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advice Enterprise SU Gradfest2021 Start Ups

‘Finding the confidence to launch my own business’

Francesca Morelli, International Business with French graduate on pursuing her start-up dream. 

Francesca Morelli

Business in the blood

I loved my degree. I was one of those people that was just so interested in what I was studying. I come from a family business background, my family owned an ice cream business on the north coast of Northern Ireland. I’ve worked in my family business most of my life, so I already I always had an interest in business. But as well as with my Italian background, I kind of loved thinking about business in a more international context. So really, this was the perfect degree. 

International experience

For me, I love travelling, I love languages. But then, as well, I was really keen to enter into the business world like, like my family have done since 1911. What I really loved about the degree was the placement aspect in the third year. So that was a compulsory element to my degree, we had to go to a foreign country to a French speaking country, to undertake a placement. So in 2017-18, I find myself in Paris working in a startup studio. So a startup studio is a fairly new model. It’s essentially where there’s kind of one founder or funder, really, he partnered up with some early stage entrepreneurs, to develop their businesses from the ground up. 

First taste of the start-up scene

[In the start-up studio] they pull resources, which is great. So it meant that not only did I have the chance to work in one start-up, but I had the chance to work in a few start-ups, and that we were in the one office together, we shared knowledge. We all worked together nearly as part of the one company even though we were all working on little separate companies. I just loved the whole start-up aspect I was started working on one of the start-ups when their platform had just under 2000 followers. And by the time I left at the end of that year, the platform had grown to over 10,000 followers, I was starting to generate some revenue. So for me in the very kind of traditional sense of business, I was very used to you know, you give me £1.50 for a scone, and it cost me 50p to make it and I make my profit. And this is very different model where a lot of them were building for acquisition. So I got very used to ‘Okay, we’re working every day towards an end goal, we might not make money straight away.’ But that’s kind of start-up life. And I really fell in love with the whole thing. The fact that these people around me were so passionate, they were so dedicated to a common goal, knowing that maybe years down the line, they would sell out to a big platform or a big company and make loads of money. It might have taken them years to see that. But it was in everybody’s minds. I think I just really fell in love with it, with the passion of everyone I was working with. 

Entrepreneurship at Queen’s

I came back to Queens in the middle of 2018 to finish off my degree. I was contacted by a start-up founder in Belfast to come on board his team after he had seen what I’d done in France.I had been on his LinkedIn network for a while. We started working together on a tech start-up in Belfast. And my final year ended up being completely crazy. I was a director in this start-up. I was doing pitching competitions. I was going for funding. I was starting to ask business people to you know, become involved in what we were doing. And that really gave me amazing experience. And in my final year of uni, I also got involved with everything.

There are so many amazing opportunities out there that disappear once you’ve graduated. So really do try and get involved in stuff. The things that I was interested in were the likes of QUB Dragon, Innovate Her, these are run by Enterprise SU and the Students Union. If you’re interested in business, if you’re interested in start-ups, do go on to Enterprise SU’s website and see what all they’re up to where they’re on social media as well on Instagram and Twitter, and they’re always running great things. So do go and have a look. But I got involved in those programmes, which, you know, come out of it with Degree Plus as well which was fab.

Giving back to the start-up community

Enterprise SU gave me amazing support. After final year, I’d spent so much time with the Enterprise SU team that helped me so much. And I’ve done some so many of their programmes that I actually then applied for a job in their department. And I, this was really good timing for me, because while I was working on the start-up, while I was trying to build this early stage business, I was able to work with a team at Queen’s and kind of advise those students coming behind me so they can learn from my mistakes.

So two years later, I’m actually still at Enterprise SU. And I continue to support and advise students, start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Spotting a gap in the market

I now own completely my own business called VAVA Influence. We are Northern Ireland’s first dedicated influencer marketing agency. I decided that there was a great opportunity there for the event marketing agency, and I took a step back from the tech start-up. It means that it’s okay to try new things. And there was an opportunity there a gap in the market and myself and my business partner, Chloe really jumped at the chance. So I mean, it’s working okay, for me right now, our influencer marketing agency is doing really well.

It’s doing well we’ve built a client base. And we’re still growing. We’re still learning every day. But I wouldn’t had that had I not just throw myself in. I took advice and support from everybody. I got all the free advice go in. I talked to everybody that would talk to me. And it really is working out for me now. And we’re hoping that it will grow and grow into the future. So if you do want to start your own business, if it’s something you are thinking about if you want to get further support, advice, do get in touch with us at enterprise SU and we will be able to signpost you

Leveraging your network

Since graduating in 2019, I’ve had some amazing experiences. I would not have the network I have no I had it not been for LinkedIn. Some people cringe at the very idea.

But if you can at try and work up the courage to get on LinkedIn, to start posting, you don’t have to pretend to be this whole other persona. Be yourself on LinkedIn post about what interests you. Post about what you might like to explore, do some reading, connect with people that you think are relevant in the industry, you might want to go in to connect with people you admire, read and learn, LinkedIn is brilliant. And I really would encourage anyone studying at the minute or anyone who has just graduated to get on it and start building up that network. It can be a scary thing to do. But it doesn’t have to be you know, just try and take it in your stride and, and start putting yourself out there. 

Don’t be scared to reach out and talk to people ask for help. Even more so now I think after COVID people are really willing to support graduates to support students and give advice, you know, you’re not being cheeky asking for it. And if there’s somebody you admire, or somebody you’d like to ask for advice, do send that message, you will find it really worth it.

Keeping the faith

There is a lot of pressure [on graduates]. It can be difficult that I’m no stranger to that. So what I would say is that if you do find yourself in that position, don’t lose heart, everybody is in the same situation right now. And what I were trying to say is, you know, look online at stuff you can do to improve your skills, there are so many free courses and things you can take online at the minute that will improve your CV at the will improve your skillset. There’s, you know, Google digital garage, there are so many courses online now that you can take for free, that are going to improve your skill set and your CV as you go out and look for opportunities.

The more you do and the more you get involved with the more appealing you’re going to look to an employer.

Got an idea for your own business? You can contact Francesca at Enterprise SU and check out theEnterprise SU website

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“It’s better to compromise than to lose”

Viktorija Mikalauskaite, a Senior Associate in the Legal Department at FinTrU on the skills you need to be a future leader including the art of influencing, persuading and teamwork. 

Viktorija Mikalauskaite

Could you just tell us a bit about influencing skills, what are they and you know, what do they involve?

So um, influencing skills, you know, they are skills that you use to persuade someone that your idea is better than someone else’s idea that your suggested terms or make better sense and persuade someone to change their ways of thinking of but without forcing them to do so. But at the same time, respecting opinions of others and compromising or mutual agreement cannot be found, and it’s better to compromise than lose. What I like to say it is a combination of communication and persuasion and negotiation, but it also involves confidence which is an extremely important factor. And if either one of those elements are missing, then you will not be able to influence effectively, you need to be able to communicate productively, it needs to be changing your communication style, depending on personality or profession of a person that you’re communicating with or trying to influence. So whether it’s your employer, or a colleague or a client, the communication style will be different now. And an influencing it’s also about, you know, convincing someone to get on board and to gain that approval support from your team or employer on your suggested ideas. So ultimately, what you’re looking for from influencing someone is their backup. And, as I mentioned, before, communication and persuasion and negotiation, they all work hand in hand with confidence, you need to believe in yourself, you need to believe in your skills, you need to believe in your ability and your ability to influence and persuade. And, you know, that comes with time and practice and experience.

Is there anything else that you’d watch out on that, and any other techniques that we produce? 

I mean, there are several techniques that that, you know, graduates can use in the workplace, when it comes to influencing. The first one that comes into my mind is, you know, know your audience, know the people you work with, or the people you work for. So, you know, all of you who joined today, at some stage, you will be working with people that have different personalities, different level of experience, different needs, different roles, get to know them, don’t be afraid to flex your communication style, as I said, previously, when dealing with people from or, or employees from different backgrounds. Identify who you will be reporting to, and how much influence they have on the decision that company or team makes, you know, and, and really, you know, invest the time and getting to know people that you’re trying to influence and build those relationships, you know, you need to build the relationship to show how ambitious you are, and, you know, and to, to build your own personal brand that will distinguish you from the others. And, you know, if you show that you’re ambitious, that you can, then then you get noticed, people will remember you. And another technique, you know, build trust, which is also linked to know your audience. So, generally, people like to be a nurturing environment to know, but those who listen and show compassion and concern, that’s how you become trustworthy, you know, when you show that care and support to someone, you know, build upon that trust and build on the trust with your employer, by delivering work on time meeting deadlines, you know, go over, going over and above what’s expected from you, and, you know, volunteer to take extra workload if your capacity allows. And I suppose another one is, demonstrate your credibility, you know, you want to, you want to establish your reputation and prove that you’re reliable. And you know, by showing that you’re credible to your claim that you’re working with, or your employer or your client, you know, that helps to persuade them to agree with what you’re saying. And that can be achieved by, you know, being one of the strongest performers or top performers. And showing constant improvement and your quality of work and working well under pressure and, and even being accountable for your own mistakes. You know, if you made a mistake, raise your hand. Admit it, you know, don’t hide it. Don’t. Don’t defend it. Don’t blame it on someone else. Yeah, I mean, that will show that you have that sense of responsibility and credibility.

So what kind of skills do you need to put together to provide like a good case study in person or even in writing?

Well, you need to research you need to prepare, and you need to practice and, you know, communicate in a concise and clear manner. And whether it’s on paper or in person. And it’s important that your audience understands what you’re trying to say. And that you put your point across effectively. And, you know, you need to, if you if you’re presenting your case in person, think about your tone, you know, assess your audience to tailor your tone. So whether it’s a formal tone that should be using or more casual, but always remain professional. And that’s, that’s extremely important. And no, you’re topping inside out, you know, you don’t want to get stuck, especially the asked questions, and just spent about, you know, what is the purpose of that case? What is the goal here? And what do you want people to take away from that case?

Communication is extremely important. And being able to communicate effectively is essential for business. And it’s a foundation of influencing skills that I have touched on previously. And it’s also the basis for leadership and teamwork. And so it’s, you know, when you think about, you know, by communicating effectively, what that means is, you know, thinking about the content of what you’re going to say, or the content of a speech or presentation that you’re going to deliver, you know, sometimes less is more. And you know, how you present yourself when communicating, being able to answer the questions, as well as, ask good questions. You know, that’s, that’s a skill in itself. And, you know, when we talk about appealing to the head and to the heart, that for me goes back, you know, to know your audience. And if you know, your audience, and you can assess, then you can tailor your communication style, and you can tailor your tone. But you can also tailor the content of what you’re going to say as well.

What are some of the interview questions that kind of assess your influence and skills and your persuasiveness?

If an employer wants to assess your influencing skills of persuasiveness, they will most likely ask you a scenario based question. Okay. They would start with, give me an example of or tell me about that something or how you would approach certain situation. So, you know, an example can be, you know, you might be asked, tell me about the time you had to communicate effectively? Well, tell me about the time you had to change your communication style for different audience. So here, think about, maybe you delivered a presentation as part of the coursework that received the great feedback, or maybe you handled a social media account or, you know, for university or social. Yeah, that received lots of followers and became very popular, both very good examples to use, and, you know, for graduates. And you might be asked, you know, tell me about the time you worked with a difficult person. And, you know, here an employer would want to know if you have communication skills, you know, did you flex your style? What tone did you use when you talk with a difficult person? And, you know, did you confront that person over his or her behaviour? Another question you might be asked is, you know, tell me about the time, you know, you have persuaded someone to do something that, that, that they didn’t want to do. If you and that you both, you know, think about it being a part time job, and you convince your colleague to stay in the company, even though he or she received another job offer, you know, or maybe you don’t have a job, you know, if you, perhaps you convinced a person in your class, to join a charity event or similar initiative by university? Also, you know, a very good example to use for that question. And another question that, that is, a great question to ask is, tell me about the time you had an argument or disagreement with your teammate? So, this is a great question to ask by employers, because what they will be looking from your answer is that you have communication skills, that you work in a team. And, also, if you have problem solving skills, because, you know, if you had an argument, they’ll need to know how that ended as well.

What are ways that we could develop our skills then?

I mean, there are, there are the best way to develop and influencing skills or getting involved in various group activities, project work, or find a part time job that both involves client facing or customer facing. You need to get involved in the in the group activity because, you know, you, you could you can’t influence someone, if you’re not a part of the team, you know, at the same time, you can, you have a great insight in how others lead in the team, or you know, or what sort of ideas they have, you know, or ways that they use to influence someone and in the team that you pour it off. And, I mean, public speaking is a great way to develop influencing skills, you know, it will improve your confidence, it will improve your communication skills, and it will also help, you know, ways of different ways of interacting with audience Yes. Also, in university debates, I don’t know if you still have them in Queens, but university that is, is a great way to also develop influencing skills. And, you know, you don’t need to participate if you don’t want to, but simply by, you know, by watching the debate, you can have great insight. You know, as I mentioned previously, watching how others lead and how others communicate with the audience.

How do we develop then leadership potential? And how do recruiters assess leadership potential?

It’s a good question. And, you know, some people are natural leaders. But everyone can develop a necessary skill set. To become a leader, a great way to develop leadership potential is by taking on more responsibility. So volunteering to take an extra workload at work, if your capacity allows, but not taking any more than you can handle. And you need to go over and above than what’s described in your job description if you want to grow and progress. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Yes, and honestly, this is one of the best ways to learn something new. And it will certainly help to develop your personal brand and get noticed by people. And, you know, seek opportunities that allow you to develop leadership potential. Yeah, keep on top of university updates, to see if there are any project work going on, that you can take part in. So for example, maybe you can be a mentor, or maybe you know, you can get involved in the induction week, welcoming new students, or even coaching a sports team, you know, and equally important, and, you know, offer your encouragement and your guidance to people that you coach or people you work with, or even students in your class because leadership can be practised anywhere, as long as you keep learning.

Could you name a couple of leadership skills and qualities? 

These are so consistent, so many skills or qualities, you know, and the list goes on and on and on. But and some of them are you know, they should, you know you need to be ambitious, that’s your goal and focus on problem solving and organisation need to be organised, and keep the track and track the progress of work. And make sure to communicate that beats with the team, company client or to one another one is delegation. It’s very important, you know, you can’t do everything yourself, you need to learn how to delegate. You don’t delegate you for you to bring yourself up, but you delegate, you know, facilitate the workflow and help others in the team to grow and progress by allocating them the responsibility and showing that trust time management. Be aware of the deadlines. And always think how can I improve turnaround times, and learn prioritise. And once you once you learn how to prioritise, then you prioritise appropriately. 

How would you persuade someone who doesn’t seem interested in a project to get involved with the team?

And well, I mean, you need to first of all, and that’s a very good question. But I think I touched on this a little bit as well. Whatever I talked about, know your audience. So you know, if someone is reluctant to join the project team, then you encourage them to do so. You know, if you know that person and what they’re looking for their goals and why they’re not interested in the project. Try to find Is there something in the project that you can you can use to encourage them to join. So for example, maybe the project, create some opportunities that later can lead to better things or promotion or a payrise. You know, and you need to know once. First of all you need to know the project, what is the project, what the project entails? What are the skills that you can gain while I’m working on that project. And then knowing what the person is looking for, if he say no to that opportunity, while he or she is saying no, you know, what, what, what different? You know, what are they looking for exactly? And then, and then just find them, just find, you know, something that attracts them. So find something that would say, oh, by the way, you know, these are the skills that you will learn in the project. And by the way, do you know, did you know that, you know, people do well, then they get promoted to certain level or they moved to Fairfax?

So how do you strike a balance between influencing and forcing your opinion? 

Yeah, it is a good one. And so yes, as I said, influencing is persuading or convincing someone to do something, but without forcing them to do. Compromise was what you mentioned was not, yeah, so there’s a fine line, you know, you have to, you know, at some stage, you won’t be able to convince someone, or you won’t be able to persuade someone, but you have to find a compromise. And so rather than walking away from it, you’ll have to find a compromise. But I think there is a fine balance between forcing people to do something, rather than influencing. And it’s always thing professional, you know, and using the skills that that I mentioned today, earlier today, to, you know, speak professional, knowing your tone, knowing what tone do you use, you know, again, if you speak with your colleague, and the and your employer, you’ll use a different sort of tone. So you know, it’d be forcing someone your opinion, then your tone will change, if you’re trying to influence someone with the opinion with the communication style that suits a person. And then that’s not forcing, that’s talking. That’s a discussion that that leads to convincing or persuasion. So it’s the tone and assess the person who you’re talking with. And, and if you’re stuck, then try to see if there is a middle ground or a compromise that you can both come up with.

Interested in working for FinTrU? Rewatch our recent @QUBCareers Instagram Live sessions featuring FinTrU and browse their current opportunities on theGradfest2021 site.

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“The secret for a happy working life is just say yes to every opportunity. “

Chloe McKee, a COVID-19 laboratory manager at Randox, shares her advice for graduates.

Chloe McKee
Chloe McKee, Randox laboratory manager

What advice would you give to students graduating who haven’t yet secured a job?

My advice would be just keep searching. If you want something hard enough, it will come to you in the end, so don’t give up hope. You may go for the first job interview and it may not work out. Even the second or maybe the third might not. But if the first, second or third hasn’t worked, there is still going to be one down the line that is going to be right for you. So, just don’t give up hope and keep going.

How could a new graduate without a graduate role gain valuable work or other experience in the current environment?

The current environment is obviously a lot more difficult than previous years due to the pandemic. But my advice for new students graduating would be to look out everywhere for new experiences; there are going to be some out there for you. Any experience is better than no experience. Even if it’s a few hours volunteering. That’s going to make you stand apart from other students that don’t have the experience. Any experience is better than no experience.

What skills does your organisation expect of graduates and how can University leavers develop these while job searching?

Randox Laboratories has a strong emphasis on practical best skills, and especially within our COVID testing labs at the minute, because we are getting a lot of new graduates. So, in university just make the most of your practical classes by asking questions and learning new techniques. Don’t just go along with the flow, make sure you actually know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Randox is looking for someone who is really keen, willing to learn and wants to actually go far and wants to develop their career.

What is the best bit of advice you would give a graduate starting a new role?

The best bit of advice I could give is just to give your all. As a new graduate you have the advantage of being young and eager and ready for work. And this is really your time to shine. So, just really throw yourself into any job or any task you’re given. This will mean you will get the best experience possible out of the job.

What skills may students have developed in the past year? And how can they apply these in a work environment?

The past year has been challenging for us all, obviously, because of the pandemic. But that doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Having to work from home as a student has given people real adaptability to their work and we see that they’re coping better with change. This has given them a real resilience and eagerness to work, because they’re excited to get out into the environment, to come out and meet new people and learn new skills.

Why does the positive attitude in the workplace matter?

A positive attitude in the workplace is half the battle – if you have a positive attitude and are ready to learn, you’re going to go far. You’re not going to have all the skills that they are looking for initially, but those skills can be built up If you have a positive attitude and are ready and eager to learn.

How important is confidence? And what advice would you give to increase your confidence of work?

Confidence is key. Ultimately, you have finished your degree so you know that you specialise in your subject, trust the knowledge you have. Don’t forget that once you enter a job, and there’s always room for more learning. Take training courses, ask questions, ask your manager what you can do. There’s never room to stop learning.

To what extent is it okay to admit you don’t know something when starting a job?

My advice would be to always be honest: if you don’t know something, that’s okay. Ask your colleagues for help. It’s better to ask for help and then do a great job and not ask for help and struggle. All your colleagues have had a first day as well, so, everyone in that job has been in the same position as you. So don’t be worried about asking for help. It’s better to ask for help than not.

In a recent poll of our students, 80% said job satisfaction is more important than financial security. How can our graduates find job satisfaction, and what is the secret to a happy working life?

I would agree that job satisfaction is more important than the money. For me, job satisfaction comes from doing something that you’re interested in, that’s going to satisfy you and to do what you love each day. And secondly, working with a good team in a good company. If you enjoy going to work and seeing your colleagues every day, it makes your job so much easier. The secret to me for a happy working life is just say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t shut yourself off to anything, you never know what one training course or what one trip away with your work can do. It’s all about who you meet and who you know in that sector.

What do you love about your job?

I love a lot of things about my job and my colleagues would definitely be a big part of that. I’m lucky to work in a great team who’ve all come from different academic backgrounds so I’ve learned so much from each of them. Another thing I love about my job is the fact that every single one of us here is playing a massive fight against COVID-19 and the pandemic and this will be something to look back on in years to come and be proud of.

What advice would you give to someone who isn’t sure they are on the right career path?

Just experiment! You don’t know until you try. You have to go into a job and give it your all before you know it’s not the one for you. Having said that, when you’re in that job and it’s not the one for you, that’s okay. You’re getting experience and you know what you want out of your career – it’s almost like fine tuning your career. Ultimately, you’ll find out what job you really want.

Interested in Randox? Randox will feature on our @QUBCareers Instagram during the week commencing 28 June talking about commercial awareness. Visit the Gradfest2021 site to find out more.

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“You can find a job that challenges and excites you”

Declan Lupari, Former KTP Associate at Queen’s is a VR/AR Developer within the Digital Construction Team at Graham. Here is his top advice for graduates.

Declan Lupari KTP
Declan Lupari, former KTP Associate

What has been the most challenging part of your career?

The most challenging part was having no construction background whatsoever, I came from a computer science background. So getting in trying to learn everything as I went. Getting a bit overwhelmed with all the jargon and acronyms can be a bit daunting at the start. But people are there to help you identify, develop you and your abilities further. But I think the greatest milestone was just completing the KTP project and seeing the effect of my products and projects on the company.

What advice would you give to students graduating who haven’t yet secured a job?

Yeah, just be patient. Your dream job’s not going to be the first thing that appears on Indeed or Glassdoor or anything. Like I worked for O2 straight out of uni for a couple of months selling phones in a touring van so it’s definitely not the same route I’m in now. But keep tabs on the likes of indeed or Glassdoor and see what’s popping up your your interests and what’s relevant to your degree and to your also your interest as well. And don’t doubt your, your abilities you just graduated. So you definitely get the skill set to do well, and be confident whenever you do apply for that job.

What is the best bit of advice you would give a graduate starting a new role?

Just take it as it comes. Like I was saying, I had no idea what the construction sector I had a basic history in virtual reality. I did that for my dissertation. So I had the passion for and I had a bit of that, that no heart at the start. But take every day as it comes. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your team members, they’re there to support you and help you make sure you’re producing the best work. But you’re also enjoying your work as well, making sure everything’s going all right for you. I would like I wouldn’t know the knowledge I do know, if I didn’t reach out to my team members and ask them what certain acronyms meant or how to write an email to a director or just little bits and pieces that you’ll pick up on the way. Don’t expect to know everything. On the first day you’ll pick it up as you go.

What does this year look like for a graduate starting a job? will people be office based or working from home or a blend of both?

I think it’ll be a blend of both. I’ve recently just been to the office, which is a big Rarity this year. It must be about three times have been in the office since August. But we just had two graduates actually starting today in our team, and they were on boarded and inducted and everything online. But as things start to become more open, people become more comfortable being in confined spaces or offices, I think that’ll start to open up a bit. And we’ll start to see people eye to eye in offices. And yeah, it’ll be a blend of both up until then. And then hopefully going forward. It’ll be more office space. But adapting to online has been a big thing this year. So it could be that way for a bit.

Why does the positive attitude in the workplace matter?

I think it’s a an integral part of the work the working life, it’s essential for developing strong relationships with your team members on also clientele. And I think it’s a big a big factor in getting returning customers as well, a positive attitude. You can see it a mile away. And it shows ambition shows eagerness to learn. And it cements those relationships in that collaboration and teamworking just a bit further.

To what extent is it okay to admit you don’t know something when starting out in a job?

Well, that was me the first month or two months with jargon and acronyms, everything. I think it was the first week, I didn’t really want to come off as I didn’t know completely what I was doing. So, when I took it upon myself to do that research, that also helped as well. But I think reaching out to your colleagues, they’re not gonna think less of you, they were all in the same position that you were initially as well. So they’re there to help you. And again, you’ll just pick that up as you go along. Don’t feel too much pressure to know everything on the first day – you’re not going to.

How important is it to find a job that excites and challenges you?

I think it’s very important to have a job that excites you and challenges you. If you go in doing the same mundane tasks that you don’t like, it’s the days are gonna drag, you’re not going to care how much money you’re making. There’s more important things to life than money, you need that, that spark and that challenge. And achievement may be small challenges, or big challenges, they’ll spur you on to do better. And if you have a passion for that job as well, it’ll only spur you on further. So the sky’s the limit for that. And then eventually, in that field, you’ll earn that money. But that’s not that shouldn’t be the driving factor. It should be what you want to do every day.

What was the driving force behind your major career decisions?

I knew I always wanted to go into something to do with computers. I’ve been passionate about it since no age, I’ve always been brought up a random technology, my dad coded whenever I was young. So there’s always computers, devices, soldering irons sitting everywhere. So it was always something I was passionate about. And that led me to go into computer science and management at Loughborough University. Absolutely loved it. It was challenging. But I think the fact that I had the passion towards computers, and technology drove me on to do well and then reach out and look for a job that had that ticked all those boxes. It wasn’t like thing I wasn’t looking for was money – it was the hands on approach and having a lot of contribution to a project on getting to do what I love each day. And I’ve just progressed from that.

What do you love about your job?

I’m fortunate enough to see projects the whole way from ideation to deployment and use and feedback etc. But I love seeing progress – whether it be through my own ability through projects that I’ve cocreated and seen their impact and as Jack was saying the feedback from your work whether its solo or teamwork – it’s a different feeling and it spurs you on to do better in your own work and to encourage others to do their best as well.

If you could go back and give yourself some advice on your first day what would it be?

Like I was saying before, no one expects you to know everything on your first day – everyone’s been in that position, everyone’s had their own first day with fears and doubts. Just take every day as it comes. Keep asking questions and don’t be afraid to reach out. 

What advice would you give to our graduating cohort? 

Don’t stress yourself out if you don’t get your dream job straight away. You may be rejected by a few interviews, it doesn’t mean that job isn’t there for the taking. Take every day as it comes but give it your all.

Interested in KTP at Queen’s? KTP will feature on our @QUBCareers Instagram during the week commencing 19 July talking about creativity and lateral thinking. Visit the Gradfest2021 site to find out more. 

KTP are proud sponsors of Gradfest2021 

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advice Alumni Employer Engagement Employer events Employer Insight Employer Panels Employers FintrU Gradfest2021

“Use the internet! There is no excuse not to be well informed about a company”

History and Politics Graduate John Maguire is now North West Talent Partner at FinTrU. Here is how he got there…

John Maguire, a Queen’s graduate who now works at FintrU

Describe your career path to date. 

I joined FinTrU through their Financial Services Academy in 2016. I worked on a number of client projects for 4 years, and now help manage our Financial Services Academy.

Why financial services? 

The Financial Services sector is forever growing, changing, and providing new and exciting opportunities for people with all sorts of skillsets. It is incredibly varied, and there are so many opportunities for your own development.

What is your current role like? 

I love having the ability to oversee the development of our new joiners who have come through our Financial Services Academies. It is great to watch all of them grow within their first few months and years in the business. The fact that I have been through the Academy myself means I can pass on some of the lessons that I have learned along the way, and I love being able to help people get kick-started in FinTrU!  

What does an average week look like for you?

A lot of my role is very people focused. I am usually on a lot of interviews, catch-ups, training sessions, or attending external events with local universities and schools. Aside from that, I spend a lot of time with our new joiners in the business, helping them get started on their journey!

What is the most challenging part of the job?

The most challenging part of my job is that there are so many different types of stakeholders that I deal with on a daily basis, I always have to ensure that I am delivering any information in the right format and correct style for the target audience. I believe this is a key skill for anyone working with people in general: Know your audience!

What is the most rewarding?

The most rewarding part of my role is seeing our new joiners come into the business and see how quickly they develop their skills and forge their own unique path with us. Within a short space of time, it is amazing to see our Academy Graduates working with some of the biggest investment banks across the globe.  

What are your career aspirations? 

I would love to continue to work with people starting their careers and continue to help them along the way as they are starting out on their journey in Financial Services. I love being able to give back and help others learn from my own experiences.

In what way do you feel like you’re making a difference in your job?

I feel like as I have been through the same steps as all our new joiners, I feel like I can add some genuine experience and context to their journey and really help them overcome some of the same obstacles that I have faced when I was starting out on my own career.

What expectations did you have about this career path that you have found differed from reality?

I have learned that the Financial Services industry is a lot warmer, welcoming, and people focused than I ever thought it would be! Despite all the developments in technology, people are still a crucial asset to the industry.

What skills did you learn at Queen’s that have helped you in your career?

My History and Politics degree helped me to critically think, develop my own opinions, and really view specific events with the correct context.

What advice do you have for students and graduates wanting to move into this area?

Use the internet! You can find out so much information on companies/sectors/careers with a simple click. There are no excuses not to be well informed these days with all the technology at your fingertips.


How did your Queen’s experience help your personal and professional development?

My Queen’s experience was great. Living away from home taught me many key skills, as well as having to keep on top of deadlines, projects, and everything else that comes with being a student!

How did the people you met at Queen’s inspire you?

I met some incredible lecturers and tutors, who really helped spark my interest in several topics that I am still interested in today. Some of my lecturers really helped me start to think more critically about important matters – I believe this skill has stood by me throughout my career.

What’s the one thing you’ll never forget about your time at Queen’s?

Meeting lifelong friends, learning from some fantastically interesting people, and having the whole world at your feet! 

Interested in working for FintrU? Don’t miss our Instagram Live on 9 June at 3pm on @QUBCareers Instagram when John will be answering all your questions. FintrU will also be talking about what it takes to be a Future Leader on @QUBCareers Instagram at 12pm on 18 June. Visit the Gradfest2021 site to find out more. 

FintrU are proud sponsors of Gradest2021

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advice Gradfest2021 motivation resilience self-motivation

‘They will be innovators’

After leaving school at 16 and sleeping rough in London, Scottish born entrepreneur Mike Stevenson turned his life around when he returned to finish his education at the age of 22.  He went on to found an award-winning marketing and design agency and has since built a reputation throughout the UK as an inspirational speaker, trainer and creative consultant through his company Thinktastic. 

As the keynote speaker at Gradfest2021 – a six-week online careers festival for graduates of Queen’s University Belfast – Mike will motivate and inspire university-leavers to persevere in the pursuit of their dreams. With the COVID-19 pandemic changing the way people live, work and socialise, Mike believes this will accelerate demand for innovation among today’s graduates.  

Mike says: “I really do believe we are approaching the most transformational period in human history and that means there are opportunities, particularly for graduates who are leaving university now with all the skills and attributes that they bring to the world. It won’t happen overnight; they may face pitfalls and rejections. I have been through that, so I can tell them how to make sure that each time they fall, they emerge stronger. I left school at 16, I slept out on the streets of London; I didn’t set up my own business until I was 43 and then became an award-winning entrepreneur. 

“As the pace of change accelerates, extraordinary organisations will shape the future – not play catch-up. They will be creative, fearless and collaborative. They will be the innovators.”

Trevor Johnston, Head of Careers, Employability and Skills at Queen’s University Belfast said: “We are delighted to welcome Mike to Gradfest2021. It goes without saying that this has been a very challenging year for our students and graduates who should be commended for completing their studies under unusual circumstances.  

“The achievements of our latest cohort of Queen’s graduates is a testament to their commitment and resilience and we are extremely proud of how they have persevered and adapted. 

“Mike’s story is one of spirit and determination and we are confident he will inspire our students to stay agile as they press forward, ultimately raising their aspirations as they continue on their career journey.”

Mike joins a line-up of speakers comprising Queen’s alumni, students, business leaders and sponsors who will stream live to students via the Queen’s Careers, Employability and Skills Instagram handle @QUBCAREERS throughout Gradfest2021.

Trevor says: “Instagram is a powerful tool to connect with our student and graduate audience. By streaming live on the platform, Mike and his fellow speakers will be able to connect with the audience in real time and respond to questions via the comment box during the live stream. We hope that by using this unique live video strategy, we can show our student audience a less filtered and more human side of our speakers.”

Alongside live streamed employer Q&As, resilience coaching and alumni success stories, Queen’s graduates can search and apply for jobs via the Gradfest2021 site and access careers advice and support via the live chat function. 

Mike Stevenson will be live streaming his keynote speech via the @QUBCAREERS Instagram page on Friday 11 June at 12pm. The recorded video will also be available on demand via the Gradfest2021 site. For more information visit GO.QUB.AC.UK/GRADFEST2021

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Advent Calendar advice Employers Interviews personal skills Skills

Gradfest 2021: Personal Skills Audit

Personal skills

Organisation

Time keeping 

Time management

Planning 

Self-motivation

Work quickly/ accurately

Using initiative

Coping with stress 

Self-awareness

Working to deadlines 

Multi-tasking

Prioritising

Working under pressure 

Assess and evaluate my own and others work 

People skills

Team work

Customer service skills Leadership

Interpersonal skills Communication (oral and written)

Presenting/ Making speeches

Networking Negotiating

Handling Complaints

Management/Supervisory experience

Persuasiveness and influencing

Technical Skills

Collecting and analysing data

Foreign languages

Technical skills/ Knowledge specific to industry

Use sign language

Write reports 

Occupational area specific knowledge/ information

General skills

Problem solving

Decision making

Numeracy

Arrange events and activities 

Business/Commercial awareness

I.T.Skills

Identifying/evaluating options 

Editing/summarising information

Identifying problems (troubleshooting)

Qualities Sought By Employers

Enthusiastic/willing to learn 

Honest Reliable/dependable 

Resilient

Creativity

Can accept criticism 

Hardworking 

Conscientious 

Sensitive to others

 Assertive 

Friendly/likeable 

Outgoing 

Driven/ambitious 

Independent

Proactive

Cooperative

Trustworthy

Fair 

Patient/Calm 

Energetic 

Socially confident 

Optimistic 

Respectful

Polite

Original

Detail orientated

Adaptable/flexible

Able to take responsibility

REMEMBER – when saying you have certain skills you need to be prepared and be able to demonstrate HOW you have EFFECTIVELY used this skill

Some sources of examples:

Placements/internships

Part time Jobs/ holiday work Voluntary work

DegreePlus

Practical/Technical knowledge Project/ research work Student representation

Clubs and societies Enterprise programmes Courses and Seminars

Sports

Music

Drama

Travel Languages Charity Interests

Anything that involves teamwork or skill will be highly desirable

Find out more about how you can develop your personal skills on our website. 

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advice Applications CVs Vmock

Gradfest2021: How To Get The Most Out Of Our Vmock CV Checker Service

Here, your step by step guide on getting the most from Vmock

Start by logging on to the CV checker and download the guidance notes and CV templates.

  1. Write or tailor your CV

2. Once you are happy click the upload button and select the PDF version of your CV

3. CV checker will assess your CV against a range of measures and provide you with a score

4. Try not to focus on score. Look at the detailed feedback Stronger points are shown in green and weaker points in red.

5. CV checker provides feedback on three different elements

Impact – this section ensures your CV is action orientated and avoids overused or ineffective words

Presentation – this section will give tips on how to improve the visual aspect of your CV like length font, structure and grammar

Content – thissection will give feedback on how well you have demonstrated in demand competencies like communication, teamwork and leadership.

6. The feedback is colour coded by three zones: green, amber and red.

Red – Further work needed.  You need to spend some more time on all 3 areas within your CV. Read through the targeted feedback for each of the 3 areas. Make amendments to improve your score and upload once again. If you are still in the red zone, book an appointment to see a Careers Consultant or Placement Officer to help you get on track (and bring the feedback with you)

Amber – You are on track to presenting your skills and experiences to good/best effect.  If your score is in the high amber zone (70+), you have done a good job in presenting your CV.   

Note this is an automated system, so you should still exercise good judgement in deciding what to accept and what to consult on with Careers/Placement staff.  You may still need to make some further/final refinements to really showcase your skills and experiences to best effect.  

Green – Great job.  Your CV is meeting the main expectations in terms of presentation, how you are showcasing impact and your personal capabilities/competence. You may wish to ask a Careers Consultant or Placement officer to give you final feedback before sending on to an employer. 

7. Once you digested your feedback, make the appropriate changes and upload it again to CV checker.

8. It may also be beneficial to ask a Placement Officer or Careers Consultant to make a final review before sending out to employers.

9. Stand out when you apply for your next role. 

Need more CV help? Check out our website.

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advice Body Language interview interview tips

Gradfest 2021: Body Language

First impressions are crucial. From what you wear to what gestures you make, be assured, that people will take note. In fact, studies have found that non-verbal cues have over four times the impact on impression you make than anything you say. Here are some common non-verbal cues: 

Arched Eyebrows – When we raise our eyebrows it means we are contemplating what we’re listening to and that we’re mildly intrigued.

Direct Eye Contact – Means we’re interested, we’re listening, and that we’re focused on you

Feet Facing Forward – It shows that your focused on the other person.

Positive/ Open Body Language

Akimbo Arms – Planting your hands with your thumbs backward on your hips and elbows out in a ‘V’ shape displays dominance and authority.

Mirroring – Mirroring someone’s body language means they’re interested in you and trying to build rapport.

Negative/ Closed Body Language

Shaking Your Legs – Means you’re anxious, scared or impatient.

Lowered Head – Means you’re ashamed of something, shy or have something to hide.

Squinting – When people see what they don’t like, feel threatened, or are unhappy, they squint their eyes.

Blinking Too Much – Means we are nervous or anxious.

Arms Crossed – presents a barrier and suggests an image of defensive, reserved and uncomfortable.

Common Non-Verbal Mistakes Made During an Interview

26% Have a weak handshake

21% Close their arms over their chest

33% Fidget too much

21% Play with their hair or touch their face

67% Fail to make eye contact

38% Don’t Smile

33% Have bad posture

Quick stats of first impressions

First impressions are formed within 7 SECONDS of meeting someone

In a survey of 2000 managers, 33% claimed to know whether or not they would HIRE someone within 90 seconds

80% of information people remember is Oral & Visual

In a study, researchers identified 5000 DISTINCT HAND GESTURES in humans

55% of first impressions are formed by your dress, act and walk through the door

38% of a person’s first impression is determined by TONE OF VOICE and just 7% The words you choose to say

65% Of hiring managers say that clothes can be a deciding factor between two similar candidates

Don’t let your clothes talk for you. Choose something neutral avoiding distractingly bright or coloured heavily patterned clothing 

For more top interview prep tips, visit our website

Categories
advice interview interview tips Interviews

Gradfest 2021: Interview Questions Decoded

Question 1

What they ask: Tell me about yourself

What they mean: Talk me through your CV and tell me how your experiences relate to this particular job.

They don’t mean: Tell me your life history, hobbies and interests and take 20 minutes to do so.

Question 2

What they ask: What do you know about the company?

What they mean: Are you up to date with what our company is currently doing, our main successes and where we plan to go in the future. Prove you want to work here.

They don’t mean: Please recite the first page of our website like everyone else and show you have done no original research.

Question 3

What they ask: What skills do you have for this job?

What they mean: Give me a summary of your top three skills and make sure you’ve taken them from the Essential Criteria. Prove you know the job.

They don’t mean: List me over 20 skills and make sure 90% will not relate directly to the job.

Question 4

What they ask: What is your main strength?

What they mean: Pick something from the Essential Criteria that you believe to be most relevant to the position and give me an example of how you have used it. Prove you can match your skill to the job.

They don’t mean: Tell me something totally unrelated to the job and don’t explain it. Or

tell me the heaviest weight you can lift in the gym.

Question 5

What they ask: What is your main weakness?

What they mean: Tell me about something work related you struggle with and how you have been taking steps to overcome this. Show me you are proactive and looking

to progress. Prove you have self-awareness

They don’t mean: Tell me something critical to the job that you can’t do or that you have no weaknesses. Or tell me about a health condition you have.

Question 6

What they ask: Can you give me an example of a time when….

What they mean: Talk me through a practical, relevant example that will show me you have experience in this area. Tell me the Situation and set the scene, explain the Task, detail Action and what YOU did then tell me the Result (STAR). Prove you can transfer your previous

experience to this job.

They don’t mean: Please spend 20 minutes rambling about a story and with as much excess and unnecessary information as possible so that I forget the question.

Question 7

What they ask: Why should we hire you?

What they mean: Give me a summary of your key skills and how they fit this position.

Prove your suitability and your passion

They don’t mean: Give me an arrogant answer that will negate anything good you have previously said.

Question 8

What they ask: Do you have any questions?

What they mean: Ask me something original and relevant that shows you are serious

about wanting to work here. Prove you can use your initiative.

They don’t mean: Tell me I answered them all in the interview without saying what you had planned to ask.

For more interview tips, please visit the Careers, Employability and Skills website.