Create Your Own Career

Natasha Azar graduated from Exeter with an MA in Creative Writing in 2014. She’s currently Senior Manager of University Relations at Osage University Partners. She talked to us about the often surprising benefits of being flexible in your career path.

Natasha Azar, Exeter alumn and Senior Manager of University Relations at Osage University Partners

Osage University Partners is a venture capital firm that invests in university spinouts. Before coming to Osage, I worked as a contractor for Siemens, a position which made me an attractive candidate for my role as a University Relations Manager. At Siemens I was a Communications Specialist under the Communications & Government Affairs group. I supported one of the R&D offices in New Jersey, from a communications and internal marketing perspective.

The best part of my job is that every day is different. I might be at a university or conference, designing marketing materials for an event, editing a podcast episode we just recorded, blogging the highlights of a recent webinar we held, or developing a new program to test on our universities. The startup landscape is always changing, so it’s the nature of the industry as well.

“You shouldn’t feel cornered in your current job… nor restricted by the degree you chose to study. If you come across a job you really want, go after it regardless.  There really is no harm in trying.”

The biggest challenge I face is that my role is so unique and traditionally not found at a venture capital firm.  While there’s no clear career trajectory for someone like me, I think the experience I have has set me up for a plethora of options after this.  I could stay in finance, work for a university, or even keep with a relationship management role in a different sector such as government or politics. The lesson I learned is to be open-minded and assume I could qualify for a position I truly am interested in, even if it means venturing into a new industry.

I moved back to the US after finishing my MA at Exeter in 2014. At first, I was juggling my time between applying for jobs and freelance blogging. I wanted to move out on my own, but it isn’t news to anyone that it’s tough to make a living as a freelance writer. I instead focused my application efforts on positions that would involve some aspect of writing. At first I only applied for full-time permanent positions directly on websites of companies where I wanted to work, but found nobody was biting.  I chose a different tactic and met with a few different creative headhunting agencies.  These recruiters place individuals in contract positions which can be part-time or full-time, short-term or long-term. Contract jobs are much easier to attain with high profile companies as there is little to no risk to the company.  It’s a great way to gain experience at one or several recognizable companies – plus the placement process is usually expedient.  I used this method for 3 contract positions before falling into my current role, which is full-time with benefits.

When I decided to pursue a Master of Art’s in Creative Writing at the University of Exeter, I didn’t believe the degree would be applicable to any career outside of writing – whether it be journalism, screenwriting, or novel writing. But when I was interviewing for the Communications Specialist role at Siemens – a position that would require ample interviewing of scientists and article writing about technologies being developed at our research & development centre – my future boss pointed out my degree specifically during my interview.  After I was hired, she said it gave me leverage over the other candidates as I would be able to provide a ‘unique voice’ and creative angle to the articles I would be required to write.

I found it hard to believe my Creative Writing degree could be useful in writing articles describing science and government contracts, but the experience taught me I had a very close-minded approach when it came to applying for jobs. I would read a job description and assume I wasn’t qualified for it.  By now, I’ve heard many stories from friends who have transitioned into different industries and roles just by catering their resume to the job they’re going after and writing a stellar cover letter.  You shouldn’t feel cornered in your current job market if you want to get out of it, nor restricted by the degree you chose to study. If you come across a job you really want, go after it regardless.  There really is no harm in trying.

Getting into International Development

Clara Hawkshaw graduated from Exeter in 2009, with a BA in International Relations. She’s currently Awards (Grants) Capacity Building Manager with Save the Children International.

Clara Hawkshaw – Exeter alumn, and Awards (Grants) Capacity Building Manager with Save the Children International

What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?

After I left Exeter I struggled to get a job in an NGO, and after four unpaid part-time internships and too many job applications to count I started my first paid job as a Personal Assistant in an investment bank. That experience opened doors to work as a PA; first into a social housing association, and then into the humanitarian sector. Since joining Save the Children in 2013 I’ve worked in many different countries including Sierra Leone for the Ebola Response in 2014-2015. I’m currently coordinating capacity building activities for our grant management teams in the Country Offices around the world.

The best thing about my job is working with our teams in the Country Offices and Field Offices and knowing that my contribution is working towards implementing life-saving programmes to children who need it most.

“I genuinely think that International Development is one of the most competitive sectors, and there isn’t any clear guidance in how to get in to it…there aren’t any graduate schemes or obvious routes to take…but so long as you keep sight of the end goal and be a bit creative with building up your skills and experience elsewhere then you’ll get there in the end.”

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?

I started my career as a PA which taught me to be very organised – this is important as there are a lot of competing priorities in the sector and often there aren’t enough staff to deal with them all. Empathy and passion which I’ve learnt in my volunteering and field experiences keeps my spirit high in the face of adversity. Likewise, you need a lot of resilience – both in applying for jobs in the beginning, but also for the long working days and travel which come with the job. Project management is very important but it is more than studying for a project management qualification – you need a level of general creativity in how to make things work efficiently and effectively with limited resources.

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?

International Development is a very competitive sector, and there’s no blueprint for how to get into it! If you ask any humanitarian worker they’ll all say they had a different route to their current job. You may be told that you need a Masters degree and that you need to do unpaid internships. If you are in a position to do both of these things then you’ll be able to get in quicker, but there are definitely other ways to get in so try not to feel discouraged. There are now lots of ways that you can study for a Masters part-time whilst working which is how I got my MSc in Development Studies.

What are your plans for the future?      

To continue to work in the humanitarian sector. I’m looking to leave the Head Office life and move back overseas to a humanitarian emergency, where I can really use the remote management and project management skills which I’ve perfected in London to build up the capacity of the teams who are implementing our programmes.

Do you have any tips or advice for beginning a career or working in your industry/sector?          

Don’t give up! I genuinely think that International Development is one of the most competitive sectors, and there isn’t any clear guidance in how to get in to it. Unlike other professional sectors there aren’t any graduate schemes or obvious routes to take. If you don’t have the financial opportunity to study a full-time Masters or do a full-time unpaid internship then it will be a harder journey, but so long as you keep sight of the end goal and be a bit creative with building up your skills and experience elsewhere then you’ll get there in the end. Also don’t underestimate the power of local volunteering – not just for your CV but mostly to keep your passion ignited.

Be More Than Your Degree

Be More Than Your Degree

The core of your experience at Exeter is always going to be about academia, but extra-curricular activity is crucial to your personal development and employability.

Be More Than Your Degree showcases the incredible depth of ‘extra stuff’ you can get involved with at University, enriching your experience and helping you get the absolute most out of your time at Exeter.

From Monday 1 to Friday 5 October in the Forum Street, Streatham Campus, find out how we can help maximise your potential through ‘Making a Difference’, gaining ‘Experience’ and ‘Career Support’. You can speak to the professionals and find out what is on offer and ask all the questions you need to, in order to figure out what to do next.

Ready to get inspired?

Katherine Giff, BA English Graduate and Talent and Music intern at MTV

Katherine Giff – BA English Graduate 

“During my time at Exeter I joined XpressionFM, Expose and PearShaped Music Magazine. I chose these societies because I love music and wanted to try music journalism and radio. These societies helped me with my writing, gave me a taste of deadlines and introduced me to so many people. My role in XpressionFM forced me to think creatively as I had to come up with new concepts for our shows and live events, and taught me how to work in a team without my experience in these societies, I would not have got my current job as Talent and Music intern at MTV. Interviewers love to ask questions about when you have worked in a team, overcome difficulties etc. and every example I gave related to my societies. There are some parts of my job now that build on what I learnt in these societies, and I’m always grateful that I threw myself in, and would encourage everyone else to do so, too.”

Alex Somervell (right) started ‘One Third Stories’ whilst studying International Relations and Languages at Exeter

Alex Somervell established his own language learning business ‘One Third Stories’ whilst studying for his degree in International Relations and Languages. 

One Third Stories uses a concept developed by Alex and his business partner Jonny Pryn known as The Clockwork Methodology® which creates bedtime stories in the form of a book and app that starts in English and ends in a different language by gradually introducing words in the target language, delivered as part of a monthly subscription box.

Think: Try: Do was the first bit of support we received in the form of both mentoring and funding” said Alex. The pair also featured on the TV program Dragons den however declined their backing. Peter Jones valued their business at £300,000 and wanted 20% of their margins.

One Third Stories is now worth £2.6 million.

We look forward to meeting you at Be More Than Your Degree, and did we mention there’s free cake? #BMTYD

Marion Milne – Director, Writer, Producer

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

Marion Milne is a Documentary Film Maker as well as an Emmy Nominated Director, Writer, Series Producer and award winning Producer. She graduated from Exeter with a BA in French and Drama in 1979.  Read about a day in her life filming one of her most recent documentaries about Martin Luther King.

This photo was taken last summer while shooting in America on a documentary for ITV about Martin Luther King.

Marion Milne and camera man on location in Memphis, Tennessee

We were in Memphis, Tennessee, and I’m directing from the back seat, while my camera man is in the front seat wielding the camera.

The reason we are filming in this way is that our presenter, Sir Trevor McDonald, has finished shooting for the day, and we are picking up what are called Point of View shots (POVs).

We’re inside a gorgeous 1955 Cadillac (from the Martin Luther King era) because we wanted to add a period feel to the documentary. We also used lots of music from the time. While shooting, with our driver, we covered many miles in the American South in the Cadillac, taking Sir Trevor from place to place of relevance to the Civil Rights Era.

It’s standard practice in TV (and even in feature films) to shoot the POV shots separately. So you film with the presenter (or the actor) to capture them sitting inside the car, you film something called ‘up and pasts’ to see them go past in the vehicle from outside the car, and then the last thing you do are the POV shots – as if the camera is seeing what the presenter is seeing.

Sometimes we get caught out. If you shoot everything in sunshine and then the POVs later in the day when it’s getting dark, the Editor (whose job it is to cut it all together) is most unimpressed. Ditto for rain!

Day to day shoots like this one are a combination of hard work and great fun. You get access to places you might never otherwise go to, and meet people you might not otherwise meet.

On the Martin Luther King shoot we interviewed his God Daughter and some of the brave people who marched alongside him in the Civil Rights Marches.

We learnt some amazing new facts. For example Martin Luther King never planned to say “I have a dream” in his famous March on Washington in August 1963. The truth is he was slightly running out of steam in the speech when a singer called Mahalia Jackson called out ‘tell them about the dream Martin, tell them about the dream’.

We also interviewed Martin Luther King’s secretary who typed up his words for the March on Washington. ‘That’s not the speech’’she said ‘that’s not the speech we stayed up all night typing’.

Sir Trevor McDonald, OBE

Another funny incident on the shoot was when we were in New York interviewing Harry Belafonte, the legendary singer who was also part of the Civil Rights movement.

We picked a location on the Upper East Side inside a building that is normally very quiet. When we got there, to our horror, there were construction workers outside, drilling. They were basically digging up the road and needed to get the job done that day. So much noise the interview would be impossible.

I spoke to the foreman, who was African American, and explained the problem. ‘For Mr Belafonte’ he said ‘we’ll stop drilling’.

When Harry Belafonte arrived (bearing in mind he is ninety) he happily posed for photos with all the construction workers as a thank you.  And true to their word, they stopped drilling as a thank you.

When we got back to the U.K. we had one more celebrity to track down. Naomi Campbell – who was also an honorary Godchild to Nelson Mandela – is a champion of Martin Luther King. When we learnt that one of the world’s most famous Super Models was keen to be interviewed for our documentary, we cleared our schedules and set up camp in the Dorchester Hotel during a brief break in Naomi’s busy day.

We learnt that Naomi was in her way to a Vogue shoot and would need at least two hours with her stylist and make-up artist before she appeared.

We waited on tenterhooks. Super Models are not really known for their punctuality and our window of opportunity was narrowing as the minutes ticked by.

Then, just when we had given up hope, the phone rang. ‘You’ve got fifteen minutes’ barked one of Naomi’s minders down the phone. In swept Naomi. In swept her entourage.

We were poised, waiting ready to roll. Naomi – looking amazing – gracefully sat down, switched off her phone and took off her sunglasses.

Action’ I said.

Ten minutes later we had our scoop. Naomi on MLK.  ‘He was fearless’ she said. ‘He lived what he said, breathed what he said, did what he said. His name will never be erased from the history books. Martin Luther King will never be forgotten’.

And with that she was gone. Bravo Naomi. Bravo Martin Luther King.

You can find out Marion’s Top Tips about how to gain a career in her sector: here.

Working for a Startup

Kellie Wragg graduated from the University of Exeter in 2016 with a degree in Business Management, and then in 2017 with a Masters in International Management. She is currently an Account Manager at HeadBox. 

Kellie Wragg, Exeter alumn and HeadBox Account Manager

During my final years at Exeter I used the Career Zone a lot to get some helpful advice about what my steps should be after my university career was over. They were really helpful and I would definitely recommend paying them a visit if anyone is finding their next steps daunting.

I wasn’t sure which industry I wanted to work in, but knew it was best to get as much experience as possible. Soon enough, I started working for an Estate Agency in London as a member of their Sales department. Although this role taught me a lot and was a great experience, I knew it wasn’t for me. The company themselves was fairly large and the processes they had set up were rigid and very set in stone. I didn’t like the feeling of being just another employee to them and having to stick to outdated and rigid terms. So, I decided to start looking for something else. That’s when I came across HeadBox.

“Being part of startup is always exciting and there are constant developments and new things to learn.”

HeadBox is the UK’s first SaaS enabled marketplace for creative venue and event spaces. The website was the first of its kind that allows you to instantly search, book and pay for a quirky venue online, which was a very exciting concept for the events industry. The more I looked into the company, the more interesting it sounded so I applied for a position as one of their Account Managers. I went through their interview process and eventually landed myself the role in the budding technology start-up. Working for a startup is a great experience, and one that comes with many positive aspects. Here are just a few reasons why I think working for a startup is the right step after you graduate.

Making an Impact

When you work for a smaller company or startup, there’s a lot more room for you to get your voice heard. As you’ll be working in a fairly small team it means each person has the chance to contribute and share their ideas from the beginning. This makes a huge difference to not only your confidence in the workplace but your ability to present your ideas to managers and peers. You can feel real ownership over your successes and how your work impacts a company as a whole. It really makes you feel like all your working efforts are making an impact on the success of the company, which is great.

The Startup Journey

Being part of a company during its adolescence is an invaluable experience, and an exciting one. You’ll definitely learn tonnes about the department you work in, but you’ll also get to work very closely with other departments and see how they work together to make the company great. For example, you may sit right next door to the marketing or finance team which means you can get a great insight into how your role affects them and vice versa. This is something you don’t always get in a larger company. Being part of startup is always exciting and there are constant developments and new things to learn.

Sociable Startups

The third benefit of working for a startup is the social aspect. You’ll usually find yourself surrounded by a group of other recent graduates who all share the same enthusiasm for making their way up the career ladder. Although there’s lots of hard work to do, there’s also a great sense of team spirit which makes it a relaxed environment to work in. You can constantly bounce ideas off of your colleagues and ask them for help and advice.

Progression

Finally, I think that being part of a startup company gives you a lot of opportunities for fast progression through a company. A successful startup grows pretty fast, and if you’ve made a good impression, you’ll be climbing up the ranks a lot quicker than at a larger corporate firm. There will be plenty of opportunities for you, and possibilities to see yourself moving from executive to manager within 6 months.

There are plenty of other benefits to working for a startup, the rewards really are endless and I would highly recommend it to any graduate who is looking to kick start their career.

Empathy, Resilience and Organisation – A Career in Education

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

Lizzie Carter is currently working as a Key Stage 5 Achievement Coordinator at a grammar school and graduated from Exeter with a BA in English in 2012. Find out how she went from primary school teacher, to Ministry of Justice clerk, and back into the education sector. 

Elizabeth Carter, Exeter Alumn and current Key Stage 5 Achievement Coordinator

“After graduation, I had a ‘roller coaster’ career. I knew I wanted to go into education since being inspired by my former English teachers, and I was certain that job satisfaction was highly important to me. Feeling perhaps too young to teach teenagers, I went straight into a Primary PGCE and became a Junior school teacher for 3 years. This was a rewarding but demanding experience. Desperate to gain an insight into a profession outside the classroom, I took a leap of faith and gained a role with the Ministry of Justice as a High Court Judge’s clerk. When not commuting to London, I travelled across the country with my Judge sitting in on criminal trials and working with esteemed lawyers; an incredible experience. After 18 months, and being a little older and wiser, I knew I wanted to get back into education. So now I have returned to my old Grammar school where I studied for my GCSEs and A Levels (a surreal yet wonderful change of events!).

“The freedom I have in my role is fantastic as I manage my own workload and am moulding the position into my ideal job.”

My current role is titled ‘Key Stage 5 Achievement Coordinator’ which means I support sixth-formers by resolving pastoral issues, monitoring attendance, organising enrichment events and helping with career choices and university applications. As I have QTS, I also teach A Level Sociology, EPQ and am a mentor for GCSE English students. The freedom I have in my role is fantastic as I manage my own workload and am moulding the position into my ideal job! My days are never the same as it is very much student-led, so it can become quite hectic but brings an enormous amount of satisfaction – something I missed when employed by the court service.

The recruitment process for jobs in education – particularly teaching – is very rigorous with a formal interview, set tasks, a tour of the school (sometimes by students) and most of the time you’re asked to deliver a lesson in which you’re observed. Although it’s a daunting process and you know that everything you do is being scrutinised, you’re working out if the school is right for you as much as senior staff are assessing you as a potential employee. I would say that if you enjoy the day as a whole, it generally means that you and the school are a good fit. In both jobs I’ve had in education, I’ve been contacted on the same day as the interview with the outcome and feedback. This is a standard process in the sector and is real a positive as it means that you’re not waiting by the phone for days on end.

Undergraduate study definitely prepared me for a career in education because I can share anecdotes with students about my own time at university, singing Exeter’s praises in the process. What’s more, completing a dissertation allows me to offer research advice and referencing tips to my students writing their EPQ projects. My second-year module ‘English in the Workplace’ meant that I secured an 80-hour placement in a school. This counted as academic credit alongside submitting a reflective portfolio (which included an essay on the issue of equality in education). I also delivered a presentation to my peers and first-year students to describe my experience. I believe this module was a real asset when applying for my postgraduate course and subsequent jobs.

“I believe I’m a walking example of someone who thought they knew what career they wanted, and still do, but have followed a peculiar pathway before arriving.”

In order to succeed in education, I would say you need empathy, resilience and good organisational skills as working in a school never has its dull moments and keeps you on your toes! More importantly, you really need to have a lifelong desire for learning as this inspires students to achieve their potential and be as committed (as clichéd as it may sound). Working with sixth formers has motivated me to seriously consider applying for the MA Education online course at Exeter; something I would probably never have considered had I entered a different profession.

Ultimately, I hope to progress to becoming an English teacher within the department at my school and eventually gain a leadership post. Everything has come full circle which has been very strange but fulfilling. I believe I am a walking example of someone who thought they knew what career they wanted, and still do, but have followed a peculiar pathway before arriving. Between finishing my degree and gaining the job I have now, I have acquired a range of skills and confirmed that education is the right sector for me by testing the waters elsewhere. Even if I could, I would not change my journey as the life experience – and couple of grey hairs – I bring to the classroom enriches both my pedagogy and my students’ learning.”

If you want to access more bespoke resources, have a look at our intranet pages and connect with the College of Humanities on Facebook and Twitter.