Get started with the Career Zone

Chloe Mabberley graduated from University of Exeter in July 2022 with a BA in History, she worked in the Career Zone as a SCP Career Zone Assistant in her final year. We spoke to Chloe about her internship experience and asked what advice she would give students thinking about their careers or considering an internship with the Career Zone and what skills she had learnt to take her into the workplace.

You were recently awarded a First in History. How did you find balancing your studies and an SCP role?

It’s all about time management and learning what to prioritise. Luckily, when you are an SCP or SBP, your employer knows that your studies will take priority sometimes and they are very flexible with shifts and if you need to change or swap shifts with someone. When you have a deadline looming, it’s often quite nice to come to work and think about something else for a few hours. I use planners to help me stay on track of daily and weekly goals, meaning that I never fell behind and could always find time to do university work. Making sure you have a good sleep schedule too. Having a 9am shift twice a week, meant I was up early, and once I had finished work at 1pm I still had lots of time to do essays in the afternoon.

What 3 things would you like to tell students now you have worked in the Career Zone?

“Use the Career Zone website, there is a vast amount of information on there that is incredibly useful. CV advice, Interview help, information about different job sectors, and personality tests to find out what kind of job might suit you if you are feeling lost!”

  1. Use the Career Zone website, there is a vast amount of information on there that is incredibly useful. CV advice, Interview help, information about different job sectors, and personality tests to find out what kind of job might suit you if you are feeling lost!
  2. Make a LinkedIn account early and start connecting with people you know. Make sure your profile is up to scratch and keep it professional. Recruiters often reach out to people directly on LinkedIn, so you never know what opportunities are out there for the taking.
  3. Start early! Trying to figure out what to do after university can be stressful, so the earlier you start gaining experience and looking at your options, the better.

“Start early! Trying to figure out what to do after university can be stressful, so the earlier you start gaining experience and looking at your options, the better.”

What have you learnt about yourself since working in the Career Zone and how has it helped you in your steps towards your future career?

It has helped me to identify my strengths and weaknesses in the workplace. It has taught me that I enjoy working with people and helping others in a role. It has also taught me that I love looking at CVs, applications, and that sort of thing, as I find it really interesting seeing how people sell themselves on paper.  It has given me more experience in customer service, problem solving, attention to detail, communication skills, project management, and many more skills that I can take into the workplace.

I now know that I want a job that involves working in a team and for an employer that values your opinion and input.

What have you enjoyed and gained from the experience as an SCP in the Career Zone?

As someone who has always struggled with not knowing what career path to take, I have really enjoyed helping students who are in a similar situation. When students come to see us in person, looking worried and a bit lost, it makes my day when I see them leave feeling much more confident about their career after I’ve given them lots of resources to look at, or booked them in for an appointment.

When students come to see us in person, looking worried and a bit lost, it makes my day when I see them leave feeling much more confident about their career.”

Have you received any career advice since you have been working at the Career Zone?

Yes, I recently had a CV review with an advisor, and it helped me massively. She showed me how to take my CV to the next level and really impress employers. She also showed me how going into more detail about my degree, achievements, and work experience can demonstrate to employers the skills I have, instead of just simply listing them on my CV. I would definitely recommend having a CV review at the Career Zone.

What advice would you give to students who are writing their CVs or cover letters now?

Use all the resources on the Career Zone website, there is a CV builder that will make your CV for you, an instant reviewer called CV360 that uses AI technology, example CVs, webinar recordings from Career Consultants, and loads more. If you still feel stuck, book in for a review appointment with one of the advisors!

Have you had any other appointments whilst at the Career Zone?

I had a Career Guidance appointment with a Careers Consultant, which was very useful. I had done some research on different sectors I was interested in, but she gave me some more expert knowledge about them and where I could look for opportunities and find out about potential qualifications I would need. I would encourage students to do their own research first before an appointment, as this means you can get much more out of the 30-minute slot and have more of an in-depth discussion with the consultant.

We understand that you are going to take some time out to travel, as you were unable to during the pandemic.  What are your thoughts about what you want to do with your career planning for your return and longer-term?

The plan at the moment is to apply for some graduate roles for the September 2023 intake and see how those applications go. If I’m unsuccessful or don’t find any roles I am interested in applying for then I would like to look for other opportunities in London. I’d like to live there for a few years for the experience, maybe in sectors such as HR or recruitment, but who knows, I’m open to lots of things!   I’d like to end up in a role that enables me to work with people and something that I genuinely enjoy. Seeing the work that Careers Consultants do has sparked an interest in potentially pursuing this line of work or working in a university setting in general.

What would you recommend to any student thinking of taking an internship with the Career Zone?

Apply! It has been great working for the Career Zone during my final year. The internships that the University offers are flexible, well-paid, look good on your CV, and can teach you loads of new skills to bring to the workplace after you finish your studies.

What is the best advice you have been given regarding your employability, career planning?

Do a job that you enjoy! If you’re going to be working for 30 years, you may as well do something you like.

What advice would you give to others who are thinking about their next steps in their career planning?

Start planning early, but if you haven’t don’t let it stress you out too much as it’s not worth it. See rejection as a sign of redirection, sometimes the job just wasn’t meant for you and means you could potentially land the perfect job at your next interview. If you are really struggling or don’t know where to start, contact the Career Zone who will be happy to help you out.

“Start planning early, but if you haven’t don’t let it stress you out too much as it’s not worth it. See rejection as a sign of redirection, sometimes the job just wasn’t meant for you and means you could potentially land the perfect job at your next interview. If you are really struggling or don’t know where to start, contact the Career Zone who will be happy to help you out. “

The Career Zone recruit SCPs in the Spring and sometimes the Autumn term. Find out how you can improve your employability and find SCP internships by visiting the Career Zone or by searching on Handshake.

 

Paid, Unpaid or Voluntary? Know Your Rights

Knowing your rights in the workplace is essential. Find out what you need to know and avoid being scammed.  

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

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

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

Your organisation might call you an “intern”, a “volunteer”. They might call your role “work experience”, a “placement”, or an “internship”.

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

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

None of that matters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you getting out of it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work experience in your course

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

Our view

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

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

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

We don’t usually promote unpaid opportunities that last longer than three months, even if these are legitimate. You can find out more about our policy on vetting unpaid vacancies here. The benefits of other sorts of unpaid work are questionable, with little evidence to suggest that they improve career outcomes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] When we refer to the National Minimum Wage we also include the National Living Wage because National Minimum / Living Wage is a bit of a mouthful. You can find the current rates for the National Minimum Wage here.

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

10 ways to make the most of your summer as an international student

Claire Guy is an Employability and Careers Consultant for the University of Exeter Business School.

It certainly feels like summer in the UK right now with the longer days and the sun shining. For most of you, classes are over and it feels like you have some time on your hands. How can you make the most of it as an international student? 

1 Relax: You deserve it! After a hard year studying, it’s important to recharge your energy by resting. Catch up on your sleep. Read a book. Binge watch movies. If English is your second language, try and watch / read in English as this is a fantastic (and enjoyable) way to improve your skills. This is especially important if you want to work in the UK after your studies, as employers will expect you to have excellent written and spoken English. 

2 Explore the UK (or at least Devon and Cornwall!): You’ve explored Exeter but now you have some free time. Why not go a little further? The South West has so much to offer. This list from Go South West England has 30+ Awesome Places to Visit in South West England . While you soak up the British scenery, why not learn more about our culture too? Chat to people you encounter – you’ll find most people are very friendly. Even better, invite your UK course mates to accompany you. They can provide a brilliant insight into the typical habits and behaviours of the British including Cockneys, Brummies, Janners and Scousers (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, this list of all the best British regional nicknames will help!).

If you want to work in the UK after your studies, employers will want you to be familiar with UK culture, and be really comfortable interacting with local people. Even if you don’t plan to work in the UK, employers back home or anywhere else in the world will be impressed by your intercultural learning. 

3 Get more out of your part time job. If you are an undergraduate with a part time job, you can work more hours during the summer. These guidelines from International Student Support explain the visa rules. If you are a master’s student, you can work full time from the end of your  final term.  

You may think your part time job isn’t relevant for your future career. Maybe it isn’t right now- but could you make it more relevant? Could you create a learning opportunity for yourself? Mika, a Business Analytics master’s student did exactly this. She had a part-time job as a cashier at Primark, but knew they had a data team. As she was aiming for a data career, she asked her manager if she could shadow the data team for a week. They said yes, and Mika learned so much. She made the most of the experience by starting conversations about possible graduate opportunities. What opportunities could your part time employer offer you? 

4 Find work. The summer is a good time to find work if you would like some. Many hotels, restaurants, and other tourist-dependent businesses employ extra staff on a casual basis. You can find summer jobs on Handshake or other job sites, but often companies simply put notices in their windows and expect people to drop in and ask about jobs. You could create a part-time CV and print off some copies to take to employers. A part-time CV will follow quite a different style and focus to a CV for a graduate role though. Here’s an example of what a part time CV might look like, with a focus on relevant skills. Come and see us if you’d like help with your part time CV. 

Remember that part time work that is completely unrelated to the career area you want to go into after your studies, is useful. This is because employers in the UK love transferable skills, and part time jobs give you lots of them! Don’t work too hard though — you deserve a break after a year of study!

5 Find an internship or other work-based experience: Many international students would love an internship over the summer. The summer break feels like the perfect time to boost your CV while your studies are paused. Finding a summer internship might not be as straightforward as you’d like though, for a couple of reasons: 

  • Internships in the UK are not as plentiful as they are in some other countries. 
  • Many UK internships are advertised and filled well in advance of the summer, often during the autumn term.  
  • UK internships are often competitive with long and complex application processes. 

Don’t give up on the idea of doing an internship, there are still some options! You may still find some internships available – have a look on Handshake or simply search online for “internship” plus the type of internship you’d like- for example “internship banking”.  

At Exeter we run our own internships, our Student Campus Partnerships (internships on campus) and Student Business Partnerships (internships with local businesses). You can search for them on Handshake.   

You could also complete a virtual internship- one of the good things that came out of a global pandemic! Virtual internships are really flexible, can be done from your bedroom (or sunbed) and many large, well known employers are offering them through The Forage. 

6 Learn new skills  The University of Exeter has a premium subscription to LinkedIn Learning and all students can access it for free; just sign in using your University email address and password. Find out more about using LinkedIn learning to learn new skills. There are lots of super courses on LinkedIn that will supercharge your employability, on everything from data analytics to networking.  

FutureLearn partners with top international universities to offer a wide range of online courses. Most courses have an option to access content free for a limited period, and cover topics such as marketing or sustainable fashion.  

7 Explore your career ideas. During term time there’s a lot to think about. The summer is a great time to focus your mind on your career ideas. It’s worth doing this as an international student because jobs and job titles in your home country might not match jobs and job titles in the UK. You can find out more about the kinds of jobs Exeter graduates go into from your degree or find out more about a specific job role using the Prospects website.  

8 Get help from Career Zone. Many university staff are taking a well earned rest over the summer, but Career Zone is still open. You can book appointments, browse our workshops or look through our huge library of digital support.  

9 Have fun. The sun doesn’t always shine in the UK- make the most of this opportunity to enjoy it. After all, you have put a lot of time and effort into your studies at Exeter. You deserve some fun too.  

10 Having fun is so important, it’s also at number 10.  

We hope you enjoyed our list of 10 ways to make the most of your summer as an international student! Which one are you going to do first? 

 

Getting into Communications

Natasha Trendall graduated from the University of Exeter with BA History in 2003. She’s currently Communications and Engagement Manager, EY

Natasha Trendall, Exeter Alum and current Communications and Engagement Manager, EY

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

Since leaving Exeter I’ve built a career in communications. I started in a global PR agency, doing external communications and media relations for a range of financial services clients. I then moved to a large British bank to do employee communications, taking on a number of different internal comms roles over a six year period, before moving to a large global professional services company to do communications & engagement.

Employee communications is less well known than PR and it’s certainly not a job or career I was aware of when I graduated. My job involves engaging employees in the company strategy, helping them to do their jobs well by supporting collaboration, information sharing and best practice and, ultimately, driving business objectives by helping to build a workforce of happy, productive and engaged employees.

“I enjoy translating complex business ideas into clear, concise messages that employees can understand… there is lots of scope for creativity and writing.”

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?

I fell into communications rather than choosing it, but I’ve stayed because I enjoy translating complex business ideas into clear, concise messages that employees can understand. I’m interested in being part of the machine that helps make work a better place for employees, and there is lots of scope for creativity and writing.

My job often involves working with the most senior leaders in an organisation (C-suite level), which is a privilege, and also demanding! The work is varied, from writing a message from the CEO to all employees, designing a campaign and running an event, to supporting a culture change programme.

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

Writing, interpreting and organising information, study discipline, reading, editing, proofing and developing relationships with people outside my previous experience.

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

There often aren’t many entry level roles in internal communications, but getting any kind of communications experience will be helpful, whether that’s in Marketing, PR, media relations, brand, events or even HR – these are all related disciplines that work closely with employee communications and require many of the same skills.

Good people skills and emotional intelligence are also vital – you need to be able to develop relationships at all levels of an organisation and have confidence when dealing with very senior people, so any experience that helps you build those influencing skills will be very helpful.

“As current students entering the workforce now you will bring a unique perspective and understanding of your generation to employers of an older generation who need to communicate with people like you.”

As current students entering the workforce now you will bring a unique perspective and understanding of your generation to employers of an older generation who need to communicate with people like you – so leverage that advantage and think about how you like to be communicated with and what you would like your experience at work to be!

What are your plans for the future?     

I’m currently studying part-time for an MSc in Psychology and interested in either pursuing that to become an occupational psychologist or moving into Human Resources – a role where I can be more directly involved in making the workplace better for people. I’m particularly interested in workplace mental health, wellbeing and belonging.

Alumni Profile – Issa Belmond Thullah, Research and Security Analyst, Office of National Security, Sierra Leone

Issa Belmond Thullah, Exeter Alumn and current Research and Security Analyst, Office of National Security, Sierra Leone.

Issa Belmond Thullah graduated from the University of Exeter in MA Applied Security and Strategy, 2020. He’s currently Research and Security Analyst, Office of National Security, Sierra Leone.

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

When I left Exeter, I returned home to work for the Office of National Security which is the main coordinating outfit within the security sector, and advises the President of the country on national security matters. Currently, I am contributing to the wider security sector efforts to prepare for, and respond effectively to, threats and hazards that impact on the peace and safety of communities in Sierra Leone. 

“I choose this career because of my past. Between 1991 and 2002, Sierra Leone suffered a brutal civil war that devastated the country to almost irreparable proportions. I was always striving to make a change in my country that will help to resuscitate the lives of those who were affected by the war and to ensure that such does not repeat itself.”

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?  

I choose this career because of my past. Between 1991 and 2002, Sierra Leone suffered a brutal civil war that devastated the country to almost irreparable proportions. The war left 50,000 dead and 20,000 mutilated, while three quarters of the population displaced. I witnessed my country crumbled and succumbed to the atrocities of the war. Lodged with this experience, I was always striving to make a change in my country that will help to resuscitate the lives of those who were affected by the war and to ensure that such does not repeat itself. This is why I decided to work in the security sector to help stabilize the country and create the enabling environment for peace and development to thrive. What I enjoyed most about my job is working with diverse people and changing society for the better. 

“The course is exceptional not just because of its rich academic package, but also the noteworthy field trips and experience sharing by practitioners, offered by external speakers.”

What did you enjoy most about your programme and what was the biggest highlight?  

What I enjoyed most about the MA Applied Security and Strategy programme is the perfect dialogue between theory and practice. The course is exceptional not just because of its rich academic package, but also the noteworthy field trips and experience sharing by practitioners, offered by external speakers. Students are availed the opportunity to apply their knowledge in real life situations and get their career ready. My biggest highlight is the field trips to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London and Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) in Gloucestershire. 

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

The field of security and strategy is dynamic enough to accommodate a variety of skills and competencies. However, those I consider most useful are adaptability and problem solving, leadership and administration, innovation and strong work ethic, critical thinking, communication, organization and time-management, data analysis, project design and management.  

“Use your time at the University to engage as much as you can with materials and people to hone your skills and get your career ready.”

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

Chosen security and strategy is a great choice. Use your time at the University to engage as much as you can with materials and people to hone your skills and get your career ready. The field of security and strategy offers many career opportunities with satisfactory experience. One is assured of employment in the government, think-tanks, defence and intelligence industry, companies engaged in security research and analysis, non-profit organisations etc. There is so much prospect to grow and live your dreams. 

What are your plans for the future?  

In the long run, my goal is to move up the hierarchy of the national security sector architecture and be part of the highest bodies for the consideration and determination of matters of security and development in my country. Also, I intend to pursue an academic career as university professor. 

Introducing Ask An Alum

Ask An Alum

Emily Im is a final year student studying BA English at the University of Exeter. In 2020, she took part in Ask An Alum (previously eXepert) where University of Exeter students and recent graduates connect with University of Exeter alumni to ask questions about their careers.

What is Ask An Alum?

Ask An Alum is an information gathering employability programme connecting students and graduates with Exeter alumni.  AAA facilitates a short-term email exchange allowing students and graduates to ask questions and get advice. There are over 500 alumni available during term-time to contact from various sectors and organisations giving you a range of options.

Why did you apply for Ask An Alum?

During my first year, I was thinking of ways I could learn more about the publishing industry and I found information on Ask An Alum in a Careers newsletter. I didn’t have many contacts and only a little publishing experience at the time, so I thought this was a great opportunity to get advice from a professional.

“I didn’t have many contacts and only a little publishing experience at the time, so I thought this was a great opportunity to get advice from a professional.”

How did you apply?

I submitted an application form detailing my interests and which alumni I wanted to speak to and within a few days, I was connected to the Publishing Director of The Borough Press, which is a literary fiction imprint of HarperFiction. It was super quick and easy!

What kind of alum are available?

If you’re a student, you can access the Ask An Alum database via Handshake and on there, you’ll find people who work for Bloomsbury Publishing, Oxford University Press and Routledge to name a few companies. You can also see what they studied while they were at Exeter. I think it’s useful knowing so many alumni have degrees that aren’t directly related to their current jobs and there are multiple career paths you can go down no matter what you’ve done at university.

If you’re not interested in publishing, there are alum who work in law firms, healthcare companies, higher education, marketing, etc. There are so many different job titles—you can even get in touch with CEOs.

“Within a few days, I was connected to the Publishing Director of The Borough Press, which is a literary fiction imprint of HarperFiction.”

What did you ask your alum?

I had so many questions and luckily, she answered all of them. We talked about her career journey since her time at university, what work experience she did, things that I could do to stand out, her daily tasks, her work-life balance, HarperCollins’ blind recruitment process and much more! There’s a useful list of questions on the Ask An Alum website if you need some inspiration on what to ask.

We started emailing around the end of January and were still in contact when the pandemic hit so I was able to enquire about how the publishing industry was being impacted and what it meant for people seeking internships. I didn’t ask for an internship since that isn’t allowed but she did let me know publishing companies had no remote working opportunities available. Times have changed though!

How do you think Ask An Alum has helped you?

It was great gaining a more personal perspective of the publishing industry and learning about the journey she took to get in. She told me things a quick Google search can’t. It was also reassuring to know she didn’t have much experience when she left university and had multiple roles at different companies before she eventually landed at HarperCollins.

“She told me things a Google search can’t.”

What advice would you give to a student interested in applying to Ask An Alum?

Apply! There’s no pressure. Although it’s a professional connection, it feels like a relaxed conversation. The person you’re emailing wants to help you so don’t be afraid to ask hard questions too.

Would you use the scheme again?

Absolutely! I would still love to work in publishing but I’m also looking into other sectors. There’s an unlimited number of times you can apply, and even after you graduate, you can participate in Ask An Alum for up to three years so I know that when I need some guidance, I can come back to this programme.

Discover how you can get ahead with your career and make powerful connections, learn more about Ask an Alum

My Career as a Freelance Creative Arts Facilitator

Kat Merrick. Exeter Alumn, Freelance Creative Arts Facilitator, and Director at Katerpillar Creatives

Kat Merrick is a Freelance Creative Arts Facilitator, and Director at Katerpillar Creatives  She graduated from the University of Exeter BA Drama, 2008

What did you enjoy most about your programme and what was the biggest highlight?  

The balance between theory and practical work. Many of the universities that I looked around were keen to stress that they weren’t a drama school and were more concerned with theory, but Exeter allowed the opportunity to put the theory into practice. Being able to physicalise what we had learned was hugely helpful to me, and I felt like the balance between theory and practice was a perfect fit for me.  

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

It’s a strange one to start with, but organisation has been vital for me. I manage my own diary, bookings and invoices, so it’s really important to stay on top of that and ensure I’m giving accurate information to schools that want to book me (I’ve met facilitators who are extremely talented, but have put people off with their lack of organisation and time management – it doesn’t look good). 

“Experience-wise, I’m extremely fortunate to have worked with some amazing people and fantastic organisations, and I know how much this has helped me to form my own practice and to figure out what works for me.”

Communication is also vital for my work. When I was in London and contracting to several companies, keeping in touch with all of them was really important, and now that I’m striking out on my own, it’s so important for me to touch base with schools regularly and keep them up to date with plans and arrangements.  

There is a lot of time management involved in my work, and a level of discipline too – as I’m self-employed, often there is no one planning things for me, or breathing down my neck over deadlines. While that’s a lovely way to work, it does mean that I have to make sure I’m holding myself to account and keeping up with the work that I need to do outside of schools. It’s very easy to get lazy when no one is making you do it, so keeping up with the admin side of the job is something that I had to get used to!  

Experience-wise, I’m extremely fortunate to have worked with some amazing people and fantastic organisations, and I know how much this has helped me to form my own practice and to figure out what works for me. Every job has taught me something (even if it was ‘that didn’t work at all!’) and I find it really important to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, even after all these years. Working with other people has taught me a huge amount about different practices, but also about my own – I now have a much better understanding about what works for me, and can use my strengths to make my work the best it can be. 

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

Gain as much experience as you can! I’m all for valuing yourself as an artist, but if you’re brand new to the field and need to make your CV stand out from the crowd, look at the ways that you can add to it, even if that means volunteering or low paid opportunities. I volunteered with a local youth theatre while I was a student at Exeter who were delighted to have me, and spent my university holidays assisting with holiday workshops at my youth theatre at home. Not only did I learn a huge amount through these different jobs, but it meant that my CV stood out.  

“Be prepared to work hard. My line of work isn’t about getting a job and sitting in it for 20 years. It’s a continuous process of making connections, finding work, developing content, delivering sessions, and repeating.”

Following on from that – use your contacts! I was very lucky to have an amazing youth theatre tutor while I was in school, and she was incredibly helpful to me as I went through university and beyond. Whether it was letting me help out with youth projects, answering questions over a coffee, or giving me my first ever youth theatre directing job after university, she was always happy to help. If you are lucky enough to have any useful contacts (a youth theatre tutor, school drama teacher, university lecturer, or anyone whose work interests you) then do use them – keep in touch, ask for help, and take advantage of any opportunities given to you. You’ll build up your skills and your CV!  

Be prepared to work hard. My line of work isn’t about getting a job and sitting in it for 20 years. It’s a continuous process of making connections, finding work, developing content, delivering sessions, and repeating. It’s incredibly rewarding (and does get easier with practice) but you have to be ready to work hard and be responsible for driving yourself.  

“Know your worth. I mentioned volunteering earlier as a means to gain experience, but understand when enough is enough. The arts are notorious for people undervaluing our work.”

Know your worth. I mentioned volunteering earlier as a means to gain experience, but understand when enough is enough. The arts are notorious for people undervaluing our work (“What? You want to be PAID? But I thought you did it for the love of the craft!”) and it’s important to recognise what your skills are worth. Yes, I love my job, but it is a job. This is something that I’ve always found challenging (and I’m having to practice what I preach with my new business) but there’s no shame in putting a price on your skills. If you’re unsure about price points, try to find someone that you can ask for advice. Understand that things won’t always be predictable. As so much of my work is based in schools, my work can fluctuate a lot over the academic year. There are times when I’m snowed under and stressed beyond belief, and there are times when things go quiet and I wonder if I’ll ever work again. Understanding that has been vital for me personally, and after several years, I’m more able to anticipate the quiet patches and prepare for them.  

The last two years have been a huge challenge (thanks Covid) but I’m proud to have made it through. Take care of yourself. The hours can be long, the days can be lonely (I work alone a lot), and when there’s no one telling you to clock off at 5:30pm, it can be very hard to know when to stop. Try to limit the amount you’re taking on in one day, and make sure you’re making time for yourself. Whether it’s seeing friends, exercising, or doing something that makes you smile, schedule in some You Time every day. Lastly, enjoy yourself and have fun! I absolutely love my job, and for all the madness and mayhem that it brings, I wouldn’t change it for the world! 

What are your plans for the future?  

Who knows? Right now my focus is on getting my new business up and running (it’s still early days) and on getting back into schools. Schools and students have had an incredibly tough time over the last couple of years, and being able to bring a bit of sparkle back to the curriculum feels especially rewarding right now. Other than that, I’m still enjoying the novelty of finally being back in schools, and doing the work I love! For now, I’m thinking about the present – the future can worry about itself! 

Your route into Trade Marketing Management

Kate Blackmore, Exeter alumn and Trade Marketing Manager, Wella Company

Kate Blackmore graduated from the University of Exeter with a BA Geography, 2015. She’s currently Trade Marketing Manager, Wella Company

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

After leaving Exeter I wanted to work for an FMCG company. I applied for a few graduate schemes but was unsuccessful, mostly because I struggled with the speed of the Numerical Reasoning Tests! I got a job in sales in Exeter and worked as an Account Manager for just under a year. With that experience I was able to join PepsiCo as a Sales Development Representative (the same job the graduate scheme starts on).

As an SDR my role was to visit 11 stores per day, speak with the manager and try to educate them about the best range to stock and how to display them, plus help merchandise the fixtures to maximise sales. It was a lot of hard work, and a lot of driving, but I loved working with the customers and it was nice to know that a lot of the leadership team at Pepsi had also come into the company through this role. I was promoted within the year to Trade Marketing Executive, based at PepsiCo Head Office.

“I had no experience in Trade Marketing at all, but PepsiCo supported me to learn the ropes. Trade Marketing is essentially the go-between for Marketing and Sales.”

I had no experience in Trade Marketing at all, but the company supported me to learn the ropes. Trade Marketing is essentially the go-between for Marketing and Sales. Brand Marketing create new campaigns and new launches, Trade Marketing work on the pricing, promotions, forecasts and targets, point of sale materials, planograms, sales presentations, briefing meetings and anything else needed to execute the launch, then sales sell it into customers.

After two years in role, I decided I wanted to take some time out to travel. I quit my job and started working for Topdeck Travel as a Trip Leader – essentially my role was to lead group tours around Europe. I would collect a group of up to 48 18-30 year olds in London, and travel with them around Europe, organising all the on-the-ground logistics and giving tours into the history and culture of each country. I did this for one ‘summer season’, then spent the winter backpacking in Latin America. Then Covid hit!

“I was pleased to know I could come back to my career at a higher level than before, and my employability hadn’t been destroyed by my year of travel!”

While travelling, I had lined up my next role in my Trade Marketing career, as a Trade Marketing Manager in the beauty industry. I was pleased to know I could come back to my career at a higher level than before, and my employability hadn’t been destroyed by my year of travel! I started working for Wella Company in their Gain/Grow team, developing plans to gain new customers to the business. After one year I was promoted to my current role, managing the execution of Colour campaigns (our biggest brands).

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?            

I got into Trade Marketing mostly at the suggestion of the management team at PepsiCo – when the role came up, they recommended me for it and felt it would suit my skill set. I hadn’t even heard of Trade Marketing when I was at university! I love that my work is closely linked to the execution of campaigns and has real tangible results – even just walking past a salon window and seeing POS I created. I also love how cross-functional Trade Marketing is as you really do work with all parts of the business – you work most closely with Sales and Marketing, but I also have to work with Supply Chain to ensure we have the right forecasts, with Finance to build the promotions and EComm to ensure the digital side of the business matches what we put out in person, with Category Management and Consumer Insights to ensure we get the messaging right and so much more!

“I wish I’d known, when I was at Uni, that there are a million different routes your career could take. There are different ways to achieve the same result – the career I have now is the same as if I had got onto the grad schemes.”

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

I think the biggest take-away from my time at Exeter was learning to put yourself out there and try new things.

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

I wish I’d known, when I was at Uni, that there are a million different routes your career could take. There are different ways to achieve the same result – the career I have now is the same as if I had got onto the grad schemes. There are pros and cons of each approach – grad schemes tend to offer additional support and can offer a faster pace of progression, but often at the expense of control over your career and you sometimes have to work stints in jobs you wouldn’t necessarily have chosen. It can be a bit harder (but not impossible) to progress at the same pace off the schemes, but you can absolutely work for the same companies, in the same roles, and you’ll have more choice over which moves you make internally. I was also so scared to take time out to travel, but I would recommend it to anyone!

My Placement at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary

A seal, enjoying a stay at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary

Flo Taylor is a BSC Marine Biology student at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus. Flo recently completed a placement with the Cornish Seal Sanctuary.

Why did you decide to take a placement module?

It was part of a compulsory Skills and Careers module in Year 1, but I wanted to volunteer at the Seal Sanctuary anyway.

What type of work you did on your placement, and how do you think this has given you experience for your future career?

I was an education volunteer, so I was engaging with visitors, answering questions and telling them about the animals and the charity. I even gave a few talks to groups of visitors about some of the animals.

“I was outside the whole time, which was great, and reaffirmed for me that I don’t want to work in an office!”

It certainly gave me more confidence in talking to and approaching people, and I came away with more knowledge about the animals and how a charity like that functions.

I was also outside the whole time, which was great, and reaffirmed for me that I don’t want to work in an office!

What did you enjoy most about your placement?

I loved knowing that I was contributing, supporting, and representing the Seal Sanctuary, somewhere that is well-known and well-loved. The people there are so friendly and it felt like a little community.

“I loved knowing that I was contributing, supporting, and representing the Seal Sanctuary, somewhere that is well-known and well-loved.”

I didn’t actually have any direct interaction with the animals, but it was wonderful to be able to see them every week, and I did come to recognise all the individual seals (actually quite hard to do!) and some of their individual quirks.

Do you think your placement has benefited the local community? If so, in what way?

My volunteering there will have certainly helped the Sanctuary, and the Sanctuary definitely benefits the local community, so I suppose, indirectly I will have benefited the local community.

The Sanctuary brings many tourists to the local area, and even just to Cornwall as a whole, which in turn benefits local businesses such as restaurants and B&Bs.

“The Sanctuary brings many tourists to the local area, and even just to Cornwall as a whole, which in turn benefits local businesses such as restaurants and B&Bs.”

The Sanctuary also supports and is supported by other businesses such as A&K Wildlife cruises, which operate out of Falmouth. The Sanctuary also brings so much joy to the local community. There are many people who are regular visitors and who know all of the seals as well as I did! So the Sanctuary absolutely plays an integral role in the local community.

Do you have any tips for other students looking for/undertaking a placement?

Perseverance and knowing how to write a concise, well-structured email are absolutely key.

So many places will either not reply, say no, or say not right now, and all of those are OK and should not discourage you. Keep emailing lots of places, and send appropriate follow up emails when you don’t get a reply.

“Perseverance and knowing how to write a concise, well-structured email are absolutely key.”

It’s also definitely worth emailing places even when they don’t have anything advertised right at that moment – perhaps they are about to advertise something and you might get in there early (that happened to me with the National Trust!), or at least you will have made yourself known, so that when they do want/need someone, you’re already there.

Being able to write a good email will make it easier for the recipients to read and make a decision about you. Be concise in what you want/ask for from the placement – how long, why you want it, what you want from them and what you can give back.

If you’d like to find out more about placements you can start your research here

Returning Home and Impressing Employers with your Time in the UK

Going back home after your time at Exeter? We’re able to help you wherever you are via phone, email or video appointment.

Claire Guy is an Employability and Careers Consultant at the University of Exeter. She runs careers workshops for international students and co-ordinates India Career Ready.

As an international student you have worked so hard during your studies. You have adapted to UK culture, developed your language skills, and taken on academic challenges. Surely employers in your home country will be fighting to offer you a job?

While it is true that many employers see the benefits of a UK education, you will not be the only overseas-educated student returning home. The competition may be tougher than you expect. You may need to do more than show your degree certificate and watch the job offers coming in!

Here are our top 10 tips for international students who plan to return home after their studies:

1 Stay connected to the job market in your home country

It can be tempting to focus purely on your studies in the UK and leave your job search until you get home. This might mean a few months between arriving home and starting work though. The job-hunting process often takes longer than you might expect. It’s unlikely that you will get the first job you apply for. Would you be happy with this? Could you support yourself financially while you look for work at home?

Most students would rather have a job waiting for them after finishing their studies. In today’s virtual world, job searching at a distance is possible for international students. You will need to know how and when employers in your country typically recruit. For example, in the UK application season is October to January but in China, there are two periods, September to November and March to May. Employers in Malaysia tend to recruit all year round. What is the schedule in your country?

The following websites contain useful information about employment around the world, as well as country-specific job vacancies.

You should also pay attention to any channels specific to your country i.e. Weibo / LinkedIn

2 Don’t forget connections at home

Your friends and family are a huge source of support- tell them all that you are looking for work. Ask them to help by introducing you professionals who might be able to give advice about working in your country. Tell them to let you know if they see or hear of opportunities.

At Exeter we have strong alumni networks of graduates from most countries. Many of them are keen to support current students too – why not reach out to alumni in your region through one of our groups?

You could also connect with professionals working in your sector via LinkedIn. We have written a super guide about using the alumni networking tool. Have a look at industry-related groups or country specific events too.

3 Make the most of your time in the UK

Most international students would love to find a UK internship. However, internships are competitive and usually need to be applied for months in advance. UK internships mostly run over the summer and so may not fit with term dates if you are a postgraduate student. This means that you may not be successful in getting an internship. The good news is that there are lots and lots of other alternatives to internships which will still help you tell a rich story about your time in the UK.

By getting involved in extra-curricular activities, you can show your ability to fit in, add value to wider communities and work on social issues that may be relevant to employers. At very least, you will have fun and build a network! If you’d like to find out more about ways you can develop during your studies, why not come along to our workshop Maximising Your Time as an International Student in the UK or see our advice on the Career Zone international student pages.

Think about what makes you unique. Your improved English language skills are important but you have so much more to offer.

4 Think about what makes you unique

Your improved English language skills are important but you have so much more to offer.

  • You are a self-motivated, risk taker
  • You can adapt to new environments and learning situations
  • You are culturally aware
  • You have a greater understanding of how Europeans do business

These qualities are so impressive to employers. However, you need to explain them clearly because they will not speak for themselves.

Try asking yourself these questions to reflect on what you have learned:

  • What has surprised you most about the UK?
  • What things have you found most difficult? (Tip- difficulty is where we usually learn most!)
  • What were you hoping to gain or develop by coming to the UK that you couldn’t get in your home country?
  • How was your education at home different to what you’ve experienced at Exeter?
  • How are you a different person now?

5 Be prepared to describe your skills and learning

Employers in your home country might not understand why they should hire someone with a Exeter degree or realise the quality of the education you are gaining. It is up to you to explain to them why you are the perfect candidate and why your studies have made you a great future employee. Would you know how to explain your degree to employers in your own country?

Think about how you will explain your studies so that employers at home can understand it. How was it different to studying at home? Did you experience new methods of teaching? Simulated business projects or work-based assignments? Group work? Critical thinking? How would you describe your course to show your new learning, ideas and professional development?

6 Get ready to describe the University of Exeter

Employers in your country may not have heard of the University of Exeter, so it’s up to you to explain how reputable it is. What facts, figures or league table positions could you include in your descriptions? What might you say about your course, professors or college? Make sure you have something ready to tell employers in your home country when they ask about the University.

7 Have a clear and positive answer prepared to explain why you have returned home

Returning home after studying abroad can sometimes raise questions. Employers may wonder why you didn’t stay in the UK. They may think you were not good enough to find work. Make sure you explain to them that you made the choice to come home. Although some of your reasons may be because of family or friends or lifestyle, try to answer in a way that benefits the employer. Be positive in your explanation, for example:

“I couldn’t wait to bring home my insights into European sustainability in business to Thailand, particularly around the use of plastics. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere other than Thailand and as the world’s 6th biggest contributor of ocean waste there is a lot of work for us to do! I really want to be part of that.”

8 Be realistic

You may not find an employer who wants to pay you a higher salary simply because you have a British qualification. Feedback from some employers around the world is that returning students can sometimes be over-confident and expect better opportunities than home educated students. Sometimes your UK education may really show the benefits when you start to apply for promotions, so be patient.

Talking to Exeter alumni or other professionals in your home country will help you to have realistic expectations.

9 Be prepared for reverse culture shock

Do you remember how you felt when you arrived in Exeter? I bet it was exhausting! Trying to get everything done, learn new things and speak English all the time.

Going back home might feel the same. You will be different and so will your friends and family. Life will have moved on at home. However, they may have little understanding of how your time at Exeter has changed your outlook. Be prepared for things to feel a little difficult and be kind to yourself in the first few weeks.

10 Stay in touch

As a graduate from the University of Exeter, a forever institution, you are not only entitled to all of the fantastic resources that the alumni office can offer, you also have access to the Career Zone forever. All of our graduate Career Zone support and resources are now housed in one central location for you to access from your home country.

For more help with taking your UK experience back home, come along to our workshop on the topic which runs several times each year, and is bookable on Handshake. We run a series of workshops specifically for international students on other topics too.