As a university student, you’re likely focused on acquiring knowledge and skills specific to your chosen field of study. However, it’s important to recognize that developing transferable skills can have numerous benefits that extend beyond your academic journey. In this blog, we will explore ten key advantages of transferable skills and how they can enhance your employability, career prospects, and personal growth.
Enhanced Employability: Transferable skills are highly sought after by employers as they can be applied across various roles and industries. By developing these skills, you significantly improve your chances of securing employment after graduation. Employers value candidates who possess a diverse skill set, as it demonstrates adaptability and the ability to contribute effectively to different work environments.
2. Career Flexibility: Transferable skills provide you with the flexibility to explore different career paths and adapt to changing job market demands. With these skills, you can transfer your capabilities to new roles and industries, allowing for greater career mobility. This versatility empowers you to seize opportunities that align with your evolving interests and aspirations.
3. Increased Market Value: Recognizing and developing transferable skills increases your market value as a potential employee. Employers recognize the value of these skills and are often willing to offer higher salaries or better opportunities to candidates who possess them. Your ability to contribute in various areas and adapt to new challenges makes you an asset to any organization.
4. Adapting to Change: Transferable skills equip you with the ability to adapt to new situations and challenges. As the workplace continues to evolve, being adaptable and open to change is crucial for success. Developing these skills helps you embrace new technologies, work methods, and industry trends, ensuring your relevance in a dynamic professional landscape.
5. Effective Communication: Communication skills are essential across all fields and highly valued by employers. Enhancing your ability to articulate ideas, listen actively, and convey information effectively benefits you in your academic, professional, and personal life. Strong communication skills enable you to connect with others, build relationships, and collaborate successfully.
6. Collaboration and Teamwork: Collaboration is an essential skill in the workplace. Developing your ability to work effectively in teams, collaborate with diverse individuals, and contribute positively to group dynamics enhances your employability and makes you a valuable team member. These skills enable you to navigate interpersonal relationships, foster creativity, and achieve collective goals.
7. Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking: Transferable skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking enable you to approach challenges from multiple perspectives, analyze complex situations, and develop innovative solutions. These skills are valuable in all areas of life, including academia and the workplace. Employers seek individuals who can think critically, solve problems efficiently, and make informed decisions.
8. Leadership Potential: Recognizing and developing transferable skills can help you nurture your leadership potential. Skills like decision-making, conflict resolution, and delegation are essential for effective leadership and can be developed through various experiences and opportunities. Leadership qualities are highly regarded by employers and can open doors to managerial positions and increased responsibilities.
9. Personal Growth: Developing transferable skills goes beyond professional benefits. It also promotes personal growth by enhancing self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-motivation. These skills can positively impact your personal relationships and overall well-being. As you develop these skills, you become better equipped to handle challenges, communicate your needs, and build meaningful connections with others.
10. Lifelong Learning: Transferable skills foster a mindset of continuous learning and personal development. By recognizing and developing these skills, you cultivate a desire to acquire new knowledge and enhance existing abilities, leading to ongoing growth throughout your life. This commitment to lifelong learning ensures that you remain adaptable and resilient in the face of evolving demands.
Conclusion: Recognizing and developing transferable skills is a transformative journey that can greatly enhance your employability, career prospects, and personal fulfillment. These skills empower you to navigate a rapidly changing world and embrace new opportunities. By investing in your transferable skills, you unlock your potential for success in both professional and personal spheres, paving the way for a rewarding and fulfilling future.
Are you open to exploring flexible and non-linear career options beyond your field of study? Queen’s University Belfast’s Careers Team is here to help you navigate the world of possibilities. We have compiled a list of ten effective strategies to expand your horizons and discover alternative career paths. Let’s dive in!
Attend Career Fairs: University career fairs are treasure troves of opportunities. They bring together employers from various industries, allowing you to explore a diverse range of companies and job roles. Take the chance to connect with professionals outside your field of study and discover new possibilities.
2. Request Informational Interviews: Informational interviews are invaluable for gaining insights into alternative career paths. Reach out to professionals working in industries that interest you and request a chat. Learn about the skills, experiences, and day-to-day realities of different roles. This firsthand knowledge can broaden your perspective.
3. Engage in Networking Events: Networking is key to expanding your career options. Attend both in-person and online networking events to connect with professionals from diverse fields. Building a diverse network enables you to learn about different career paths and opens doors to opportunities beyond your immediate knowledge base.
4. Pursue Internships and Part-Time Work: Don’t limit yourself to your field of study. Explore internships and part-time jobs in different industries. This hands-on experience exposes you to new fields and roles, helping you discover what you enjoy and excel at, even if it’s unrelated to your degree.
5. Utilise Online Resources and Job Platforms: Online platforms like LinkedIn and MyFuture are treasure troves of job postings across various sectors. MyFuture, specifically tailored for Queen’s students, allows you to search for entry-level positions or roles open to graduates from any discipline. Explore the wide range of possibilities available to you.
6. Engage in Volunteer Work: Volunteering is a fantastic way to gain exposure to diverse experiences and organizations. Explore different sectors, work with people from various backgrounds, and develop transferable skills applicable to multiple industries. Volunteer work can be a gateway to unexpected career paths.
7. Seek Career Consultations: Take advantage of Queen’s 1-2-1 Careers Consultation service. These consultations provide personalized guidance and support tailored to your interests and strengths. Tap into this valuable resource to explore different career paths and connect with relevant opportunities.
8. Join Professional Associations and Clubs: Many professional associations and clubs welcome student members. By joining these organizations, you gain access to industry-specific events, mentorship programs, and networking opportunities. This exposure enables you to explore careers beyond your degree discipline and build a strong professional network.
9. Participate in Careers Events and Programs: Broaden your skill set and increase your versatility in the job market by participating in career events and programs. Queen’s University Belfast offers a wide range of in-person and online programs in diverse fields. These programs allow you to explore new career options and gain valuable experience.
10. Conduct Informational Interviews with Alumni: Tap into the power of Queen’s alumni network. Reach out to alumni who have pursued unconventional career paths and ask for informational interviews. Alumni can provide valuable insights, advice, and mentorship from their successful non-linear career trajectories.
Embrace the world of possibilities beyond your field of study. By exploring flexible and non-linear career options, you can find fulfilling paths that align with your passions and strengths. Take advantage of the resources and opportunities available at Queen’s University Belfast, and remember, your career journey is unique—forge your path with confidence!
Embarking on a career journey can be both exciting and daunting for university students. With the ever-evolving job market and increasing competition, it is crucial to gather insights from experienced professionals who have successfully navigated their own career paths. Recently, we had the privilege of hosting a panel discussion with industry experts, Gavin Annon, Claire Brannigan, Connor Diamond, and Steve Lazars, who shared valuable advice and personal anecdotes about their professional journeys.
Embrace Mistakes and Take Risks: Gavin Annon, Sales & Marketing Director at Mount Charles Group, emphasized the importance of making mistakes and taking risks. He encouraged students to step outside their comfort zones, as normal is no longer the norm in today’s competitive job market. Gavin stated, “Please do go make mistakes because nothing’s perfect…you’ve got to make those mistakes and take risks.” Embracing mistakes allows for growth and learning, ultimately helping individuals discover their true capabilities.
Define Your Own Path: Claire Brannigan, Founder of Skinakin Ltd, highlighted the significance of intentionality in shaping one’s career. She emphasized the need to be intentional about where you’re going and what your why is. Claire shared her own experience, stating, “It was only when I started to take a step back and say, ‘What do you want to do? What’s your interest? What are you good at?’…things started to change.” By aligning your career choices with your values, interests, and strengths, you can find fulfillment and success.
Develop a Diverse Skill Set: The panelists emphasized the importance of developing a diverse skill set. Steve Lazars, Director & Founder of Ethnic Minority Employment & Entrepreneurship Network, urged students to broaden their horizons and gain experience across different sectors. He shared, “Putting myself out there actually gave me certain tools, contacts, and understandings about bringing solutions to the product…find some innovative ways of finding solutions.” A diverse skill set enhances adaptability, problem-solving abilities, and brings added value to any role.
Focus on People Skills: While technical knowledge is important, the panelists stressed the significance of people skills in career growth. Claire Brannigan stated, “The things that will really help accelerate your career is the human side of your skill set…being able to communicate effectively, negotiate, and understand different cultural norms.” Developing strong interpersonal skills, such as effective communication and adaptability, can set individuals apart and open doors to new opportunities.
Embrace Curiosity and Continuous Learning: The experts highlighted the importance of curiosity and continuous learning. Connor Diamond, Head of Digital Insights & nijobfinder.co.uk at Mediahuis Ireland, encouraged students to continually set and review goals, both professional and personal. He emphasized the value of pursuing hobbies and interests outside of work, as they can bring joy and enrich one’s life. Steve Lazars added, “Stay curious, join the dots across different domains, bring value back…always be a detective and solve problems.” Embracing curiosity and a thirst for knowledge can lead to innovative thinking and contribute to career success.
Summary: The event provided invaluable insights for students navigating their career journeys. Panellists emphasised the importance of taking risks, finding the right environment, developing a diverse skill set, staying true to personal values, and fostering a positive attitude. These key takeaways will empower students to make informed decisions, adapt to a changing job market, and embark on fulfilling and successful careers. Remember, embrace mistakes, seize opportunities, and let your values guide you.
As it’s time to choose modules for next year, you can use this time to think strategically about what you want to gain over the time you have remaining at University. While it might be tempting to find the module that best suits your train timetable, try to think about what skills you want to leave Queen’s with. This is not the time for comfort zone thinking, what will your future self need to know?
One of our Careers Consultants, Emma Lennox, spoke with some final year students from the School of Arts, English and Languages at Queen’s, and uncovered some insights about things they wish they had known earlier in their degree.
‘A degree is great but it just tells an employer you’re a good academic. You want to work in TV? Marketing? Creative Arts? Teaching? Public health? Get experience, start in first year and build that portfolio of evidence. Don’t tell an employer you’re passionate, show them. Don’t know where to start getting experience? Ask your Careers Consultant, you can find them on MyFuture. I wish I had more experience going into the work place now.’
Final Year Creative Writing Student
Build your understanding of the sector you want to work in
‘I think my big ideal expectation when I first started was I was maybe going to finish my study and go straight into working for a studio, I didn’t really understand just quite how complicated the industry is and how difficult it can be to get secure work. And I didn’t realise how much I still had to learn.’
Final Year Film Student
Emma’s Advice: “It can also be useful to think about freelancing, self-employment and entrepreneurship as part of your career planning. The industries that Arts graduates tend to want to work in, are often characterised by short-term contract work rather than permanent graduate roles or graduate schemes.
According to the 2023 What do graduates do? report, Arts graduates are three times more likely to be working in freelance or self-employed roles than graduates from other areas. The report also shows that entrepreneurial creative arts graduates are more likely to be working in creative sectors aligned to their subject. If you are planning to pursue a career that uses your subject knowledge, you may need to consider freelancing or self-employment/ entrepreneurship as possible options and to prepare for what that might mean.
Arts, English and Languages students have the option of taking the Creative Enterprise module in second year which takes you through the process of creating, running and growing a creative company. Students in other years can find some information on the Future Ready Skills Course and help available from SU Enterprise.”
Find your people outside of your course.
‘I spent all my time with people from my course and only discovered the programmes with Enterprise SU in final year. Those are my kind of people, I could have been around entrepreneurs and innovators for three years instead of one. I have a lot of catching up to do.’
Final Year Drama Student
‘One of the best things I did at Queen’s was get involved with women’s sport. I feel I’ve made a real difference there and can use all those skills in the recruitment process. I just wished I’d got involved earlier and looked at other societies as well.’
Final Year English Student
Emma’s Advice: “The Future Ready Award website is a useful place to find extra-curricular opportunities that will enable you to meet other people and develop useful skills.”
You are responsible for you.
‘In school we had a careers class every fortnight and I thought that would be the same at uni. I know now that it was up to me to chase down opportunities and be proactive. There’s so much going on, I need another year to catch up with what I missed first time round!’
Final Year Broadcast Production Student
Leverage the Careers service.
‘I wish I’d used MyFuture and the Careers website more, I’m only discovering internships and programmes and employers now that I’m too late to do. And some stuff is only for first and second years. I could have been going to events and building up contacts for three years instead of the last six months.’
Final Year Film Student
Open your emails.
‘I spoke to a careers consultant who mentioned a programme and I said I’d never heard of it. They asked if I’d opened my emails because it had been sent to me. Well that was all kinds of awkward. Lesson learned, I’m accessing all the support now for recent graduates!’
Final year English and Spanish Student
Emma’s Advice: “You can access careers support through MyFuture, the careers website and careers information through the Future-Ready Skills Course.
“All Arts, English and Languages students now have access to the Future-Ready Skills Course on Canvas (AEL4001). In that course you’ll find lots of useful information including a full section on Career Management Skills which will help you to think about your future plans and the gaps that you might have. And it’s tailored specifically to Arts, English and Languages students.
The course is completely optional and non-credit bearing, but you can get a certificate at graduation if you complete it in full.”
Conor Houston, Queen’s Law graduate is Director of Houston Solutions Limited, and Chairman of several organisations including the Federation of Small Businesses Northern Ireland, One Young World 2023 Belfast, and of Fleming Fulton School. He is also the Governor and Trustee of the Irish Times Media Group.
What does Queen’s mean to you?
I’m often reminded of Seamus Heaney, his famous line when he talked about the original centre. I think, as I reflected, I’m making this video today, Queen’s University very much is for me, my original centre. It’s where I formed my passion for Law, which was the career I practised in for most 10 years. But it also gave me a number of skills, perspectives and opportunities that continue to this day, and I’m very proud that I have for almost 20 years, I’ve had an association with Queen’s University.
What was your Queen’s experience like?
I graduated in 2004, with my Law degree. I had a fantastic three years at Queen’s, made a lot of friends who are still very much friends today, and I suppose it ignited my passion and interest in in law and the rule of law. I was very fortunate through my times at Queen’s to be involved in a number of summits and conferences, but also to go and study at the European Public Law Group Academy in Greece, in 2004, which was a really fantastic opportunity. It was my first time, I suppose, with young people from right across Europe studying together, all the different languages, cultures coming together and united by European Union law.
That was a very formative and special time. And in fact, a number of the things that I’m continued to be involved in, tend to have that international perspective and lens. After I had completed my Law degree, I went on to study for my Master’s in Human Rights law, and was very fortunate that there was an opportunity to do a cross border element. So I did the first half of my Master’s in Queens, and the second half of my masters at the National University of Ireland in Galway. And again, that was a very special time and experience and a number of the friendships and relationships I enjoy to this day were because of that cross-border experience.
What was your first graduate role?
I graduated from Queen’s with my Master’s and I then went back to Queen’s to study at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies, where I was finally admitted as a solicitor in 2008. I was lucky that I had a firm that I did my apprenticeship with John J. Rice and Company in Belfast, which was a criminal and human rights firm.I worked there for almost 10 years and was fortunate to be involved in many of the pioneering human rights cases of that time. I was dual qualified in that I was qualified both in Northern Ireland and also in the Republic of Ireland. So I practised a lot in Belfast and Dublin. And during my time in practice, I was very involved in the profession. Firstly, through the Young Lawyers Association, the Northern Ireland Young Solicitors Association, which I ended up becoming Chair of, and we had some fantastic conferences and events and a lot of fun with that group. I was then the first lawyer for Northern Ireland to be appointed to the board of the European Young Bar Association, which our relationship continues to this day. And 2010, we actually brought the European Young Bar Association conference to Belfast, so it was fantastic to bring all these international lawyers to our city.
What has been a career highlight?
I suppose a combination of all those roles, as well as being so very fortunate to be representing some leading human rights cases represent journalists, politicians, and many others. I suppose I became very interested in how law can affect change, I was very passionate about making a difference. And that’s what attracted me into law, the power of law to create change in a society.
I was very fortunate that the cases I got to work on, were very much about driving that change. But I suppose I became interested in how could I do even more so in 2014, I was awarded a scholarship by the United States State Department. And I spent a few months, I took a sabbatical and took a few months out to Boston College and then into Washington, and on their rule of law programme, which really started to develop my thinking more around the skills and experiences and perspective I had, and what I could do.
Whilst my mission was very much about helping people and making a difference, trying to refine what I could do with that, I became very interested then around maybe getting involved around politics and trying to create change to help complete our peace process, and to, I suppose, realise the enormous ambition and potential of Northern Ireland.
What are some of your favourite work-related projects?
I was very honoured to be appointed as the programme director at the Centre for Democracy and Peacebuilding. And I worked there for a number of years and worked on some fantastic projects around working with, for example, community organisations, youth groups, loyalists bands. And it was a great privilege to be involved in their work in trying to help to complete the peace process and build capacity within both civic and political society.
One of the amazing projects I got to work on with them was the EU debate programme, which was set up about nine months before the EU referendum. And the idea was to create a space for informed thinking and debate in Northern Ireland, on the issues that the Brexit referendum would have, particularly as it pertains to Northern Ireland.
I was involved with the board in rolling out a very ambitious programme where we engaged with community groups, youth organisations, religious organisations, every political party in Northern Ireland. And we really began a conversation, we weren’t trying to determine the outcome of the debate, we were trying to make sure that there was a debate. So we were neutral in that we weren’t trying to tell people to leave or remain, we were just trying to present all of the arguments and create that space. And that was a very humbling experience.
Queen’s University Belfast were very involved in supporting that project. In fact, we launched a new debate in the Great Hall in Queen’s and academics from the School of Politics, including Professor David Phinnemore were involved in writing a briefing paper for us. So it was very important to us that it would be underpinned by that credible academic expertise, but also the have that support of the reputation of Queen’s.
Why did you set up your own business?
I decided to set up my own consultancy, and I suppose what brings together a number of the clients and projects that I work on, is that one thing to realise the ambition of Northern Ireland. So I work with a number of leaders, all of whom may be coming from very different backgrounds and sectors, but all of whom are very passionate about realising the enormous potential of Northern Ireland, and trying to drive change here.
I suppose that’s what unites the number of projects that I’m privileged to work on now. And as I mentioned, I’m government trustee of the Irish Times Media Group. So the Irish Times is owned by a trust, and there are eight of us appointed to effectively act as the shareholders of the group. So we’re there to sort of look at the long term vision and that’s been particularly interesting, interesting in an age of post truth and thinking about the lines around freedom of speech, etc. So, and a lot of that, of course, goes back to the learnings that I had when I studied both my Law and Master’s degree around the issue of proportionality and competing rights.
What is One Young World?
I’ve been involved in leading a bid to bring One Young World to Belfast in 2023. So in 2017, I was asked to address the one Young World Youth summit in Bogota, Colombia. One Young World is the world’s largest youth summit. It brings over 3000 young people from every country in the world, to a city each year. And it’s one of the only organisations aside from the Olympics that actually gets every country in the world involved.
And this is about identifying the future leaders, both within business but also within NGO sector, just young people that are passionately driving change right across the world. So I was very fortunate to be invited to address this summit in Bogota, Colombia in 2017, and was introduced on stage by the then president of Colombia, President Santos and the late Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations. Both of those men spoke about the impact that Northern Ireland had on their journeys to peace, and this was a very humbling moment for me.
When I addressed the summit, I realised the power of our generation and the generation watching this video, to effect real change, not just within the place we will call home, but also in terms of making an impact in the world. So I then began the process of building a team to put together a bid to bring One Young World to Belfast in 2023, and we were successful in that.
How has your degree from Queen’s helped you?
Queen’s is that passport, not just for your career, but to accessing opportunities, and a fantastic network right around the world. So, you know, I’m extremely proud of the many hats and roles and things I’ve been involved in being a graduate of Queen’s University is really up there, and I look forward to continuing that role with Queen’s.
What challenges have you faced?
When I was a lawyer, and some of the projects I work on, particularly some of the Civic roles that I have, I think one of the challenges your generation is going to face is how we engage with the people we disagree with. So one of the challenges is always when you have very passionate about change, or seeing something happen, and you encountered the resistance to that.
I think that one of the big challenges that I challenge myself every day, I think that we have to all turn on is what can we do to engage with the people that we disagree with, how we, I’ve often said we don’t have to agree but being disagreeable is a choice. So we need to find more places and spaces in which we can find that ability to respectfully engage with each other and actually see that compromise is an art, it’s not a sellout.
I think this is something that I encourage your generation to really challenge I think that the future will belong to those who can build relationships that can be constructive that can respectfully disagree with each other, but can see the common good can work together for the common good, can see the bigger picture that is the challenge of your generation.
What gets your out of bed in the morning?
I don’t feel that there’s an average week. For me, I think that’s probably what I love most about my, my work. In fact, I don’t even feel like I have a job because I’m very fortunate that everything I do, whether it be in my business life or my civic life, they are projects and issues that I’m very passionate about. So I jump out of bed in the morning, passionate about making the change in the area that day, whether it be through being on the border shadows and LGBT youth organisation, whether that be in promoting the role of small businesses through the five and a half 1000 members, and I have the privilege of being Chair of the FSB, and speaking up on their behalf, whatever I can do to to advocate change, to advance those who are trying to make a real impact.
That’s what sparks me on in the morning.
What advice do you have for graduates?
I think that’s one of the most exciting things about this generation, the graduates of today is that you really do have a blank canvas to create the kind of life and career that you want for yourself. And Queen’s University, as I say, is the ideal place to give you that toolkit for you to be able to do that.
It’s for me, it’s that life journey, it’s not just about getting that degree wasn’t really that important that you do, and it’s about the relationships that you build, the skills that you have, and they will sustain you for the not just years but decades ahead. And you know, as I said, it’s 20 years this September since I started Queen’s, and I’m reminded of something my late grandfather said to me, he said 20 years is a long time looking forward, but nothing looking back.
And for the first time, I can tell you, it doesn’t feel like two decades ago I entered Queen’s University, but those two decades, I’ve had that original centre of Queens, which has, as I say, been a constant thread throughout my career both here in Northern Ireland and through the international experiences and opportunities I’ve had.
Mark McCormack, Head of Tech at Aflac Northern Ireland on his journey to tech leader.
‘We build tech for human beings – real users that have problems to solve.’
Mark McCormack, Head of Tech at Aflac Northern Ireland on his journey to tech leader
How did you get into tech?
I graduated in 1998 with a degree in Zoology. I always had an interest in science at school. I studied the sciences at A-level. Took that on through to university and kind of built on that learning and knowledge as I graduated and got to the end of my degree, I faced that question that many people face is basically, ‘what’s next?’.
If you haven’t gotten a degree that has a very direct career path in front of you that can be a challenge sometimes, and so maybe the romantic part of me at one point thought I might study lions in the Serengeti or something… But unfortunately, David Attenborough wasn’t calling and so I had to think about what I might do next. And I’d always had an interest in computing … in computers, and I could see the advances of technology and where that was going.
There was a conversion course running that was taking non-IT graduates and teaching them how to be software developers. I got enrolled into the very first pilot program of that initiative program called the Rapid Advancement Program or RAP. That was fantastic that that took graduates from a whole range of different disciplines and give them some skills in terms of how to be a coder, how to program and languages that maybe aren’t used so often today.
As I moved into some of my first jobs and careers, I’ve been over 20 years in the tech sector here in Northern Ireland, based almost entirely in Belfast. Throughout that whole time, I worked with smaller companies, local companies and the tech sector of work for very large corporate organisations.
Before joining Aflac two years ago, I worked at Citigroup. I led the Chief Technology Office at Citi and worked there for 11 years.
What’s been your most valuable career lesson?
It’s not just about the technical side of things, not just about the engineering and the coding and all of that sort of thing. It’s about the people that you work with, it’s about working in teams, and you know, collaborating, sharing information, and solving problems which are too similar to how we work in many different industries as well, and so there are loads of parallels regardless of the background that you that you’ve come from.
I mean, going back to my early career and kind of coming from the university, I was kind of thrown in there into a course to teach computing skills with people from the whole range of different backgrounds – with law degrees, with engineering degrees, with marketing degrees, with English degree … like a whole broad spectrum …. I think that has been a really interesting part of the success of those programmes because what you bring together is a very broad range and a diversity of thought. And you have people that can represent a whole range of different ways of thinking, and they’ve come from different backgrounds with different knowledge, and they come together to work on, you know, problems. I think that’s incredibly valuable, and I think that today when we think about IT and tech, there’s so much more to it than just the ones and zeros and the data.
There are so many fantastic opportunities in the sector because, at the end of the day, we build these systems, and we build these platforms and we build this technology. But we’re doing it for human beings at the end, right? We’re doing it for real users that have real problems that you know, we want to try and solve. So that kind of breadth of understanding is just incredibly valuable.
What skills are important in the workplace?
Adaptability – because it’s all about how you can adapt to what the world needs. And if you look even at this small country here, that’s kind of what we’ve done. You know, once we were the linen capital of the world, once we were the rope making capital of the world, once we were the shipbuilding capital of the world and we don’t do any of those things anymore so much now. Now, it’s about world-class studios and being one of the cybersecurity hubs of Europe and one of the tech centres in Europe as well. And this is a place that can adapt and change what we do to whatever the word means. So, it’s all about as if you come to Northern Ireland, you see us now, and you want to see us in a year or five years, we’ll probably be doing something different, and we’re better to build a Centre for advanced technology here in Belfast. So, we’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved.
And those other two words around resilience and reinvention. You know, we want our people to be able to grow, adapt, change, and reinvent themselves. And I suppose I don’t need to tell anyone that lives here and often about resilience. You know, we’ve had our fair share of some tough times, but I think as we grow, develop, and go through that, we look forward to an incredible amount of positivity and optimism about what we can do and can achieve from here. So, I love working here, I love being part of the community here in Northern Ireland, I’m very proud of what we can do from this place. I think it all comes down to the fantastic education system that we have and the wonderful people that we have from here because, for me, all the way work with computers, it’s really about the people that I work with – That’s what motivates me, and that’s what I enjoy doing. You know, we solve problems together, we collaborate on things, and we work together as a team.
Those qualities, those skills that you can build, regardless of what your educational background is, regardless of what your degree is, it’s those abilities to communicate to work hard to you know, demonstrate empathy, to bring problem-solving skills. Those things are universal, so whether you work in IT, in business, in engineering or a medical setting, these are the qualities that kind of separate us from the computers in a sense and bring you to know that uniqueness to the things that we can do.
What advice do you have for graduates?
I’d say build your network. This is because they’ll help you grow your understanding of the world of work. They’ll give you advice, they’ll give you some support. You can even do something as simple as building a good profile on LinkedIn and connect them with a few people that you know and getting introductions to some other people who maybe work in some companies that you’re interested in. You’ll find that people who do work in the industry are open to sharing their knowledge and their experience tells you about what it is like to do work in an office or to work remotely, or to work for a big company or to work for a small company? The culture of that organization and what you can expect? You know, those are the things that you’ll learn, and you’ll find that you know people from here are open.
And also, the other thing I would say is always be learning. You know, for me, if you’re not learning, you’re not enjoying yourself because it’s the ability to learn and adapt and to pick up new skills is that makes work exciting. And I’m working alongside great people as you do that is really what it’s all about.
What advice would you give your my 21-year-old self?
I suppose if I go back and ask myself that, I will say try and be as fearless as you can be. There’s a lot of things in life we hold ourselves back because we’re worried about what people might think of us, or how we might come across, or we don’t know anything. And because we don’t know it and don’t know anything we might not try. And I think in this part of the world where maybe not be on the front foot as much as we could be, and I can tell you all like we are as good as anyone in the world. We’re as good as anywhere in the world to do the things that we can do. I’ve worked with teams in eight or nine different countries across the globe, and I can tell you that pound for pound, we’re probably the best place in the world, particularly for technology, particularly for problem-solving, but for doing so many things, so I would encourage us all to be myself about that age to be more fearless and to get out there and get involved in things. Because we are as good as else and we’re just as capable. So that will be my advice to a young Mark McCormick younger, better looking, more McCormick. I’ll tell him to try and stay good looking, but I don’t know if we can.
Francesca Morelli, International Business with French graduate on pursuing her start-up dream.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chloe McKee, a COVID-19 laboratory manager at Randox, shares her advice for graduates.
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.