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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Maddie Davies graduated from the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, with BA English in 2018. She’s currently Content Beauty Writer for online beauty retailer Feelunique.
Upon graduating from Exeter I went on to travel around Sri Lanka for a month and returned home to begin job hunting. In August and September, I started an internship with London Evening Standard supporting the fashion and beauty team in the run-up and duration of London Fashion Week. During this fulfilling (unpaid) experience, I began applying for jobs that centralised around writing in the beauty industry, which is now one of the biggest industries in the UK. One day I applied for the role as a Beauty Writer for Feelunique; the next day, I was being asked to attend an interview the following week. A month later, I started my first job as a graduate at Feelunique based in Covent Garden.
“My part-time job throughout University was working as a make-up artist for brands such as Benefit Cosmetics and MAC. As an English student, it made sense to combine my love for beauty and my enthusiasm for writing.”
My part-time job throughout university was working as a make-up artist for brands such as Benefit Cosmetics and MAC. As an English student, it made sense to combine my love for beauty and my enthusiasm for writing. I love that I am working for one of the largest industries in the UK, an industry that is creative and constantly evolving. It’s the first major industry to take a positive step forward in animal cruelty and the reduction of plastic. It’s also an industry that welcomes all ages and genders. We are also capturing a new generation – one that is actually interested in what goes into their products, what it does for their skin and how it impacts the wider environment. I am constantly learning in this industry and I am forever excited by what’s to come.
I loved the campus – it felt like a little student bubble plonked right on top of the hill that couldn’t be burst. I loved that I could do my work somewhere different every day and not get bored of it (even if 60% of my dissertation was written in Queen’s Cafe drinking flat whites and eating pastries).
I choose to study at Exeter because of its tremendous reputation for teaching, particularly for English. The syllabus excited me from the moment I saw it on the first open day in June 2016 – I just knew that I was going to study there. With my home being South Wales, the hills and greenery of Exeter didn’t feel too far away from what I was used to. So, I think the idea of a home-away-from-home had a bit of a part to play in my decision making, too.
I’ve learned how to interact with PRs and how that industry works so well with the world of beauty. I’ve had the experience of interviewing major leaders in this field, such as Charlotte Tilbury, Huda Kattan and Trinny Woodall. Throughout my time as an intern I was fortunate enough to be published in Cosmopolitan, Red Magazine, and London Evening Standard Online.
“Email as many people as you can for work experience – for some of my internships I emailed every address I could find (a total of 48) and only one got back to me. From there it snowballed, so don’t be afraid to do the same.”
Get as much experience on your CV as possible; this industry seeks grafters, if they see you’ve been working unpaid, that shows them how much you want to succeed. I hope to go on to be a senior beauty writer and from there I’d be excited to see where the industry takes me.
Email as many people as you can for work experience – for some of my internships I emailed every address I could find (a total of 48) and only one got back to me. From there it snowballed, so don’t be afraid to do the same. Appreciate that you will have to do the rubbish jobs. Mine included picking up dry-cleaning, making tea and cleaning fruit. It doesn’t mean that they don’t like you, some like to see how much you’re willing to do – others are simply too busy to do it themselves. Make sure you’re on the pulse of newness in this field. Something new and exciting is always happening here and to show that you know that is a huge bonus.
Jeeves Sidhu is a current BA Liberal Arts student at the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus.
In November 2018, I had the fantastic opportunity to travel to Mumbai with 30 fellow University of Exeter students to take part in one of Common Purpose’s renowned Global Leader Experience (GLE). After an early rise and a 9-hour flight from London Heathrow, we arrived in sweltering hot Mumbai and endured a two-hour long customs queue before finally arriving at our wonderful hotel. Before the programme began, we had some free time to explore for a couple of days and get fully adjusted to the crazy new environment.
Common Purpose was founded by Julia Middleton in 1989 in order to deliver worldwide leadership development programmes, equipping individuals at various different levels with the skills to work across boundaries in an increasingly globalised world. This was a key aspect of our GLE when exploring the concept of ‘CQ’ – cultural intelligence. It was made clear to us at the beginning of our experience that CQ was a core skill that the team wanted us to develop, as in an increasingly global working environment, it is incredibly important to be able to work with colleagues from different cultural backgrounds.
“My ultimate career ambition is to secure a place on the Civil Service’s Diplomatic Fast Stream, so I have always been keen to build up as much international experience as possible, and the Mumbai Global Leaders Experience seemed like the ideal opportunity.”
Through a range of sessions with local business leaders, visits to multiple NGOs & corporations, and a range of engaging group sessions and activities – we worked towards the following challenge question: How can we make smart cities like Mumbai more inclusive? The week-long programme culminated in us being put into groups and bringing together what we had learned throughout the week towards a solution to the aforementioned question.
My group decided to put together a campaign called ‘Speak Up!’ which was designed to encourage citizens to talk about issues affecting them, in order to break the cultural taboos around a lot of different issues. We came to the conclusion that many conversations we have in the UK around a range of social issues, are simply not taking place in India due to cultural taboos around these issues. We decided that a campaign to encourage conversation around social issues would be the best way to make Mumbai are more inclusive city – contributing to our tagline “because conversation sparks change”. The challenge involved putting together a one-minute video promoting our solution.
Although ours did not emerge as the victorious project, we certainly learned a lot about India, and were really inspired by the changes sparked by many of the local NGOs and businesses. Our experience in Mumbai opened our eyes to an energetic and liberal youth slowly emerging in the country and beginning to take the reins of power, and I feel that this really symbolised the growing power and influence of India which itself is slowly emerging as a major player on the world stage.
Why did you apply?
My ultimate career ambition is to secure a place on the Civil Service’s Diplomatic Fast Stream, so I have always been keen to build up as much international experience as possible, and the Mumbai Global Leaders Experience seemed like the ideal opportunity! Furthermore, I had heard really positive feedback from other University of Exeter students who had taken part in previous GLE’s to Philadelphia, Budapest & Barcelona – so was really motivated to get a place on one myself. Furthermore, I felt really inspired by Common Purpose’s goal of bringing people together from different cultures in order to increase cultural intelligence levels, so was keen to build up a more global network through an experience like this.
What did you gain from it?
One of the most valuable experiences gained from my GLE in Mumbai was the opportunity to interact with local businesses and NGOs such as She Says India. She Says is a grassroots woman’s advocacy group that managed to fight for the removal of the tampon tax and are currently campaigning against the legality of marital rape – their achievements and mission really inspired me personally and revealed to me an activist and truly liberal side of India that I had never really expected or experienced before.
“I felt really inspired by Common Purpose’s goal of bringing people together from different cultures in order to increase cultural intelligence levels, so was keen to build up a more global network through an experience like this.”
Additionally, the fact that our project team working on ’Speak Up!’ was made up of a mixture of both British & Indian students meant that we had multiple perspectives on different issues, and it really taught me the value of surrounding yourself and working with people who do not necessarily agree with you or have the same background as yourself. Whether it was through interacting with my Indian colleagues or stumbling across an awe-inspiring religious festival on Juhu Beach, I was inundated with both challenging and fascinating aspects of Indian culture, unequivocally improving my CQ.
The final day of our trip coincided with an alumni event at the Taj Land’s End Hotel, which was attended by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter Sir Steve Smith, and he very kindly made some time available before this event to speak to me about the challenges Brexit might bring about for our University. After discussing Erasmus, the potential effects on Staff & Students from the EU27, as well as the potential opportunities that could be brought about, we headed down to the event and had the brilliant opportunity to network with a range of Exeter alumni based in India. The opportunity to interview the Vice Chancellor in India of all places was brilliant, insightful and undoubtedly one of my personal highlights of the trip.
How can you apply?
You can find information about the GLE programme and to sign up to the mailing list to receive regular updates here.
A special thanks goes to our chaperones, Bela Coelho-Knapp & the Career Zone’s very own Oli Laity, NMIMS University for hosting us at their wonderful institution, Dr James Smith for arranging my interview with the Vice Chancellor, and Lewis Davidson & The Outbound Team for organising this brilliant experience for us.
My name is Maxine and I’m a 3rd year Business and Management student at the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus. In April 2018 I participated in an insight week at KPMG on their ‘Women in Deal Advisory’ programme. This summer I completed a summer internship at KPMG in the same department and in 2020 I’ll be joining them as a graduate.
What are insight weeks?
Insight weeks, also called spring weeks, are short internships offered to early year university students so that they can learn more about a company. They are intended to give students an ‘insight’ into what a company does and what career options they offer. Despite the name, they vary in length depending on the company, with some being a full week and some only a couple of days. Insight weeks are often used by companies as recruitment channels for future internships and placements.
What time of year should students apply for them?
Applications open from as early as August up to around January but the exact dates do vary from company to company. On many company websites, there will be the option to sign up to be notified by e-mail when their applications open. Application deadlines also vary, with some even closing early.
Some people I know who applied to many spring weeks found it useful to create a spreadsheet with the opening and closing dates for all of the companies they intended on applying to, and the stages they were at with each application.
Most insight weeks will be for first year students if they’re doing a three year course or second year students if they’re doing a four year course. Some companies will accept penultimate year students, so it’s still worth doing your research if you’re a second year student on a three year course, or a third year student on a four year course.
Where did you find out about your insight week?
I wasn’t aware of insight weeks until I attended an employer event on campus where they talked about the one they ran. After the event, I did a Google search of other companies that did them. Google directed me to websites like e4s which list opportunities from many different companies, and also official recruitment pages on company websites. I was mainly interested in consulting so I looked at consulting and professional services companies.
When I first started looking, I planned on applying to management/strategy consulting but as I had (surprisingly) enjoyed the accounting module I had done in my first term, I decided to also apply to the KPMG Women in Deal Advisory insight week as a wild card. I applied for 4 insight programmes but decided that KPMG was the one I wanted.
What was the application process like?
The first stage of the application was completing a form with information about myself, work experience and education. The next stage was completing a situational judgement test and a numerical reasoning test. In preparation for these tests, I practised with ones I found online and through My Career Zone. After that, I was asked to record myself answering set questions related to why I was interested in deal advisory, and why I was interested in KPMG.
The final stage of the process was an invitation to their London offices where I had to complete a case study exercise on one of their laptops in a room with the other candidates. The case study involved reading through a booklet of information with written sections, graphs and tables, and financial statements about a company. After given time to read the case study, I then had to answer questions and make recommendations for the company based on the information provided. Spellcheck and autocorrect was disabled on the laptops during the case study exercise. I tend to type quickly and hope that spell check corrects me, so not having that safety net did make me a bit nervous. So, if you type like me, I would recommend getting comfortable with typing without autocorrect and spellcheck in case you encounter something similar!
Was it paid?
I was paid for the duration of the internship which was great. Luckily I was able to stay with family members which meant my costs weren’t too high anyway, but lots of companies understand not everyone is that fortunate which is why many insight weeks are paid. If you find one that isn’t paid but the travel/living costs would be affordable, I would recommend doing it as the experience is worthwhile.
What did you do during the week? Who did you meet?
During the week, we had presentations from various employees, from recent graduates to partners. They talked about their career paths and the projects they had worked on. Throughout the week, we were given group activities to do related to the roles available. One of them was working together to come up with a solution to a problem and then presenting our ideas to senior members of staff. We also got to shadow employees at various levels of the business.
The final day was an ‘assessment centre’ style session where – if successful – led to a summer internship offer. The first part of the assessment was a group exercise with several stages. The assessors swapped tables for each stage so we were judged by a different person at each stage. The second part of the assessment centre was an interview with a senior member of staff asking us more about our motivation for deal advisory, our career goals and also some competency questions. Having spent the week learning about the work employees did, the interview was much easier than others I’d had in the past as I had lots of information to draw on for my answers.
After the assessments, there was a networking drinks session with employees we had interacted with during the week and others. They were all happy to answer any questions we had and keen to find out more about us.
Was the insight week useful?
I found the internship to be very useful. As it was an area of business I hadn’t had much exposure to, I learnt a lot from hearing the experiences of current employees, getting to ask them questions and shadowing them. Getting to see what they did day to day made me feel less nervous about going into work after graduating as the tasks were not as complicated as I had imagined them to be.
Has it influenced your career choice?
The insight week led me to choose a completely new career path. I was set on going into management consulting before it but now I have accepted a graduate offer from KPMG in deal advisory. I am very glad I took a chance on something new and started thinking about my career early on.
Which professional services and consulting companies offer spring weeks in 2020?
To find out if a company offers insight weeks, head to their careers website. Here is a brief list of some of the most popular insight weeks:
When you look at a technology company like IBM, you might read about historical inventions such as the airline reservation system, barcode, or ATM machine. Looking more recently, you might see a lot of new technical terms. Blockchain, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, cyber security…the list goes on. It’s really easy to be intimidated by this, and to feel like working for a technology company isn’t for you. I certainly thought this when I was looking for placements at the beginning of my second year. But the more I researched, the more I realised this is only a small part of what a lot of technology companies do.
“Start building a professional network as early as you can. This can be as simple as chatting to technology company representatives at a careers fair. I’ve found that the majority of opportunities I’ve got outside of my day job have been by reaching out to people and speaking to them.”
IBM are involved with a range of clients and industries around the world – and that broad scope is what attracted me to working for an international company. From sport, to health, to finance, to retail, there is a range of industries that IBM work with. This means if you have a passion helping the public sector, want to make production more sustainable and efficient, or you want to help sports teams gain insights into their performance, you could do this in a technology company. I knew that I wanted to be involved in the public sector from taking Public Policy modules in my final year – I’ve been able to tailor my career path, and I am currently working in Healthcare and Life Sciences.
Whilst there are definitely roles that require specialist technical knowledge, for many roles, any degree background is welcome. I was unsure what skills I could transfer from social sciences. However, I quickly found that my research and critical thinking skills were in high demand – I was able to synthesise a lot of information quickly and think about alternative ways to tackle problems. In the group of graduates that I joined with, degrees varied from History, Languages and Politics, to Business, Psychology and Finance.
As for those technical terms? I took advantage of the free education available to me, and within a few weeks learnt enough that I can talk about what really interests me. I’m now looking at pursuing IT architecture, where my non-technical background is a strength due to the different ways that I will problem solve, and I can learn the practical details along the way. Not bad for a ‘non-technical’ person.
“Being well-informed is the best way to ensure that you pick a path that makes sense for you. Don’t be afraid to explore your options and reach out to different people. Everyone’s career path into technology is different – you just might discover your dream job in the process.”
I started a separate Twitter account where I followed technology companies, key people within those companies, as well as industry experts. LinkedIn is another great way to build your professional connections and industry knowledge. I’ve found both are a really easy way to keep up to date with what people in the industry are saying, as well as being exposed to different opinions and viewpoints beyond ‘factual’ news. This can help with interviews also, as you can draw on those soundbites and stand out from other candidates.
Start building a network now
Start building a professional network as early as you can. This can be as simple as chatting to technology company representatives at a careers fair. I’ve found that the majority of opportunities I’ve got outside of my day job have been by reaching out to people and speaking to them. Sometimes this is people I’ve worked with before, and sometimes this is with new people. Just remember, if you contact someone, always have a purpose in mind, and an action that you want to achieve as a result of the meeting or phone call. This will make sure you keep the meeting focused, and that it’s productive for everyone.
Use university resources
Use the Career Zone! It’s a great place to get career information, or to connect with alumni. Having a mentor can be beneficial for your personal and professional development, and worth considering if you want to learn from those on the ground in the technology industry. Being well-informed is the best way to ensure that you pick a path that makes sense for you. Don’t be afraid to explore your options and reach out to different people. Everyone’s career path into technology is different – you just might discover your dream job in the process.
Bethan Watson is a third year BA English mature student on the Streatham Campus, currently pursuing graduate schemes in the UK and graduate opportunities in Australia.
University is already tough – a careful balancing act between part-time work, societies and additional responsibilities; all on top of your degree. Just when you think you’re catching a break, final year rolls around, bringing with it the stress of securing graduate employment.
We’re told we need an internship to impress graduate employers, but they’re also an opportunity to help students at every stage of their university career. They help you narrow your options; they also help you practice skills in a formal workplace setting. At their best, internships function to alleviate rather than intensify the stress of graduation.
The journey is arguably as important as the internship itself. In my experience, securing any work placement requires discipline, engagement and commitment. It’s not a question of intelligence or connections, as long as you’re determined to “make your own luck.”
Beyond traditional routes offered by public sector routes or multi-national private sector employers, which follow a linear path of application form, aptitude tests, interview and then assessment centres, there are plenty of options available.
In an effort to explore every sector that interested me and develop a practical understanding of the career routes I would be entering – beyond the glossy marketing material – I threw myself into every opportunity. I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up and as a first year, my interests were more inklings than fleshed-out plans. For example, I was interested in a media career (I had always liked the idea of working for Sky News), the public sector (I’d heard other students talking about the Civil Service Fast Stream), and business and technology-focused careers (I’d listened to a lot of tech podcasts). I used my next three years at university making sure I’d thoroughly explored my options, and internships were my vehicle to do so.
The journey is arguably as important as the internship itself. In my experience, securing any work placement requires discipline, engagement and commitment. It’s not a question of intelligence or connections, as long as you’re determined to “make your own luck.”
Firstly, I spent some time researching the schemes offered by the Career Zone. Access to Internships allows students to create their own fully-funded internships. Pathways would give me a one-week paid internship in several different sectors, depending on the stream I chose. The Career Mentor scheme would allow me to build a professional relationship with an industry professional. These were the schemes that interested me the most, so I set myself the goal that I would engage with each at least once in my university career.
The career pathways I decided upon pursuing in my third year were a direct result of the experience I gained over my internships; both positive and negative. I want to discuss my journey towards securing internships, and then how these internships shaped my future career decisions.
My first interest was in television. Paid media opportunities are difficult to secure, with a focus on practical work experience. I started with nothing. To further this interest, in my first year I became involved in XTV, a media society at Exeter University. I was elected to committee position in my second year, as Alumni Coordinator. I scheduled events and talks with alumni who were successful in the industry. I found an alumna on LinkedIn who interested me. I organised an event for her to speak about her career to our society members and I expressed a genuine interest in her work. She kindly introduced me to the recruitment team at her company at my request – Alpha Grid, a media company affiliated with the Financial Times. Due to the company’s size (250 employees or less), I was able to arrange a fully sponsored internship over the Easter holidays through the university, where the university reimbursed the company for my wages. I was also able to secure a travel grant of £250 of Widening Participation funding which paid for my living costs whilst in London. I stayed with a friend at her apartment in North London for the duration of the internship.
Secondly, I wanted to experience working in a multi-national company with a formal graduate entry route. I researched companies extensively in my first year and found that the values and strategy of Aviva aligned with my own, and loved the global structure of their graduate scheme. Whilst I knew nothing about insurance (why would I, as a first year?), I was attracted to how the company portrayed themselves across their social media platforms. I read their news bulletins, posts, blogs and read their annual reports. They were firmly in my mind as a potential graduate option.
A 10-week internship in London was an unattainable option for me; as a student from a low socio-economic background, I would struggle to cover living and accommodation costs.
Each internship gave me a different perspective on the industry I was interested in applying for. It was only by being in those work environments that I was able to develop a sense of the progression opportunities, the day-to-day work and the company culture.
With this in the back of my mind, I started attending Career Zone networking events. Everything from visiting speakers in law and finance to interview and leadership skills workshops. I eventually met a second year student when I was in first year, who belonged to a social mobility charity called UpReach. She encouraged me to join. As well as many professional development events and workshops, UpReach offered an internship opportunity with Aviva, which was 6 weeks long with fully covered travel expenses. I completed a multi-step interview process and was accepted onto the scheme, which enabled me to afford to do the internship. Even for students who don’t qualify for these charities, there are other organisations that run similar partnered internships, such as Wiser Academy.
I had inklings about career routes I might be interested in, but wasn’t sure if they were for me yet. For example, I flirted with law briefly as an option and attended a Women In Lawsociety event about in-house legal services. I met an individual who worked for Plymouth County Council’s legal team. She invited the students attending the event to contact her about organising a one week work experience placement. I recognised this as a unique and unconventional law experience opportunity, and whilst it was not a paid placement, there were opportunities for graduate employment with postgraduate study accreditation. I had always been interested in law, but hadn’t thought about this kind of route previously. Whilst I did not pursue this opportunity, I know that students who did felt it was well worth it.
My third potential option was heritage sector work. The Career Zone offered a scheme called Pathways to Arts, Culture and Heritage, which gave students a week of training and a week’s paid internship. I applied for the scheme at the end of my first year and was successful; the process included an assessment centre-like group workshop interview, which was great practice for future applications. I networked with the professional speakers during Pathway’s training week; I added a heritage consultant on LinkedIn whose was in the middle of creating her own start-up and I expressed an interest in her work. I then completed a week’s paid internship at the Eden Project.
Equally, internships do provide a genuine opportunity to develop soft skills. These are the skills that are difficult to quantify – networking, resilience, leadership, collaboration and communication skills.
From working in the sector and speaking with professionals and learning about their careers, I realised that I didn’t want to pursue heritage. However, I spoke to the coordinator of the Pathways scheme and expressed my interest in a graduate employer who I also could’ve applied to work for on the internship. The company I asked about was a television production company, Two Four, owned by Channel 4. The coordinator kindly helped me organise work experience, and, upon its successful completion, I approached the company and proposed an Access to Internship-sponsored placement over the summer of my second year. Their recruitment team accepted my proposal, but funding had unfortunately elapsed at that point.
Each internship gave me a different perspective on the industry I was interested in applying for. It was only by being in those work environments that I was able to develop a sense of the progression opportunities, the day-to-day work and the company culture. My options narrowed organically. I realised that I wanted to work for a large company after graduation because of the investment in training new graduates, for example, and that if I were to work in television, I would want to work for a large public broadcaster and outside of the London area. I really enjoyed my placement at Aviva, so that has compelled me to apply for their graduate scheme and I will apply with a strong understanding of their expectations. It’s difficult to get a sense of your preferences until they are tested.
I was intimidated by the concept of internships and graduate employment, but I approached it methodically and was honest with myself about what I wanted, what I liked, what I was good at. There’s something for everyone after graduation, and internships are the ideal opportunity to find what works for you.
Equally, internships do provide a genuine opportunity to develop soft skills. These are the skills that are difficult to quantify – networking, resilience, leadership, collaboration and communication skills. They make sense when practically applied, and are all key to securing any form of employment. When I “networked” to get my internship at the Financial Times, I was genuine in my interest in the individual and her work whose connection helped me secure that placement. I was resilient when I realised I could never afford a 10-week internship and dedicated myself to finding alternatives. Leadership, collaboration and communication skills were all demanded of me when I: gained a committee position in XTV and organised and hosted events: attended employability events and became aware of UpReach: asked the Pathways coordinator to introduce me to the television production company: proposed to use Access to Internships to undertake an internship after my work experience. These situations developed my confidence and give real world examples of where I practiced the competencies that employers are looking for. Beyond employability, they made me more independent and capable as a person.
It is only a minority who come to university with a strong idea of where they want to be at the end of three years. I was intimidated by the concept of internships and graduate employment, but I approached it methodically and was honest with myself about what I wanted, what I liked, what I was good at. There’s something for everyone after graduation, and internships are the ideal opportunity to find what works for you. I would encourage everyone to look beyond what is advertised to you and pursue opportunities – even if you have to make them yourself – that you are genuinely interested in before dedicating yourself to a career pathway.
Matthew Robinson graduated from the University of Exeter in 2014 with a First in History. He’s currently a Comms Consultant for digital PR agency TopLine Comms and its sister agency TopLine Film.
When I left university, I wasn’t totally convinced about what I wanted to do. Upon graduating, I lived in Japan for three months, which gave me some time to reflect on potential career options. I like to write, learn about different industries and cultures, and have been told that I’m a strategic thinker.
I quickly found myself working in PR and digital marketing and have found it to be an incredible learning experience. I’ve been exposed to the way different businesses work, have been taught how to successfully promote a brand, and have been supported to quickly take on significant levels of responsibility.
I would recommend that anyone who isn’t quite sure about what they want to do to consider working at a digital agency, simply because of the variety of different tasks and projects you’re given the chance to work on.
If you’re thinking about a career in PR and marketing, here’s some (hopefully) useful advice.
“Provided you don’t delete the entirety of your agency’s Google Drive or say something inappropriate to a client, trying things is the best way to learn.”
Go for smaller agencies
For all of the obvious reasons, the digital industry is growing in size and scope, so you’ll have lots of choice when it comes to roles to apply for. You could go in-house at a brand, or work at an agency. Both have their benefits, but agencies are typically the best place to start for newcomers because there are clearer career development opportunities. Bigger agencies can be tempting – they sometimes offer programmes, really good benefits packages and tend to draw people in with big name clients. And that’s fair enough – working with Spotify does sound cool.
But don’t systematically decide not to apply for smaller agencies. They’re great for career building, learning and taking on responsibility. Smaller teams mean there is nowhere to hide, and you’ll be thrown in at the deep end right from the start. It sounds daunting, but you’ll learn a lot and you’ll learn it quickly.
Likewise, don’t shy away from or dismiss entry level positions. A foot in the door is a great thing and if you do a good job, you can build a strong foundation for the future. I started as an assistant and within a year I was running client calls with CEOs. Within another couple I was building their communications strategies and even interviewing new hires.
Don’t try and specialise too soon
Careers are long, and unless AI takes over and we all start living lives of leisure, we’re going to be working for a long time. Get as much experience as you can right at the start, so that you have a choice of what to do a bit further on. Having varied experience will set you in good stead for the future – employers are unlikely to turn down a candidate who has had a lot of experience.
In addition, as PR becomes more digitally-focused, it has significantly overlapped with marketing disciplines like SEO and social media. So, taking a broader view of developing your digital skillset is a smart option early on in your career – you can always specialise later.
“Get involved in meetings and ask questions. Whenever we hire a graduate who asks what the jargon means or gives an opinion, it’s valued and respected.”
Try to get some experience before you graduate
A couple of weeks at a PR or marketing agency will give you a taste of working in that kind of environment. During a short internship you’ll probably get a chance to dip into some fundamentals of the profession: pitching, copywriting, reporting, client relations, and more. I chose to do a short internship before settling down in a permanent role, so I got a feel for what I could be doing permanently.
In addition, don’t discount the value of service industry jobs. I worked in a supermarket and made a point of mentioning it on my CV. And in fact, it put me in better stead when interviewing because it showed that I had a strong work ethic. It also showed I had customer-facing experience – demonstrating an instinct for dealing with people (sometimes in tricky situations) is invaluable in agency life.
It’s OK to make mistakes
When you do get your first job, try and be confident, get involved in meetings and ask questions. It took me a while to grow in confidence when I got my first job – but whenever we hire a graduate who asks what the jargon means or gives an opinion, it’s valued and respected. Try to get involved and don’t be too afraid of making a mistake.
Provided you don’t delete the entirety of your agency’s Google Drive or say something inappropriate to a client, trying things is the best way to learn.
It’s hard to get to grips with PR and marketing before actually entering the industry, but you can definitely start reading trade magazines and blogs to get a better idea of it. If you’re interested, give our blog a read, or check out PR Week, Marketing Week, The Drum, Campaign and Search Engine Land. We’ve also put together a PR Masterclass specifically for beginners and graduates. It’ll help you get acquainted with everything from creating newsworthy stories to planning and running entire campaigns.
Take it from me – working for a creative agency, whether it specialises in PR, marketing, advertising, video production, or a combination thereof, is a great way to start your career. You’ll learn a lot, meet great people and learn management and communication skills that apply to other types of jobs (if you change your mind further down the road). Go with your gut and get applying for jobs – good luck!