Maddie Davies graduated from the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, with BA English in 2018. She’s currently Content Beauty Writer for online beauty retailer Feelunique.
Upon graduating from Exeter I went on to travel around Sri Lanka for a month and returned home to begin job hunting. In August and September, I started an internship with London Evening Standard supporting the fashion and beauty team in the run-up and duration of London Fashion Week. During this fulfilling (unpaid) experience, I began applying for jobs that centralised around writing in the beauty industry, which is now one of the biggest industries in the UK. One day I applied for the role as a Beauty Writer for Feelunique; the next day, I was being asked to attend an interview the following week. A month later, I started my first job as a graduate at Feelunique based in Covent Garden.
“My part-time job throughout University was working as a make-up artist for brands such as Benefit Cosmetics and MAC. As an English student, it made sense to combine my love for beauty and my enthusiasm for writing.”
My part-time job throughout university was working as a make-up artist for brands such as Benefit Cosmetics and MAC. As an English student, it made sense to combine my love for beauty and my enthusiasm for writing. I love that I am working for one of the largest industries in the UK, an industry that is creative and constantly evolving. It’s the first major industry to take a positive step forward in animal cruelty and the reduction of plastic. It’s also an industry that welcomes all ages and genders. We are also capturing a new generation – one that is actually interested in what goes into their products, what it does for their skin and how it impacts the wider environment. I am constantly learning in this industry and I am forever excited by what’s to come.
I loved the campus – it felt like a little student bubble plonked right on top of the hill that couldn’t be burst. I loved that I could do my work somewhere different every day and not get bored of it (even if 60% of my dissertation was written in Queen’s Cafe drinking flat whites and eating pastries).
I choose to study at Exeter because of its tremendous reputation for teaching, particularly for English. The syllabus excited me from the moment I saw it on the first open day in June 2016 – I just knew that I was going to study there. With my home being South Wales, the hills and greenery of Exeter didn’t feel too far away from what I was used to. So, I think the idea of a home-away-from-home had a bit of a part to play in my decision making, too.
I’ve learned how to interact with PRs and how that industry works so well with the world of beauty. I’ve had the experience of interviewing major leaders in this field, such as Charlotte Tilbury, Huda Kattan and Trinny Woodall. Throughout my time as an intern I was fortunate enough to be published in Cosmopolitan, Red Magazine, and London Evening Standard Online.
“Email as many people as you can for work experience – for some of my internships I emailed every address I could find (a total of 48) and only one got back to me. From there it snowballed, so don’t be afraid to do the same.”
Get as much experience on your CV as possible; this industry seeks grafters, if they see you’ve been working unpaid, that shows them how much you want to succeed. I hope to go on to be a senior beauty writer and from there I’d be excited to see where the industry takes me.
Email as many people as you can for work experience – for some of my internships I emailed every address I could find (a total of 48) and only one got back to me. From there it snowballed, so don’t be afraid to do the same. Appreciate that you will have to do the rubbish jobs. Mine included picking up dry-cleaning, making tea and cleaning fruit. It doesn’t mean that they don’t like you, some like to see how much you’re willing to do – others are simply too busy to do it themselves. Make sure you’re on the pulse of newness in this field. Something new and exciting is always happening here and to show that you know that is a huge bonus.
Jeeves Sidhu is a current BA Liberal Arts student at the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus.
In November 2018, I had the fantastic opportunity to travel to Mumbai with 30 fellow University of Exeter students to take part in one of Common Purpose’s renowned Global Leader Experience (GLE). After an early rise and a 9-hour flight from London Heathrow, we arrived in sweltering hot Mumbai and endured a two-hour long customs queue before finally arriving at our wonderful hotel. Before the programme began, we had some free time to explore for a couple of days and get fully adjusted to the crazy new environment.
Common Purpose was founded by Julia Middleton in 1989 in order to deliver worldwide leadership development programmes, equipping individuals at various different levels with the skills to work across boundaries in an increasingly globalised world. This was a key aspect of our GLE when exploring the concept of ‘CQ’ – cultural intelligence. It was made clear to us at the beginning of our experience that CQ was a core skill that the team wanted us to develop, as in an increasingly global working environment, it is incredibly important to be able to work with colleagues from different cultural backgrounds.
“My ultimate career ambition is to secure a place on the Civil Service’s Diplomatic Fast Stream, so I have always been keen to build up as much international experience as possible, and the Mumbai Global Leaders Experience seemed like the ideal opportunity.”
Through a range of sessions with local business leaders, visits to multiple NGOs & corporations, and a range of engaging group sessions and activities – we worked towards the following challenge question: How can we make smart cities like Mumbai more inclusive? The week-long programme culminated in us being put into groups and bringing together what we had learned throughout the week towards a solution to the aforementioned question.
My group decided to put together a campaign called ‘Speak Up!’ which was designed to encourage citizens to talk about issues affecting them, in order to break the cultural taboos around a lot of different issues. We came to the conclusion that many conversations we have in the UK around a range of social issues, are simply not taking place in India due to cultural taboos around these issues. We decided that a campaign to encourage conversation around social issues would be the best way to make Mumbai are more inclusive city – contributing to our tagline “because conversation sparks change”. The challenge involved putting together a one-minute video promoting our solution.
Although ours did not emerge as the victorious project, we certainly learned a lot about India, and were really inspired by the changes sparked by many of the local NGOs and businesses. Our experience in Mumbai opened our eyes to an energetic and liberal youth slowly emerging in the country and beginning to take the reins of power, and I feel that this really symbolised the growing power and influence of India which itself is slowly emerging as a major player on the world stage.
Why did you apply?
My ultimate career ambition is to secure a place on the Civil Service’s Diplomatic Fast Stream, so I have always been keen to build up as much international experience as possible, and the Mumbai Global Leaders Experience seemed like the ideal opportunity! Furthermore, I had heard really positive feedback from other University of Exeter students who had taken part in previous GLE’s to Philadelphia, Budapest & Barcelona – so was really motivated to get a place on one myself. Furthermore, I felt really inspired by Common Purpose’s goal of bringing people together from different cultures in order to increase cultural intelligence levels, so was keen to build up a more global network through an experience like this.
What did you gain from it?
One of the most valuable experiences gained from my GLE in Mumbai was the opportunity to interact with local businesses and NGOs such as She Says India. She Says is a grassroots woman’s advocacy group that managed to fight for the removal of the tampon tax and are currently campaigning against the legality of marital rape – their achievements and mission really inspired me personally and revealed to me an activist and truly liberal side of India that I had never really expected or experienced before.
“I felt really inspired by Common Purpose’s goal of bringing people together from different cultures in order to increase cultural intelligence levels, so was keen to build up a more global network through an experience like this.”
Additionally, the fact that our project team working on ’Speak Up!’ was made up of a mixture of both British & Indian students meant that we had multiple perspectives on different issues, and it really taught me the value of surrounding yourself and working with people who do not necessarily agree with you or have the same background as yourself. Whether it was through interacting with my Indian colleagues or stumbling across an awe-inspiring religious festival on Juhu Beach, I was inundated with both challenging and fascinating aspects of Indian culture, unequivocally improving my CQ.
The final day of our trip coincided with an alumni event at the Taj Land’s End Hotel, which was attended by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter Sir Steve Smith, and he very kindly made some time available before this event to speak to me about the challenges Brexit might bring about for our University. After discussing Erasmus, the potential effects on Staff & Students from the EU27, as well as the potential opportunities that could be brought about, we headed down to the event and had the brilliant opportunity to network with a range of Exeter alumni based in India. The opportunity to interview the Vice Chancellor in India of all places was brilliant, insightful and undoubtedly one of my personal highlights of the trip.
How can you apply?
You can find information about the GLE programme and to sign up to the mailing list to receive regular updates here.
A special thanks goes to our chaperones, Bela Coelho-Knapp & the Career Zone’s very own Oli Laity, NMIMS University for hosting us at their wonderful institution, Dr James Smith for arranging my interview with the Vice Chancellor, and Lewis Davidson & The Outbound Team for organising this brilliant experience for us.
My name is Maxine and I’m a 3rd year Business and Management student at the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus. In April 2018 I participated in an insight week at KPMG on their ‘Women in Deal Advisory’ programme. This summer I completed a summer internship at KPMG in the same department and in 2020 I’ll be joining them as a graduate.
What are insight weeks?
Insight weeks, also called spring weeks, are short internships offered to early year university students so that they can learn more about a company. They are intended to give students an ‘insight’ into what a company does and what career options they offer. Despite the name, they vary in length depending on the company, with some being a full week and some only a couple of days. Insight weeks are often used by companies as recruitment channels for future internships and placements.
What time of year should students apply for them?
Applications open from as early as August up to around January but the exact dates do vary from company to company. On many company websites, there will be the option to sign up to be notified by e-mail when their applications open. Application deadlines also vary, with some even closing early.
Some people I know who applied to many spring weeks found it useful to create a spreadsheet with the opening and closing dates for all of the companies they intended on applying to, and the stages they were at with each application.
Most insight weeks will be for first year students if they’re doing a three year course or second year students if they’re doing a four year course. Some companies will accept penultimate year students, so it’s still worth doing your research if you’re a second year student on a three year course, or a third year student on a four year course.
Where did you find out about your insight week?
I wasn’t aware of insight weeks until I attended an employer event on campus where they talked about the one they ran. After the event, I did a Google search of other companies that did them. Google directed me to websites like e4s which list opportunities from many different companies, and also official recruitment pages on company websites. I was mainly interested in consulting so I looked at consulting and professional services companies.
When I first started looking, I planned on applying to management/strategy consulting but as I had (surprisingly) enjoyed the accounting module I had done in my first term, I decided to also apply to the KPMG Women in Deal Advisory insight week as a wild card. I applied for 4 insight programmes but decided that KPMG was the one I wanted.
What was the application process like?
The first stage of the application was completing a form with information about myself, work experience and education. The next stage was completing a situational judgement test and a numerical reasoning test. In preparation for these tests, I practised with ones I found online and through My Career Zone. After that, I was asked to record myself answering set questions related to why I was interested in deal advisory, and why I was interested in KPMG.
The final stage of the process was an invitation to their London offices where I had to complete a case study exercise on one of their laptops in a room with the other candidates. The case study involved reading through a booklet of information with written sections, graphs and tables, and financial statements about a company. After given time to read the case study, I then had to answer questions and make recommendations for the company based on the information provided. Spellcheck and autocorrect was disabled on the laptops during the case study exercise. I tend to type quickly and hope that spell check corrects me, so not having that safety net did make me a bit nervous. So, if you type like me, I would recommend getting comfortable with typing without autocorrect and spellcheck in case you encounter something similar!
Was it paid?
I was paid for the duration of the internship which was great. Luckily I was able to stay with family members which meant my costs weren’t too high anyway, but lots of companies understand not everyone is that fortunate which is why many insight weeks are paid. If you find one that isn’t paid but the travel/living costs would be affordable, I would recommend doing it as the experience is worthwhile.
What did you do during the week? Who did you meet?
During the week, we had presentations from various employees, from recent graduates to partners. They talked about their career paths and the projects they had worked on. Throughout the week, we were given group activities to do related to the roles available. One of them was working together to come up with a solution to a problem and then presenting our ideas to senior members of staff. We also got to shadow employees at various levels of the business.
The final day was an ‘assessment centre’ style session where – if successful – led to a summer internship offer. The first part of the assessment was a group exercise with several stages. The assessors swapped tables for each stage so we were judged by a different person at each stage. The second part of the assessment centre was an interview with a senior member of staff asking us more about our motivation for deal advisory, our career goals and also some competency questions. Having spent the week learning about the work employees did, the interview was much easier than others I’d had in the past as I had lots of information to draw on for my answers.
After the assessments, there was a networking drinks session with employees we had interacted with during the week and others. They were all happy to answer any questions we had and keen to find out more about us.
Was the insight week useful?
I found the internship to be very useful. As it was an area of business I hadn’t had much exposure to, I learnt a lot from hearing the experiences of current employees, getting to ask them questions and shadowing them. Getting to see what they did day to day made me feel less nervous about going into work after graduating as the tasks were not as complicated as I had imagined them to be.
Has it influenced your career choice?
The insight week led me to choose a completely new career path. I was set on going into management consulting before it but now I have accepted a graduate offer from KPMG in deal advisory. I am very glad I took a chance on something new and started thinking about my career early on.
Which professional services and consulting companies offer spring weeks in 2020?
To find out if a company offers insight weeks, head to their careers website. Here is a brief list of some of the most popular insight weeks:
When you look at a technology company like IBM, you might read about historical inventions such as the airline reservation system, barcode, or ATM machine. Looking more recently, you might see a lot of new technical terms. Blockchain, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, cyber security…the list goes on. It’s really easy to be intimidated by this, and to feel like working for a technology company isn’t for you. I certainly thought this when I was looking for placements at the beginning of my second year. But the more I researched, the more I realised this is only a small part of what a lot of technology companies do.
“Start building a professional network as early as you can. This can be as simple as chatting to technology company representatives at a careers fair. I’ve found that the majority of opportunities I’ve got outside of my day job have been by reaching out to people and speaking to them.”
IBM are involved with a range of clients and industries around the world – and that broad scope is what attracted me to working for an international company. From sport, to health, to finance, to retail, there is a range of industries that IBM work with. This means if you have a passion helping the public sector, want to make production more sustainable and efficient, or you want to help sports teams gain insights into their performance, you could do this in a technology company. I knew that I wanted to be involved in the public sector from taking Public Policy modules in my final year – I’ve been able to tailor my career path, and I am currently working in Healthcare and Life Sciences.
Whilst there are definitely roles that require specialist technical knowledge, for many roles, any degree background is welcome. I was unsure what skills I could transfer from social sciences. However, I quickly found that my research and critical thinking skills were in high demand – I was able to synthesise a lot of information quickly and think about alternative ways to tackle problems. In the group of graduates that I joined with, degrees varied from History, Languages and Politics, to Business, Psychology and Finance.
As for those technical terms? I took advantage of the free education available to me, and within a few weeks learnt enough that I can talk about what really interests me. I’m now looking at pursuing IT architecture, where my non-technical background is a strength due to the different ways that I will problem solve, and I can learn the practical details along the way. Not bad for a ‘non-technical’ person.
“Being well-informed is the best way to ensure that you pick a path that makes sense for you. Don’t be afraid to explore your options and reach out to different people. Everyone’s career path into technology is different – you just might discover your dream job in the process.”
I started a separate Twitter account where I followed technology companies, key people within those companies, as well as industry experts. LinkedIn is another great way to build your professional connections and industry knowledge. I’ve found both are a really easy way to keep up to date with what people in the industry are saying, as well as being exposed to different opinions and viewpoints beyond ‘factual’ news. This can help with interviews also, as you can draw on those soundbites and stand out from other candidates.
Start building a network now
Start building a professional network as early as you can. This can be as simple as chatting to technology company representatives at a careers fair. I’ve found that the majority of opportunities I’ve got outside of my day job have been by reaching out to people and speaking to them. Sometimes this is people I’ve worked with before, and sometimes this is with new people. Just remember, if you contact someone, always have a purpose in mind, and an action that you want to achieve as a result of the meeting or phone call. This will make sure you keep the meeting focused, and that it’s productive for everyone.
Use university resources
Use the Career Zone! It’s a great place to get career information, or to connect with alumni. Having a mentor can be beneficial for your personal and professional development, and worth considering if you want to learn from those on the ground in the technology industry. Being well-informed is the best way to ensure that you pick a path that makes sense for you. Don’t be afraid to explore your options and reach out to different people. Everyone’s career path into technology is different – you just might discover your dream job in the process.
Bethan Watson is a third year BA English mature student on the Streatham Campus, currently pursuing graduate schemes in the UK and graduate opportunities in Australia.
University is already tough – a careful balancing act between part-time work, societies and additional responsibilities; all on top of your degree. Just when you think you’re catching a break, final year rolls around, bringing with it the stress of securing graduate employment.
We’re told we need an internship to impress graduate employers, but they’re also an opportunity to help students at every stage of their university career. They help you narrow your options; they also help you practice skills in a formal workplace setting. At their best, internships function to alleviate rather than intensify the stress of graduation.
The journey is arguably as important as the internship itself. In my experience, securing any work placement requires discipline, engagement and commitment. It’s not a question of intelligence or connections, as long as you’re determined to “make your own luck.”
Beyond traditional routes offered by public sector routes or multi-national private sector employers, which follow a linear path of application form, aptitude tests, interview and then assessment centres, there are plenty of options available.
In an effort to explore every sector that interested me and develop a practical understanding of the career routes I would be entering – beyond the glossy marketing material – I threw myself into every opportunity. I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up and as a first year, my interests were more inklings than fleshed-out plans. For example, I was interested in a media career (I had always liked the idea of working for Sky News), the public sector (I’d heard other students talking about the Civil Service Fast Stream), and business and technology-focused careers (I’d listened to a lot of tech podcasts). I used my next three years at university making sure I’d thoroughly explored my options, and internships were my vehicle to do so.
The journey is arguably as important as the internship itself. In my experience, securing any work placement requires discipline, engagement and commitment. It’s not a question of intelligence or connections, as long as you’re determined to “make your own luck.”
Firstly, I spent some time researching the schemes offered by the Career Zone. Access to Internships allows students to create their own fully-funded internships. Pathways would give me a one-week paid internship in several different sectors, depending on the stream I chose. The Career Mentor scheme would allow me to build a professional relationship with an industry professional. These were the schemes that interested me the most, so I set myself the goal that I would engage with each at least once in my university career.
The career pathways I decided upon pursuing in my third year were a direct result of the experience I gained over my internships; both positive and negative. I want to discuss my journey towards securing internships, and then how these internships shaped my future career decisions.
My first interest was in television. Paid media opportunities are difficult to secure, with a focus on practical work experience. I started with nothing. To further this interest, in my first year I became involved in XTV, a media society at Exeter University. I was elected to committee position in my second year, as Alumni Coordinator. I scheduled events and talks with alumni who were successful in the industry. I found an alumna on LinkedIn who interested me. I organised an event for her to speak about her career to our society members and I expressed a genuine interest in her work. She kindly introduced me to the recruitment team at her company at my request – Alpha Grid, a media company affiliated with the Financial Times. Due to the company’s size (250 employees or less), I was able to arrange a fully sponsored internship over the Easter holidays through the university, where the university reimbursed the company for my wages. I was also able to secure a travel grant of £250 of Widening Participation funding which paid for my living costs whilst in London. I stayed with a friend at her apartment in North London for the duration of the internship.
Secondly, I wanted to experience working in a multi-national company with a formal graduate entry route. I researched companies extensively in my first year and found that the values and strategy of Aviva aligned with my own, and loved the global structure of their graduate scheme. Whilst I knew nothing about insurance (why would I, as a first year?), I was attracted to how the company portrayed themselves across their social media platforms. I read their news bulletins, posts, blogs and read their annual reports. They were firmly in my mind as a potential graduate option.
A 10-week internship in London was an unattainable option for me; as a student from a low socio-economic background, I would struggle to cover living and accommodation costs.
Each internship gave me a different perspective on the industry I was interested in applying for. It was only by being in those work environments that I was able to develop a sense of the progression opportunities, the day-to-day work and the company culture.
With this in the back of my mind, I started attending Career Zone networking events. Everything from visiting speakers in law and finance to interview and leadership skills workshops. I eventually met a second year student when I was in first year, who belonged to a social mobility charity called UpReach. She encouraged me to join. As well as many professional development events and workshops, UpReach offered an internship opportunity with Aviva, which was 6 weeks long with fully covered travel expenses. I completed a multi-step interview process and was accepted onto the scheme, which enabled me to afford to do the internship. Even for students who don’t qualify for these charities, there are other organisations that run similar partnered internships, such as Wiser Academy.
I had inklings about career routes I might be interested in, but wasn’t sure if they were for me yet. For example, I flirted with law briefly as an option and attended a Women In Lawsociety event about in-house legal services. I met an individual who worked for Plymouth County Council’s legal team. She invited the students attending the event to contact her about organising a one week work experience placement. I recognised this as a unique and unconventional law experience opportunity, and whilst it was not a paid placement, there were opportunities for graduate employment with postgraduate study accreditation. I had always been interested in law, but hadn’t thought about this kind of route previously. Whilst I did not pursue this opportunity, I know that students who did felt it was well worth it.
My third potential option was heritage sector work. The Career Zone offered a scheme called Pathways to Arts, Culture and Heritage, which gave students a week of training and a week’s paid internship. I applied for the scheme at the end of my first year and was successful; the process included an assessment centre-like group workshop interview, which was great practice for future applications. I networked with the professional speakers during Pathway’s training week; I added a heritage consultant on LinkedIn whose was in the middle of creating her own start-up and I expressed an interest in her work. I then completed a week’s paid internship at the Eden Project.
Equally, internships do provide a genuine opportunity to develop soft skills. These are the skills that are difficult to quantify – networking, resilience, leadership, collaboration and communication skills.
From working in the sector and speaking with professionals and learning about their careers, I realised that I didn’t want to pursue heritage. However, I spoke to the coordinator of the Pathways scheme and expressed my interest in a graduate employer who I also could’ve applied to work for on the internship. The company I asked about was a television production company, Two Four, owned by Channel 4. The coordinator kindly helped me organise work experience, and, upon its successful completion, I approached the company and proposed an Access to Internship-sponsored placement over the summer of my second year. Their recruitment team accepted my proposal, but funding had unfortunately elapsed at that point.
Each internship gave me a different perspective on the industry I was interested in applying for. It was only by being in those work environments that I was able to develop a sense of the progression opportunities, the day-to-day work and the company culture. My options narrowed organically. I realised that I wanted to work for a large company after graduation because of the investment in training new graduates, for example, and that if I were to work in television, I would want to work for a large public broadcaster and outside of the London area. I really enjoyed my placement at Aviva, so that has compelled me to apply for their graduate scheme and I will apply with a strong understanding of their expectations. It’s difficult to get a sense of your preferences until they are tested.
I was intimidated by the concept of internships and graduate employment, but I approached it methodically and was honest with myself about what I wanted, what I liked, what I was good at. There’s something for everyone after graduation, and internships are the ideal opportunity to find what works for you.
Equally, internships do provide a genuine opportunity to develop soft skills. These are the skills that are difficult to quantify – networking, resilience, leadership, collaboration and communication skills. They make sense when practically applied, and are all key to securing any form of employment. When I “networked” to get my internship at the Financial Times, I was genuine in my interest in the individual and her work whose connection helped me secure that placement. I was resilient when I realised I could never afford a 10-week internship and dedicated myself to finding alternatives. Leadership, collaboration and communication skills were all demanded of me when I: gained a committee position in XTV and organised and hosted events: attended employability events and became aware of UpReach: asked the Pathways coordinator to introduce me to the television production company: proposed to use Access to Internships to undertake an internship after my work experience. These situations developed my confidence and give real world examples of where I practiced the competencies that employers are looking for. Beyond employability, they made me more independent and capable as a person.
It is only a minority who come to university with a strong idea of where they want to be at the end of three years. I was intimidated by the concept of internships and graduate employment, but I approached it methodically and was honest with myself about what I wanted, what I liked, what I was good at. There’s something for everyone after graduation, and internships are the ideal opportunity to find what works for you. I would encourage everyone to look beyond what is advertised to you and pursue opportunities – even if you have to make them yourself – that you are genuinely interested in before dedicating yourself to a career pathway.
Matthew Robinson graduated from the University of Exeter in 2014 with a First in History. He’s currently a Comms Consultant for digital PR agency TopLine Comms and its sister agency TopLine Film.
When I left university, I wasn’t totally convinced about what I wanted to do. Upon graduating, I lived in Japan for three months, which gave me some time to reflect on potential career options. I like to write, learn about different industries and cultures, and have been told that I’m a strategic thinker.
I quickly found myself working in PR and digital marketing and have found it to be an incredible learning experience. I’ve been exposed to the way different businesses work, have been taught how to successfully promote a brand, and have been supported to quickly take on significant levels of responsibility.
I would recommend that anyone who isn’t quite sure about what they want to do to consider working at a digital agency, simply because of the variety of different tasks and projects you’re given the chance to work on.
If you’re thinking about a career in PR and marketing, here’s some (hopefully) useful advice.
“Provided you don’t delete the entirety of your agency’s Google Drive or say something inappropriate to a client, trying things is the best way to learn.”
Go for smaller agencies
For all of the obvious reasons, the digital industry is growing in size and scope, so you’ll have lots of choice when it comes to roles to apply for. You could go in-house at a brand, or work at an agency. Both have their benefits, but agencies are typically the best place to start for newcomers because there are clearer career development opportunities. Bigger agencies can be tempting – they sometimes offer programmes, really good benefits packages and tend to draw people in with big name clients. And that’s fair enough – working with Spotify does sound cool.
But don’t systematically decide not to apply for smaller agencies. They’re great for career building, learning and taking on responsibility. Smaller teams mean there is nowhere to hide, and you’ll be thrown in at the deep end right from the start. It sounds daunting, but you’ll learn a lot and you’ll learn it quickly.
Likewise, don’t shy away from or dismiss entry level positions. A foot in the door is a great thing and if you do a good job, you can build a strong foundation for the future. I started as an assistant and within a year I was running client calls with CEOs. Within another couple I was building their communications strategies and even interviewing new hires.
Don’t try and specialise too soon
Careers are long, and unless AI takes over and we all start living lives of leisure, we’re going to be working for a long time. Get as much experience as you can right at the start, so that you have a choice of what to do a bit further on. Having varied experience will set you in good stead for the future – employers are unlikely to turn down a candidate who has had a lot of experience.
In addition, as PR becomes more digitally-focused, it has significantly overlapped with marketing disciplines like SEO and social media. So, taking a broader view of developing your digital skillset is a smart option early on in your career – you can always specialise later.
“Get involved in meetings and ask questions. Whenever we hire a graduate who asks what the jargon means or gives an opinion, it’s valued and respected.”
Try to get some experience before you graduate
A couple of weeks at a PR or marketing agency will give you a taste of working in that kind of environment. During a short internship you’ll probably get a chance to dip into some fundamentals of the profession: pitching, copywriting, reporting, client relations, and more. I chose to do a short internship before settling down in a permanent role, so I got a feel for what I could be doing permanently.
In addition, don’t discount the value of service industry jobs. I worked in a supermarket and made a point of mentioning it on my CV. And in fact, it put me in better stead when interviewing because it showed that I had a strong work ethic. It also showed I had customer-facing experience – demonstrating an instinct for dealing with people (sometimes in tricky situations) is invaluable in agency life.
It’s OK to make mistakes
When you do get your first job, try and be confident, get involved in meetings and ask questions. It took me a while to grow in confidence when I got my first job – but whenever we hire a graduate who asks what the jargon means or gives an opinion, it’s valued and respected. Try to get involved and don’t be too afraid of making a mistake.
Provided you don’t delete the entirety of your agency’s Google Drive or say something inappropriate to a client, trying things is the best way to learn.
It’s hard to get to grips with PR and marketing before actually entering the industry, but you can definitely start reading trade magazines and blogs to get a better idea of it. If you’re interested, give our blog a read, or check out PR Week, Marketing Week, The Drum, Campaign and Search Engine Land. We’ve also put together a PR Masterclass specifically for beginners and graduates. It’ll help you get acquainted with everything from creating newsworthy stories to planning and running entire campaigns.
Take it from me – working for a creative agency, whether it specialises in PR, marketing, advertising, video production, or a combination thereof, is a great way to start your career. You’ll learn a lot, meet great people and learn management and communication skills that apply to other types of jobs (if you change your mind further down the road). Go with your gut and get applying for jobs – good luck!
Celine Gamble graduated from the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, with an MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity, 2017. She currently works as the Native Oyster Network Coordinator (UK & Ireland).
After graduation I worked within the Engagement team of the British Science Association. During which I worked on the annual British Science Festival as a Festival Officer. More recently I have started working for the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in their Marine and Freshwater Department as a Project Coordinator for the newly formed Native Oyster Network (UK and Ireland). I’m very much enjoying the role so far, as it’s a good combination of conservation science and policy, networking, fieldwork and science communication.
I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in marine conservation, and during University I was drawn towards communicating science. Therefore a role where I can combine the two is perfect for me. The most enjoyable aspect of my current role is having the opportunity to visit native oyster restoration projects across the UK and Ireland, and be able to get out on the boat and assist with their fieldwork.
“My advice for anyone beginning a career within marine conservation would be to be persistent, and to be aware that it could take a few interviews and some time before landing your dream job.”
I enjoyed studying at the University of Exeter firstly due to the amazing location of the Penryn campus, with access to marine coastal habitat on its doorstep. And secondly due to the support and expertise of the lecturers in the Bioscience department.
I would say that being involved with extra-curricular opportunities, such as university societies and groups, helped build my independent working and confidence when delivering a project. I also found that modules such as Science in Society and Exploitation of the Sea, have been useful in terms of the science communication route that I’ve pursued.
The advice I would give to a current student, would be to throw yourself into extra-curricular opportunities and to research opportunities to volunteer for projects/ organisations that you’d hope to work for in the future. I would also say, don’t hold back from getting in touch with individuals who work in roles you’d like to see yourself in, as 9/10 times they will be more than happy to provide advice.
My current contract is for two years, after which I would hope to move into a manager role within a similar marine conservation project or organisation.
My advice for anyone beginning a career within marine conservation would be to be persistent, and to be aware that it could take a few interviews and some time before landing your “dream job”. But don’t let that put you off.
Annie Tricks graduated from the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, with a 1st in BA Drama in 2018. She’s currently working as Campaign Executive at Global, and hosts The Grad Pod
Whilst at University I threw myself into the societies. I always loved learning new skills and meeting new people, and many of the societies at Exeter provided this. In my First Year I remember throwing myself in perhaps a bit too much, but that’s always a good thing as you can work out what you’re truly interested in. One of my big loves were the three Xmedia societies, particularly Xpression, the student radio station. While growing up, radio was always in the background, but in my life Drama had always been in the foreground which is why I chose to study it at university. Nevertheless, the thought of getting involved in radio intrigued me, so I signed up to Xpression at the Freshers Fair.
Joining Xpression was one of the best steps I took during my time at Exeter. Not only was it great to learn how to control a radio desk and make my own radio show, but I also met so many interesting and exciting people from different degrees, who have now become my best friends. In my First Year I mainly worked on Xpression because I found it really enjoyable. I loved music, so got involved in the music team conducting interviews and helping out at various events. However, at the end of First Year I realised that I loved it more than a hobby, and began to consider it becoming my career.
“…there are parallels in terms of creativity and organisation which I learnt from my course. However the biggest contribution towards where I am now from my university life has to be Xpression.”
I knew radio was really hard to get into, and thought I had better start early, so I emailed a lot of local stations asking if I could get some work experience. This was really key in terms of getting to where I am now, as I threw myself into lots of different roles: promoting on the streets for Radio Exe, volunteering at events for the BBC, shadowing shows, writing bulletins, and editing interviews for Phonic FM. I tried to do as much as I could, as well as doing a lot for Xpression itself whilst being on the committee. I was then very fortunate to be given the contact details of a producer at Heart, and after getting in touch with him I landed a four month internship beginning at the start of Third Year.
The internship was extremely useful in terms of gaining experience. Not only did I learn how Global (who own Heart) worked in terms of programming, but I was involved in coming up with show ideas, editing promotional trails that went on air, and event managing when I helped out at their big Christmas Fair. I made many great contacts also, which enabled me to get where I am now; working for Global in Birmingham.
Although I’m not on the programming side yet, I’m very fortunate to be working for such a big radio company, especially straight out of University. I found out I got my job two days before Graduating which was incredible. I currently work as Campaign Executive, which involves helping coordinate various campaigns on air and online e.g. competitions, sponsorships etc.
Despite my job perhaps being far from my degree, there are parallels in terms of creativity and organisation which I learnt from my course. However the biggest contribution towards where I am now from my university life has to be Xpression. The support was amazing, and I would highly recommend anyone to join and throw themselves into such an incredibly encouraging environment.
This year, Amy Magee, a final year BSc Psychology student at The University of Exeter has been recognised for her impressive professional endeavours including the launch of her own company, Okulo Marketing and Design Ltd and her work in a range of sectors including television, finance and creative marketing. We spoke to Amy to hear about what she’s been doing and some of her professional highlights such as her design feature in the Art of Luxury magazine, as well as her plans for the future and any top tips for current students.
Where did it all start?
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind these past four years – my initial desire to follow the clinical psychology route transformed into my fascination for consumer behaviour – quite simply I wanted to know why we do the things we do and how to use this in business. Since my first year I began exploring as many different industries as possible. I had my usual part-time supermarket job to keep me ticking over, but had also started to use my love for English to ghost-write blogs on the behalf of companies across the UK. I wrote for anyone from a famous hypnotist to plastic injection moulding companies (it was hard to make this sound interesting) – sometimes over 50 blogs a month which kept me busy alongside my studies!
Top tip: I suppose my top tip for anyone would be that you’ll be surprised how many things you can turn into a mini business. Say you have a knack for writing or you’re a great photographer, start by just asking people around you whether they need anyone to save them time by writing that blog or photographing an upcoming event. Once you have your first little portfolio, get out there and network (use LinkedIn too)!
What have you been up to alongside your degree?
As I was based in the South West for university, an opportunity arose towards the end of First Year for me to join the BBC as a runner for a Duran Duran concert at the Eden Project. From deciphering call sheets, to working with directors in the gallery truck (the truck full of screens behind the scenes) and learning to drive a saloon car (not fun to park), this job taught me to think quickly and to always be the person who uses your spare minute to ask your team if there’s anything that you can do to help. First impressions matter and this job ultimately led to me landing subsequent contracts with the BBC on a show called ‘Let it Shine’ with Gary Barlow and others throughout the year.
Top tip: My top tip would be that various opportunities might come your way but it’s your job from then onwards to make a great first impression and utilise the stepping-stone to progress further.
In second year, I wanted to learn more about the financial world and sought out some work experience in a London investment house called Octopus Investments. A year on, I was looking into financial advisory roles and studying for an R05 financial exam to break into the industry. I later found myself training with an international private wealth firm for two years alongside university, providing personal and business protection for various clients. However, finance ultimately taught me that, as an inherently creative individual, I crave environments that demand artistic and ambitious thinking where no day is the same. In fact, to this day I still have a £20 bet on with my sixth form art teacher who reckoned that I would eventually seek out a creative career despite me sternly sticking with the science route. It turns out he was right, but this is something only my work experience could teach me!
I spent my third year in an industrial marketing placement in Bristol where I had the opportunity to launch creative campaigns, manage their social media and blog platforms, liaise with external partners, and build a cohesive brand image online. I also self-taught a range of graphic design and videography skills – later filming and editing promotional videos for the company and producing their first brochures. These self-taught skills were ultimately the springboard to me later setting up my own business. I registered a company, Okulo Marketing Ltd, built my website and produced my business cards and went out to network. I now work with a range of interesting people including an ex-MI6 and Royal Navy fighter pilot and motivational speaker for whom I produce print media, websites and video showreels. I’ve also had my design for an international private wealth firm featured in the front of The Art of Luxury magazine and distributed to retailers such as Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason and House of Fraser, with door drops to Canary Wharf and Mayfair.
Top tip: Students at The University of Exeter will have a range of opportunities in the future, but what I found is that only by exploring all of these opportunities and industries fully do you really learn what you want – a career that draws not only on your skills, but also on your passions and interests is key in my opinion. Eventually, you’re most likely to seek it out anyway!
It was these experiences along with my final year of psychology that really developed my knowledge and interest in consumer behaviour. I studied modules that would gear me towards a greater understanding of how businesses and brands can use knowledge about the consumer brain – including what it pays attention to and what it remembers – to build a memorable brand through advertising and increase product sales. I also learned a lot about how organisational psychology concepts can improve efficiency within the workplace. I have since completed my final year thesis on ways to increase sustainable consumer behaviour – in particular, how the notion of social “trends” can promote pro-environmental meat-reduced diets. The University of Exeter allowed me to apply my knowledge to a field I am interested in and gave me a range of opportunities, including the attainment of the Exeter Employability Award and the Exeter Leader Award, to propel my professional experiences. As my time at Exeter draws to a close, I look towards a creative career in London where I can put these past four years of experience to good use!
I would recommend utilising as many opportunities at the university as possible – make use of the Career Zone and any “refresher” courses (e.g. “refresh your maths skills” for recruitment aptitude tests)
If you have a clear picture of what you want to do – spend a few term summers gaining as much experience as possible. If, like many, you haven’t decided on a career yet, explore as many industries as you can. It will help move you closer to your chosen career!
For students looking to ‘set up shop’; develop your skills and interests and build a mini portfolio! A slick website can make for a good first impression – if you don’t know how to do this, sites like Squarespace are a good alternative! Head to networking events or professional events within your societies and always have your business cards to hand. Finally, do your market research and find out the appropriate rates for someone of your experience so you know where to place yourself in the market.
Carly Turpin, Head of Talent Acquisition at Crowdcube, graduated from the University of Exeter with a Master of Arts, European Languages and Cultures in 2008.
There isn’t one career path for everyone… your career can take a number of twists and turns before finding something you really enjoy and want to excel at, but don’t down play the skills you pick up, and the experiences you go through along the way.
I came to Exeter to study a Masters in European Languages and Cultures as I had my heart set on becoming a journalist, and thought that being a polyglot would help open a few doors. I had just completed a degree in Applied Foreign Languages in France and an internship at the Daily Mail, and a year out spent working in pubs in Andorra and Mallorca. However I quickly realised there was no way I could go back to an unpaid internship at a newspaper as I couldn’t afford to live in London.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do anymore. I’d talked about becoming a journalist since I was 12 years old and now I felt completely disillusioned with the industry having seen it firsthand, as well as unsure about my next move. I’d toyed with applying to the UN in translation roles, or joining an NGO. In the end I moved back home after completing my MA, did a ski season in the Alps and basically took my time deciding my next move. I still hadn’t even considered a career in HR or recruitment at this point.
“There isn’t one career path for everyone… your career can take a number of twists and turns before finding something you really enjoy and want to excel at, but don’t down play the skills you pick up, and the experiences you go through along the way.”
Over the next few years I worked in hospitality, got on a postgraduate scheme working for a small independent property firm in London, taught English to foreign students with TEFL, worked in asset management, worked in a French speaking customer support role for a major toy retailer, got a job as an office manager in the food and beverage industry, and ran a nightclub and pub with my now husband. Running a business without any prior experience was probably the most fun and challenging time of my life. We ended up closing the business after 4 years but as they say ‘one door closes and another opens.’ A recruiter approached me about joining a recruitment firm so I took the leap, and about 6 months in, along came Crowdcube. I instantly bought into their company mission and after placing 13 people into the team there, I took a risk and pitched myself into the business. I’d just turned 30 and things seemed to start clicking into place.
All of the aforementioned experiences enabled me to pick up and hone a host of skills such as communication, process management, basic accounting, human resources management, people management, market research, teaching and training, and develop resilience, work ethic, attention to detail, patience, adaptability, empathy and emotional intelligence among others. I also learnt a lot about myself, how I work best, what I value, and most importantly what I enjoy, which will help steer future career choices. But most importantly I learnt that hard work and the desire to keep learning will keep you moving forward.
So let’s fast forward almost 4 years… I’m the Head of Talent at Crowdcube and I’ve helped the business grow, managed a restructure, set up the whole recruitment and HR function, implemented systems and processes, spearheaded a values revamp, started tracking engagement and diversity and inclusion metrics to be able to create strategies to tackle these areas. I’m currently on maternity leave and still have so much to achieve to help the business continue to grow and be an exceptional place to work.
As I said at the beginning, I don’t believe in a career for life or in one set path and actually all of the experiences I have had to date have enabled me to develop skills that make me good at my job. I still have a lot to learn and who knows if I’ll still be in People Operations in 10 years time. I love what I do but the world of work is changing at such a pace that the real skill is being able to learn, to adapt, to try new things, and being able to competently explain the choices you’ve made, your achievements to date and the skills you’ve developed along your career journey. Don’t be afraid to take a few risks, who knows what doors will open!