some travelling before deciding on my next steps.