Did you know Belfast was recently ranked as one of the best places in Europe for tech firms by fDi Intelligence, a specialist division of the Financial Times?
The tech sector in Northern Ireland is booming but how can you break into the industry if you come from a non-computing academic background?
The IT sector is constantly changing with developments and advancements in technology. Employers in the sector need graduates with technical know-how to solve problems, but they also need graduates to work across their business, marketing, human resources and finance functions.
We talked to key players from the tech industry and here is their advice:
Tech is about more than computing
“You start to ask yourself, ‘there’s a heck of a lot more [to tech] than just computing?’ and you’d be absolutely right.” – Columb Duffy, Senior Manager, Allstate
You don’t need an IT degree
“People studying non-IT degrees, you can definitely have a career in the Tech sector.” – Marguerite Clarke, Business Development Manager, Version 1
You can learn on the job
“We’ll talk to anybody; if you’re smart, we want to hear from you, regardless of your background.” – David McGarry, Senior Director, Riskonnect
Problem-solvers should apply
“The number one thing that we want you to be able to do is be a problem-solver.” – Dr Aidan McGowan, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science, Queen’s
My name is Sophie Martin and I am a Legal Project Coordinator in the Legal Project Management team. I joined Baker McKenzie, Belfast, as a Legal Professional in September 2019, where I worked in the Contentious Support Group. This was a fantastic opportunity after university, which provided me exposure to a breadth of document review and due diligence projects, and in-turn, the opportunity to develop an array of skills, from analytical to communication skills.
One of the best aspects about working for Baker McKenzie is the endless career opportunities. During my time as a Legal Professional, I had the opportunity to apply for two secondments. The first secondment provided me with the opportunity to work with one of our key clients in their London offices. This was a great experience, providing me with the opportunity to work directly with our clients, providing insights into their working culture and develop relationships with our London colleagues.
A pivotal moment in my career, was the second secondment, where I joined the Legal Project Management team, initially for a 6 month period. Like many of my peers, prior to joining Baker McKenzie, I was unfamiliar with Legal Project Management and what a career in Legal Project Management entailed. The opportunity to combine legal and management, two of my career interests, and my curiosity to explore this niche career opportunity further encouraged me to apply for the secondment. When I joined the team in January 2020, I was instantly exposed to a variety of work and endless skill development opportunities. The variety of projects, global exposure, client-facing role and autonomy to shape my projects, provided me with the platform to catapult my professional career. This, combined with an extremely supportive and welcoming team, confirmed that this was a career that I wanted to pursue. This is where my career in Legal Project Management commenced, as shortly after starting my secondment, I successfully applied for a permanent role in the Legal Project Management team.
As a Legal Project Coordinator, no two days are ever the same, meaning the learning and development opportunities are endless. The core roles and responsibilities entail managing client matters, including liaising with the client and Firm’s matter team; supporting the legal team to track and manage projects by integrating matter management, fee management, technology and process improvement techniques; analysing complex reports, flagging key issues and designing bespoke reporting; budget monitoring; and providing support for client team collaboration sites. To ensure that the Legal Project Management team ensure our overarching objective that all projects are managed on time, in scope and within budget, this requires multijurisdictional collaboration with our Legal Project Management colleagues and legal teams across the globe to ensure that we provide the highest quality service to our clients.
In addition to the development opportunities I have received through my role, Baker McKenzie are committed to each individual’s career progression and provide various opportunities to facilitate an individual’s career progression, such as internal and external secondments, promotions and development programmes, such as the Baker Excellence Programme.
I would highly encourage any student wanting to join a global, high performing firm, to join Baker McKenzie, where you can commence and develop your career, surrounded by friendly and supportive colleagues.
Interested in working at Baker McKenzie? You can chat to the team about upcoming opportunities at our Spring Recruitment Fair.
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.
Natasha Sayee, Head of External Communications at SONI Ltd, the electricity system operator for Northern Ireland on how she harnessed her passion to drive her career.
Don’t rule anything out
When I was at Queen’s, if you told me I’d end up as a senior manager at a utility company, I really don’t think I would have believed you. I have a love of geography and environment and of nature. And I was a young Greenpeace activist. But I also had a love of debating, of the stage and of public speaking and was involved in local radio from I was about 16. . I wanted to be on TV. And I wanted to move in to reporting using my investigative nature, my passion for public speaking and my love of current affairs to become a reporter. And that’s what I did. I completed a Law degree. Then I moved to England where I did a post grad in Broadcast Journalism, worked my way through the BBC, until I was the most senior general reporter in the Belfast newsroom, and acting Ireland correspondent. And I worked on every story imaginable from the MTV Europe awards coming to Belfast to the unfortunate economic downturn and from elections to crime. I was at the top of my game, but it wasn’t exciting anymore. It wasn’t a challenge. And so I stepped into business, I haven’t looked back, I lead a team of amazing PR, Media Communications and engagement specialists doing the most challenging work I’ve ever done. What’s amazing about this role is that it’s a complete blend of everything I’m good at and interested in, so people, current affairs, and with that focus that we have on climate change. Well, I just come full circle in terms of my love for the environment and sustainability, which I really care about.
2. Challenge yourself
I am really passionate about what I do. And if it’s challenging, then I bring my best every day. If ever it forces me to drive hard, then it is something I will stick with. And if you’re like me with a fire in you, with that drive, harness that passion, hook it into your career, and keep moving until it feels right and you will succeed. A Law degree from Queens has provided me with a really solid platform to allow me to make all of these jumps and leaps. It says to an employer that you’re informed, you’re considerate, you’re investigative, you’re confident and analytical. You could be a judge, it could be a barrister or a solicitor, an in-house solicitor, or you could become a reporter, or you can become a business leader… with a Law degree from Queen’s, really the world is at your feet.
3. Don’t be blinded by passion
I think at times my passion has blinded me, particularly perhaps when I was at the BBC, where I would have gone through walls to succeed without perhaps taking on board others or their feelings or collateral damage, really. And you can really only get so far on the steam of your own passion. To be truly successful, you need to take that passion, use it to motivate others, collaborate with them, understand what makes them tick. And then think about how you can combine all that fire together to achieve. All that’s possible. Passion is a great thing to have. It’s a warrior’s traits, but create your battalion. Don’t do it on your own, network and make those friends for life. I mean, my best friends are my family. I met them at Law school at Queen’s, they’re my units; they’re my power source. I just couldn’t imagine life without them.
4. Be a team player
You know, people with passion are warriors, we’re fierce, we’re strong. But I’ve learned that that can be intimidating. And that can lead to isolation. So don’t do a solo run, find your squad, find your network, your Battalion, you’ll achieve so much more together. And it will be a much better experience for you. You need to be empathetic as well. What issues are your colleagues dealing with at home? How can you support them? You know, really, relationships are the absolute cornerstone of good business, taking time to get to know those you’re working with. If someone doesn’t sound right in the phone, you’ll know that they there’s something wrong or if someone is on a video call, but maybe isn’t making as much of a contribution as they would normally. Well what’s going on, you know, you need to find that out and try to help that’s really important.
5. Give your passion context in an interview
If you’re interviewing for a role, display your passion proudly, and it will shine through, but make sure you back it up. And that means giving examples of how you’ve put your passion into play, to go the extra mile, whether that’s being top of your class in your subject, whether that’s volunteering, coaching others or taking on extra training. And try to keep a lid on your passion during an interview. What I find throughout my whole career, and it continues to this day, is that nerves and passion can be a really dangerous combination. So it can go one of two ways. You can appear arrogant and overconfident, , or you can get jittery, and you can end up waffling. So breathe, prepare, prepare again. And when you get into that room, whether you’re presenting or you’re sat in front of an interview panel, plant yourself, like a big oak tree, you know, really sink your feet into the floor, like you’re growing roots, and take some time to blossom. Channel that passion that you have to keep focused on what’s important and look after yourself and others. Passion is an exceptional standout quality. But it is like magic. And you have to challenge it and control it and make it work for you.
You can stream Natasha’s recent talk on the Gradfest2-21 site here:
Leona McGirr, a former KTP associate at Queen’s and a Team Leader at Fusion Antibodies on how to hone your lateral thinking skills to land that graduate role.
Why are problem solving abilities essential in virtually in any graduate rule?
Yeah, in any job, you’ll always have to solve problems…There’s always an opportunity to solve a problem. Anything from small like fixing the printer to something bigger, like what we’re working on and trying to find a treatment for COVID. And so there’s always an opportunity to learn and develop these problem solving skills.
How can you develop this problem solving skills and demonstrate them to the employers to the recruiters?
Look at the root cause of the problem and ask the question, why. Start tweaking things, and see, we’ll see what you get, essentially, instead of just spending and buying a new something, and so can always ask the question, why and if you give these examples to the employer, that they will say that these skills are transferable.
How will interviewers assess how you approach the problems? And how can you demonstrate your logic and implementation to the recruiters?
Give loads of examples and those different examples both in your personal life and in work because as I said, all these skills are transferable. And it kind of gives the people who are interviewing you an opportunity to see what type of person you are and how you solve the problems and how you go about doing this.
How can you answer a problem solving competency based question? How can you answer them?
We would always use the STAR method, which is you say the situation, the task, the action and the result. And so just make sure to include each one of them within any example that you give, that’s usually the most common way of doing it.
To what extent can games such as Sudoku, or Chess, can help strengthen your ability to swing strategy early and creativity?
I actually think all scientists love chess as well. It essentially lets you kind of plan ahead and see the bigger picture and see how one little thing that you do can impact and essentially either win the game or lose the game for you. Again, it’s very transferable into science trying to fix a wee problem on a stage every time.
Are there any problem solving techniques you can develop or refer to our students?
So for us in R&D, our standard way would be root cause analysis. So essentially, you ask the five why’s. So for example, an experiment didn’t work? Well, why it didn’t work? Because the two proteins didn’t bind? Well, why didn’t they bind? Because maybe one wasn’t stored correctly? Well, why wasn’t it stored correctly, and then bring it down to well, actually, there wasn’t enough space in the fridge. So even though you thought it might have been one thing, by the time that you break it down and ask why every stage, you realise that it’s actually something else, and it ensures that it won’t happen again.
What is creative thinking? And how can you demonstrate it?
It’s really having a different viewpoint and a different perspective on a problem. And I think that’s essentially key. For example, in my current company, I was the first chemist in an essentially biological company. So I was able to offer a different perspective on things. And it’s usually quite creative in comparison to what everybody else might think. And it’s just drawn on my existing skills and experience.
Why it is so important to show a recruiter that you come up with an innovative solutions to a problem, or an improved way of doing things? Why it is so important?
Because it shows that the candidate is willing to learn, and they’re innovative, and they’re creative. And essentially, in a workplace, everything can be improved. The worst thing, what we want to hear would be somebody who says, this is how it’s always done, instead of asking, why has it been done? And just don’t accept the first answer. Always keep asking why, and how can you improve? Both in your personal life and in work.
Why do recruiters like to see a creative thinking in a graduate hires?
Well, it really shows the potential and shows that somebody can take initiative to try and solve a problem where more sided escalating, and having that under control, and that there is a lot of potential that you can develop that particular skill. So we’re always keen to see that.
So how to demonstrate your creativity in graduate applications, or let’s say in interviews?
Yeah, give loads of different examples, and be it something you’ve done, maybe a hobby even. It’s really nice to hear all these different examples, instead of always referring to one example, maybe your degree, always ask or always talk about personal life, part time, jobs, everything, because it allows us to see what type of person you are, as well and a lot of times, the stories are actually really interesting.
Okay, how do you develop or improve this, so, you know, creativity skills, how to improve it?
I would say just take every opportunity and go take a few risks, and don’t be afraid to try and do something outside of your comfort zone. With every stage of my career, I have challenged myself, and have always had a very steep learning curve. And I think that is actually quite a lot of fun. And again, it allows me to be creative in different ways and drawn different strengths.
So can you give us some examples of lateral thinking to draw on in an application process?
Yes. So essentially, think outside the box, and don’t take the most obvious answer as being the root cause. And if you can disprove something, well, it then in theory can be a possible solution. Ideally, what we would do is we will get a post-it note and we’d all sit around and be like, well, what happens if this was the case? Or I wonder, could this be the case? And you just go crazy with this and don’t rule anything out.
What are the links between problem solving and entrepreneurism and a good leadership?
I think being an entrepreneur and a true leader, you need to be innovative. You need to challenge yourself and not be scared to take a few risks. And the most important thing is to learn – the road to being an entrepreneur and your own career is bumpy. You can go on a few circles, but as long as you learned, that’s the most important thing I think.
So how can you problem solve in a workplace?
Anything from something minor like fixing the Wi Fi, fixing a computer, fixing kettle, they are all problem solving. So initially asked me, well, what’s the problem? or how can I make this current situation better? You can always improve just incrementally try something, try different lead and maybe see what the result is and just document what that result is, and see, can you improve?
So how can you bring this creativity in your graduate roles?
I would learn around the subject and draw on your own past experiences. I don’t think there’s, no such thing as a stupid suggestion. All ideas are good ideas. A lot of the time, you need to ask other people for advice as well and see how they would approach something.
Don’t be afraid to take a challenge. Take all the opportunities you can. I still don’t have my own career figured out, I don’t know where I’ll be in 10 years, 20 years time, but I know it’s going to be loads of fun. I would advise anybody to take any opportunity and just have fun along the way.
Dermot Murray, Senior QA Engineer at Version 1 gives his top tips on embracing workplace systems and tech.
Why would you say enthusiasm to embrace tech is important in graduate roles?
It’s very important. Just in terms of the kind of innovation and bringing a fresh perspective to companies. So, like graduates are at the forefront of theoretical thinking. And what we’re looking to do is actually apply this knowledge into the real life and into the work industry. So, like if you take for example, a lot of kind of, you know, hardware and software, you know, the iPod Touch, for example, let’s say you know, it’s quite redundant nowadays because things change very quickly. And what we’re looking at is innovation and more efficient ways of working in industries, so, you know, one thing that companies can fall in the trap of is, you know, being reluctant to change. And actually graduates can be the catalyst for leading change. An example I can give would be, you know, the pandemic, for example, working from home. This is the kind of new normal that everyone’s really in, but you know, your university experience user being at the forefront of this, and how did you adapt and overcome these challenges? You know, the initiatives you use brought in terms of communication, engagement, socialising? These are all the things that need to be transferred into the industry. And these are things that we’re looking for. So it’s extremely important for enthusiasm and embracing change.
In what ways does your business rely on tech to maximise performance?
So it’s no surprise that for Version 1, it’s absolutely essential. So, we are consultancy, and we do specialise in supporting the digital transformation for clients. So we bring people through a journey using various technologies, what we try to do is use the cutting edge to deliver for our clients. But internally, so that’s the probably technical side. But you know, what we actually do ourselves is we use it to communicate and standardise. I’ll give a few examples of, you know, some of the kind of tech initiatives that we do, we have a podcast, you know, once a year one in which we have conversations within the industry. On our website, we’ve got webinars, blogs, white papers, news articles, and these are things you know, to engage with the industry and engage with many different people, social media platforms, that Instagram that I’m on right now, we’ve also got Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. You name it for contact. And internally, as much as maybe you know, us, us and university, we’re using teams to communicate with clients. And finally, then, you know, we’ve got like a SharePoint with a widevariety of tools, for using timesheets, you name it, so absolutely essential, yes indeed.
How would you go about proving ability to use common programmes and apps in an interview?
That’s a good question. It’s hard to kind of slide that into the question, how you’re phrasing that. I think the star approach is quite interesting. So, you know, kind of being concise and what that really is – situation, task, action and result. And maybe within the action, you could incorporate these kind of common tools and what you’ve done. So maybe an example that I could give would be that, say, one of your modules, and you’re required to do presentation, will, the action in which you can provide could be, you know, using PowerPoint efficiently and effectively, to relay the information to your peers, to you know, everyone, like the ultimate result being you know, like you achieve top marks. And also, there’s definitely ways of fitting into the question tools in which you know, you can, you know, provide results for if that makes sense.
What examples can you use of innovating to maximise technology?
One example could be for a solution, there could be an alternative tool or technology that could be used, or maybe you could extend in a technology. So for example, that’s you know, we’re on a Teams meeting, Microsoft Teams, and we’re trying to kind of collaborate together, you know, some project, there’s a tool – Slack, which can actually be used for sketching. And that’s quite useful for like, you know, drawn with feedback, kind of in sketching, going through walk walkthroughs so you know, instead of using teams, maybe you could migrate your kind of communication to Slack. The point on expanding then is, you know, using it in additional scope as well, slack also has like a kind of app directory as well. So you can add in polls, you know, chatbots news feeds. And there’s different ways of just, you know, not kind of following what is set in front of you, but actually using your initiative and, you know, embracing the tech really, and, you know, leading on further so I suppose.
How would you advise a student to show their passion for tech when they don’t have a tech background?
So, I suppose from my perspective, I have to put myself out of the mindset of being in tech. But that’s, I think, a good way of kind of, you know, showing your enthusiasm can really be through hobbies and interest, really. So that’s dependent on the person, but I’ll give you an example, maybe of a few kind of hobbies and interests that I have, you know, if I’m reading a book, for example, you know, I’m interested in reading, specifically, one of the books I’m reading right now is on the stock markets, flash boys are called, and it’s on high frequency trading, and the kind of idea of being closer to the stock market servers. Think sports, you know, we’ll play a bit of football. And I’m kind of using, you know, stat sports. So it’s kind of integrate and, you know, heart monitor, kind of initiatives and all that stuff. And then Sports Science again that podcast I’m interested in, there’s one, dark net diaries, but just kind of cybersecurity focus. So even though I’ve kind of got my technical job, if you picked up the side, there’s a whole wide range of kind of, you know, industry within tech and these tech tools in which you can like, kind of, take your hobby, and maybe think of, you know, some kind of innovation in tech tools that you can use to, you know, showcase that. So, just a few points of my interest might not be to impress everyone here.
How can you show that you have the ability to adopt and use technology in an interesting way?
Yeah, so I think you could maybe think about how you can use it an interesting way, think about, like, what you’re currently using stuff for the think of like, you know, your smartphone, for example. It’s got so many applications in which you can download, as I mentioned, with your hobbies, you know, Strava, being able to, like, you know, detect your matrix of roaming, for example, everything, these are kind of, you know, common applications that you don’t really think that you’re using, but you’re actually using, think of maybe, you know, smart appliances, for example, around the house, you might have kind of smart TV, or smart lamp, and how you can actually then, you know, showcase that and help people. So I’ve got family that always asked me ‘Dermot, how do you do this, do that.’ And I’m always kind of demonstrating to them, but also by kind of, you know, using this tech, you understand it more, and you can actually demonstrate it to other people. And that really helps with your show of skills with kind of, you know, leadership, it helps for what the industry is really looking, you know, you’re looking a community of practice people who share, collaborate and transfer knowledge together. And just by getting cool, and getting stuck in really kind of corny, it’s not.
How can you embrace technology and help others to do so?
I’ve really touched on that and for example, of maybe helping, you know, that’s, you know, like, update the latest software on his phone or laptops, for example, some security plan says, and my mom dad’s face, you know, helping them kind of just stuff yet. And that’s kind of you know, one of the things really just by getting involved and getting stuck in even necessarily you don’t quite understand that at the time but by getting involved in that tool, and helping other people you know, you’re helping yourself as well. And I think it’s just kind of a stage of getting involved really is the best way to do that.
How important what would you say, is practical experience of workplace technology.
So, I do think it’s kind of very important, you know, you’ve got the theory behind it, and you want to kind of, you know, put it practical. So that’s the kind of stuff you know, with uni, you’d want to take into the industry and kind of get stuck in. And that really is the word kind of get stuck in. I never imagined myself kind of growing up to be a software tester. But getting involved in the IT industry, you see kind of what opportunities arise. And not even just within the kind of tech sector, think about the other different industries, in which you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting involved in, but by you know, utilising tech tools and, you know, embracing innovation, think of that as the bigger picture rather than, you know, specifically just tech related, but innovation. Going back to kind of, you know, tech, there’s a lot of open source tools that you can use, and they will be free to use in terms of, you know, try and find the right things, there’s a lot of free trials of stuff. So for example, maybe like Photoshop or video editing skills, if you need some experience, but then in industry, or within a kind of, you know, hobby that say, I don’t know what but you can maybe use that for like 30 days or seven days, and that might be sufficient to kind of pick up your skills. Finally, as well, like, there’s, if you’re going technical, there’s, you know, Azure has free courses for students, and it also has a free account where you can get, you know, up to 200 pounds, etc, you know, that kind of sandbox and play with kind of technical tools. And, yeah, I think as well, one important thing is even like the practicalness of social media is so important, and a lot of kind of students and people forget, you know, how important it is for companies. So even just, you know, you’re you’re getting full freight and with kind of social media, and that practical way of applying your skills.
How can you demonstrate that you have developed key workplace skills, and technology?
Yeah, so the demonstration then is kind of, by providing and showing examples of how you’ve kind of came up with that, I think, like, by demonstrating as well, you need to kind of understand, firstly, that it depends on the role. Or at least, like, there’s a lot of opportunities in which you can actually, you know, enhance your skills, I would give examples of, you know, on LinkedIn, if anyone’s involved aon LindkedIn, there’s a lot of webinars in which you can kind of do get involved within tools and tech and understand kind of components. As well as that specifically within your industry. I think like one or two personal references, which I used to be Udemy. And it’s good for kind of, you know, harnessing and developing skills, and then being able to present them and relay them back into work back into my CV and back into kind of, you know, day to day skills as well. So there’s a lot of opportunities out there. And there’s a lot of kind of free things that you can view online and just taking upon each of the applications as well, such as meetups really, like might be a bit hard during the pandemic, but embracing the change, maybe you know, Slack or, you know, Teams might be a good solution for that. So webinars. Yeah.
What soft skills would you say go hand in hand with tech skills?
There’s, there’s a lot really like, one thing to think is, is well, that, you know, technology skills are just tools of making your soft skills more efficient than effective. So like numeracy skills, for example. I mean, that that’s really given within the IT industry, you know, you could talk about coding performance or all aspects, but not just specifically with the IT industry, like you can think about, you know, your communication skills with putting this many times but social media, using teams, you know, creativity skills as well. creativity to complex solutions, like my job is doing quality assurance, and it kind of plays into analytical thinking and problem solving. And by problem solving, you have to be very creative on you know, there’s a lot of constraints to the problem and how you fix that. So there’s there’s definitely ways to express willingness to learn as well. So embracing the technology which is the key point of everything, being able to, you know, go into new skills and new tools and test new systems up correctly. And even gone non technical within the IT industry, you know, there’s a lot of project masters and kind of, you know, Scrum masters etc project manager sorry that, you know, we really focus on organisation and there’s a lot of kind of tools that are available to you know help kind of do that, calendars, JIRA for, you know, management. So, they’re inextricably linked, really in my opinion.
What would you say you should include in the IT skills section on your CV?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I suppose it’s dependent on the possession and the industry, I mean, you should really do your research on kind of, you know, what type of roles you’re applying for, and kind of think about that, I think, but whenever you were talking about the common applications in the office 365 suite, you know, there’s always, you know, opportunity ability to kind of show that, and that’s, you know, applicable across any industry. Think about the bespoke software on which you can use, might go back to, you know, if you’re doing some design with somebody with a website in Photoshop could be useful, you know, five years from now, that could be a tool your skill to be included. But going back, then definitely have a look at the industry standards in which you’re applying for. So if I go back to my kind of key position, I’d be looking for kind of buzzwords with selenium, kotlin, cucumber, postman, Java, just you know, as an interfere. And if I just see that within an application, that would pique my interest, and you know, like, that would be the same thing that you need to think then is going to position like, take up the industry standard tools, and learn a wee bit about that. So whenever you go into, you know, an opportunity or an interview, you’re able to kind of, you know, demonstrate ‘Yes, I know what that is certainly’. Also, it’s always nice to kind of add in any certifications that you’ve got within your university – Udemy courses, as well as other mentions. And definitely, as well, like, you can also maybe use going back to the kind of soft skills that you’re mentioning, you can maybe then use IT skills to support your soft skills. So I’m good at communication. Here’s a reason. So evidence based as well so it’s ready and can be used really.
Interested in Version 1? Version 1 are currently recruiting. You can find details of their current vacancies on the Gradfest2021 site.
Courtney Ward, a Quality Team Leader at Randox, shares her advice for graduates.
So what is commercial awareness?
So commercial awareness to me means having a real understanding of all the key companies operating in a specific industry or area or sector, you know, a knowledge of the different products that those different companies sell, what services they offer, and any kind of direct competitors, you know, companies offering the same product, you know, or any kind of slight differences between those products that they offer, and kind of my advice to graduates would be to really do your market research, yes you may be interested in various different you know sectors or kind of companies but make sure you’ve done a little bit of digging a little bit of research around that area and who definitely, maybe the geographical area you’re interested in, who are the key players, you know, in that area.
What ways might an employer assess commercial awareness on an application form or a cover letter?
So, they’ll look that you’ve actually done your research, you know, they’ll look that you’ve tailored your cover letter or application to that specific employer or sector, that’s one of the biggest things. Show them that you’ve done the time and the research in their area. You know – then they’ll take their time with your cover letter if you haven’t taken the time with them then they won’t take the time with you. So you know making sure that you demonstrate that you have an awareness of the business landscape, you know that you’re aware of that and how that role that you’re applying for fits into it you know they’ll want to see that you’ve actually read the job spec, and you’ve demonstrated that again, back in the cover letter you know that you’ve hit all those key essential criteria, and just indicate to them that you’re aware of where they fit against other companies and I really think tailoring is the biggest thing, tailoring it that you’ve read, you know, their details and if you answer all of the you know the, the criteria or desirables they’re looking for, or address some of them they now know that you’ve actually read it and as you’re happy, and understanding, you know what it is they’re actually looking for.
How can you demonstrate an understanding of the business and knowledge of his activities and products?
So, take every opportunity in your interview to demonstrate this, so as I said, doing that market research and that research in the company beforehand is really critical. But make sure you take the chance to express that in the interview don’t do all that research and then not saying anything about it unless you know, don’t wait for the question. Take your opportunity. So, common questions will be, you know, why did you apply for this role for this company? So that’s your key to go and demonstrate your research, you know, do they have a top-selling product or service? You know, mention that, you know, they’ve been demonstrate that they’re moving into a new area, or they have an upcoming product – you know, mention that you’ve seen that, you know, that you’re aware that they have that product or that service and offering. Have they won any awards for any of their products? We can always drop in or, you know, ‘award-winning product or service’ and things like that. A big one would be to read the latest news section so a lot of companies -particularly Randox will always put new brand new things or things that are out of the company on the latest news on our website so always check in that because that’ll be the big things they want to share so that’s your first check box – oh I actually went on the website, read what’s happened with the company.
When’s the most appropriate moment to mention your research in an interview?
So it could be why are you attracted to this role, what does this role mean to you? If your role directly relates to any of those products or latest news? If I were to do it for my role – what interests you in a quality role? You could say I’m interested in having high standard testing, making sure everything is meeting all the criteria. I saw you guys recently got your accreditation or you guys were awarded some other accreditation for a certain test – that could be a nice way to roll that in. So I think prepping before hand is really good. So if I ever have interviews what I would do would be to write down those key questions that I think they’re going to ask and prep a little bit of an answer – nearly like an exam – you know making sure.. well this kind of goes out the window in an interview when you’re nervous – but having done it beforehand you will have at least though through the answers.
So how important is it for a graduate to keep up with economic and political trends and what exactly does that mean?
That is a really difficult for graduate you know that’s something that you’re only going to learn when you get into an industry you know, there’s only so much research and that you can do with it experience in the job role of how things affect different businesses. I think being aware that they can so example would be, oil and gas, political trends you know will affect industries, different economic upturns and downturns you know will affect that. The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest one there so whenever we began the testing back in March 2020 you could not get your hands on supplies, materials for testing, they became like gold dust when the entire world is trying to test for COVID-19 – lab consumables, pipettes, reagents, all become, you know the limiting factor, industries, not be able to get into manufacture them to get out so that was a key thing, that’s something that even me before this all happened I wouldn’t even think that that could have to that was an experience that I had, you know, going through my role. Again – rollout of vaccinations is another good one, you know that was a real political and economic debate so being up to date with current affairs, reading really good kind of online publications, you know that talk about these things. It’s a really good way, even if – you don’t need to know the ins and outs of it, a very broad level understanding will set you apart from other graduates you know by even actually having went that bit farther and trying to get that understanding.
How important is it for a candidate to research, and keep up to date with knowledge of an industry or knowing the major players so the competition that you’re up against the brand, how important is it to know all of those?
I think it is important because particularly for certain roles – it will be more important. So, if you’re doing sales, for example, you know that’s really, really important that people want to know, well actually I know that your company is the best seller of this reagent, you know, so I know that it’s up against these other you know players and difference in geographical, you know, where does that company sell, you know will be very important. Again, you’ll not be expected to know everything but you know, having an awareness of that is so important. Following different publications, there’s lots of resources online, you know that will do these kinds of reports and trends you know of different areas. but again, social media posts, that’s actually – LinkedIn is actually really great source. You can follow CEOs of companies you know different people, they’re always gonna be posting on mine when something is doing well, they’ll post those key facts and figures. So it’s hard to keep up, particularly as a student, if you’re doing your exams you know you have expected to spend all day long. Dipping in and out of it – create like your own kind of professional Twitter your own professional you know what your LinkedIn will be – but one tailored to do that so you can say oh well, actually half an hour today ago set and have a look at the industries and look down and then you can look down any key facts and figures that you see, bringing company feeds for example, around our Randox newsfeed we’ve publicised quite heavily our achievements with the COVID 19 pandemic and our different tests. So we will always put things on there quite regularly. So, if the company really using social media and actually makes it a lot easier, because I’ll be posting stories quite regularly.
So how can you demonstrate an awareness of how your role affects business performance and how your actions as a graduate affect the business’ bottom line?
I think, read around the role – a lot of roles, despite being vastly different industries will have may have different names, but to be very similar role, you know, certain types of companies will have the same role, no matter what it is the sector they’re in. See if you can find any testimonials – people, you’ll often find online people saying, a day in the life of such and such, you know a specific role. Can you find anything detailing, those different roles, every role is imperative to a business, so being able to see how it fits in the bigger picture is important, reach out to people on LinkedIn, you know, in that role. I have some questions about that, some people will be responsive to that you know they will be willing to offer you some advice on that. And also highlight any kind of experience or transferable skills you have, no matter where you’ve worked in what areas you will always have a transferable skill. There’s skills you know like communication, teamwork, whether you whether you’re the top dog or just entry level you will have been demonstrating the same skills across the board so even if you’re going from one sector to another and that’s a complete 180, you will have transferable skills. That was really when we had to hire a lot of testing staff, obviously the testing numbers that we do. We got a lot of applicants from people with non-science backgrounds. They were able to demonstrate to us that you know yes, I have to have a science degree but I have all these key transferable skills. They slotted right into the roles with us. So, you know, for me from my background I got pulled in from design and then was that in doing PCR testing so it really is. I have transferable skills and think that yes some of them were technical but there’s all these skills that were so important to my participation in the Randox kind of National Testing programme.
So what are your top tips to develop a commercial awareness?
As I said before, it’s a lot of time and effort, and typically when you’re still doing your studies, it can be a bit overwhelming but just that little bit and often I think keep yourself in the loop, particularly if you have a passion for a certain industry or a certain sector, or a certain company, you know, you may have followed up from you were young, just keeping up, up to date into that specific, you know, professional Twitter accounts that you follow relevant people you could dip in and out off wherever you want to, set up email alerts you know for relevant Twitter feeds, relevant terms , follow different reporters or some reporters who are very interested, you know, in certain sectors you know they’ll always publish really useful information for you. And so, I think, little and often is the key. It can be overwhelming but even taking that first step forward, will really set you apart from other graduates.
How important are time management skills, organisation skills, planning skills and prioritisation? How important are these and how can you develop them?
They are really important, no matter what area you work in the business, be it science and r&d, sales, anything. All of these, all these skills are transferable and they’re very important at all the different roles and you’ll develop them no matter what role you’re in. It’s very important to ask for feedback so from both your peers, and from your supervisors or anything like that, you know, can they offer you any constructive feedback you know of anything if any of those particular skills that you think you want to build on, because sometimes it’s hard to see from outside – someone might say you’re really good, you know, at time management, I’m really impressed. Maybe your organisation could be a bit better but these are things you can do. So just being vocal on that. One of the big things with graduates is the fear of the phone. No matter what business you’re in, you need to pick up that phone if someone is asking you we need a response we need that information right now, you might think I’m going to send them an email first and give them a couple of hours, you know you need confidence, picking up the phone and even, even after all my studies and my PhD and stuff, with all emails whenever I went into the kind of, you know, an industry job, you have to do that. So, you can always follow up with a good follow up with an email with a call, you know, discuss those and say, as we discussed in the phone – here’s all the points the from the call. But yeah, That’s a big thing, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone – you’ll forge relationships that way and then you can always call them again. It’s always good to get relationships with people in certain areas.
How can a student who doesn’t have professional experience demonstrate skills in an interview?
One of the big things with that would be flexibility. So being able to show – I’ve been involved in a number of different clubs and societies – I’ve juggled a part time job with my studies, you know, I’ve been able to do it that way, because for the most part you’ll never really have one project, you’ll probably have five, you know, and you’ll have to keep them all long side by side, you know, like did you study different courseworks as mini projects, you know that you’ve got yourself through to the end. Communication, really important, as I said, you know, I can pick up the phone and I can call people, I can communicate with people at various different levels, you know. Were you a student rep, where you communicated with lecturers, key people in the course organisation, your peers. Persuasion and negotiation is a hard one to demonstrate particularly as a student I used to give workshops on how to do this. Have you had to persuade different clubs for time, use of a room, use of a football pitch? That’s persuasion and negotiation – negotiating for different tutorial times. Everyone will have evidence of these skills – it’s taking the time to sit down and actually write them down, you know, being able to be specific with them you will have them it’s just one of the hardest things. Keep a record, you know, keep a record for yourself when you demonstrate certain things now when it comes to those job interviews, you can open your book and I did that last day and they did that.
How important is it to stay calm under pressure?
It’s really important. I can say from working in testing labs whenever the samples are flowing in at an astronomical number, you really have to keep your pressured head. It can be overwhelming, different work – someone might come in and there’s 10 different people vying for your expertise and your time at any one point. Take your time. Don’t be afraid to step back and take your time to think about how you’re going to respond to all of these different pressures. Some people will just go ahead and start rushing through it but I think it’s important to take, even if it’s 5-10 minutes to kind of sit down. I always make lists, you know, what are the things I need to do, and I still even if it’s tiny – I’ll write it down and tick it off because always feels really good, because otherwise you’re just sitting thinking I’ve ten things to do and you can’t focus on the job at hand so sometimes write it all down to prioritise it. Take that 10 minutes take that half an hour, even if you’re under pressure, that’s most important. It’s like essay answers – taking the time to brainstorm, you know different projects at work. And then you know you’re going to answer all the things you need to do and you’re going to do it effectively.
Interested in Randox? Randox are currently recruiting. You can find details of their current vacancies on the Gradfest2021 site.
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.
John Maguire, North West Talent Partner at FinTrU gives his top tips on navigating the graduate recruitment and application process.
I am still job searching what skills should I brush up on to make me more employable?
John: So, there’s all manner of things you could be brushing up on to make yourself more employable. I think one of the key things is really to go and look at the companies you’re interested in joining, go and look at the sectors you’re interested in getting involved in your research like, there’s so much stuff now online, and you’ve no excuses to really not be not be completely filled up with all the information you need to know if you’re interested in somewhere, and you can find out so, so many things about employers and about sectors online at the moment. I suppose the other thing is just you know, don’t be afraid to ask questions you can reach out to employers, you can reach out to companies on LinkedIn, through different websites and things like that. So I would just practice kind of be in the habit of reaching I find that information, because that’s a bit of a bit of a skill in itself, I suppose, an organisational skills that everyone’s looking for kind of be a self starter if you can use your initiative, and do all that kind of thing. That’s a good place to start.
How can I make a good impression in a video interview?
John: Good question. Things are very different these days being on screen rather than in person. You can’t shake someone’s hand and you can’t get comfortable with them in the same room and sit across the desk from each other. I think it’s just doing the basics really well – having your research done. Doing everything you would do for a normal job interview really and just getting comfortable with the fact that you’re on screen with someone. We’ve been doing it for so long and it’s almost become second nature it’s becoming the new normal. It’s normal for us they kind of just do everything on video and all of our recruitment on video.
But it’s obviously a lot of people’s first names coming on, even though we’ve done dozens and hundreds of interviews with video. It’s always someone you know, first time doing a video interview. I suppose just be comfortable with it, be kind of aware that it’s just a little bit different than to be worried about things like, you know, technical difficulties happening – think people are really scared to about their internet cutting out… be aware that people are going to make room for that kind of thing that don’t happen in person like technical issues and all that kind of thing. But look, just be yourself, still be professional, you know do exactly what you would do in any other interview. Just don’t be afraid to go in and sell yourself even though it’s, it’s online and not in person.
How can I apply some of the skills I have developed in the last year when I start my job?
John: So. I think in the last year we’ve all developed some new skills in terms of working online, being based on our own and checking in with people in and the virtual environments. I think that’d be one of the positives of kind of what’s happened over the last year or two, is that some of that’s going to remain I think going forward in the future I think there’s gonna be a lot more virtual conferences and maybe people travelling to go to training sessions and things mightn’t happen as much so I don’t want people to feel like, all this virtual etiquette that everyone’s learned is gonna go out the window and no one’s gonna ever use it again. I think it’s a good thing to have under your belt, I think, like I said last kind of travelling between offices, the virtual options for doing training and team tasks are fantastic at the minute and they’re only going to get better. So I would lean heavily on that and really use that and it’s something that a lot of people haven’t had the opportunity to go to, it’s been a totally different work for the last year so I would say don’t feel like your, your experience of maybe being in university from, from home, and all that kind of thing is going to go waste because it’s not you’re going to get some use out of it and you’re gonna have all the skills there for the future.
So what does onboarding look like starting work in 2021?
John: So like I said look, the recruitment, the onboarding process everything like that, is totally up in the air at the moment. We’re thankfully coming to a time where we’re thinking about actually being in an office together how exciting is that? Everyone’s looking forward to human interaction, human contact.
Say for example, you know you’re being onboarded by the minute and everything’s still totally, totally remote, any company will have put in a lot of work to make sure that they still get introduced to all the colleagues that you need to be introduced to and you don’t feel to siloed and you don’t feel too alone. FinTru puts a lot of effort into making sure that everyone that comes in, feels like part of the FinTru team and really embraces the culture and getting involved in everything that could be getting involved in the office. So the moment that’s what it looks like every company will be putting a lot of effort into making sure everyone feels included and not left out in the remote environment.
But hopefully over the next few months, things continue to go reasonably well we’ll be able to get some in-person interaction and then we’ll all have to figure out how to do that all over again so that’ll be a whole new challenge.
How can I make a good first impression?
John: So good first impression – if this is an interview or if this is your first day, whatever it might be, I think, you know, we want people to be themselves I think sometimes people get lost in trying to be someone else either on an interview on the first day of work and they have this dream picture of what the dream employee should look like and to try and be someone else but we want people, and every other company will only want to be themselves. The best version of themselves to be professional, but still just totally themselves…That’s what, that’s what you’ve been hired by that company so I would just totally focus on being yourself and uploading the best best version of yourself across really.
What is the worst thing you’ve ever seen on a CV?
John: So I would do a lot of looking at CVs in my position, I think, it’s the basics. For example, if someone says that one of their skills is attention to detail and they’ve spelt the word attention wrong, that kind of thing – just the irony of it. There’s so much online in terms of, you know, If you go to YouTube or google – how to write a good CV, a modern, clean contemporary CV that it’s just one of those things you need to get right, so there’s plenty of resources out there, plenty of people that will be able to help you online. But yeah, just basic kind of basic errors are kind of the glaring things that people should be checking.
So, if I was going to do one thing today to make me stand out in the recruitment process, what would that be?
John: I think it comes down again to research, I think look at the company you’re applying for, look at the role you’re applying for and know absolutely, absolutely everything there is to know I think it’s something that impresses employers and companies when you’ve done that, and I think, on the other hand, it’s something that can let you down if you’re not armed with all the information that’s because it’s all out there at the moment it’s not as if you have to go in anywhere and find it. It’s literally at your fingertips, it’s on your phone. So I would say number one thing is, research, research, research just get everything you can about the company you’re applying for the role you’re applying for. And like I said earlier, I think we mentioned this earlier, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions in advance, you know, maybe people on LinkedIn or different organisations, whatever it might be, I would say just have all the information and show how keen you are to really, really go for a role, as you’ve done that, you’re going to be moving on to the next step.
I think as well like even if you look at companies’ social media profiles… like everyone has Instagrams and Twitters and Linkedin profiles and you can see a lot of the stuff the the company does culturally as well – maybe some of the charity partners they work with and maybe some of the things they get involved in outside of the 9-5 which will give you another flavour of the company you’re applying for.
How can I embed myself in a virtual team?
John: Yeah, we’ve kind of touched on this already I suppose. The thing I say to people when they’re starting off – I picked up so much even just bumping into people when I was getting coffee or going up the elevator or whatever, whatever it is.. and you stumble into people and stumble upon things you didn’t know before, so I think you have to work harder to get those opportunities. I think you need to be the one to send the Teams message, or Skype message like “how’s it going?” even or just just speak to someone just catch up on someone’s weekend and maybe you discover you’ve got things in common and who knows where it goes from there… there’s so many things kind of happen accidentally in an office just jumping in and chatting to people, and we don’t get opportunities I like when I go for coffee, it’s just me and the dog like there’s no one else. It’s not as if I have any any colleagues to bump into, or just catch up on the weekends or think everything at the moment can be really transactional and it can be all to do with someone when they need something or you need something for a piece of work. I think setting time aside, literally just call someone and say, how was your football match at the weekend or did you go for that hike you were talking about going and just really making a conscious effort to do that. Otherwise we don’t get those kinds of casual opportunities.
I still don’t know what I want to do, can you give me any advice?
John: So, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I think that’s okay – we’ve always had to choose really early in our lives about A-Levels and degrees and everything like that so I would stop thinking about a a job title, without thinking about maybe, what do you want to your days to look like, what do you want your career to look like in terms of, do you want to work with people. Do you want to be travelling, do you want to be based somewhere, do you want to work with technology, I would, I would start trying to come up with a career like rather than going straight to the kind of name of the career and name of the job that you’re dreaming of I would start dreaming up the skills you have, what you want you to ask who you want to work with all that kind of thing because I know one of the best things about my role is working with people, getting to do things like this. And that’s why I’ve kind of steered myself this this direction so if that’s something you’re interested in, like I would start thinking that way rather than thinking about the ultimate job title at the end I suppose because that’s really, really difficult. So start thinking about skills start thinking about things you want to do on a daily basis, a clearer picture of the industries and stuff you can go and start looking at.
If I don’t like my job how long should I stick at it?
John: I think it’s going to take you a while to figure out what your role actually is and figure out the feel of the company you join. You’ve done your research, there’s been something that led you to apply for this company and join the company wherever we end up. I think you have to give it time. I think a lot of things can you know when they’re feeling new and you’re not totally, you know, getting to grips with the rule, yet. I think you can start thinking oh maybe I don’t like this, maybe I’m not capable, like, maybe this is something I shouldn’t be involved in but I think it takes a number of months for anyone to get settled into any kind of new role or even a role within your own business. Don’t be too hasty and give them give them, you know, I think we can confuse, not knowing everything about a role and not being totally comfortable with a role with maybe not liking it, but you owe it to yourself that, to give you a little while to settle in.
What support will I get starting a new job working from home?
John: Yep. So, I know from our perspective, we will have a lot of support in place, so things like your dedicated line manager – someone like me looking after the graduate programmes, new start programmes. And look, everyone’s so conscious of nobody getting left behind in this online world, so we’ll be reaching out, checking in with as much as we want. We want it to feel like you’re in the office and you’re still sitting beside people and having that support that you have naturally in an office. The other thing I would say is don’t be afraid to reach out, the same way you would stop someone in the office maybe ask them a question that’s on your mind. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or go on teams. I think people who are new to a company is almost feel like they’re annoying people when they send them a Teams message, but like that’s what everyone’s for everyone’s there to help and no one’s going to be annoyed at you sending them a Teams message to ask them, ask them a question in your first few weeks so don’t be afraid to reach out.
How should I prepare before my first day?
John: So your first day in a company, the company will make sure that you have everything you need to get started, any necessary kind of information that you’re already going to have from the company. It comes down to research and just do everything you can with the company know what’s going on in the company at any given moment. Just be really up to speed with like Graham said earlier, any news and anything that’s really happening and just get a feel for the company. Again, I think it comes down to if you’re not sure or you feel like you’re missing something you should have, don’t be afraid to reach out to your new employer. Especially these days with with the online thing and virtual nature of things, you know, sometimes you just have to reach out to people. Don’t be afraid to lift the phone and just ring that number online to contact the company or whatever. I think people are doing that sometimes. So don’t be. Don’t worry. That’s something that people actually have a lot of respect towards kind of like what Graham was saying about, you know, he started February, Dorsey new members of the team and things like that, that’s really really well respected, but, you know, a company should have everything they need with you for day one, like, on top of your research and don’t be afraid to reach out just like I said.
What training do you provide graduates?
John: So, we at FinTru have a dedicated learning and development team, that kind of the way we view it is the Learning never really stops so you kind of come in to our financial services Academy, there’s loads of training provided in the graduate Academy. When you come into the business and join one of our various projects or project specific training and things like that. And really, all the way through your career depending on what role you’re in and where you go in the business we will have dedicated training available that will be specific to your role, maybe at any given time, for example, in my role dealing with people all the time and I’ve recently gone through like mental health first aid training session, kind of training side of things so it’s not just traditional examinations it’s you know, maybe some leadership modules maybe some management modules, things like that. So there’s lots of training and it never really stops. I’ve been with FinTru, many years now and I’ve never stopped learning, I’m always picking up things. Yeah, it’s one of the, one of the things we really focus on is developing our people and, and investing back in our people, we have our four key values or four Ps and one of the Ps is people. It’s something that’s really important to us, investing in our people to develop and grow them through the business really.
What is the most common mistake you see in interviews?
John: Yeah so I think we talked about it and I think we talked about it earlier – it’s trying to be someone else, I think, I think it’s that, that can come across as really kind of stilted and rehearsed. And I think your research can be brilliant, and you can have done everything right but if you try and stand up and convey it as if you try to be someone else like this version of someone that you think you should be, that’s not that’s not the way to do it I think you just have to be yourself like everyone’s different. We know we want to see you be you, and bring the best version of yourself really to the, to the table. So I think once you’ve got your research done. And once you’ve kind of you’re armed with everything you need for the interview. I would say look just be yourself you can be professional, you can still be personable at the same time and you can still have a wee bit of, you know, a bit of your own personality shine through in the interview so I think people try and really, you know, bleach all the personality, sometimes in interviews and try and be really, you know robotic and stuff. We want to see that personality, we want to see you be you really. I think interviews are a snapshot as well like they’re not- they don’t take all day and you can’t spend all day interviewing someone again. So it’s that five minutes of waffle that will be better used on another question where you can really shine. Don’t think if you’ve got a really tricky question and I’m gonna have to think of my feet here and just come up with something. You’re better using that time just moving on just saying I’m not really too sure about that.
I don’t have a graduate job, where can I find opportunities?
John: Yeah. So short answer again is online, like, I think, these days we have absolutely no excuse to not be not be kind of totally up to date with everything that’s out there. I think, a pretty general search online for graduate roles, fantastic place to start. And then every single business that you are interested in will have a website, will have social media, will have everything you need to kind of go and get, go and get an initial look anyway, and then follow up with questions. And don’t be afraid to reach out to potential employers or, or even have worked in that industry or work with that company before so don’t be afraid to ask a question, you learn so much just by speaking with people that are asking questions. So I would say that, but look online is a great place to start. You don’t have to wait for the weekend newspaper anymore and see the opportunities or anything like that so it’s all there, it’s all out there. If you want that, you can just go and then if you really want to get involved in a company, you need to get started so just go for a really just start looking, I would absolutely like are all the different ones out there.
What could I ask at the end of the interview?
John: I think one of the things we will say is at that section of the interview, don’t have no questions, even if you think you know everything and you’re happy with everything and your content was everything, just have a few questions lined up – it’s a really deflating end to an interview when you say do you have any questions for us, but anything to do with the company? And people say “no I’m fine” it’s just really kind of slow finish.
Declan Lupari, Former KTP Associate at Queen’s is a VR/AR Developer within the Digital Construction Team at Graham. Here is his top advice for graduates.
What has been the most challenging part of your career?
The most challenging part was having no construction background whatsoever, I came from a computer science background. So getting in trying to learn everything as I went. Getting a bit overwhelmed with all the jargon and acronyms can be a bit daunting at the start. But people are there to help you identify, develop you and your abilities further. But I think the greatest milestone was just completing the KTP project and seeing the effect of my products and projects on the company.
What advice would you give to students graduating who haven’t yet secured a job?
Yeah, just be patient. Your dream job’s not going to be the first thing that appears on Indeed or Glassdoor or anything. Like I worked for O2 straight out of uni for a couple of months selling phones in a touring van so it’s definitely not the same route I’m in now. But keep tabs on the likes of indeed or Glassdoor and see what’s popping up your your interests and what’s relevant to your degree and to your also your interest as well. And don’t doubt your, your abilities you just graduated. So you definitely get the skill set to do well, and be confident whenever you do apply for that job.
What is the best bit of advice you would give a graduate starting a new role?
Just take it as it comes. Like I was saying, I had no idea what the construction sector I had a basic history in virtual reality. I did that for my dissertation. So I had the passion for and I had a bit of that, that no heart at the start. But take every day as it comes. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your team members, they’re there to support you and help you make sure you’re producing the best work. But you’re also enjoying your work as well, making sure everything’s going all right for you. I would like I wouldn’t know the knowledge I do know, if I didn’t reach out to my team members and ask them what certain acronyms meant or how to write an email to a director or just little bits and pieces that you’ll pick up on the way. Don’t expect to know everything. On the first day you’ll pick it up as you go.
What does this year look like for a graduate starting a job? will people be office based or working from home or a blend of both?
I think it’ll be a blend of both. I’ve recently just been to the office, which is a big Rarity this year. It must be about three times have been in the office since August. But we just had two graduates actually starting today in our team, and they were on boarded and inducted and everything online. But as things start to become more open, people become more comfortable being in confined spaces or offices, I think that’ll start to open up a bit. And we’ll start to see people eye to eye in offices. And yeah, it’ll be a blend of both up until then. And then hopefully going forward. It’ll be more office space. But adapting to online has been a big thing this year. So it could be that way for a bit.
Why does the positive attitude in the workplace matter?
I think it’s a an integral part of the work the working life, it’s essential for developing strong relationships with your team members on also clientele. And I think it’s a big a big factor in getting returning customers as well, a positive attitude. You can see it a mile away. And it shows ambition shows eagerness to learn. And it cements those relationships in that collaboration and teamworking just a bit further.
To what extent is it okay to admit you don’t know something when starting out in a job?
Well, that was me the first month or two months with jargon and acronyms, everything. I think it was the first week, I didn’t really want to come off as I didn’t know completely what I was doing. So, when I took it upon myself to do that research, that also helped as well. But I think reaching out to your colleagues, they’re not gonna think less of you, they were all in the same position that you were initially as well. So they’re there to help you. And again, you’ll just pick that up as you go along. Don’t feel too much pressure to know everything on the first day – you’re not going to.
How important is it to find a job that excites and challenges you?
I think it’s very important to have a job that excites you and challenges you. If you go in doing the same mundane tasks that you don’t like, it’s the days are gonna drag, you’re not going to care how much money you’re making. There’s more important things to life than money, you need that, that spark and that challenge. And achievement may be small challenges, or big challenges, they’ll spur you on to do better. And if you have a passion for that job as well, it’ll only spur you on further. So the sky’s the limit for that. And then eventually, in that field, you’ll earn that money. But that’s not that shouldn’t be the driving factor. It should be what you want to do every day.
What was the driving force behind your major career decisions?
I knew I always wanted to go into something to do with computers. I’ve been passionate about it since no age, I’ve always been brought up a random technology, my dad coded whenever I was young. So there’s always computers, devices, soldering irons sitting everywhere. So it was always something I was passionate about. And that led me to go into computer science and management at Loughborough University. Absolutely loved it. It was challenging. But I think the fact that I had the passion towards computers, and technology drove me on to do well and then reach out and look for a job that had that ticked all those boxes. It wasn’t like thing I wasn’t looking for was money – it was the hands on approach and having a lot of contribution to a project on getting to do what I love each day. And I’ve just progressed from that.
What do you love about your job?
I’m fortunate enough to see projects the whole way from ideation to deployment and use and feedback etc. But I love seeing progress – whether it be through my own ability through projects that I’ve cocreated and seen their impact and as Jack was saying the feedback from your work whether its solo or teamwork – it’s a different feeling and it spurs you on to do better in your own work and to encourage others to do their best as well.
If you could go back and give yourself some advice on your first day what would it be?
Like I was saying before, no one expects you to know everything on your first day – everyone’s been in that position, everyone’s had their own first day with fears and doubts. Just take every day as it comes. Keep asking questions and don’t be afraid to reach out.
What advice would you give to our graduating cohort?
Don’t stress yourself out if you don’t get your dream job straight away. You may be rejected by a few interviews, it doesn’t mean that job isn’t there for the taking. Take every day as it comes but give it your all.
Interested in KTP at Queen’s? KTP will feature on our @QUBCareers Instagram during the week commencing 19 July talking about creativity and lateral thinking. Visit the Gradfest2021 site to find out more.