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.
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.
Graham Ryan, Strategic Resourcing Manager at Version 1 gives his top tips on navigating the graduate recruitment and application process.
How can I use my LinkedIn profile to stand out?
Okay, so first, depending on what you’re interested in from a business point of view, you know, follow the companies or [graduate] programmes…writing blogs, as we know, for the last couple years is a huge thing, you know to comment back on people you are following that are in your area that you either want to get into, or you’re in at the moment. But also don’t forget the personal side, your own interests, things like that don’t feel that LinkedIn is purely just from a business point of view. If you write a blog on something you’re interested in, that’s not necessarily in the area, you know people, you know, people like that and people are open minded, but definitely get involved, certainly from a blog point of view and liking and sharing material.
How do I build valuable work relationships in a virtual environment?
Okay so, when you’re coming onboard and starting in a new role you have to make a good first impression – that’s key. Regular catch up sessions with the business, don’t be scared to have chats with different people across the business. Gain trust from others by keeping up communication.
So, if I was going to do one thing today to make me stand out in the recruitment process, what would that be?
Just one of the key things here as far as research, you’ll find a lot of people do this but when you’re Googling a company just go in news tab, find out the recent stories so you don’t get caught in interview if a company has had a recent win they ask you about. Have a look at the news tab of Google when you are going for an interview in a company, it’ll give you the recent news just in case it’s brought up and you never know it might not be brought up, or the candidate could bring it up, which would be obviously very impressive, if someone did that.
What is the etiquette for virtual meetings? Should I keep my camera on, should put my hand up to contribute and when should I use the chat feature?
So obviously always camera on, unless you’re told otherwise. Certainly, camera on in interviews settings and meetings. The chat is used throughout, some people raise their hand on Microsoft Teams for example or else just write a comment if it’s a question or something like that. Don’t be afraid of what the right thing to do is, all the tools that are there, so put up your hand or write in the comment section… don’t overthink it. Don’t overthink it, don’t be worried about it. There’s no right or wrong way.
If I don’t like my job how long should I stick at it?
You might get better opportunities to move into different roles in the company. The opportunities are not going to be handed to you then, and you know if you get in, put your head down. Mightn’t be an area where you want to end up or stay, but just work hard on it and all of a sudden you’ll see the opportunities come at you, without a shadow of a doubt.
What are the top skills you’re looking for in graduates?
So in terms of technical skills first anyway in terms of that so like software engineers, it’s a big thing at the minute, data analytics, business analysis, DevOps engineers their level of skills and soft skills, well maybe we can upskill on themselves, you know, depending on the company, certainly development is a key area that we’re looking at.
What support will I get starting a new job working from home?
You’ll get senior leaders in the business who are really impressed when graduates reach out to them. People are easily accessible nowadays – I know it’s not face to face but everyone’s online – a quick catchup for a 5-10 minute chat – you know it’s there. It’s seen as a really positive thing for senior leaders.
What do you love to see in a new recruit?
Attitude, someone who’s very driven, open-minded. If you come with all the knowledge but a bad attitude a wrong attitude. Certainly, someone who comes in fresh and ready … It’s just a good idea to try different things and to get involved in different things based on the different projects and different teams and to hit the ground running.
What can I do to make myself more employable?
Okay so, so, upskilling. Use the time to upskill if you’re out of employment. We’ve seen in the last year people taking up banana bread and people have done stuff with their career as well – just explain what you’ve been up to as well.
What is the most common mistake you see in interviews?
Like at the end of the day an interview – it’s, it’s a conversation with a stranger. When you’re having a conversation with a stranger on the street you don’t just shut up shop. Treat it as a conversation that the interviewer’s trying to get more information out of you. So if you don’t know something or you’re unsure – get them to reword the question, what I would say certainly if you don’t know you don’t know. Be aware of the waffle – it’s natural because of nerves. But in terms of an engineer because it happens it’s actually taken for nerves as well as the press that every given question, but just think about it from that aspect. First impressions are key you will get some hiring managers that will listen to what their thoughts are, you know – have a smile like we do on a face to face smile and a strong handshake. Be yourself. Because if you come in with a shop. You know it’s just hard to come back from that.
Where can I find opportunities?
Ask your mates who’ve been through it recently or their siblings – you’ll be amazed at the different companies, you’ll get by reaching out to your friends and things.
If you Google news on a company how can you drop it into an interview without it sounding rehearsed?
You just say for example, there’s always a situation, when you get an opportunity to ask questions. Just say I noticed you won that or you’ve acquired this company – can you tell me a bit more about that? Bring it forward in the interview and wait until the end.
What could I ask at the end of the interview?
Keep away from the question to ask for salary and things like that. Another thing you could say is, how would ideally a person succeed in this role? How could I shape this role? Rather than “what are the benefits?” Another thing to say is just, just not to curse. I know it sounds easy, but just to be conscious of that.
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.
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.
Jack McKeown, a Senior associate in Assurance in EY, says confidence is key in his graduate tips.
What has been the most challenging part of your career?
Probably the transition from student life to working life. Time management would have been a big part. Your time is structured at uni, whereas now people aren’t driving you towards a certain goal, it’s all up to you. You have to take the attitude where you are the one who is going to decide whatever path you’re going to go down. Of course, you’ll get help, but you have to be the ultimate driver.
What advice would you give to students graduating who haven’t yet secured a job?
I would just say ‘be confident’ would be the main thing. Ask questions every day; you’ll never be done learning. No one’s ever finished learning, even those right up to the management are learning from someone. And so always ask questions, and always try and understand why you’re performing the task. Once you understand the why, then the rest will follow afterwards.
What skills does your organisation expect of graduates and how can University leavers develop these while job searching?
EY has three core values. Ultimately, they are looking for people who demonstrate integrity, respect and teamwork. People with energy, enthusiasm, and the courage to lead. People who build relationships based on doing the right thing. People with a strong work ethic, who can both work together as a team, but are not afraid to lead that team, either by example, or direction. I really encourage students to throw themselves into anything they can. So internships, opportunities through queens and activities within the university. Develop all these skills: working in a team, leadership and even improving your own confidence.
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.
While the guidance is ‘if possible work from home’, you will mostly be working from home, although the offices for EY are open for people who want to go in. A blended approach will probably be adopted, certainly in my line of work where we work with our clients, not just from the office. So, I think you will see many people mixing in and about, but definitely will be back in the office come whenever we’re allowed.
Why does positive attitude in the workplace matter?
I think positive attitude is so important in the workplace, and probably the most important thing that you’ll need in terms of work that you’re being asked to complete and with interactions with the client. It will allow you to keep the spirits up of yourself and your team members, and then also to help your team members by taking on work and alleviating pressure on the rest of the team. So, I do believe it is vital. And certainly in our feedback from those above, the positive attitude is always something that was mentioned.
How important is confidence? What advice would you give to increase your confidence at work?
I’d say confidence is probably one of the most important things in work. You definitely need to be confident in your own ability. To increase your confidence, I suggest increasing your own knowledge, because with knowledge comes power. And with that power comes confidence. Listen to feedback from those above you, so you know what you’re doing well, because once you know what you’re doing well at, that will also increase your confidence.
To what extent is it okay to admit that you don’t know something when starting out in a job?
It’s absolutely okay to admit you don’t know something starting out in the job. There will be no expectation of you for prior knowledge. Certainly, even in EY, we hire graduates from all degrees, because they all have a different perspective on the challenges we face in our line of work, so there’s no requirement to know anything. And you’ll be coached by your superiors. At EY we’ve a great coaching culture, and we look forward to any questions that you’ll have. So, honestly, it’s fine to admit you don’t know something.
How important is it for employers to foster workspaces where employees can be themselves?
Everyone’s going to bring a different attitude and perspective to different problems that are going to arise. I’m from an accounting degree and there’s loads of people that come from other degrees, which will give you different lines of thought that you would never have considered. But there’s other things as well that that identify us, not just the degree that we’ve come from. In EY, it’s fostered through different networks, like the Mental Health Network and Disability Network, Women’s Network, and it goes on and on. So, it’s wonderful just to be able to be yourself; you know you have that support. It makes you comfortable, and ultimately, where you’re comfortable, you’re going to perform your best.
What advice would you give to our graduating cohort?
Throw yourself into tasks and be confident in completing them. Look to challenge yourself and make sure you are engaged. Know what you expect from your career and manage those expectations but, ultimately, enjoy it. It’ll be a great journey and you’ll look back on it so definitely make sure you’re enjoying it.
Interested in working for EY? They will also be talking all things Workplace Culture live on @QUBCareers Instagram during the week commencing 5 July. Visit the Gradfest2021 site to find out more.
Chloe McKee, a COVID-19 laboratory manager at Randox, shares her advice for graduates.
What advice would you give to students graduating who haven’t yet secured a job?
My advice would be just keep searching. If you want something hard enough, it will come to you in the end, so don’t give up hope. You may go for the first job interview and it may not work out. Even the second or maybe the third might not. But if the first, second or third hasn’t worked, there is still going to be one down the line that is going to be right for you. So, just don’t give up hope and keep going.
How could a new graduate without a graduate role gain valuable work or other experience in the current environment?
The current environment is obviously a lot more difficult than previous years due to the pandemic. But my advice for new students graduating would be to look out everywhere for new experiences; there are going to be some out there for you. Any experience is better than no experience. Even if it’s a few hours volunteering. That’s going to make you stand apart from other students that don’t have the experience. Any experience is better than no experience.
What skills does your organisation expect of graduates and how can University leavers develop these while job searching?
Randox Laboratories has a strong emphasis on practical best skills, and especially within our COVID testing labs at the minute, because we are getting a lot of new graduates. So, in university just make the most of your practical classes by asking questions and learning new techniques. Don’t just go along with the flow, make sure you actually know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Randox is looking for someone who is really keen, willing to learn and wants to actually go far and wants to develop their career.
What is the best bit of advice you would give a graduate starting a new role?
The best bit of advice I could give is just to give your all. As a new graduate you have the advantage of being young and eager and ready for work. And this is really your time to shine. So, just really throw yourself into any job or any task you’re given. This will mean you will get the best experience possible out of the job.
What skills may students have developed in the past year? And how can they apply these in a work environment?
The past year has been challenging for us all, obviously, because of the pandemic. But that doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Having to work from home as a student has given people real adaptability to their work and we see that they’re coping better with change. This has given them a real resilience and eagerness to work, because they’re excited to get out into the environment, to come out and meet new people and learn new skills.
Why does the positive attitude in the workplace matter?
A positive attitude in the workplace is half the battle – if you have a positive attitude and are ready to learn, you’re going to go far. You’re not going to have all the skills that they are looking for initially, but those skills can be built up If you have a positive attitude and are ready and eager to learn.
How important is confidence? And what advice would you give to increase your confidence of work?
Confidence is key. Ultimately, you have finished your degree so you know that you specialise in your subject, trust the knowledge you have. Don’t forget that once you enter a job, and there’s always room for more learning. Take training courses, ask questions, ask your manager what you can do. There’s never room to stop learning.
To what extent is it okay to admit you don’t know something when starting a job?
My advice would be to always be honest: if you don’t know something, that’s okay. Ask your colleagues for help. It’s better to ask for help and then do a great job and not ask for help and struggle. All your colleagues have had a first day as well, so, everyone in that job has been in the same position as you. So don’t be worried about asking for help. It’s better to ask for help than not.
In a recent poll of our students, 80% said job satisfaction is more important than financial security. How can our graduates find job satisfaction, and what is the secret to a happy working life?
I would agree that job satisfaction is more important than the money. For me, job satisfaction comes from doing something that you’re interested in, that’s going to satisfy you and to do what you love each day. And secondly, working with a good team in a good company. If you enjoy going to work and seeing your colleagues every day, it makes your job so much easier. The secret to me for a happy working life is just say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t shut yourself off to anything, you never know what one training course or what one trip away with your work can do. It’s all about who you meet and who you know in that sector.
What do you love about your job?
I love a lot of things about my job and my colleagues would definitely be a big part of that. I’m lucky to work in a great team who’ve all come from different academic backgrounds so I’ve learned so much from each of them. Another thing I love about my job is the fact that every single one of us here is playing a massive fight against COVID-19 and the pandemic and this will be something to look back on in years to come and be proud of.
What advice would you give to someone who isn’t sure they are on the right career path?
Just experiment! You don’t know until you try. You have to go into a job and give it your all before you know it’s not the one for you. Having said that, when you’re in that job and it’s not the one for you, that’s okay. You’re getting experience and you know what you want out of your career – it’s almost like fine tuning your career. Ultimately, you’ll find out what job you really want.
Interested in Randox? Randox will feature on our @QUBCareers Instagram during the week commencing 28 June talking about commercial awareness. Visit the Gradfest2021 site to find out more.