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Alumni Employers Finance Graduate recruitment Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair Graduate success graduate training schemes Law Virtual recruitment

My Virtual Recruitment Success Secrets

Queen’s Law graduate Norma Taggart just secured a graduate position as a legal analyst with FinTrU Belfast after a rigorous virtual recruitment process. Here is how she did it.

Norma Taggart

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the recruitment process as employers are forced to shift away from in-person interviews to online recruitment methods. Many businesses have had to quickly become accustomed to online recruiting by using video software and telephone interviews instead of the traditional styles of interviewing. This new approach to recruitment can be daunting to a student or graduate who has not been exposed to this process before. 

However, if the idea of online recruitment intimidates you, I recommend viewing it as an opportunity to upskill rather than as a challenge. By going through the online recruitment process, I have learned how to use numerous video call software, such as Zoom and Bluejeans and have developed my ability to adapt to a changing work environment. As the world becomes more tech savvy and firms are transitioning to remote working, these technological skills will become highly sought after. Students and graduates that have a proficiency in software such as these will stand apart from the crowd.  

I gained first-hand insight into this process as I have recently secured a graduate position as a legal analyst with FinTrU Belfast after completing their 6-week FinTrU Legal Academy. FinTrU is a multi-award winning financial services company that gives local talent the opportunity to work on a global stage with the largest international investment banks. The company conducted three stages of recruitment in order to fill the positions, thus I went through virtual recruitment as opposed to the traditional recruitment process. Although it was a daunting idea at first, I have learned valuable tips and tricks to nail a video interview and get the job. 

How to Get the Interview and Succeed 

The first step in succeeding in the virtual recruitment process is to utilise the Queen’s Careers team. The Careers Department have been an invaluable resource in preparing me for both recruitment and the world of work. The Careers Team support students and graduates with all aspects of career planning and decision making. They offer practical, tailored advice for every step of your career journey. My advice is to seek their help long before you need to start applying for internships, graduate jobs or placement. 

I was fortunate enough to work as a student assistant in the Student Guidance Centre where I witnessed first-hand the amount of work that goes towards helping students get ready for the world of work. I took part in CV workshops and one-to-one CV sessions with experienced Career Consultants where I was able to tailor my CV to the industry I was applying to. Your CV is the first impression you make to an employer; therefore, it is important it is up to date and well laid out. 

The Graduate and Placement Fairs organised by Queen’s Careers Team are an excellent source of information for students and graduates. I recommend going to as many as you can throughout your time at Queen’s as they give you insight into both the industries you are interested in and the ones you are not. For example, I did an undergraduate degree in Law which often has a very traditional career path associated with it. The Graduate Fair, alongside employer panels, insight days and employer presentations organised by the Careers team, allowed me to become more open-minded to different career routes available and develop my skill set beyond strictly legal skills. Therefore, when the opportunity arose for me to apply for a career in the financial services sector, I knew I was capable of adapting and succeeding as an analyst.

MyFuture also can act as a vital tool in your job search as it is constantly updated with new opportunities and it is where you can book Career Consultations with experienced members of the Careers Team. Participating in different employability programmes and events will make you more of a well-rounded candidate and show employers that you are not afraid to go outside your comfort zone. The Careers Team are there to help you in every stage of your job hunt, therefore I recommend taking advantage of their help as soon as possible. 

Tips for Virtual Recruitment 

The virtual recruitment process for the FinTrU Legal Academy consisted of an online application where you expressed why you want to work in the financial services sector and for FinTrU specifically. The second round of the recruitment was a telephone call and the final round was a video interview conducted over a software called Bluejeans.

I had never done a live video or telephone interview before. It was daunting as it is difficult to convey the same enthusiasm over a phone or webcam than when you meet the recruiter in person. Technology can also be temperamental so I was aware that a lot could go wrong. To combat these concerns, my top tip for the next student taking part in virtual recruitment is to be prepared. The more prepared you are, the less stressed you will be and the more you can focus on the task at hand. 

In preparation for the interview, get familiar with the job description and the specific skills they are looking for in a successful candidate. You can familiarise yourself with the company and its employees by attending graduate fairs, industry insight days and employer panels. Using the STAR method, identify times throughout your career where you have used or developed the skills in the job description. This will show the interviewer that you have a number of transferable skills that will benefit their company if you were to get the job. 

On the day of the interview, log onto the software early to download it and test your internet connection. Confirm that your camera and microphone are working as soon as you agree to the interview. I made the mistake of waiting until it was time for the interview to click the link to join. I then had to download the software which made me stressed before the interview even began. The more you do to mitigate stress before the interview, the more comfortable you will feel. 

Set up a space in your house where you will not be disturbed and ensure that the lighting is appropriate. If the interview begins and you realise that they cannot see you properly, this will put you on edge and you will lose your concentration on answering questions. If you are in a well-lit area without distractions, it will also show the hiring manager that you are professional and taking the interview seriously. 

You should not memorise answers to questions as this will come across impersonal and rehearsed. One of the benefits of a virtual interview is that it allows you to have your CV and notes beside you. Utilise this to your advantage and have your preparation close by. Employers will go through your CV in depth so make sure you have it nearby so that you can reference it in answers. 

Do not forget to dress to impress. Even though the interview is being conducted online, employers still expect you to look presentable and interview ready. This is good practice for when you get the job as clients and senior management will expect the same level of professionalism when you are working alongside them, whether that is online or in person. 

One obstacle associated with virtual recruitment is that it can feel impersonal. It is difficult to express your enthusiasm for the job when it is over a webcam. You cannot shake the interviewer’s hand over a webcam; therefore, it is essential that you monitor your body language. It is important to sit up straight and look into the camera when speaking and not at the screen. Ask a friend or family member to run through possible questions with you over a Zoom call so that you can get feedback on both your answers and the impression you make with your body language. 

Know your chosen employer inside out and stay up to date with the industry. I attended numerous employer panels where I was given the opportunity to ask questions about the world of work and the skill sets needed to succeed. I was told to stay informed with the industry I want to go into by reading the news, following relevant outlets on LinkedIn and keeping an eye on exciting developments in the area I was looking to qualify in. By doing this, you can display your enthusiasm for the industry by asking the interviewer relevant and informed questions. 

Join Norma at the Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair on 22 Oct for more top tips.

Register here: https://virtualcareersfairs.qub.ac.uk/events

 

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Alumni Employer Engagement Employer events Employers Graduate recruitment Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair Graduate success graduate training schemes graduateland Networking postgraduate

HOW TO NETWORK WITHOUT CRINGING

FORGET PALM PRESSING AND SWAPPING BUSINESS CARDS, NETWORKING IN THE REMOTE WORKING ERA IS AS EASY AS ONE, TWO, TWEET

As a university student, you’ve probably been advised to start building your professional network while you are still at university – but what does that mean and where do you start?

Sandra Scannell Head of the Employer Engagement Team at Queen’s explains: “A great degree can get you far, but the network and connections you build at university can help you get there faster.  While the old adage ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ is not entirely accurate – a brilliant academic qualification makes you more likely to get a job than a non-graduate (89 per cent compared to 72 per cent, according to the Department for Education) –  networking remains an essential part of the graduate job hunt. According to recent statistics from LinkedIn, as much 85 per cent of jobs are filled via networking. No matter what way you cut it, it’s important to know people.”

Networking without the stress

Traditionally, networking on campus might have meant completing a circuit of the Whitla Hall at the annual Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair, collecting handshakes, business cards and solid job leads. All very well if you are the confident type; slightly awkward and stressful if you are not. This year, however, the event is being hosted virtually – levelly the playing field. 

“The virtual platform dispenses with a lot of the embarrassment and stress that comes as part of a traditional networking environment– especially if you are more introverted or less confident,” says Sandra. “You can ask questions directly to recruiters and companies via live chat instead of navigating the throngs to speak to a busy recruiter, who is already being bombarded with questions.  You can hone your ‘elevator pitch’ into a succinct 100-word introduction on an online profile, giving you a stronger chance to get noticed. A few simple clicks and you can add you CV and the URL to your LinkedIn profile. Names and key details are displayed on screen – meaning awkward introductions are also dispensed off.”

As easy as Instagram

The good news is, if you’ve ever used Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you know how to network online. “The Instagram generation are more than capable of flexing to new ways of working and are very comfortable networking in the digital realm,” says Sandra. “Facebook was launched in 2004, meaning students enrolling in 2022 will be the first generation of university students for who social networking has always existed. You have the tools to build an online brand: whether its chronicling your life on your Instagram grid or presenting a professional profile picture, you are more than ready to network from your laptop.” 

The golden rules

While modern day networking is as easy as clicking a button, some golden rules still apply, of course. “Preparation is key,” says Sandra. “Doing your research on a company and making sure your CV is tailored to the job you want, for starters. Our Careers Consultants are still on-hand to walk you through the recruitment and application process. But, rest assured, you already have a lot of digital tools in your armour – and you know how to use them.”

She adds: “Professional networking sites like LinkedIn allow you to sell your personal brand with key words and phrases relating to your target industry, well-written profiles and a strong professional headline. You can join LinkedIn professional groups, participate in conversations and pick up industry intel. Twitter allows graduate jobseekers and recruiters to connect through hashtags like #hiring #recruiting and #gradjobs. You can follow potential employers, Tweet organisations and ask about graduate opportunities… The online networking opportunities for students are endless.”

Ready to start networking?

Register here for our Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair on 21 and 22 October

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Alumni Clubs and Societies DegreePlus Graduate success volunteering

Six things you need to know about Degree Plus

Emma Kelly, a student on our MEDIA Programme, on why Degree plus is the secret CV weapon every student needs.

1.Employers recognise its value

Degree Plus is an employability award that you gain alongside graduation that demonstrates your dedication to extracurricular activity at Queens University. It adds an extra boost to your CV and is well renowned among employers as it signals to them that you worked hard to develop the skills that are needed for their workplace. 

2.It can give you an edge in the job market

University students are constantly being told that the job market is fierce and competitive, regardless of what field you are in. Unfortunately, the situation has only worsened during the pandemic. Final year students may be feeling hopeless at the prospect of graduating into our economy; therefore, we are continuously looking for something to give us an edge over our competitors. Degree Plus could be that extra something to boost your CV. 

3.Alumni vouch for it

Queens University Belfast alumni Ciara O’Neill graduated with a BSc in Psychology. In her final year, Ciara looked towards Degree Plus as a way of strengthening her CV and received Degree Plus with her degree. Since graduation she has completed a Master’s in Clinical Psychology, worked as a project worker for a children’s charity and is now a senior psychologist. Ciara’s resume speaks for itself; she has done incredible things since her graduation and she credits Degree Plus for strengthening her applications to her Master’s programmes and subsequent jobs.

Ciara felt receiving Degree Plus demonstrated to her employers that she was well-rounded and was more than her First Class Degree. Her volunteering and societies participation were outside the realms of her degree, this strengthened the view that she went above and beyond just completing a degree at Queen’s.  

4.It provides great examples for interviews

When applying for her positions post-graduation, Ciara drew upon the skills that she developed through her experiences with Degree Plus. These extracurricular activities allowed her to develop her communication skills – which is the hallmark of any psychologist – and her Degree Plus experiences provided a great talking point in her interviews. It also demonstrated her flexibility and her ability of time management – skills that are valued by employers in all fields! 

5.You can choose how you earn it

Degree Plus has two routes, verified activities (previously known as route A) and combined experience (route B). Ciara opted for the Combined experience as she met the requirements through her volunteering and participation in societies which she fit around her completion of her Psychology degree. 

6.You might already qualify and not know it

Ciara recalls someone mentioning Degree Pus to her in her final year, she checked the requirements and realised she met them. She didn’t have to do anything extra. “It looks great on my CV,” she said, adding that the formal recognition of extracurricular activities was a testament to the life she lived on Queen’s Campus. Ciara thoroughly enjoyed the time she spent volunteering and in societies – the Degree Plus qualification was just an added bonus! 

If you are a final year student reading this post, it’s important you check the Queen’s website to view the requirements for Degree Plus. Perhaps you might be surprised to see you meet the requirements – there are hundreds of activities which could qualify you for this award. 

To learn more about Degree Plus, join our information session on 6 October at 1pm.

Register here: https://event.webinarjam.com/register/115/10l0lsk0

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Alumni Career planning Employers Fairs Graduate recruitment Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair Job Hunting Networking

How the Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair changed my life

When Queen’s graduate Rachel Murphy (nee Hill) met her employer at a Queen’s Flagship Careers Fair, it took her career off in an exciting new direction.

Rachel at her graduation

Like many students, History graduate Rachel Murphy (nee Hill) chose her degree subject because of her passion for the subject, rather than because she has a particular career goal in mind. 

“In terms of my career, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, which made deciding on a subject to study at university quite tricky.  In the end, I decided to study History as it was a subject that I loved at school and the subject which I knew I would enjoy the most.  Enjoying my time at university was very important to me and this was my main motivation to study at Queen’s and to study History,” she says.

Exploring my options

While at Queen’s, Rachel was keen to explore career options and to build up valuable skills that would make her more employable after graduation. She gained work experience at PwC and built up her confidence by sitting on the Students’ Union Council.  

“This was great experience and built up my confidence for going forward into the working environment,” says Rachel.

She also booked a consultation with a Careers consultant at Queen’s Careers service to get CV and interview guidance. 

Rachel booked a Careers consultation to get advice on her next move after graduation

Finding an employer

Rachel then attended the Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair, where she came across the Enterprise stall. She found out about their Graduate Management Programme and applied. 

She started the September following her graduation, moved through the Management Programme and was promoted to Management Assistant seven months later.

“The job had various roles and responsibilities which keep me very occupied throughout the day,” she says. 

For more of an insight into the Graduate Management Programme at Enterprise, watch this video:

Career success

Four year on, Rachel is Projects Officer at the Young Farmers Clubs of Ulster, the largest rural youth organisation in Northern Ireland which aims to nurture and develop young people. She credits Queen’s Careers service for helping her develop the skills she needs to succeed and for giving her that crucial first employer introduction.

Rachel now works as a Project Officer for a youth organisation

If, like Rachel, you are unsure what you want to do after graduation, register today for our Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair. You can meet employers who are looking to recruit graduates just like you.

But don’t take out word for it – here is what Rachel had to say:

“My advice for current students is get involved with Queen’s and all it has to offer.  I would also advise to make use of the careers service as soon as possible and to really think about what their plans for after University,” she says.

Register for the Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair now.  

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Alumni Awards Engineering Global Opportunities internship placement STEM Technology Work abroad

Queen’s intern abroad designs award-winning fire fighters’ helmet

Imagine you’re a firefighter entering a burning building. The room is so thick with smoke that you can’t see. How do you know which way to turn? This was the challenge set for Queen’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering graduate Sean Hackett before he helped design an award-winning fire fighters’ helmet that tells the wearer which way to turn with a simple buzz to the left or right of the head.  

As an IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience intern), Sean is enjoying a year placement as an intern at the Visual Intelligence Studio in Carnegie Mellon University in the USA, where he is part of a research team exploring a safer communication tool for firefighters. 

Under Senior Systems Scientist Dr. Yang Cai, the ‘Haptic Helmet’ prototype conceived by Sean’s team won the award for “most commercially viable” at the NIST Haptic Interface for Public Safety Challenge. The contest assessed the use of virtual reality environments as a development tool for creating safety technologies. 

As part of the project, Sean and the team travelled to Denver, Colorado for live demos in a fire fighting training facility. This practical experience allowed them to understand how firefighters navigate unfamiliar paths through burned buildings filled with smoke and noise.

Sean said: “The experience of interacting with real-life firefighters and working independently on solutions has been very interesting for me.”

The prototype helmet

Dr Yang said: “We encourage engineers to find simple solutions that work in the real world. “Although I give them instructions to guide and get them started, I also encourage them to use their own knowledge and experiment because in the real world there is no textbook that tells you what to do and engineers have to work on a lot of problem-solving”.

Along with Dr Yang, Sean and the team worked to develop technology that successfully improves firefighter’s safety and efficiency of in the most challenging and hazardous environments.

Sean with fellow intern Florian Alber

During his internship, Sean has also been helping edit a research paper for presentation on “Indo-Navigation and Fire Fighters Activity Recognition”. 

Dr Yang commented: “Students and participants from western Europe have a brilliant work ethic. Together, they produce research papers and work on innovative solutions, adding value to the lab. Some European interns have great writing style in addition to other talents and that is monumental when it comes to writing and editing research papers for conferences, which is great additional help.”

Sean works on drone projects for public safety alongside a fellow researcher

According to Sean, it wasn’t hard settling into the new environment thanks to the immense support offered at the lab. “Of course, it’s challenging to be away from friends, family, and home. It takes a little while for the initial adjustment of the processes and procedures but once that is done, it’s pretty smooth sailing.”

Sean and Florian check out the Grand Canyon

The year stateside has also given Sean the opportunity to experience American culture and interact with people from diverse backgrounds, participate in social activities and enjoy American adventure and sports.

To find out more about IAESTE internships, visit https://iaeste.org/open_internships

More about Sean’s research

To discover more work and study abroad programmes, visit our Global Opportunities page

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Alumni Events Networking

GradFest2020: Valuable lessons from previous graduates

Our alumni session at GradFest2020 gathered together four successful graduates who told Rachael Corridan about the career lessons they’ve learned since leaving Queen’s. Here is what they had to say.

“Every rejection is a learning experience”

Niall McLaughlin, kdb+ developer, AquaQ Analytics

“I studied Chemistry at Queen’s and obtained valuable skills such as analytical skills, great communication skills, problem solving and adapting to new challenges. After graduation, I spent some time working as a chef, this was extremely beneficial as it’s placed me in a high pressure environment where time, teamwork, efficiency and multitasking were all critical to the day to day tasks. These experiences have helped me grow as a person and I now feel fully equipped to handle anything life throws at me. 

“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself; you will get there. I had a non-traditional route to a grad job, which taught me a lot of transferable skills. Take every rejection as a learning experience and learn to be the best version of yourself.”

“Develop your soft skills until you find the right job”

Jack McCloskey, Seagate

“I graduated Mechanical Engineering in 2019. On the back of my placement, I did an employer project with Seagate. After graduation, I developed soft skills through part-time jobs, volunteering, interview skills and travelling until a graduate job eventually came up. There are good and bad points about working in your placement company. You are familiar with the working environment, but you are straight in the deep in working with senior management.”

“Working as part of a team is so important”

Zachery Jordan, First Deriviatives

 “Make the most of the transferable skills you have gained from part-time jobs; it’s so important to work as part of a team and be coherent in the ideas you are putting across.” 

“Explore your options; squeeze every opportunity”

Michael Kelly, IBM London

 “There will never be a graduating class like this one, but the world will not pass you by. Explore your opportunities. I missed the big four application deadlines as I was studying abroad, so I got a job in recruitment with a high basic salary, but it wasn’t the career for me. It served as a launchpad to where I am now. Squeeze as much out of any opportunity.” 

“You don’t just graduate and get picked up by an employer, you have to be proactive; I opened myself to more graduate opportunities by looking in London. Take time to explore your options and find something you love. Throw yourself into everything you are asked to do in the workplace, even if a project doesn’t feel exciting, look at what you can learn from it.”

Skills our grads advised you to develop:

  • Discipline and proactivity
  • Good self-learning habits
  • Good routine
  • Make us of DegreePlus

Want to hear more from our inspiring alumni? Join our Virtual Networking Evening with Guest Alumni Speakers

 When: June 22 at 6pm

Join here: https://event.webinarjam.com/register/54/y1010b7g

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Alumni Events Networking

How networking can land you your dream job

Ahead of our online Career Networking Evening on June 22 at 6pm – 7.20pm, we look at four ways our alumni network can help you navigate the global job market.

1. Our alum understand what makes big bosses tick

You have probably seen the term ‘commercial awareness’ in job descriptions, but what does it mean? And how do you acquire it? This skill is all about knowing what makes an organisation or industry tick. If you can show a prospective employer that you understand what they want to achieve and the challenges they are facing in the marketplace, you’ll impress. 

Alumni in industry can help you read the room in an industry or organisation and get a handle on organisational goals. Take Queen’s Psychology Graduate Tessa Breslin. In her role as Managing Director and Head of Americas at YSC Consulting, Tessa partners with leaders and organisations around the world to enable them to direct their drive and create transformational change. 

Tessa will be joining our Networking event live from New York, so you’ll have the opportunity to get an insight into what drives the leadership of some of the major blue chip client companies she has worked with. 

2 You’ll benefit from their connections

Growing your professional network is a great way to advance your career, industry knowledge and confidence. As a Queen’s graduate, you can draw on the experience and connections of our network of more than 200,000 alumni around the world. Each of those alum will in turn have built up a contacts book of trusted friends, colleagues and clients. 

Since Fergus Boyd left Queen’s with a BSc and PhD in Electronic Engineering, he has worked as VP/IT Director for five-star boutique luxury hotel brand Red Carnation, and VP Digital & IT for millennial hotel chain YOTEL. Prior to that, he held senior IT and digital roles in British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, which both involved leading mobile and digital initiatives and delivering innovation programmes. He is now Chief Technical Officer at MindSauce, a start-up that aims to become the world’s leading platform for global micro-consulting. 

He brings to our Networking event, a unique perspective on the shift towards remote working as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

3. They know what employers are looking for

Who better than a recruiter to get an insight track on what employers are looking for? Jordan Hendricks is a Recruitment Executive at First Derivatives, a software and services company.  

With a Master’s in Business Administration (International MBA) from Queen’s and significant global PR and marketing experience, Jordan is well placed to advice graduates on the recruitment landscape and the impact of COVID-19 on the future of hiring. She joins our networking evening to discuss the long and short term impact of the COVID-19 crisis. 

4. They can offer a world view

Our alumni span the globe and their combined knowledge and connections ripple across the international job market. Since leaving Queen’s with a PhD in Analytical Chemistry, Binod Maitin gained significant experience as a Senior Vice President & Chief Technology Officer at Diageo (United Spirits) and as Head of Analytical Research at the Shriram Institute For Industrial Research. He is now an Independent Technical Consultant at  FlavorActiV and Chief Technology Officer at Trillium Beverages Pvt.Ltd.  He joins our networking event from India to offer insight on his own personal career journey and the evolving global labour market.

Register for our career networking event

Current students can register here:

For more information, visit the GradFest2020 site

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Alumni

Alumni inspiration

“Nothing can stop you if you, if you accept challenge and adapt.”

Azhar Murtaza

ALUMNUS AZHAR MURTAZA IS THE DIRECTOR OF VEGAN DRINKS COMPANY BORN MAVERICK. HE INITIALLY PRESENTED HIS BUSINESS CONCEPT TO ENTERPRISE SU AT QUEEN’S, WHERE HE RECEIVED MENTORSHIP AND GUIDANCE TO LAUNCH HIS BRAND. 

As the director of Born Maverick, Queen’s alum Azhar Murtaza, from India, has faced his fair share of challenges. Food technologists questioned whether a vegan brand had sustainability in Northern Ireland, then there was the issue of how to package a vegan drink when your brand values are based around ecofriendliness. Shunning plastic bottles in favour of compostable and biodegradable sachets, Azhar has proved the doubters wrong, building a successful, ethical beverage brand and scooping accolades including Student Invent Finalist; Queen’s Dragons’ Den Finalist and a Belfast Business Idea Awards 2019 Top 5 finalist. 

Accept and adapt to challenges

He urges graduates of 2020 to lean into change in order to cope with challenges. “Change is the only constant and being able to adapt to those changes is what defines us,” he says. “That principle has got me through all the challenges that were thrown at me, right from the moment I landed in Belfast to study a Master’s at Queen’s. Nothing can stop you if you are willing to accept and adapt.” Like many graduates, Azhar wasn’t sure where his career path would take him, but hoped a Master’s from Queen’s would help him pursue his passions. “I chose a university which would allow me to explore different aspects of my interests in science, business and art. I wasn’t sure where I was headed, but all I knew was that I would accept the challenges and give it my best.” He adds, “We are all in the same boat right now, plans and dreams on hold, as a result of the pandemic. But we are all in this together and we will prevail if we are willing to accept the challenge and adapt accordingly.”

Develop networking confidence

While at Queen’s, Azhar blended his love of biotechnology and business to begin to shape his career path. “I was helped a lot by Enterprise SU in defining my own career growth. As an introvert, I would usually have taken a step back from presenting myself and my ideas but through mentoring sessions and workshops, I was able to develop my confidence to put myself out there and present on various platforms.” Rather than being solely purely goal-orientated, Azhar developed softer skills that he has carried with him into his career. “I learned that winning is a by-product: being able to express yourself and to utilise your network is what matters. I was reaching finals of various business competitions but never able to cross the line into first place. However, those competitions were putting me in front of the right bunch of people. Ultimately, I gained contacts and experience worth more than any prize money.” It was while he was competing in the Queen’s Dragons’ Den final that he was offered an opportunity with Invest NI. “I lost the competition, but Invest NI offered me a place on their programme and Born Maverick Vegan Beverages Ltd was born.”

Innovation in action

The company owns the Púr brand of vegan drinks made with whole grain and finger millet, and are developing vegan non-alcoholic popsicles, fortified with vitamin D, and in flavours including Gin & Tonic, Prosecco, Irish Whiskey and Coffee. “Both these product lines have been formulated with the help of food scientists at CAFRE using Innovation Vouchers from Invest NI,” says Azhar, whose ideas keep on coming. “I am also working on a R&D project developing vegan eggs from mung beans along with Campden BRI and I am in an ideation phase of developing vegan prawns from seaweeds. In the coming years, we aim to represent Northern Ireland in food innovation on a global platform and lead consumers here towards living an ethically healthy life,” he adds.

Advice for new graduates

While Azhar acknowledges that this year is particularly challenging for graduates, there is still space for innovation, creativity and strategy. “These are challenging times and quite different to when I was about to graduate myself, but there is still scope for constant innovation.” He urges graduates to seek support from Queen’s, Invest NI. Catalyst Inc and Belfast City Council who are at the heart of innovation in the region. “Patience and perseverance pay off eventually,” he adds. “As a student, I made sacrifices to help me achieve my dream, like working nights at KFC and Tesco’s to free me up to attend workshops and business meetings during the day. I found out that there is so much support available within Northern Ireland for innovative small businesses. Reach out to Enterprise SU, The Graduate School and Queen’s Careers, Employability and Skills team.” He adds, “I wish you all the best as you graduate this year. I am sure this phase is going to help many to reflect. Now is the time to rebuild, restructure and plan according to your goals. As they say, when going gets tough, the tough gets going. There is a world of opportunity if you are willing to explore beyond your immediate circle.”

For more inspiration download our Grad Guide 2020