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! 

Introducing the Career Mentor Scheme

Hannah, final year at the University of Exeter studying BSc Geography with Applied Geographical Information Systems

Hannah, please can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about the Career Mentor Scheme?

My name is Hannah and I am in my final year at Exeter studying BSc Geography with Applied Geographical Information Systems (GIS). This is my second time participating in the Career Mentor Scheme, which is a 6-month programme, running twice a year, that matches current students and recent graduates with a sector professional.

Throughout the six months you’re expected to meet either online or in-person for at least 1 hour a month, although you can meet as many times as you and your mentor would like! At the start of the scheme you set career goals for yourself, such as improving your CV or applying for placements or graduate jobs, and during the meetings you get 1:1 advice, guidance and help on reaching your set goals.

“Going on the scheme improves your employability, as you can show you have been proactive in sourcing a 6-month mentorship and taken the initiative to improve your transferable skills.”

What have you done during your partnership so far?

My mentor works in the Earth Science sector. The scheme started in December so we are just over half-way through the partnership. They have been really helpful so far! I have started to apply to graduate jobs and further study and they have reviewed my CV and applications, and given useful feedback that enabled me to make my applications as good as possible! As a result of my strong applications I was given interviews at most of the places I applied to, and they helped me prepare by conducting a virtual mock interview. They created questions specific to the job and skills involved as well as personal attribute questions. I felt much more confident going into the interview after my meeting with them and I was able to prepare examples and skills after discussing my answers to some common interview questions. In my real interview they asked several of the same questions as my mentor, so I could use and expand upon some of my examples. I am thrilled to say I got the job and I know a big part of this was due to the preparation and advice I was given on my application.

“They have been really helpful so far. I have started to apply to graduate jobs and further study and they have reviewed my CV and applications, and given useful feedback that enabled me to make my applications as good as possible.”

Why did you apply for the scheme?

I saw the scheme advertised around campus and decided to find out more about it (the link to the website is at the bottom of the page). When I applied the first time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I thought speaking to a mentor in the Geography field might help me narrow down my options. I enjoyed my first time on the scheme, and it was instrumental in helping me source a second year summer placement as my mentor worked in the same field as my placement. It also showed I am proactive and used my initiative to source a mentorship, which gave me something to talk about in my interview.

I decided to apply for the current scheme during the first term of third year. I knew it would be very helpful for someone with experience of applying to further study/jobs in my sector to give me guidance, and I knew that as the scheme is very flexible I would be able to balance it alongside my dissertation, part-time job and other commitments.

“I would say to definitely apply. No matter what stage of your career planning you’re at, having a mentor to discuss your ideas with is very helpful.”

What would you say to someone thinking of applying?

I would say to definitely apply! No matter what stage of your career planning you’re at, having a mentor to discuss your ideas with is very helpful! Many of the mentors are Exeter alumni so they have been in our position and made the leap from a degree to the job market. Your mentor can provide insight into your subject sector or give you advice on applications, it is really up to you and what you want to get out of the scheme – some mentors can even help you find work experience or networking opportunities. I would say that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.

There are mentors from all different sectors and working all around the world on the scheme, so there is most likely one in the field you’re interested in! Going on the scheme improves your employability as you can show you have been proactive in sourcing a 6-month mentorship and taken the initiative to improve your transferable skills. This means the scheme is a great thing to talk about at interviews or put on your CV.

What is the application process like?

It is first-come first-served. All the mentors have profiles on Handshake with information about their job, qualifications and skills they can offer to a mentee (such as mock interviews or work experience). Once you have found the mentor you would like to apply for there is a link to a Microsoft Form. There are four main questions to answer to apply, which relate to careers research, suitability and what you’d like to get out of the partnership. I would recommend writing your answers to these in a word document as it’s easier to check the spelling and grammar. It’s really useful to add lots of detail and examples in your application to demonstrate any points that you make.

Using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) technique is really important in your application, and is great practice at mastering the technique ahead of job applications. Employers love this way of writing an application as it gives specific examples and sets out in detail what steps you took to overcome a problem or achieve something. The more detail you can add about this the better! The Career Zone has workshops such as Effective Application skills if you decide you need some help on writing your application. Your mentor is sent your application so it is important to tailor it to their profile, as you would with a job. This may sound like quite time-consuming but it took me around 45 minutes to apply, which is something you could do in between lectures or over lunch.

“If you have any questions about the application process or the Career Mentor Scheme in general, the team who run it are really helpful and always welcome any emails, so don’t be afraid to reach out.”

Once you and your mentor are given contact details, you are expected to take the lead in contacting them and organizing your first meeting where you can get to know one another. The scheme is definitely worth the time spent applying as it can open a lot of opportunities! If you have any questions about the application process or the scheme in general, the team who run it are really helpful and always welcome any emails, so don’t be afraid to reach out. Their email address is: .

Applications for the new scheme are open now. I hope that I have shown you how great the scheme is and why you should apply! Remember to look on Handshake and get your application in early so you don’t miss out!

You can find out all the details about the Career Mentor Scheme here: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/careers/employability-schemes/careermentorscheme/

5 Quick and Easy Employability Tips for International Students

If you make the effort to interact in and out of class with a range of people you will really reap the rewards. Imagine applying for graduate roles and being able to talk confidently about your cultural intelligence and diverse perspectives!

Claire Guy is an Employability and Careers Consultant working with postgraduates in the Business School. She is currently developing a range of resources and support specifically for international students.  

As an international student, there’s a lot to think about and lots to do. You’ve been saving, planning, and packing for as long as you can remember and now you’re far from home, adjusting to a new style of teaching, possibly even in a language that isn’t your native tongue. Wow – You deserve a huge round of applause for all you’ve achieved so far.

Perhaps you’re looking forward to things calming down with less on your mind, and the chance to focus on your studies. It might surprise you that we are already asking you to think about your future and to start preparing for a career after your studies. It might feel a little overwhelming! But what if I could give you 5 tips which won’t take a lot of effort, but will make a huge difference for your future success?

“What if you could focus your time on the 20% of possible actions that will give you 80% of the impact for career success?” 

You may have heard of the 80:20 rule, or the Pareto Principle. Developed by an economist in 1895, the rule demonstrates that 80% of your outcomes come from 20% of your time and effort. Let’s apply this to your time at Exeter and your future career. What if you could focus your time on the 20% of possible actions that will give you 80% of the impact for career success? Here are 5 simple things you can do that bring huge results!

1 Immerse yourself in cultural learning: Employers worldwide are realising that diverse workforces are great for business. They want to employ people who think differently and approach things from a range of perspectives. Diversity brings a huge range of benefits such as increased innovation, creativity, and happier employees. International students like you naturally bring culturally diverse perspectives but you can add even more impact, when you combine this with combine this with cultural intelligence. Cultural Intelligence is the ability to relate and work effectively in culturally diverse situations. It’s about crossing cultural boundaries and thriving in multiple cultures. Someone who has cultural intelligence is not just an observer of different cultures – they are able to culturally adapt and work together with people across a variety of cultural contexts. This cultural intelligence will impress UK employers, employers in your home country and anywhere else in the world you choose to go! The University of Exeter is a proudly international institution, with staff and students from more than 130 countries giving you endless opportunities to interact with different cultures. We know that this can feel scary and that it can feel more comfortable to make friends with other students from your home country but if you make the effort to interact in and out of class with a range of people you will really reap the rewards. Imagine applying for graduate roles and being able to talk confidently about your cultural intelligence and diverse perspectives! Say yes to as many opportunities to mix with others as possible.

“The University of Exeter is a proudly international institution, with staff and students from more than 130 countries giving you endless opportunities to interact with different cultures.”

2 Develop skills outside of your studies: Whether you plan to work in the UK after your studies, or return home, employers will want to hear about the skills you have developed whilst you were a student at Exeter. In fact, if you plan to remain in the UK to work, it is important for you to know that many UK employers value skills over and above your academic achievements. In fact, growing numbers of graduate employers are removing academic grades from their entry requirements as they have found that skills are a much better predictor of a graduate’s ability to perform well in a job than their academic grade. Employers don’t mind where your skills come from so you have lots of options: pick from volunteeringjoining a societytaking part in a sport, getting a casual / part time job, or doing an internship. If you have limited time available, you might want to be strategic about which skills you need to develop and focus on activities which target those skills. Carrying out a “skills-gap analysis” will help you be strategic- a) study a career profile or search graduate vacancies that interest you and b) make a list of the skills needed. Then c) assess your own skills. Focus on developing the skills that you need for the career(s) / vacancies that interest you, but which aren’t very strong yet! Don’t forget to be mindful of your visa in terms of how many hours a week you can do certain activities. If you are considering taking up volunteering or unpaid work please refer to the International Student Support pages to check what is considered as volunteering or voluntary work.

“Whether you plan to work in the UK after your studies, or return home, employers will want to hear about the skills you have developed whilst you were a student at Exeter.”

3 Be informed: If you plan to stay in the UK after your studies to work, you will need to understand how the job market works in the UK. There are likely to be differences between the UK and how things are done back at home. For example, the graduate recruitment cycle in the UK starts early. This means that jobs which start in June / July or August open for applications in the previous September and close between Nov-Jan. So, if you want a place on a graduate scheme, you will need to be ready to apply almost a whole year before your course finishes. It may be that CVs, application letters, video interviews and other parts of the application process are different from what you may have experienced in your home country. That’s why Career Zone is available for you, with lots of virtual help as well as help in person. We can help teach you all about working in the UK, as well as helping on a practical level. You may find our bespoke programmes, India Career Ready or China Career Ready helpful too.

“If you plan to stay in the UK after your studies to work, you will need to understand how the job market works in the UK. There are likely to be differences between the UK and how things are done back at home.”

4 Build networks: If you follow the advice here so far, you will meet a lot of new people! Keep in touch with them, you never know when you may be able to help them or they may be able to help you. The people you meet now are the ones who are or will be in a position to help you out professionally in the future. You are connected through your shared experiences, which means they are much more likely to want to help you, especially if you have been helpful in the past.  Students often feel that they don’t have much to offer anyone at this early point in their career, yet doing small, helpful things can really have an impact for others. Promoting projects and events that other people are organising or involved in, introducing people to one another, or sharing your experiences can be so useful for your peers. Sharing that you were rejected for a role you really wanted because you didn’t complete an online test within the required 5-day period for example, might help someone else to avoid the same mistake. The more helpful you can be, the more you’ll be seen as a valuable connection. LinkedIn is a brilliant tool to keep in touch with your network.

“Students often feel that they don’t have much to offer anyone at this early point in their career, yet doing small, helpful things can really have an impact for others.”

5 Improve your English: If you follow tips 1-4, your English will already have improved a lot! It’s worth knowing that UK employers expect very good spoken English from international applicants, so if your English still needs some improving, INTO at Exeter offer lots of support.

Read more about the help we offer to International students or listen to our podcast

My Placement at Siemens Energy

Claire Humphries is currently on a Placement Year with Siemens Energy as a Sales and Marketing Intern, alongside her Geography and Business Management (Flexible Combined Honours) Degree. At Exeter, Humanities undergraduates can get work experience across a wide range of sectors as part of their degree on programmes such as ‘with Employment Experience’ or the ‘Humanities in the Workplace’ module. If you’re a Humanities student and want to find out more about work placements head to: https://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/careers/undergraduatestudents/

Claire Humphries is currently on a Placement Year with Siemens Energy as a Sales and Marketing Intern, alongside her Geography and Business Management (Flexible Combined Honours) Degree.

I chose to do a degree ‘with Employment Experience’ because I wanted to gain some real-life experience in the workplace to help me understand and get a feeling for what it’s like out in the world of business. I thought this experience would benefit me massively in helping understand what I’m interested and passionate about within a business setting going forward to help with my future career.

“I found placements by looking online, and the Career Zone also had placement adverts. The Career Zone have very useful documents to help with the process such as information on how to improve your CV and how to write a Cover Letter which I found really helpful.”

The search for placements is a tricky one and I would suggest starting sooner rather than later as lots of different companies have different closing dates and there is a lot of competition. It’s also really important to read the information about the placement properly and ensure you fill out everything required to better your chances of getting to the next stage. I found placements by looking online, and the Career Zone also had placement adverts. The Career Zone have very useful documents to help with the process such as information on how to improve your CV and how to write a Cover Letter which I found really helpful. With placement applications I found that practice helps, particularly with on-line tests, and I think it’s really important to remember that even if you get to an interview or assessment stage and don’t get beyond that, it is still a really good learning experience and you should not be disheartened as you will take that experience with you for other jobs that you apply for later on.

“I think it’s really important to remember that even if you get to an interview or assessment stage and don’t get beyond that, it is still a really good learning experience and you should not be disheartened as you will take that experience with you for other jobs that you apply for later on.”

My Placement year has been with Siemens Energy as a Sales and Marketing Intern. Despite my year being severely impacted by the Coronavirus I have gained good business experience, even if it was very different to what I was expecting when I first applied. I may not have experienced working in an office environment, but I have learnt a valuable skill in ‘working from home’ and being part of a ‘virtual office’.  My placement taught me the importance of networking within the workplace as well as the value of informal conversations and catch-ups which help maintain motivation and a healthy mindset. For me this took place in the form of weekly catch-ups with my fellow interns and also some informal team building sessions throughout the year. I also learnt a number of new business skills that I will take with me for my career including time management, project work, presentation skills and the use of different IT platforms.

“Choosing a placement as part of my degree was one of the best decisions I have taken… Having real job experience integral to my degree has helped me discover what I enjoy and also perhaps what I don’t enjoy so much in a work setting.”

Choosing a placement as part of my degree was one of the best decisions I have taken. It’s given me the opportunity to go through rigorous job application processes and it will allow me to use the work experience I have gained to help with future job applications once I graduate. Having real job experience integral to my degree has helped me discover what I enjoy and also perhaps what I don’t enjoy so much in a work setting, and this will help me tailor what modules I choose in my final year.

A Different Path – Adam Jones, CTO and MD of Technology at Redington

Adam Jones is the CTO and MD of Technology at Redington

He talked to us about his career path, and the twists and turns that took him from A to Z.

Adam Jones, Exeter Alumn and CTO and MD of Technology at Redington

Picture this… The year is 1998, you walk into a Chinese takeaway and a gangly, long haired teenager is standing there ready to take your order. Ten years later that same teenager has graduated from Exeter and completed a postgraduate certificate in Landscape Archaeology.

Fast forward a further ten years and that teenager is now the MD of ADA, Redington’s software business and the Chief Technology Officer for Redington, a leading investment consultancy which advises on more than half a billion pounds worth of assets.

That teenager was me.

When Exeter asked me to write about my experiences at University, the path I have taken, and how Exeter was part of that journey I had to think pretty hard.  Like many other people (more perhaps than you would expect), the steps that long haired, gangly teenager took to become that Managing Director were not always in a straight line.

Throughout my time at Exeter I was working for EDF Energy. My role at that company varied a lot whilst I was there. It covered basic admin tasks, simple financial work and a some operations work. Above all though, the thing that I remember most was spending hours and hours putting little plastic electricity tokens into envelopes and posting them around the country.

“Look at your degree as a foundation, a way of putting together essential and fundamental skills that are going to serve you well throughout your working life.”

By the time I finished my degree, the role at EDF had become more focused on technology and I was running a small project to change some of the infrastructure that EDF used.  I realised that I really enjoyed the technology aspect of the job, and it was something I found really interesting.  The role required me to be able to think through and solve problems, problems that sometimes I didn’t actually understand in the first instance, but there was an intellectual aspect to the work that I wasn’t used to and it was something that really resonated with me.

I realised that I had to make a choice because I was working a full time job and also doing a part time Masters in Archaeology.  Part of me wanted to do a PhD in Archaeology and turn that into a career, but the other part of me wanted to explore this technology career and roll with it.  It’s worth noting that this wasn’t an easy decision to make and it took a lot of deliberation, largely because both of them felt like exciting and positive opportunities; something a lot of people will experience when they graduate, or at different points in their careers. As someone who had previously only focused on finding a job, good or bad it was quite a new experience for me.

“I assumed that hiring an Archaeology graduate into a technology role would be challenging for employers.  What I actually found was that most employers looked past the subject that I studied, and instead focused on the skills that I had gained within my degree.”

Ultimately, I decided to pursue technology and soon realised that working for an energy company wasn’t the best way of doing that. I applied to every technology company that I could find in the South West. I was in no way picky when applying for these jobs, as I assumed that hiring an Archaeology graduate into a technology role would be challenging for employers.  What I actually found was that most employers looked past the subject that I studied, and instead focused on the skills that I had gained within my degree. For example, my ability to research, my ability to communicate, my ability to work with data etc.  They also really valued my work experience. Having a number of years of work under my belt was a great enabler to securing my first post University role.

I landed at a company called FNZ who are based in Bristol. They build investment platforms which power the fund and equity trading, that banks insurance companies and wealth managers use.  I spent a couple of years at FNZ as a business analyst. The job role was to be an intermediary between the clients and the software development team. The main focus was to translate the requirements that the client has into documents that the software engineers could use to develop the platform.

The job of a business analyst is really interesting as it requires a lot of problem solving but it also requires you to understand different roles around you. For example, what does a client think about this particular piece of functionality? How can you articulate what the client needs to a software developer? How can you get a good enough understanding of the platform so that you aren’t creating unreasonable requests?

This mesh of understanding ultimately contributed to a broader and more reusable skill. Stakeholder management.  I started to learn about Stakeholder Management during my time at EDF but also during my time at University, where group work would often be needed and where the ability to influence others and the ability to work together on an outcome becomes important.

After FNZ I went to work for a management consultancy called Altus. At Altus I worked for around 30 different companies across a range of different engagements. All of them were focused in the financial services sector and indeed typically on investments, pensions or general insurance.  This again required my skills of stakeholder management but also increasingly required my ability to present information and interpret data to understand the “so what” that sat behind it.  The skills I’d learned at University became a key part of this role, and the other thing that I realised was that domain expertise is an incredible enabler for good work and indeed a requirement which shouldn’t be under estimated.

“This accumulation of expertise is something that people pick up throughout their career but equally people often underestimate how transferable this is.”

Knowing how a bank works from the inside, based on experience and based on different projects that you may have worked on allows you to carry out further work at different banks more effectively.  This accumulation of expertise is something that people pick up throughout their career but equally people often underestimate how transferable this is.  For example knowing how a big bank works puts you in pretty good stead to know how almost any large business operates, they all have the same challenges around technology, operations, client engagement and management.

After Altus, I joined Redington to take up my current role.  I have two main jobs. The first is to ensure that our core consultancy becomes increasingly digitised in how we run our business, and also how we deliver our services to clients.  The second is to develop our ADA business which sells our core technology platform to other financial services institutions.  On a day to day basis this sees me managing a team of more than 50 people across multiple countries.  We now currently have more than 60 companies using our ADA software and it models more than half a billion pounds worth of assets. In order to do this role I have to rely on a combination of things I’ve already mentioned. In part it requires the expertise I’ve gathered from working with financial services businesses and understanding their technology and the challenges the industry faces.  It also requires a range of softer skills such as stakeholder management, the ability to communicate, the ability to present, and to understand complex strategic initiatives.

So that summarises my job today and how the gangly, long haired teenager got there.  This only really leaves me to provide some advice for others as they look forward to their careers.

“One of the big things employers look for in graduates, is the fact that they can learn and that they can demonstrate the application of that learning and securing a really solid grade is it great way of making sure that happens.”

Degrees don’t define your destination

If nothing else, please let me be an example to you that your course does not define who you are and the career that you will embark on.  I am also a fine example to show you that once you have taken on a job, it doesn’t mean that you are in that mould or in that profession for life.  Instead look at your degree as a foundation, a way of putting together essential and fundamental skills that are going to serve you well throughout your working life.

There is more to University than studying

It’s easy to singularly focus on your studies but so much of the experience that I took from University came from other activities; be it playing in a rock band, travelling and seeing new sights with different people, joining societies and meeting with like-minded people in a way that you just can’t do outside of University, these things are not merely social, they all add to the skill sets that you have.

But the studying does matter

While there is more to life than studying, it’s certainly worth putting in the hours.  When I go for a job now does anyone care whether I got a first or a 2:1?  No, probably not. Was having a first useful when I went for that first technology job?  Almost certainly.  One of the big things employers look for in graduates, is the fact that they can learn and that they can demonstrate the application of that learning and securing a really solid grade is it great way of making sure that happens.

Connect with Adam on LinkedIn

Get Ahead with Teach First

Maddy Graduated in 2020 from the University of Exeter in BA Theology and Religion. She’s currently on a placement with Teach First.

Maddy Graduated in 2020 from the University of Exeter in BA Theology and Religion. She’s currently on a placement with Teach First. 

I had been considering teaching prior to leaving school having first heard about Teach First when I was in Sixth Form. I was reminded about Teach First years later through a friend who had applied during her 2nd year. I thought it would be a good opportunity to get some graduate job interviews under my belt before 3rd year, so I applied in January 2019, and received my place in March 2019.

Teach First were supportive throughout my application process. The process was simple, and I heard back from Teach First within a fortnight of my application. The assessment centre, and general application process, gives applicants several opportunities to show their strengths. This meant for me, where I lacked in certain skills, I made up for in other aspects throughout the day.

“Tips for prospective applicants: show your ability to learn… reflect on challenges you have faced. Most of all, confidence is key, be assertive in stating your goals and achievements.”

Tips for prospective applicants: show your ability to learn. Teach First values a person’s reflection skills and ability to rebuild on experiences. You are encouraged to reflect on challenges you have faced, giving you an opportunity to show how you are able to solve problems and deal with difficult situations. Most of all, confidence is key, be assertive in stating your goals and achievements.

Unlike a PGCE qualification, I am in school from the very start which allows me to train on the job. Though the experience is intensive, you are able to learn quickly and develop faster than those on a university-based course. Simultaneously whilst you are in a school, you are completing a Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) part-time. The scheme can be challenging, but it provides trainees with a great opportunity to learn quickly.

Every day is different, despite being a cliché. A school environment, especially at a Teach First school is so vibrant. Being able to tackle challenges, both academically and pastorally everyday makes no school day the same as another.

“I felt I have been given an opportunity to develop in a supportive environment, encouraged to learn from mistakes, and grow from experience… I am becoming more confident every day and have developed brilliant working relationships with my colleagues.”

The Teach First Graduate scheme allows for continued professional development. Trainees attend the Summer Institute where they receive training for how to teach in some of Britain’s most deprived schools. We have continued CPD sessions throughout the year from placement schools and Teach First. I felt I have been given an opportunity to develop in a supportive environment, encouraged to learn from mistakes, and grow from experience. Personally, I am becoming more confident every day and have developed brilliant working relationships with my colleagues and have found my place in a new city.

I am in my first year of the scheme, ending in 2022. Afterwards, I am looking to focus my skills beyond teaching. I love the job, being part of those ‘light bulb moments’ is a special feeling. Teach First emphasises the importance of leadership and management skills in their trainees, and provide support for those who choose to leave teaching after they complete the programme. I have no secure plans yet for my career prospects after the 2-year programme – but I will use the wide-reaching Teach First network to support this transition.

“Teach First emphasises the importance of leadership and management skills in their trainees, and provide support for those who choose to leave teaching after they complete the programme.”

Live or Online learning has been challenging for many of society’s most vulnerable children. Seeing pupils on live lessons, being given that opportunity to interact with each other, though it’s behind a screen is a special thing to be a part of. All teachers strive to do the best by their pupils and it made me so happy to hear this very week that one of my live lessons on the Purpose of Suffering, was one of the best a pupil had had. She took the time to come and tell me that and have an interaction with me based of my lesson. That’s a special feeling, that even though the times we are teaching in are very challenging, teachers can still make an impact through their practice.

Applications for Teach First’s 2021 Training Programme close on Wednesday 7th April  Start your application today and receive 1-2-1 personalised support from the recruitment team.

If you have any questions get in touch with Catherine your dedicated Teach First recruiter at Exeter alternatively send her a message on LinkedIn.

Get Invaluable Insight with the Career Mentor Scheme

Sabine Hoadley, Exeter Graduate and current Clinical Exercise Specialist at CP+R

Sabine Hoadley Graduated from the University of Exeter in Medical Science, 2020. She is currently a Clinical Exercise Specialist at CP+R. She talks about how the Career Zone  helped her find her dream job, and how the Career Mentor Scheme was invaluable to her career insight. 

I heard about this career through the Career Zone! I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do, as Medical Science leaves many doors open for employment. After considering the idea of Medicine, I realised that I am not ready for this huge academic commitment at the moment, and perhaps it will be something to come back to in the future. Then I heard about the role as a Clinical Exercise Specialist at CP+R and it really stood out to me. We will deliver sustained, life-changing healthcare to CP+R athletes through monitored exercise sessions, nutritional guidance and lifestyle advice and support. I am very excited to start this role, and having met with the team via Zoom meetings and visited the workplace on Harley Street, I can’t wait to begin working with some of the athletes.

“I signed up for the Career Mentor Scheme whilst I was in Year 3 which was invaluable to my career insight… I would say take any opportunities that are given to you.”

I signed up for the Career Mentor Scheme whilst I was in Year 3 which was invaluable to my career insight. Chris Moody was an excellent mentor and gave me a lot of help with my CV and cover letters, as well as providing some really fantastic insight into his work life. Also doing my placement year at the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research, Brisbane, Australia was invaluable to my career – so I would say take any opportunities that are given to you.

Based on the preliminary work of my dissertation project, I was selected as one of four Final Year Exeter students who presented abstracts (online due to Covid-19) at “3D Printing, Advanced Robotics and Automation (3DPARA) in London, United Kingdom, 21st – 22nd May 2020”. My dissertation looked at the possible uses of 3D printing for application in the Medical Field. Under the excellent supervision of Mohammad Akrami and Reza Zamani, they have helped me to pursue this opportunity, and I was excited to present my project at this event.

“Not to be cliché but don’t be afraid of failure! I had applied to quite a few jobs before I got the one I was offered… but it just goes to show that the right thing comes around if you wait for it.”

Not to be cliché but don’t be afraid of failure! I had applied to quite a few jobs before I got the one I was offered… but it just goes to show that the right thing comes around if you wait for it. I also think that applications give you so much experience on how to deal with different situations as well as the opportunity to improve your interview technique and gain confidence with the sort of questions that they might ask.

I have been an active member of the surf club since first year at Exeter. The surf society is fantastic and has been the perfect way to meet friends, as well as go on a number of surf trips abroad, including to France, Portugal and Morocco. I have also been one of the founding members of Friends of the Earth at Exeter, and acted as Treasurer, responsible for sourcing grants for our group. As a group, we focussed on grassroots community action in Exeter, fighting for a better planet (local actions, global effects). We ran a sustainable cooking workshop back in March that tried to encourage people to incorporate seasonal and local produce into their cooking. I also took part in Fight Night this year, which I had always promised myself I would sign up to since first year. Being in my final year of Uni, this was a balance of extreme stress work wise with my dissertation, and training 4 times a week for Fight Night. Funnily enough I found that it was actually one of my favourite terms at Uni – it was the perfect opportunity to stress bust while working out on the punching bags!

Grafters Only – Getting into the Beauty Industry

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. 

Maddie Davies, Exeter Alumn and current Content Beauty Writer for 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.

Global Leader Experience – Mumbai

Jeeves Sidhu is a current BA Liberal Arts student at the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus. 

Jeeves Sidhu (second left) and other Exeter GLE students in Mumbai.

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.

Juhu Beach, Mumbai

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.

Insight Weeks Explained

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. 

Maxine Mukunga, BA Business and Management student, University of Exeter

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:

KPMG

Deloitte

PWC

EY

McKinsey