Now is the time to talk about mental health

William More is a current student at Exeter, and completed a placement last year with Enterprise. He shares his experience of being diagnosed with severe OCD, and finally getting the treatment he needed. (This post originally appeared on Enterprise’s careers blog).

William More, current Exeter student on a placement with Enterprise

It is okay not to be okay. This is a message that’s really important everyone knows – perfection is a myth and as a society we need to be easier on ourselves.

For a long time, since around GCSEs time, I have struggled with a mental illness that I could never pin down. I knew that things weren’t right, but I never had an explanation for what I was going through. On the surface things were okay, my grades were certainly fine, but underneath I was getting worse and worse over a matter of years. Whatever this illness was, it, took different forms, with different worries and fears ruining more and more aspects of my life. What once started as severe social anxiety – to the extent I used to throw up – it began to morph into something even more consuming. At university I was able to hide this and focus on other things to get by, so it would come and go. However, desperately wanting to do well on my placement year, away from the support network of home and the relaxed nature of university life, I finally realised that everything really was not okay.

“For a long time… I knew that things weren’t right, but I never had an explanation for what I was going through.”

I have always found exams and revision time very difficult. I can’t switch off, and get burnt out as a result as I am always ‘on’. Slowly the working world began to have the same effect on me and different scenarios would run through my mind all evening. I struggled to relax and was constantly on edge. I would end up having about an hour each day where I could process thoughts ‘naturally’ and didn’t feel gripped by anxiety. This was on top of my issues that had developed through university and eventually everything became overwhelming. Through the year I got more paranoid about situations that my mind had magnified until during my 21st birthday celebrations, I broke down to my girlfriend about a situation that any normal person would be able to comprehend rationally.

It now turns out I suffer from severe OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Behaviour is an illness which is commonly misunderstood, often by people who tidy their house, or order objects in a certain way, as they confess they are ‘OCD about that kind of thing’. These jokes trivialise how OCD can hijack someone’s life. OCD can have such a severe impact on someone’s quality of life that the World Health Organisation put OCD in the top ten of most disabling illnesses.

OCD is an anxiety disorder caused by a lack of blood flow to the area of the brain which produces Serotonin, the thought-regulating chemical, and as a result OCD sufferers cannot process their worries rationally and move on from them. A concern with dirt and tidiness is just one of the many ways someone with OCD can be plagued by this illness. Other obsessions can include looking for symmetry, but to the extent that they would worry a family member would be hurt if all the things in the room weren’t symmetrical. That is where the C for Compulsive Behaviour comes in. To get rid of the anxious obsessions that their brain is stuck on, to the extent that they think of the same thing literally hundreds of times a day, OCD sufferers develop habits or compulsions to relieve this anxiety.

Naturally, those who fear contamination and dirt wash their hands, however the OCD makes them do this irrationally until they are red raw. Others may need to check things over and over; those concerned with hurting others, for instance, can have to retrace their route to work to ensure they haven’t run anyone over on the way. Imagine the trauma of this each day.

“There still remains a stigma in today’s society around admitting you are finding things tough, particularly for men who are told to ‘man up’.”

To someone who is struggling to understand this mental illness, the OCD feeling to me is a mix between the worst anxiety you feel when hungover combined with the stress of exam season – literally constantly. I would look forward to the moment of respite when I woke up before the OCD would kick in, and go to bed worn out from fighting my brain all day.

What made the OCD worse was the stigma of my fears and these would even seep into my nightmares. The OCD would tell me all kind of things that I never wanted to come true and naturally I resisted and hated this.

This is just one of the reasons why it takes an average of 11 years for an OCD sufferer to be diagnosed, for them to talk about what they are going through. The irony of OCD is that it is the disease of worriers – the OCD becomes worse as you become more alarmed and upset by it. The more you try and resist a thought, the more you think about it, and hence OCD gets more and more consuming. This is called the ironic process theory, and whilst going through the worst period of this, on several occasions I thought I was going genuinely insane, would be institutionalised and considered ending my life.

There still remains a stigma in today’s society around admitting you are finding things tough, particularly for men who are told to ‘man up’. It is little wonder the male suicide rates are three times higher than women’s in the UK, and 75% of suicides are men. To explain the scale of this problem, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK and 84 men take their own life each week. Even if someone appears fine, it does not mean they are, and you only need to look at the sad cases of Avicii and Robin Williams to realise this is true. We need to change that people think they have no choice, and the best way to do this is by talking. It is okay not to be okay.

“…I now feel more confident, happy and just relieved that, more than anything else, what I was going through is normal.”

There is always a silver lining if you look hard enough though. After my 21st, I took some time to recuperate with my family and began to slowly unload the worries that had weighed me down for so long. I saw a therapist, started counselling and began to take enough tablets to knock out a small cow. A couple of months later I now feel more confident, happy and just relieved that, more than anything else, what I was going through is normal.

The key is to talk. Lots of stars have also come out and talked about their struggles in recent times, with Ryan Reynolds, Zayn Malik and Danny Rose all highlighting the issues that they have had with mental health.

Enterprise has a host of blogs about physical and invisible illnesses, and this is just one of the many ways in which it builds a culture of acceptance, and from these examples I knew I could be honest about my diagnosis at work. I summoned up the courage to talk to a selection of close people and found it so empowering. On a personal level, the more I have shared with people, the more I have learnt that everyone has their own hidden ‘bumps and bruises’. I am just thankful that there are people out there who are willing to listen and help, and take people as they are.

If you want to work in a world leading company that puts its emphasis on employee wellbeing, search and apply to Enterprise’s Graduate Management programme.

Make Your Experience Work

Jess Franks graduated from the University of Exeter in 2018 with a BSc in Business Economics WIE. She’s currently working in Client Relationship for BlackRock. Jess talked to us about making her time at Exeter work for her. 

Jess Franks, Client Relationship for BlackRock, and Exeter Graduate

Morgan Stanley stood out at the Careers and Placement Fair because of its culture; opening my eyes to the opportunities in Investment Banking outside of the ‘front office’ trading roles. Having expressed an interest in the Operations division, the team set up a trial insight week for me and another Exeter student. I was fast-tracked, and secured a Placement Scheme prior to coming back to University in my Second Year.

At Morgan Stanley I was awarded ‘Campus Ambassador of the Year’ for my commitment towards promoting the organisation at Exeter. In support of the company’s core value of ‘Giving Back’ I volunteered for a day at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and ran my first half marathon for the charity, raising over £800. This helped me realise that I wanted to be part of an organisation which was both intellectually stimulating, but also gave back to society.

“The Career Zone’s services – ranging from Employer Events, Panel Sessions and the Mentor Scheme has undoubtedly helped guide me to a destination… I’m very thankful to all the team for helping make my career aspirations a reality.”

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my year at Morgan Stanley, I knew I wanted to work in a sector which combined the client-facing experiences I had at PwC with the finance knowledge I’d gained. I took part in the Career Mentor Scheme where my mentor encouraged me to look into Asset Management. I realised that I preferred the ‘buy side’ work which is built on developing long-term client relationships, rather than the ‘sell side’ which is focused more on short-term work.

I successfully applied to BlackRock’s summer internship programme in the Client Relationship Management division – spanning from departments dealing with Central Banks to Charities. I enjoyed being in the Asset Management division where I observed fund managers who were managing portfolios and actively taking investment decisions.

After the internship I was offered a graduate role at BlackRock in the same Client Relationship department – a role I find very exciting. I get to work closely with insurance companies yet also follow what’s going on in the rest of the global economy at a macro scale, and the value of constantly innovating fits with my ethos of continuous improvement and development.

The Career Zone’s services – ranging from Employer Events, Panel Sessions and the Mentor Scheme has undoubtedly helped guide me to a destination I’m thoroughly looking forward to entering. I’m going to be able to contribute to an expanding business, work with impressive clients and give back to society. An induction of two weeks in New York with BlackRock is a dream come true and I’m very thankful to all the team at the Career Zone for helping make my career aspirations a reality.

Start your Career in the Civil Service

Latika Chhabra is currently working for the Civil Service on the HMRC Tax Professional Graduate Scheme. She graduated in 2018 with a BA in Politics and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus. 

Latika Chhabra – Exeter alumn, currently working for the Civil Service on the HMRC Tax Professional Graduate Scheme

Having studied Politics and Middle Eastern Studies during my time at University I’ve always been interested in working in policy. I heard about the Civil Service Summer Diversity Internship Programme when some Exeter alumni, who joined the Civil Service through the fast stream graduate programme, visited a University Careers Fair. I managed to secure a place on the programme for the summer after my Second Year at University, and was placed with the Behaviour Insights and Research Team in HM Revenue and Customs.

“My line manager and colleagues were extremely supportive and had arranged a variety of projects for me, allowing me to get a rounded experience of working for the team and I lead a project on the relationship between HMRC and Generation Z.”

Whilst this was a daunting internship, as the idea of working with the tax office was alien to me, the breadth of the tasks and projects helped me understand the type of work I would like to pursue after completing my degree. The internship also made me more aware of my strengths and weaknesses in the work environment. My line manager and colleagues were extremely supportive and had arranged a variety of projects for me, allowing me to get a rounded experience of working for the team and I lead a project on the relationship between HMRC and Generation Z, which was extremely rewarding. The planning and structure of the internship programme ensured that I was given the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution and I have enjoyed working in a team to produce the desired quality of work in a timely fashion.

I was able to carry forward the teamwork, organisational, and leadership skills into my role as President of Politics Society on campus. I believe myself to have benefited from the programme and will seek to further develop these skills after graduation.

The overall experience of working in a large team in a reputable organisation helped me explore my future career opinions. Interning at HMRC has given me greater confidence in my work capabilities, and increased my motivation to pursue a career in the Civil Service.

I would recommend the Summer Diversity Internship Programme to anyone who is interested in exploring a career with the Civil Service. There is a range of networking events that allow us to gain a better understanding of the different roles available in government, further allowing us to gain a better understanding of our future career prospects.

Launch your Career with an Internship in China

The University of Exeter has recently partnered with the British Council and InternChina to run a bespoke funded internship programme exclusively for Exeter students this summer 2018.

Mark Pettitt, an Exeter Graduate of History and Middle East Politics who spent 7 months in Shanghai with CRCC Asia (the British Council’s other partner provider of Internships in China), tells us about his experience as an intern in China and the impact it has had on his life and career so far. 

British Chamber of Commerce Shanghai’s Burns Night event

What did your particular internship entail?

I worked for the British Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. As part of my role, I led co-ordination and marketing of a project finance workshop on behalf of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the Chamber. I also led production of a report to the Executive Committee on the Chamber’s annual events, making recommendations on how to increase profit. On top of that, I gained experience preparing marketing materials and managing internal and external communications at the Chamber. I was offered a permanent position with the Chamber upon completion of my internship.

Did you have to speak Chinese to get the job?

No, not at all. Nearly all interns spoke zero Mandarin. My placement provider offered Mandarin lessons but they were not compulsory nor did your level of Mandarin impact the ‘quality’ of your internship. Whether you made an effort learn was down to you, your natural drive and how seriously you treated your experience.

What did you enjoy most about living and working in China?

I loved how different it was to what I was used to (a small Yorkshire village and Exeter!). My experience in a huge foreign city and culture opened my eyes to the wider world and took me completely out of my comfort zone. It was a chance for me to grow personally and professionally. Meeting a diverse range of people as part of the internship and making lots of new friends (other interns and local people) with whom I still stay in touch years later was the best part of the experience. It’s an experience that has shaped me, made me stand out CV-wise and given me a huge lift in getting to where I am today career-wise.

‘Employers frequently emphasise the importance for graduates and young professionals of combining overseas experience with other transferable skills in order to maximise their employability. China is becoming an important player in the world economy, and, increasingly, careers involve an international element. In this context, helping young generations to gain experience of China and improve their cultural fluency is an excellent investment in the future.’ – British Council

Where do you work now? Would you say working in China has made you more employable?

I would absolutely say my time in China has made me more employable. But only because I took it seriously and went with the goals of growing personally and professionally as well as having a great time and experiencing a new culture. The travel, exploration and enjoyment is important. But so too is making the most of the internship. I was offered two jobs in China off the back of it.

I now work for the Civil Service, in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. I am responsible for the design and build of a new radiological monitoring and information management digital project.

What would you say to Exeter students considering working in China?

Absolutely do it but take it seriously as that’s where you will maximise the value. It’s better not to go it alone – use an intermediary like CRCC Asia or InternChina who will find you a host company. Equally, be mindful of your expectations. You will not be placed in a massive company as you’re a student. You will likely be put into an SME (Small or Medium Enterprise) and in many ways this is better as if you do well it will afford you more responsibility and allow you to shout about your experience more on your CV. Future employers want to know what you have done and achieved, not the names of the organisations you have worked at.

Feeling inspired by Mark’s story? Ready to apply for an internship in China this summer? The deadline for applications to Exeter’s China Internship Programme 2018 is 18 March. Industries covered include engineering, law, business, architecture, translation and many more.

Professional Pathways

Rachel Dean is Employability and Work Placement Support Assistant (STEM) based on the Streatham Campus. 

Rachel Dean, Employability and Work Placement Support Assistant (STEM)

Looking for a paid internship this summer? Interested in getting an insight into an industry through tailored training? Then Professional Pathways is perfect for you.

Professional Pathways are unique programmes, during which students receive a week’s training from industry experts, and a paid internship in highly sought after industries. Following on from last year’s successful programmes, we are expanding our offering to cover 7 sectors:

All the Professional Pathway programmes will be delivered at the same time. The training will be delivered over either 4 or 5 days between the 18 and 22 June, with the internships taking place the following week.

The Pathways are delivered on either the Streatham campus or the Penryn campus, but are all open to students from either campus. They are open to any student, studying any course at any level.

Pathways 2018

Why do a Pathway?

There are many benefits to undertaking a Professional Pathway, but one of the main ones has to be the chance to gain paid experience in sectors that tend to be hard to break in to – this experience will help you stand out when applying for jobs in the future.

In addition, the training is also an exceptional opportunity to network with and learn from professionals currently working in the field, who can tell you what you really need to know in order to succeed in the sector.

A previous student who undertook the Pathway to International Trade summed it up best when she said, “I’ve enjoyed this programme immensely. I not only gained knowledge but additionally friends, network contacts, and a real understanding of the industry.”

How do I Apply?  

Applying for a Pathway is a useful activity on its own, as it will give you valuable experience that will help when you come to apply for other internships or graduate jobs.

The process has two stages:

  1. The application form. This form will ask you to answer four questions, including questions such as what you hope to gain from taking part in the Pathway, and what qualities you have that make you suitable for the programme.
    The best applications stand out because they contain lots of detail and passion for the sector – there is no word limit so take advantage of the space to really show us why you are interested and how the Pathway links to what you love.
  2. The assessment centre. Lots of employers use assessment centres to decide on candidates for both internships and graduate jobs, so this is a perfect opportunity to get some practice in!
    We will shortlist applicants based on their application forms and then invite the shortlist to an assessment centre that will be tailored to each specific Pathway. The assessment centre will involve four tasks that you will be asked to complete, involving tasks in small groups as well as some individual tasks. As you complete these tasks, you will be marked by an assessor to help us make the final decision on who to accept on to the programme.
    A top tip for succeeding at the assessment centre would be to make sure that you speak up and share your ideas with the group, but also ensure that you don’t talk over others and control the discussion too much – you want to show teamwork skills, not just how brilliant your ideas are.

Applications for this year’s Professional Pathways are already open, so apply now on My Career Zone for the chance to take part in this fantastic programme.

Finding a Common Purpose

Natasha Lock is studying BA History, International Relations & Chinese at the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus. 

Natasha Lock

From the 5th-11th January 2018, I was lucky enough to be selected for the Common Purpose Programme hosted at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Here, amongst 30 other students from Exeter, I was given an insight into leadership skills, the city of Sharjah and Emirati culture, and how to ensure that cities of the future are both inclusive and sustainable.

Boundaries are everywhere: between sectors, specialisations, geographies, generations, backgrounds and beliefs. Common Purpose aims to support future leaders who can work across these boundaries, who are therefore ultimately more likely to solve problems and create change. In the ever competitive world for graduates seeking employment, it is no longer enough to rely solely on one’s IQ. Common Purpose aims to show the importance of having EQ (Emotional Intelligence) – the ability to connect with people on a social level, and CQ (Cultural Intelligence) – the ability to work with people that are not like you. It demonstrates the necessity of being able to successfully lead people of a different culture, race, age, gender and religion.

Common Purpose students at the American University of Sharjah

The programme was hosted over four days and provided ice-breakers, pitching sessions, guest speaker sessions, trips to businesses and debates. On the penultimate day, we were arranged into groups of six and asked to design a product that would help Sharjah to become a more inclusive and smart city. We were given 24 hours to come up with an idea, design a poster, make a video, produce a written outline of our concept and finally give a 3 minute pitch to three senior members of local companies followed by a Q&A session. I found this particularly memorable, not only because of my wonderful group who worked so well together, but also because of the incredible ideas that every other group developed in such a short space of time.

“Common Purpose aims to support future leaders who can work across boundaries, and who are therefore ultimately more likely to solve problems and create change.”

Common Purpose programmes are based on the idea that cross boundary leaders need to experience the world and the people around them. With this in mind, the programme organised visits to four start-up businesses in both Dubai and Sharjah. Here, we were able to meet with both local and international entrepreneurs and get some insights into the core skills required to start your own business, the most important being resilience. Despite the difference from business to business all of the entrepreneurs agreed that starting your own company is undoubtedly the best way to get a grasp and understanding of enterprise, corporate structures and themselves.

Aside from the programme, we had the opportunity to explore Sharjah and Dubai in our free time. We quad-biked in the Al Qudra desert, went up the tallest building in the world and went to the world’s largest aquarium. Every Common Purpose trip takes place in a different city – previous trips have been located in Nairobi, Kuala Lumpur, Philadelphia and Melbourne – allowing for the unparalleled opportunity to explore a city on a scholarship funded trip.

The Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world

The Common Purpose trip to the American University of Sharjah was a huge learning experience and one that I will value throughout my academic and career progression.

For students reading this and wondering how they can enhance their enterprise skills and employability, here would be my two recommendations:

Local: Get involved with Think Try Do at Exeter University! The team offer sessions to enhance enterprise skills and provide support to students who are engaging with their own entrepreneurial activity. You can find a list of their current sessions and more information on the following link: https://mycareerzone.exeter.ac.uk/workgroups/student-enterprise-support

Global: Apply for the Common Purpose trips! This is a great way of networking with like-minded people, building on your soft skills and having a taster of life in a different city. You can find more information about Common Purpose here: http://commonpurpose.org

Demystifying Spring Weeks

Emily Quartly is a Final Year BSc Economics and Finance student on the Streatham Campus, and a Career Zone Student Information Assistant. 

Emily Quartly

While I can’t say I’m an expert in the wider world of Finance and Banking, I’ve had my own experience of applications, success and failure, interview pressures and ultimately development and progress on my career path. I would like to think I can offer some words of advice to those in their First Year with curiosity and interest to get involved with opportunities to do with their future career.

I started University with only a small exposure of what it might be like to work under these big names, and applied for Spring Weeks and First Year internships. I was offered places on the Spring Weeks of both Fidelity and BNP Paribas, but as they were at the same time I chose BNPP.

After the week at BNPP I was lucky enough to secure myself a place on their internship program the following summer. Now, as a Finalist I’ve accepted a graduate position within BNPP’s Capital Markets division, following on from the completion of my degree.

Arriving as a newbie to University can seem daunting enough without the prospect of having to think about what you want to do afterwards. However, for many Business School students, having an interest in business and finance is already a great attitude to have when looking at what kind of schemes you could be eligible for even within your first year of undergraduate study.

“Being able to go into a Spring Week with ambition, interest and initiative will take you far.”

From an article released by the Financial Times in 2016, Goldman Sachs attracted more than a quarter of a million applications from students and graduates for jobs in the summer of 2016. The number of applications from students and graduates has risen 40% since 2012, according to figures provided to the Financial Times. The trend is mirrored at several other large banks such as JP Morgan, which says it’s only hiring 2% of graduate applicants into its Investment Banking division.

These kind of figures highlight how highly competitive the places are for these graduate and summer positions. Investment Banks are beginning to see great value in moving away from the ‘churning out of analysts’ and continue to move towards a more ‘Google’ model of attracting and retaining talented candidates.

Where will a Spring Week take your career?

So, what is a Spring Week?

A Spring Week or Insight Week is a week’s worth of work experience. It’s an opportunity to get first-hand experience of how a large corporation functions, and what better way to do that than with the major players in the financial services world. For employers, a Spring Week is a very long job interview or assessment centre.

What will you get out of it?

Showing your interest and applying as early as possible may well mean a good candidate is retained by the employer right though to a graduate position.

Being able to go into a Spring Week with ambition, interest and initiative will take you far. Employers set up these kind of events in order to fully see your skills and prospects, a lot of the time not anticipating any previous experience or technical knowledge. Therefore you’ll be taken through step by step any technical information that the firm want you to learn or have an awareness of.

In a company you know little about, on a desk that’s trading millions of pounds or franks or dollars, curiosity can’t be spoken highly enough. Using information provided and asking intelligent questions should allow you to begin to join dots up about products and processes, as well as show the company you are very much interested and captured by what the firm does. You are assumed to know very little at the beginning it is highly likely you are going to be observed for your skills in learning new things and questioning all the sectors and technical language and processes you are exposed to and come across.

Making successful applications and interviews.

The two key elements to a successful application are knowing your own skills and competencies, and having great commercial awareness about the employer. If you can demonstrate where you add value to a company, and how you understand their business, they’ll be much more likely to take you on.

What’s the application process like?

The most common order runs;

CV upload/application form

Numerical Testing and/or situational judgement testing

Video interview(s)

Phone interview(s)

Result

Bear in mind that rejections happen at every stage of the application process, and it may take several attempts at applications to correct mistakes and build confidence. For myself, I completed nearly 10 applications, a mixture of Spring Weeks and First Year internships, with only 2 successful results.

What’s the next step?

Many of the applications can be easily found through the individual company’s websites; a short list below of many of the popular names can be found for the applications commencing through 17/18:

Investment Banking

JP Morgan Spring week

Morgan Stanley Spring week opportunities

Goldman Sachs programs

HSBC Spring Insight Program

Barclays Spring Insight

Investment Management

Fidelity Women in Investment Insight week

Blackrock Insight week

Making full use of the Career Zone while applying for Spring Weeks are essential. You can find relevant links below to start your process. Including CV and application form resources, a link to booking online appointments and the interview resources and mock interview links.

CV and application form resources

Psychometric testing Numerical Testing and Situational judgement testing

1on1 appointment booking (Business School)

1on1 appointment booking (Career Zone)

Mock interview with employer events

Working Behind the Scenes at The Career Zone

Getting work experience while you study is crucial to landing your dream job. Kerry Mann current BA History, Streatham Campus, told us about her time on the Uni’s Student Campus Partnership (SCP) scheme. 

Jo McCreedie, Kerry Mann, and Sam Jackman delivering the Pathways training week
Jo McCreedie, Kerry Mann, and Sam Jackman delivering the Pathways training week

Student jobs are supposed to be working late in bars and clubs, right? Wrong!

My experience as an SCP for the Internships Team has given me a real insight into the workplace, and how the University works hard to support its students. My position as the Administrator for the Pathways to Arts, Culture and Heritage programme means that I’ve taken this training and internship from the planning stages to delivery.

The Pathways programme sought to provide a group of talented students intensive and specific training from industry professionals and then place them in companies in the arts, culture and heritage sector, to implement their new found skills and ideas. As a History student myself I was excited that the University was providing such an in-depth programme for a sector which is often neglected. To pull this programme off, with the help of Sam Jackman from the RAMM and led by Jo McCreedie, was really satisfying, especially seeing how enthusiastic the students were about something I had helped to create.

“Being given the responsibility of supporting the development of an important new programme was at first a little daunting but now I am proud of what we have achieved and feel ready to take on any graduate job.”

Working with the Internships Team has been a blessing for my personal development. From the basics like working the telephone to spreadsheets (lots of them) and Twitter I am now fully equipped to get on with the job and feel confident in what I do. Being given the responsibility of supporting the development of an important new programme was at first a little daunting but now I am proud of what we have achieved and feel ready to take on any graduate job.

My role has involved a lot of project management skills. Advertising the programme back in January meant liaising with the Design Team to create posters, banners and flyers and the overall brand of the programme. I then managed the application process, becoming competent behind the scenes of My Career Zone. Having never thought myself as a computer wizz, I’ve built my confidence learning new systems and even how to schedule tweets on Twitter. I’ve then been involved in booking rooms, food, speakers and coordinating paperwork between students and internship providers.

For me, being involved in running the assessment centre was the most exciting and relevant part of the job. Being able to see exactly what it is that assessors want to be hearing will be particularly useful in future job applications. It was, however, being given the opportunity to be an assessor on the day that fuelled my interested in HR. I really enjoyed matching the student’s attitudes and capabilities to those we had outlined to assess and have since sought further experiences in this sector.

Being around a careers team has shown me opportunities many students miss out on whilst they are at University. As I’m constantly telling my friends: ‘check out the Career Zone website; there are tonnes of info, and you can get loads of support like on the Career Mentor Scheme and eXepert!’

“What’s it like having a ‘real’ job while at Uni? Well it’s actually a lot less stressful than your average retail job.”

What’s it like having a ‘real’ job while at Uni? Well it’s actually a lot less stressful than your average retail job. Firstly it’s an internship, so there’s a lot of support and training. Plus the regular (and daytime) hours, flexibility and being on campus makes it the perfect student job. I would encourage anyone to get in touch with the Careers team to help you start getting an edge on those grad job applications, whether that’s through research, a job or a Pathways programme next year.

Coming to the end of this job I knew I wanted to do something similar in my final year, and was fortunate enough to get the position of eXepert Administrator, working with the same team, I really didn’t want to leave! As I’ve really enjoyed my experiences in recruiting and assessing students, I have also secured experience with a recruitment agency for the summer- something I would not have dreamed of without the experiences and support I’ve gained in my position.

Paid, Unpaid or Voluntary? Know Your Rights

James Bradbrook is the Career Zone Vacancy Co-ordinator.

A glitzy record company offers an inside track into the glorious world of Artists & Repertoire. They can’t offer a salary, but the experience is priceless. And if you do really well, you might even get a proper job out of it.

Unpaid work is everywhere these days. If everyone is doing it then it must be okay, right? Well, not necessarily. Working for free can be legal in certain circumstances and can offer valuable experience – but often it’s about unscrupulous employers exploiting people who don’t know their rights.

Don't undervalue how much your time is worth.
Don’t undervalue how much your time is worth.

So, what are your rights when it comes to getting paid for the work you do?

What’s in a name? Workers, Volunteers and Voluntary Workers

Your organisation might call you an “intern”, a “volunteer”. They might call your role “work experience”, a “placement”, or an “internship”. They might ask you to sign something waiving your right to the NMW.

None of that matters.

You can’t sign away your right to the National Minimum Wage[1], even if you want to.

And it doesn’t matter what your role is called. Many of the commonly used terms have no legal meaning. What really matters is the actual real life detail of your situation.

In legal-speak, if you’re a worker, you get the NMW. If you’re not a worker, you don’t.

But how do you know if you’re a worker or not? Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes not. But here are the basic definitions.

“One important indicator that can determine whether you’re a worker or not, is the question of reward.”

You’re usually a worker if you have things like set hours, defined responsibilities, have to do the work yourself, and have to turn up for your agreed hours even if you don’t feel like it.

A voluntary worker is someone who’s a bit like a worker (they have set responsibilities, hours, etc.) but who still works for free. The big thing here is who you’re working for. You can only be a voluntary worker if you’re working for a charity, voluntary organisation or a statutory body of some sort. People who help out at their local school or hospital, or do time in a charity shop are often voluntary workers.

A volunteer is someone who has no defined responsibilities, no obligation to turn up or do anything, and gets no financial benefit from the work they do. You can volunteer in this sense for any organisation, not just a charity.

Lastly, there’s work-shadowing. This isn’t a legal term, but if you’re hanging about the workplace (with their permission of course!), getting a feel for what goes on, watching people work, chatting to them about their jobs, etc. but not doing any actual work yourself then you’re not a worker and thus have no right to the National Minimum Wage.

What are you getting out of it?

One important indicator that can determine whether you’re a worker or not, is the question of reward.

Are you getting a payment? Have you been promised some training or a job at the end of your stint? If so, you could cross the line from volunteer or voluntary worker and become a worker.

Once again, it doesn’t matter what your organisation calls the payment or benefit you’re getting – what matters is the detail.

Maybe you get “travel expenses”. If this means you give your bus tickets to your organisation and they give you back the cash you spent on them, then there’s no problem. But, if they just give you a flat rate, regardless of your actual costs, that’s something else entirely. If you’re getting £20 a week for travel but you’re walking to work, then you could be a worker.

The same applies to “benefits in kind” (basically, non-monetary rewards). If the organisation gives you a pair of safety boots to wear on site, or a uniform, then that’s fine. But if you’re working for a music company that gives you free concert tickets or a fashion company that gives you a pair of posh shoes, then that’s a payment, potentially making you a worker[2].

Even promising a paid job at the end of your stint can cross the line and put you in the worker-camp.

“If you feel like you’ve been scammed, then it’s important to talk to someone about it. You can always pop into see us.”

Work experience in your course

If you’re doing work experience as part of your course, you’re not usually entitled to the National Minimum Wage, unless the duration exceeds one year.

Our view

As responsible adults, the ultimate decision to do unpaid work lies with the individual student. Only you can decide whether the trade-off of no cash vs. experience is worth it in your particular circumstances.

However, in general, we advise students to take on unpaid work only when you’re:

  • Doing a placement or work experience modules in your course;
  • Volunteering for charitable and non-profit organisations.

We don’t usually promote unpaid opportunities that last longer than three months, even if these are legitimate. You can find out more about our policy on vetting unpaid vacancies here.

The benefits of other sorts of unpaid work are questionable, with little evidence to suggest that they improve career outcomes. There’s even some evidence to suggest that doing unpaid internships can actually damage long-term prospects.

I feel like I’ve been ripped off … what do I do?

If you feel like you’ve been scammed, then it’s important to talk to someone about it.

You can always pop into see us. We can’t take action on your behalf, but we can certainly give an opinion on whether you have a genuine grievance. We can also talk to you about what you were hoping to gain from the experience and see if there’s a better way to meet that goal.

If you found this job through Career Zone, it’s very important you tell us. We aren’t perfect and sometimes inappropriate vacancies do slip through. It may also be that the employer hasn’t been honest with us – either way, we need to know to make sure other students don’t get ripped off.

The Advice Unit at the Students’ Guild can help with many problems and should be able to chat through the issue and talk through your options.

If you want to take action, you can report the company to HM Revenue & Customs. They can fine companies and force them to pay you what you’re owed. More information on how to make a complaint can be found here.

[1] When we refer to the National Minimum Wage we also include the National Living Wage because National Minimum / Living Wage is a bit of a mouthful.

[2] It’s worth noting that, although benefits in kind might make you a worker, they don’t usually count towards NMW. The employer who gives you a pair of £500 shoes risks making you a worker, but the £500 won’t count towards what they should pay you!

 

Getting into Cyber Security

Eneida Morina is a current BSc in Computer Science student at the University of Exeter. After graduation she’ll be working as a Cyber Security Specialist at an international technology services company. 

Eneida Morina
Eneida Morina

“I took part in the Career Mentor Scheme where I was introduced to a fantastic mentor. She worked in the IT sector and guided me through the different career options that I could pursue with my degree; reassuring me that it wasn’t just coding jobs out there! My mentor encouraged me to apply for a summer internship in one of the areas we discussed, and I luckily got an internship in cyber security at the Met Office.

The internship was a great opportunity for me to learn more about the field as I didn’t actually know as much as I thought I did! It was a good glimpse of the professional working world as well as an insight into the career. I enjoyed the nature of the work and the diversity of it, so I applied for the graduate role of Cyber Security Specialist at a leading international technology services company.

“Cyber security is evolving fast and is more important than ever. Companies and organisations need protecting, so I feel that my work will be really valued.”

Cyber security is evolving fast and is more important than ever. We’re constantly hearing of cyber-attacks on companies in the news, and there’s a real need for more cyber security specialists. This area is exciting as there will constantly be new ideas and issues to work on, and it’s an important field that really matters. Companies and organisations need protecting, so I feel that my work will be really valued.

The company I’m working for really stood out at the Careers and Placement Fair. They promote women in tech which is something I’m passionate about, and they offer great graduate opportunities. They also support continued development and the opportunity to gain further industry recognised qualifications.

The role I’ve taken on is really exciting; I get to continue learning and further build my knowledgebase. I’ll be working within an organisation that’s a market-leader and offers the best products as well as having a great reputation. Furthermore, the organisation is really ahead of the game so I’ll be exposed to all the latest cyber security news and products.

I want to be able to work with impressive clients and make a difference. That’s as far as I know for now – who knows what the future holds!”