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

Building a Beautiful Career

Kat Crapper, Fourth Year Year BA Management with Marketing (With Industrial Experience), talks to us about her 12 month International Brand Communications Internship with The Body Shop, getting photographed for Elle, and networking with vloggers.

Kat (third from left) and Body Shop colleagues
Kat (third from left) and Body Shop colleagues

What motivated you to take a year in industry?

Having taken 2 years out before coming to Exeter, I’d experience working already so knew I enjoyed working in a business environment, and understood the importance of building a strong CV to enhance my employability. One of the reasons I chose Exeter was because of the opportunity to do a placement year as part of my course and the support that the Business School and Career Zone offered in securing one.

How did you get your placement organised, and what was the application process like?

I remember finding the job through the Career Zone vacancies page, then around a week later I met the recruiters at the Careers Fair, which was really useful as they gave me advice on what they were looking for in a CV and cover letter. I was then invited to have a telephone interview, assessment centre, then a final Skype interview with my future line manager before being offered the job just before Christmas. The stages were challenging, and there was tough competition with over 500 other applicants for just the one position. I had to do a lot of background research into the company, industry and role, but it proved worth it in the end.

“The interview stages were challenging and there was tough competition with over 500 other applicants for just the one position. I had to do a lot of background research into the company, industry and role, but it proved worth it in the end.”

What kind of work did you do at The Body Shop?

My team was really supportive and trusted me with a lot more of responsibility than I was expecting. The nature of the role meant I was able to work with teams across lots of areas of the business, both in the London office and with those in Asia, America, Canada and Europe. My role was to assist the International Brand Communications team in the creation and delivery of all PR assets for new product launches. This ranged from assisting the production of international press releases, brainstorming creative ideas for press events, collating top magazine coverage from around the world, going to photo shoots, to helping organise international PR events for journalists. I also was lucky enough to be involved in building relationships and creative content with influential bloggers and YouTube vloggers – I identified a vlogger called Amena who was taken on board to promote The Body Shop’s Eid gifts and new skincare range on her channel, which was an exciting project to have been a part of.

Kat (centre left) in Elle Mexico
Kat (centre left) in Elle Mexico

Was working there like you thought it would be? Any surprises?

One day quite early on in the year, I was unexpectedly asked to model for a PR photo shoot with the brand’s skincare expert. Not wanting to turn down an opportunity to do something different, I agreed… and a few months later my photo ended up in Elle magazine in Mexico and an online magazine in France.

What was it like coming back to academic study after being away?

Throughout the year, we had to complete a number of academic assessments, so I didn’t feel too out of practice getting back into studying. While a lot of my friends had graduated, I did have other friends returning from their year abroad/in industry, and it’s easy enough to meet new people through my course in group projects and seminars.

What impact did your year in business have on your studies? Did it help with any modules?

My year out has definitely helped with my studies this year – particularly for modules such as Integrated Marketing Communications and Digital Marketing, as I’ve been able to apply a lot of what I learnt to my assessments which has improved my marks. It’s also given me more confidence in presenting and pitching ideas.

Has your year in industry changed the way you think about your career plans?

I really enjoyed working in Brand Communications so I would like to pursue a career in this field. I realised that living in London wasn’t for me, so next year I’m planning to take some time out to travel, then work abroad in Canada to gain some more international experience and see where that takes me.

Would you recommend taking a year in industry, and if so why?

100% – not only has it helped me work out what I do and don’t want to do, it was a great opportunity to network with some really ambitious and inspiring people, and make some really good friends.

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.

Getting started with LinkedIn

Networking is perhaps more important today than ever before, and the old adage “it’s not what you know but who you know” couldn’t be more relevant.

With roughly 70% of jobs roles going unadvertised, being linked in to a network of people across a wide range of industries is the best way to keep your finger on the pulse in terms of what’s out there.


linkedinLinkedIn is currently the foremost online professional networking community with over 75 million worldwide users in over 200 countries. It’s continually growing, with a new member joining approximately every second.

It’s an ideal way to network across different sectors, look for and talk to potential employers but more importantly talk directly to key stakeholders and decision makers in organisations of interest.

It’s a great tool for:

  • Contacting key people within organisations
  • Linking to peer groups of like minded individuals
  • Gaining industry insights via forums
  • Making introductions and referrals
  • Accessing industry specific information
  • Gaining commercial awareness

Getting started with LinkedIn

LinkedIn have produced some fantastic guides to getting started specifically for current UK students. They cover how to create an awesome profile and tips on getting to grips with what recruiters are really looking for. Head over to to find out more.

linked-in-vidFor more advice and help with job hunting with social media take a look at our website and search My Career Zone for our training session Focus on Social Media – an introduction to how Social Media can be used in your career planning.

Prepare for the Fair

Careers fairs allow you to meet a range of employers and learn what they’re looking for in their future employees. At Exeter we run five across our campuses in the autumn term, offering part time and casual work, international opportunities and graduate vacancies. Our fairs are open to all students and this year exhibitors include L’Oreal, M&C Saatchi and the Bank of England. Even if you don’t know what you want to do, fairs can be the first step to finding out, so you definitely need to get these dates in your diary.

Here are our top tips for getting the most out of a careers fair…

  • Careers FairWho takes your fancy?
    Check what fairs are coming up by visiting our website. You can then see who is attending by viewing the exhibitor list or by reading the fair booklet (available online).  Make a ‘wish list’ of companies and focus on them.
  • Preparation is key…
    You’ll stand out if you can demonstrate an understanding of an organisation, so familiarise yourself with what they offer before the day. Prepare questions in advance and tailor them – don’t ask questions you could find easily elsewhere.
  • …But be flexible
    Don’t panic if you want to approach a company that is not on your list! Look at their fair brochure entry or ask staff on our Career Zone stand for a breakdown of what they do. If you have a smart-phone, Google them.
  • Build your confidence
    Approaching complete strangers can be daunting. So when you arrive, don’t rush to your favourite organisation. Instead, network with others first, to increase your confidence.
  • Brand you
    Recruiters meet hundreds of students, so consider yourself a brand and determine your USP (Unique Selling Point). Impress them and they may ask for your CV. Take up-to-date copies with you but have it checked by Career Zone staff first. However, don’t be offended if they don’t take your CV and simply direct you to their website.
  • It’s not about the money, money, money…
    Don’t get hung up on the salary and benefits. Employers take a dim view of applicants who are only interested in what an organisation can do for them.
  • Fashion statement
    Dress appropriately! You’re not expected to be suited and booted (unless you want to be), but don’t rock up wearing an expletives-covered t-shirt. You’ll get noticed but for all the wrong reasons!
  • Professional to the core
    Be professional, positive, polite and courteous. Oh, and please don’t just help yourself to the freebies, however tempting it might be.
  • Follow up
    Feel free to ask a recruiter for their business card – you might want to ask further questions or reference them in your application. Take a notebook to jot down important facts. Your head will be swimming with information by the end, trust me!

Still got questions? Then why not head to one of the ‘Preparing for the Careers Fair’ sessions the Careers team are running this term. You can book your place by visiting My Career Zone.

Good luck!

Natalie Horlock,
Employer Liaison Officer (Graduate Recruitment),
University of Exeter

Networking your way through University and beyond

For many, networking is a scary prospect. As a way to enhance your job search it’s incredibly powerful but for many it’s not even on their radar. It’s important that you don’t underestimate the power of a strong network of contacts. University life provides you with a plethora of opportunities to do this. Having the ability to draw on relevant contacts can make a world of difference when it comes to sourcing that dream graduate job.

Make the most of events

Keep an eye on My Career Zone for a list of upcoming events with employers and take advantage of these sessions by introducing yourself to the delegates. Be polite, show an interest and ask if they mind you asking a few questions. Employers are expecting students to do this so don’t feel embarrassed to step forward. If the employer doesn’t work for a company on your wish list don’t disregard them, you may not believe it but graduate recruitment is a small world and recruiters know each other and each other’s recruitment practices. You may even find that sound advice from one recruiter will provide you with a link to another.

Use Social Media

Nearly all of us use Facebook and a good proportion of us use Twitter to keep in touch with friends and family. Both of these can be used to network, particularly Twitter where more and more recruiters are turning to help form part of the recruitment process. Using Twitter to connect with companies and people is a great way to expand your personal network as well as keep up to speed on what your favourite actor is up to!


In addition to these two giants of social media don’t overlook LinkedIn – an online professional networking community with over 75 million worldwide users in over 200 countries.

LinkedIn is currently the foremost business networking site. It’s an ideal way to network across different sectors, look for and talk to potential employers but more importantly talk directly to key stake holders and decision makers in organisations of interest.

Here are some top tips to make the most of what LinkedIn has to offer :

  • Set up your profile with information that you would be happy for a recruiter to see, remember it’s not Facebook so no profile pictures of that regrettable night out where you decided to dress as a 6 foot rabbit!
  • Utilise the groups function and join any that link to your interests or career choices. Make sure you post on subjects that interest you and invite comments from group members.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations of your work. This will provide recruiters with references on tap for them to browse when viewing your profile, don’t worry, you get the opportunity to vet these before they are posted on your profile.
  • Search your contacts personal networks to find other individuals that may be of interest. Remember when requesting to connect to be polite. Adding a personal message can also make all the difference between a potential contact accepting or rejecting your request to connect. It shows you have a real interest to connect and are not just trolling for contacts.
  • Use your contacts to introduce yourself to others, this is a great way of expanding your network and usually requires people to recommend you.
  • Due to the nature of LinkedIn and the fact that social media is de rigeur you are much more likely to get a response from someone via the in system mail function than if you were to contact them via email or phone.

Read more about Social Media Networking on the Career Zone website and book onto one of our Focus on Social Media training sessions through My Career Zone, upcoming dates include:

  • Tuesday 29th January – 3pm
  • Thursday 21st February – 10am
  • Wednesday 6th March – 11am
  • Thursday 28th March 10am

Ask a friend

If you are the kind of person that struggles to interact in a group scenario and find yourself feeling more comfortable attached to just one person, don’t be afraid to ask that person if they can introduce you to others. This is a great safe way of networking and will help to increase your confidence for other events.

Keep your promises

Too often people meet and promise to do things as part of that networking process. Make sure you follow up on promises you make as this ensures that the other person sees you as someone they can trust and who delivers on what they say.

Be prepared

It’s often too easy to find yourself flummoxed with nothing to say when meeting new people. The easy answer is to be prepared and make sure you have a couple of stock questions that you can ask when meeting someone for the first time. Also if you are able to view a list of people attending the event you will be networking at do your research and make sure you have something to ask them when you meet them.

Be yourself

No one likes a schmoozer, people like to speak to people that are genuine and don’t put on an act. That’s not to say that you don’t need to push yourself a little in order for you to initiate that first conversation, just don’t over-do it.

Remember a name

It’s all too easy to meet a contact and within 30 seconds you have forgotten their name because you are concentrating so hard on what to say and trying to not look a fool. A helpful tip is to make sure you use the person’s name in the first few comments you make, this will help reinforce with them that you are interested in them and remember repetition is key, you only have to do this a few times to lodge that name firmly in your head. Finish your conversation by thanking the person for their time and again make sure you use their name at that point too.

In conclusion

Your ability to network and develop your list of contacts will significantly help you when looking for that dream graduate job. Networking is also a skill that you will use throughout your career and remember the more you do it the better you will get. Take the plunge and get networking it’s actually good fun!

Steve Wallers, Employment Services & Placements Manager
University of Exeter