Transfer Your Skills

Claire Harries graduated from Exeter in 2016 with an MSc in Psychological Research Methods. She’s currently a Recruitment Advisor with Exeter-based recruitment agency Cathedral Appointments She talked to us about how her MSc shaped her career path.

What academic skills did you get from your time at Exeter, and how do they transfer to the workplace? 

Claire Harries
Claire Harries

Although the competing academic, clinical, social, and extra-curricular activities that the course demanded allowed me to develop a skill-set directly applicable to the field of psychological practice and research, these skills have also been highly transferable within professional business environments. In particular, the skills developed through working collaboratively on multiple projects with other students, academics, organisations, and businesses, alongside the skills I developed within data management and analysis have been particularly valuable. My primary role requires me to analyse business and person-specific information and data quickly and accurately, and to apply the information in a structured way by simultaneously understanding business, client, and candidate requirements. The emphasis that my Master’s placed on developing accurate and creative analytical and problem-solving skills has equipped me well to manage these competing and fast-paced demands. Further, managing competing demands throughout the Master’s has equipped me to manage, prioritise, and organise my workload well. The Master’s also helped me to develop strong verbal and written communication skills that have been invaluable.

“The skills I developed through working collaboratively on multiple projects with other students, academics, and organisations have been particularly valuable.”

How did you get into your current role?

I had been studying psychology at University level for 5 years. A large part of my MSc was spent analysing numerical data: something that I did not specifically want to pursue. However, I loved the aspect of critical thinking required within psychology: discovering differences in personalities or organisational designs, and resolving them. I approached an Exeter-based recruitment agency in search of work. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I did know that I wanted to work with people, to utilise my analytical skills, and to be able to solve problems effectively and creatively. I met with a consultant who throughout the interview was quickly gathering and understanding information about my skills, preferences, and work experiences, while simultaneously applying it to jobs on her caseload. I found the process of understanding, analysing, and applying information about people exciting, and I expressed this within the interview. The consultant asked if I would be interested in joining their team: I started the following Monday!

What are your main responsibilities?

My main responsibility is to source candidates for the latest vacancies our company has. Integral to my role is to understand the requirements of a job and finding the right person to fill those requirements. An ability to understand and communicate well with people and businesses is key. It’s all about building relationships – not only with candidates, but with clients too. On a day-to-day basis, I am required to analyse and understand job specifications, write creative and appealing job adverts, advertise jobs, and then use a variety of different resources and databases to find the right candidate for the advertised roles.

What’s the most challenging part of your role?

An important transition has been to adopt a more business-focused lens through which I view decisions, challenges, and negotiations. My MSc taught me to view situations and challenges through a person-cantered lens: focusing on how organisations, research, and clinicians can specifically help the individual. My new role requires me to respond and manage the specific needs and expectations of businesses while also meeting the needs of individual candidates. This new environment has required me to shift the way in which I view situations and make decisions. While this has been the biggest challenge in my new role, I have capitalised on the critical thinking skills developed through my MSc to transfer to these situations. In particular, throughout my MSc I spent a considerable amount of time examining how different psychological treatments work for different individuals and disorders, why they work, and when they work. I have utilised this mindset of thinking about the demands of my role that require immediate attention, for whom, and when, within my new role to help with my transition to developing a more business-focused lens.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to current students and recent graduates?

Don’t fear expressing your ideas. As young people with creative and analytical minds we should take responsibility for driving change, facilitating service delivery, transforming practice, and redesigning and building leadership when change is needed. Take responsibility for your abilities and ideas and apply them.

What’s the best thing about your time at Exeter Uni?

Something that will always stay with me is the confidence I developed to express my own ideas and confidence to drive change… Although it would be too easy to say Camper Coffee!

Claire is happy to hear from current Exeter students and recent graduates. You can email her at

Internships that Click

Anna Gibbon is a recent Exeter graduate. She talked to us about how her internship with The Click Hub led to a graduate role in the same company.

Last month, I was lucky enough to meet with Santander’s CEO, Nathan Bostock, at an event hosted by the University of Exeter. I graduated in the summer, and in my final year Exeter created and supported an incredible 60 internships, which wouldn’t have been possible without the £82,000 backing from Santander Universities.

The Click Hub’s Anna, Santander CEO Nathan Bostock, and Exeter’s Employer Liaison Officer Jo McCreedie
The Click Hub’s Anna, Santander CEO Nathan Bostock, and Exeter’s Employer Liaison Officer Jo McCreedie

Over the course of my studies, I undertook a long-term internship with The Click Hub, a digital marketing agency based in Exeter and London. The company has taken on several interns through the scheme, all of who have gone on to work in similar fields.

I heard about The Click Hub from another student. She told me how they were a small company looking to take on another intern. This was over 3 years ago, and I hadn’t heard of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), and didn’t know much about digital marketing, but they were looking for content writers and I thought that my skills as an English Literature student would put me in good stead.

“Not only was my internship a fantastic opportunity to apply my academic abilities in a professional environment, build my confidence and develop my employability skills, but without the internship I probably wouldn’t have ended up working for the company after I graduated too.”

For me it was the ideal kind of internship. Many people use the Vacations as an opportunity to take part in an internship but being a big lover of travel I wasn’t quite ready to give up my holiday time just yet. My long-term internship with The Click Hub allowed me to undertake an internship alongside my studies, during Term time.

Over the years I learned a great deal, not just about digital marketing but about a whole range of industries as I wrote regular content and website copy for miscellaneous clients. From web designers to interior designers, builders, dentists, and accountants – you name the industry, I probably wrote a blog about it. The role taught me to be flexible as well as self-motivated since much of the work was carried out at home. However, during the time spent in the office I had the opportunity to learn about digital marketing. I became more interested in the workings behind SEO, and watching our clients progress up the Google rankings, eventually taking my Adwords exam to become Google certified.

Not only was my internship a fantastic opportunity to apply my academic abilities in a professional environment, build my confidence and develop my employability skills, but without the internship I probably wouldn’t have ended up working for the company after I graduated too.

Halfway through my final year of study, the company director offered me a full-time position after graduation. I’d seen the company grow from 5 to around 15 people and take on a great number of new clients over the years. I knew they were about to open an office in London, with plans to expand to New York, and I knew that if I worked there I would be genuinely valued as an employee. That’s one of the best things about working for an SME; you know you’ll never just fade into the background. It means that when I began my full-time position as Marketing Executive I was thrown in at the deep and expected to stay afloat because an SME won’t have the same resources as a larger firm when it comes to training. This has the potential to feel overwhelming but it also allows you to develop in other ways. What’s more, you’re in a company you know has invested in you.

I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from both Santander’s financial support and the huge amount of dedicated work carried out by the University’s Career Zone first-hand, so the event was a fantastic way to say thank you to all involved and let them know the result of their great work. And, working for a digital marketing agency, I just couldn’t leave without taking a quick selfie with both parties (on my boss’s orders)…

Start Your Career with Sprint

Last year, the Career Zone was pleased to launch Sprint – personal and professional development programme for women. The course is aimed at supporting women to achieve their aims and aspirations, develop confidence and networks. To find out more about the programme we asked two previous participants to share their experiences with us.

Alexandra (3rd Year Flexible Combined Honours with Study Abroad) 

Alexandra McLeod
Alexandra McLeod

‘I found the Sprint course to be completely different to any area of academic study or society event I have participated in at university. It didn’t feel like a lesson or lecture but more of a group discussion on issues we were interested in. I did not contribute that much at first but soon became the most confident member of my group and thoroughly enjoyed the presentation that we did to a friendly panel that were not there to judge us, but were genuinely interested in our career aspirations.

One of my favourite activities was when we had to talk for 2 minutes on an ‘unimportant’ or ‘boring’ subject. Some people went with the weather, I chose the Kardashians. The group had to then become disinterested within 30 seconds and completely ignore you after 1 minute, whilst you kept talking – it’s a lot harder than it sounds! This provided me with a new skill in learning to keep to a concise topic, as well as knowing when to change the subject, especially in interview situations.

I learnt so many new skills such as breathing exercises and relaxation techniques before an exam or interview. It was also liberating to talk freely about things that you were passionate about, or in contrast things that really annoyed you, without being judged as it was accepted that everyone has different opinions.

It was such a friendly and positive atmosphere and I believe is the type of session we should be doing at a much younger age in order to develop confidence.’

“A small change of perspective has made a great impact on my future. I hope other young women benefit from the same opportunity to participate in this life-changing program.”

Catherine (4th Year BA International Relations, Chinese & TESOL) 

Catherine Arnold
Catherine Arnold

‘I participated in the Sprint program in my fourth year of studying International Relations, Chinese and TESOL at the University of Exeter.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I signed up to the Sprint programme, but thought it might enhance my employability in an increasingly competitive world of work. The Sprint programme went far beyond that, allowing me to develop personally as well as professionally. Sprint taught me to live my life with confidence and assertiveness, having pride in my achievements and striving for the full extent of my potential.  

I will continue to take the confidence and skills I have gained from Sprint forwards into my Masters study of Water Science, Policy and Management at the University of Oxford, and also in my personal life. A small change of perspective has made a great impact on my future. I hope other young women benefit from the same opportunity to participate in this life-changing program.’

You can find out more about Sprint, including how to apply via our webpage. If you have any questions, please ask the team a question via My Career Zone.

Start-Up Your Career

Amy Wood graduated from Exeter in 2013 with a BA in French and Italian. She’s currently a Client Strategist at digital advertising agency Captify – voted Number 1 UK Start-up 2014 – in their New York office. Amy talked to us about her time at Exeter, what it’s like to work in a fast-growing start-up, and how to stand out in the graduate job market. 

Amy Wood, Client Strategist at Captify
Amy Wood, Client Strategist at Captify

Why did you choose Exeter?

Exeter has a reputation as a good university, which was why it made it onto my initial application. It’d been rising through the league tables for a while based on high student satisfaction, and was well-known for having a strong languages department; however, all the universities I applied for had similar reputations. It wasn’t until I came to an open day that I decided Exeter was the place for me. All the current students I met were raving about how great the university was, and it didn’t hurt either that it was a sunny day and the campus looked gorgeous.

“At start-ups, every move you make matters, even if you’re intern; they’re looking for individuals who’ll take the initiative and be creative from the word go.”

What did you enjoy most about your course?

By far the best part was having the opportunity to study abroad. I worked as a teaching assistant in Liguria, Italy. The year was such an amazing experience, as I not only improved my language skills, but I learnt many invaluable life lessons. My year abroad helped prepare me for the working world by forcing me to take initiative and be independent. I would recommend anyone attending university to study abroad if they can, even if they’re not studying languages.

How much of a factor was your degree in helping you get your break in the start-up world?

Exeter’s excellent reputation was definitely influential in helping me start my career. The transferable skills I got from my year abroad were also instrumental. I work in advertising, so the actual content of my languages degree wasn’t strictly speaking relevant. However, the fact that I had a degree from Exeter definitely gave me an edge.

What’s a typical day like at Captify?

I’m responsible for making sure campaigns rebook and increasing the revenue generated, which means my time is split between working with other departments internally to ensure that processes are as efficient as they can be, and communicating with our clients at advertising agencies. Relationships are key to my role; both internally and externally. Building strong relationships with clients will help generate extra revenue, whereas strong internal relationships will ensure efficient running of campaigns.

There’s a great culture of collaboration at Captify; everyone’s opinion is considered, regardless of seniority, and everyone’s welcome to share their ideas with senior management. The Captify team is very close, and loyalty is key. Everyone’s passionate about the company and wants to see it continue on an upward trajectory.

“To be a part of something like this from the very start gives me a great sense of achievement, as all my decisions are directly influencing the direction the company is heading in.”

Tell us a bit about your New York adventure so far.

I’ve been working over here for three months now, and even though Captify now has over 120 employees, it’s almost like working at a new start-up. We’re a team of 6 and I’m heading-up my department here. At times this can be scary, but for the most part it’s incredibly rewarding. We’ve already built some strong relationships with big advertisers such as BMW and Volkswagen, and we’re growing at a rapid rate. To be a part of something like this from the very start gives me a great sense of achievement, as all my decisions are directly influencing the direction the company is heading in. I’m learning so much about the market every day, and also have the benefit of living in the best city in the world.

What’s your one tip for grads looking to get noticed by start-ups?

At start-ups, every move you make matters, even if you’re intern. This means that they’re looking for individuals who’ll take the initiative and be creative from the word go. The best tip is to do your research before the interview. Make sure you know as much about the company as possible; from news articles and awards, to the ins and outs of their industry as a whole. Take the time to know what you’re going in for, and have questions ready about the company that show you’ve been doing your research. And above all, be confident in yourself.

BrighterBox helps ambitious graduates kick-start their careers at exciting start-ups like Captify

Life as an Actor – Agents and Auditions

It’s never too late… helps final-year Humanities students get advice from successful Exeter alumni, and showcases opportunities from the Careers Zone Actor Des Yankson graduated from Exeter with a degree in Drama in 1999. Des has appeared in many TV shows including Still Open All Hours (BBC), Cucumber (Channel 4) and Hollyoaks (Channel 4).  

Des at work in BBC One’s ‘Still Open All Hours’

When I left Exeter I had no real idea what lay in store for me. I wanted to act, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. Fortunately, I secured an agent early on; they’re invaluable in helping you get work. They often have lots of contacts in the industry and get to hear of jobs through various means not available to actors.

However, securing an agent is tough, you need to either be recommended by somebody they know (and they respect, like a client or good friend) or you need to be in something that they’ve heard favourable reviews about or seen for themselves. You can get into a play for profit-share or head somewhere like the Edinburgh Festival (in August) or create your own projects that you can show to the agent (a showreel of your work). You should NEVER have to pay your agent upfront; they take a percentage from the work they secure for you. Not all agents take unsolicited CVs, so pick wisely. They’re always on the lookout for the ‘next big thing’ and that could be you. After you manage to get an agent, you may think it’ll be all plain sailing and that you’ll be at the Oscars within the year. But often, it takes a lot more work than that.

“Nothing beats telling your mum that you’re going to be on her favourite soap!”

You need a good relationship with your agent; after all, they’re working on your behalf and they’ll do a better job if they know you well. They’ll contact you when they have work, so days when you’re not working will be spent looking for work, or working as a temp. Temping is very flexible for actors and it tends to pay well enough to cover all bills. The downside is that you work often during the very times that most auditions are. Acting is a craft; you need to work at it and get better. As you progress, you’ll get better and better jobs which are higher and higher profile. This means that you need to be prepared for long periods of unemployment (from acting) and that when an opportunity arises you can focus on it completely. Acting is not a ‘part-time’ profession, but unless you’re rich you’ll need some form of part-time work. You need to pay for subscriptions, photos, travel to auditions as well as workshops and seminars.


Opportunities are there for the taking. If you get a good audition, you need to grab it. Be punctual, learn the lines and be ready to do it more than once. And go in there with the belief that the job is already yours, it helps control the nerves. The majority of your acting life will be taken up with auditions. Personally I like them as you get a chance to play with new material and to meet new people. But lots of people think they’re nerve-racking and hate them. However, they’re a necessary part of the job, just be open to anything that’s said. After all, the casting directors want to finish their job by saying ‘I’ve found the actor we’re looking for’. But in the most part, they’re good fun, if you can relax. After all, if you can’t handle the pressure, then maybe acting isn’t the profession for you.

When you have work, it’s great because you’re in an industry that you love, working with people who are the very best at what they do, and you can often do things that people in other jobs can’t. It’s very exciting to work at your passion and also to be able to affect people with what you do. Nothing beats the rush from getting that all important job on TV, or when you meet someone really famous and then get to work with them, or telling your mum that you’re going to be on her favourite soap!

Start planing for your future and visit It’s never too late…

There’s No Success Like Failure

Careers Consultant, Tom McAndrew on putting things in perspective.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Winston Churchill

We're all made from stars
We’re all made from stars

We see many students around this time of year hitting the last stages of the graduate recruitment cycle. Some are ecstatic that they’ve been made an offer. Others are less so; after getting over the obstacles in their path, they’ve fallen at the final hurdle.

To nearly get there and not succeed hurts.

And it hurts quite a lot because you tried and tried and you didn’t get there. We encourage and console and urge them on but it still hurts. We tell them stories about students we’ve seen in similar positions who were finally successful, but we don’t think they believe us.

Remember to get all the help you need from Career Zone if you’re not being as successful as you would wish. Help with an application form, a mock interview, or a talk through assessment centres really can make all the difference.

You may also want to try the mindful approach.

When you go home tonight, open your bedroom window. Put your head out (please note I said open it first). Look up and see that sky strewn with countless stars. The benign indifference of the universe. If the moon is up, have a look. Marvel that Humankind has landed on it; in what was basically a tin can with less processing capacity than the laptop you’re probably viewing this on.

Big universe, little you.

“We are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Oscar Wilde

Beyond the Stereotype; Careers in Recruitment

Nina Gordon is the Marketing Manager at SW6 Associates. She graduated from Exeter in 2011 with a BA in Politics and Sociology. She talked to us about personal growth, closing deals, and gaining invaluable skills.

Nina Gordon, Marketing, Branding and Communications Manager at SW6 Associates
Nina Gordon, Marketing Manager at SW6 Associates

When I left Exeter I swore I wouldn’t go into recruitment. I had a preconceived idea about it not being a real job, to this day I have no idea where the notion came from, but I know I wasn’t alone in this misconception.

Recruitment is often seen as an industry for people who couldn’t secure a role in a more ‘conventional’ career path, but what I’ve learned at SW6 Associates – the UK’s Leading Graduate Recruitment to Recruitment Specialist – is that aside from just the money (which is great) it’s also a fantastic career which offers just as much, if not more, in personal growth and transferable skills than many other roles.

The industry is a vibrant one: In the UK, the annual industry turnover is currently over £30 billion and is forecast to rise considerably over the next few years. It’s also an industry where candidates can move their careers forward at a pace unrivalled anywhere else. Recruiters operate in virtually all sectors of the employment market, so there’s always the possibility of finding and working in a sector that particularly interests you.

There’s a real thrill in closing a deal; not just because it earns us commission, but because it’s genuinely exciting. We win the business, find a candidate, take them through the interview process, and then finally they accept the job offer.  There’s an enormous satisfaction in owning that process. Even junior recruiters just starting out will be speaking to CEOs, sometimes in large corporate enterprises and FTSE 100 companies. This means gaining valuable communication and confidence skills, and learning a huge amount from intelligent people who are experts in their fields.

“There’s a real thrill in closing a deal; not just because it earns us commission, but because it’s genuinely exciting. We win the business, find a candidate, take them through the interview process, and then finally they accept the job offer.  There’s an enormous satisfaction in owning that process.”

You quickly learn how to handle difficult situations, communicate with people at all levels in their career, and get an insight into how businesses make decisions. From day one you begin building your own business within a business. I’ve developed invaluable skills in negotiating, prioritising and communicating.

It’s not all fun and games, and believe me you WILL want to throw the towel in on occasion. It’s a role where you’re dealing with people day in, day out, and people can be unreliable and frustrating. This job is tough: Investing time, effort and energy in every candidate you believe in only to be let down time and again is harder than you might think; you can do everything right and still not get a deal. However, eventually it does all click, and there’s a moment where everything becomes easier and you begin to really understand the recruitment process and your role in it.

Recruitment has allowed me to make a substantial dent in my student loan debts, move out of my parent’s house, visit nine countries in a year and a half, and spend way too much money in bars socialising with colleagues and friends. I’ve been taken to some of the top restaurants in London and been bought all the alcohol I could handle on Lunch Clubs. I’ve been take on a 5* holiday, and I’ve made friends for life in my current company, and among my clients and candidates.

I grew more as a person in one year in Recruitment than in three years at university and I’m definitely a more capable person in every aspect of my life. Recruitment isn’t easy, but it’s an incredibly rewarding job and I’d recommend it to anyone who isn’t afraid to take on a challenge, and put in a lot of hard work.

The main piece of advice I’d give to anyone looking to join the industry is to choose a company suited to you. In the last year alone 5,000 new recruitment agencies were created, so choosing which ones to apply to isn’t easy. Luckily, I’m exposed daily to the best companies in the UK, so I have faith in the Recruitment Industry’s ability to train, support and grow the next generation of top Recruiters.

As a University of Exeter Alumni I’m always happy to give advice and information to current Exeter students and recent graduates thinking about recruitment as a career. You can contact me at

Impress and Progress

Looking for graduate jobs after your studies can feel like a daunting experience, and with potentially thousands of applications streaming through their email inbox every day, you need to have a plan of attack to stand out from the crowd.

Matt Arnerich (left)  and Arthur Ashman, Head of Talent Development InspiringInterns
Matt Arnerich (left) and Arthur Ashman, Head of Talent Development at InspiringInterns

Matt Arnerich talked to Arthur Ashman, Head of Talent Development at graduate recruitment agency InspiringInterns, about his top tips for keeping your recruiter on side.

  • Have a Balanced Approach

If you get the chance to meet your recruiter in person or over the phone, it’s important to keep a balance between enthusiasm and politeness. ‘When we interview candidates we love them to have enthusiasm and a genuine passion’ Arthur says, ‘but it’s important this doesn’t spill into arrogance’.

According to Arthur, it’s important you remain humble, while coming across as confident and professional. ‘At the end of the day, we have to know that you’ll shine when we put you forward in front of our clients, and if you can impress us, we know that you’ll impress them’ explains Arthur.

  • Honesty Really is the Best Policy

When you’re first entering the job market, it’s tempting to exaggerate your work experience or grades. While you might think you’re bypassing certain filters, it will always damage you long-term.

‘We do thorough research on all the graduates we decide to put forward for roles, and the chances are we will find out if you’ve been misleading on your CV’ says Arthur. It can be damaging for their reputation to pass on candidates to clients who then find their interviewee has been misleading.

‘If we find out you’ve not been truthful, it’ll damage your chances far more than if you’d been honest to begin with, as we can’t take the risk of putting you forward to the clients,’ explains Arthur.

‘When we interview candidates we love them to have enthusiasm and a genuine passion.’

  • It’s Not All About You

This is an important tip, not just for how to keep your recruiter on side, but how to impress potential employers looking to hire a graduate. It’s easy to focus on the skills and experience that you have, but really, your focus should be squarely on how those skills will benefit your employer.

‘If you have a huge range of diverse skills, but can’t equate them to how they’ll aid the company, then employers are unlikely to be interested’ says Arthur, ‘in essence, we’re a sort of gatekeeper to our clients, we only want to let the best through, but if we think you’re good enough we have a lot of authority as we have a direct line to interested companies’.

  • Email Etiquette is Important

When you move into the graduate jobs world, you’ll inevitably be faced with daily email duties, whether internally or getting in touch with prospective and established clients. ‘You need to make sure you’re professional in your email exchanges with us’ Arthur is quick to point out, ‘please don’t be over-friendly, as it just comes across as insincere’.

Arthur suggests using the recruiter’s name wherever possible, and avoiding ‘mate’, ‘pal’ or other colloquial references. ‘Finish off with Regards or, Kind Regards instead of Cheers’ he explains, ‘and please double check your spelling and grammar before you hit the send button!’.

  • Never No Show

‘We don’t mind if you’ve got another opportunity’ says Arthur ‘but please let us know as soon as possible’. Simply not turning up reflects incredibly badly back on them, Arthur says, and therefore increases the chance they won’t want to work with you anymore.

Even though it’s tempting to jump at the chance of a more attractive opportunity, don’t schedule it at the same time as an existing commitment unless you have to. ‘Companies will normally have no problem provided you explain that there’s a scheduling conflict’ according to Arthur, ‘in fact, you’re likely to come across as a stronger candidate if they know they’re not the only one interested in you.’

Internships; Get Proactive, Get the Job

Maxine Johnson is in her Fourth Year at Exeter, studying BA Politics, German and Chinese. She talked to us about her internship with global law firm Baker & McKenzie in Hong Kong, and the impact it had on finding a graduate job.

Maxine (centre) and intern colleagues at Baker & McKenzie, Hong Kong
Maxine (centre) and intern colleagues at Baker & McKenzie, Hong Kong

So how did you find your internship?

I found it through my Career Mentor, Susan Kendall, who I networked extensively with through my First and Second years at Exeter. We Skyped regularly, obviously she’s based in Hong Kong, and I got put in touch with the graduate recruitment team who then enabled me to apply to their summer internship programme.

What was the application process like?

It was actually quite standard; I had to send a CV and covering letter to recruitment, but my mentor already knew I had a strong interest in commercial law from Skyping her. Graduate recruitment rang me and asked a couple of questions, and then we had quite a few phone calls regarding visas and that sort of thing.

What kind of work did you do for them?

I turned up on my first day as a non-law student at a law firm expecting to be given just general making tea and coffee tasks; it was definitely not like that at all. I went straight in and sat-in on client phone calls and meetings, and attended court sessions with the solicitors. I was shown the Law Library with no explanation of how to use it; they said ‘Maxine go and find this area of particular insurance law and come back with the exact legal wording of the definition. To which I said ‘ok, that’s fine I’ll do that’. And I did. It was all commercial law based, but I was in the dispute resolution team, so that covered a wide variety of areas such as fraud, insurance, and employment law.

“I could get what I wanted from the internship; if I wanted to stay longer hours and do more work, which I did because I loved it, then I could.”

So it wasn’t quite like you expected?

Not at all. I genuinely wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to help them, never having studied law. Although I did do a 3 week law course here at Exeter before I went which taught me some basic legal knowledge that was incredibly useful. I could get what I wanted from it; if I wanted to stay longer hours and do more work, which I did because I loved it, then I could do, but there was no obligation to do that. I was working on real-life cases, often for big-name firms, but at the same time you had to be proactive, you did have to go and say ‘I haven’t got any work to do right now, can you give me something to do?’ And if they say no, then you go and ask someone else.

Do you think your internship helped you get your graduate job?

Absolutely, I 100% believe that. I’ve got a Training Contract offer with Clifford Chance who find the fact that I got the internship almost as impressive as the work I did while I was there. Being able to talk about my experiences not only helped with the application form, video interview, and 3-day assessment process, but also proved I had a real understanding of and interest in the work.

Should you work at an agency or in-house?

Seb Atkinson of Selesti
Seb Atkinson of Selesti

If you’re currently looking for a graduate role or an internship, you may have seen that many of are available either at agencies or in-house, particularly in industries like marketing, PR, and web design. Agencies in this industry typically provide services to a number of clients, while working in-house sees you working on projects for your own employer. But which of the two should you look to start your career in? We’ll take a look at the differences below.

Jump in the deep end

In an agency role you’ll need to be able to hit the ground running, working on several client projects as an assistant to one or more executives. As a result, those who begin their careers at agencies often learn new skills rapidly, but the learning curve can be steep!

A main benefit of working at an agency is you’ll learn about and help solve problems for a variety of clients in different industries, giving you a breadth of knowledge that people working in-house are less likely to experience. “Working at an agency means each and every day is varied”, believes Katy Crouch, Search Marketing Executive at Selesti. “It allows me to excel at what I do, applying my skills and expertise to a range of projects.”

This breadth of experience is great personal development for later in your career, showing your adaptability for working with different challenges, as well as exposure to other industries you may want to move in to later through an in-house role.

Agency roles are also ideal for anyone set on a specific discipline, for example PR, online marketing or web development, because you’re more likely to be up to speed with the latest industry developments, whether by being around more experience staff or by visiting industry trade shows and events.


Hone your skills with a single client

While agency roles give you a breadth of knowledge, an in-house role can lead to a more focussed knowledge of one industry. You may carry out similar projects as at an agency, but the main difference is you’ll be working with a single client – your employer!

As a result, chances are you’ll be more deeply involved in projects from the beginning to end, potentially teaching you more than at an agency where you may be working in a team, or pick up a project only after a client has committed to it.

This is the experience that Verity Prentice has found in her in-house role as a PR Assistant at Hallmark Care Homes, where she identifies and pitches newsworthy stories to newspapers. “Every day varies… I am out of the office visiting other care homes almost three times a week, suggesting ideas for content, interviewing residents, team members and covering events.” Verity is able to see a project through from start to finish, which is a great thing to add to her CV.

While you’ll have a more in-depth knowledge of a single industry working in-house, you’re also likely to gain skills in other areas as you move up the ranks, becoming responsible for budgets, HR, or taking ownership of several related projects such as PR, email marketing and social media campaigns. Again, this is great for your personal development.

Different cultures

Another thing to be aware of when choosing between working at an agency or in-house is that the two typically have very different cultures. As you’ll be spending around 40 hours a week at work, it’s important to find a workplace you’re comfortable at.

First up, agencies tend to be smaller companies with younger staff, often with a “work hard, play hard” attitude to work. While you’ll be expected to put in a great deal of effort to please your clients, potentially working longer hours, the office will no doubt be filled with fun equipment like table football, ping pong, Xboxes and if it’s especially trendy, slides instead of stairs.

Meanwhile, in-house roles tend to follow a more traditional work culture – think “business attire” dress code, working in a cubicle rather than an open plan office, and a more rigid hierarchy of managers and pay scales. And while everyone is theoretically working towards the same objectives, there can still be the issue of internal politics, where your department will need to fight for budget against projects from other departments.

On the flipside you’ll likely benefit from a more predictable working day between set hours, which some see as a more balanced lifestyle, as well as more generous perks and benefits associated with working at a larger company, such as better pensions, private medical insurance, and even a company car.

Where should you start?

As you’ll have seen, there are benefits for starting your career both in-house and at an agency. Both are viable places to start your career, and if you find it’s not for you, you’ll still be able to switch later on. Choosing between the two may be a case of knowing whether you have a specific role in mind and want to apply that to a range of clients, or alternatively if you’d prefer to get stuck in to a role wearing different ‘hats’ in a single industry. The decision could also be down to whether you see yourself working your way up the corporate ladder in a big company, or start your career with creatives in a young, innovative company, and whether you prefer a traditional or modern working environment.

Post by Seb Atkinson of Selesti