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From Queen’s to global peacemaker

Conor Houston, Queen’s Law graduate is Director of Houston Solutions Limited, and Chairman of several organisations including the Federation of Small Businesses Northern Ireland, One Young World 2023 Belfast, and of Fleming Fulton School. He is also the Governor and Trustee of the Irish Times Media Group.

Conor Houston

What does Queen’s mean to you?

 I’m often reminded of Seamus Heaney, his famous line when he talked about the original centre. I think, as I reflected, I’m making this video today, Queen’s University very much is for me, my original centre. It’s where I formed my passion for Law, which was the career I practised in for most 10 years. But it also gave me a number of skills, perspectives and opportunities that continue to this day, and I’m very proud that I have for almost 20 years, I’ve had an association with Queen’s University. 

What was your Queen’s experience like?

I graduated in 2004, with my Law degree. I had a fantastic three years at Queen’s, made a lot of friends who are still very much friends today, and I suppose it ignited my passion and interest in in law and the rule of law. I was very fortunate through my times at Queen’s to be involved in a number of summits and conferences, but also to go and study at the European Public Law Group Academy in Greece, in 2004, which was a really fantastic opportunity. It was my first time, I suppose, with young people from right across Europe studying together, all the different languages, cultures coming together and united by European Union law. 

That was a very formative and special time. And in fact, a number of the things that I’m continued to be involved in, tend to have that international perspective and lens. After I had completed my Law degree, I went on to study for my Master’s in Human Rights law, and was very fortunate that there was an opportunity to do a cross border element. So I did the first half of my Master’s in Queens, and the second half of my masters at the National University of Ireland in Galway. And again, that was a very special time and experience and a number of the friendships and relationships I enjoy to this day were because of that cross-border experience. 

What was your first graduate role?

I graduated from Queen’s with my Master’s and I then went back to Queen’s to study at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies, where I was finally admitted as a solicitor in 2008. I was lucky that I had a firm that I did my apprenticeship with John J. Rice and Company in Belfast, which was a criminal and human rights firm.I worked there for almost 10 years and was fortunate to be involved in many of the pioneering human rights cases of that time. I was dual qualified in that I was qualified both in Northern Ireland and also in the Republic of Ireland. So I practised a lot in Belfast and Dublin. And during my time in practice, I was very involved in the profession. Firstly, through the Young Lawyers Association, the Northern Ireland Young Solicitors Association, which I ended up becoming Chair of, and we had some fantastic conferences and events and a lot of fun with that group. I was then the first lawyer for Northern Ireland to be appointed to the board of the European Young Bar Association, which our relationship continues to this day. And 2010, we actually brought the European Young Bar Association conference to Belfast, so it was fantastic to bring all these international lawyers to our city. 

What has been a career highlight?

I suppose a combination of all those roles, as well as being so very fortunate to be representing some leading human rights cases represent journalists, politicians, and many others. I suppose I became very interested in how law can affect change, I was very passionate about making a difference. And that’s what attracted me into law, the power of law to create change in a society. 

I was very fortunate that the cases I got to work on, were very much about driving that change. But I suppose I became interested in how could I do even more so in 2014, I was awarded a scholarship by the United States State Department. And I spent a few months, I took a sabbatical and took a few months out to Boston College and then into Washington, and on their rule of law programme, which really started to develop my thinking more around the skills and experiences and perspective I had, and what I could do. 

Whilst my mission was very much about helping people and making a difference, trying to refine what I could do with that, I became very interested then around maybe getting involved around politics and trying to create change to help complete our peace process, and to, I suppose, realise the enormous ambition and potential of Northern Ireland. 

What are some of your favourite work-related projects? 

I was very honoured to be appointed as the programme director at the Centre for Democracy and Peacebuilding. And I worked there for a number of years and worked on some fantastic projects around working with, for example, community organisations, youth groups, loyalists bands. And it was a great privilege to be involved in their work in trying to help to complete the peace process and build capacity within both civic and political society. 

One of the amazing projects I got to work on with them was the EU debate programme, which was set up about nine months before the EU referendum. And the idea was to create a space for informed thinking and debate in Northern Ireland, on the issues that the Brexit referendum would have, particularly as it pertains to Northern Ireland. 

I was involved with the board in rolling out a very ambitious programme where we engaged with community groups, youth organisations, religious organisations, every political party in Northern Ireland. And we really began a conversation, we weren’t trying to determine the outcome of the debate, we were trying to make sure that there was a debate. So we were neutral in that we weren’t trying to tell people to leave or remain, we were just trying to present all of the arguments and create that space. And that was a very humbling experience. 

Queen’s University Belfast were very involved in supporting that project. In fact, we launched a new debate in the Great Hall in Queen’s and academics from the School of Politics, including Professor David Phinnemore were involved in writing a briefing paper for us. So it was very important to us that it would be underpinned by that credible academic expertise, but also the have that support of the reputation of Queen’s.

Why did you set up your own business? 

I decided to set up my own consultancy, and I suppose what brings together a number of the clients and projects that I work on, is that one thing to realise the ambition of Northern Ireland. So I work with a number of leaders, all of whom may be coming from very different backgrounds and sectors, but all of whom are very passionate about realising the enormous potential of Northern Ireland, and trying to drive change here. 

I suppose that’s what unites the number of projects that I’m privileged to work on now. And as I mentioned, I’m government trustee of the Irish Times Media Group. So the Irish Times is owned by a trust, and there are eight of us appointed to effectively act as the shareholders of the group. So we’re there to sort of look at the long term vision and that’s been particularly interesting, interesting in an age of post truth and thinking about the lines around freedom of speech, etc. So, and a lot of that, of course, goes back to the learnings that I had when I studied both my Law and Master’s degree around the issue of proportionality and competing rights. 

What is One Young World? 

I’ve been involved in leading a bid to bring One Young World to Belfast in 2023. So in 2017, I was asked to address the one Young World Youth summit in Bogota, Colombia. One Young World is the world’s largest youth summit. It brings over 3000 young people from every country in the world, to a city each year. And it’s one of the only organisations aside from the Olympics that actually gets every country in the world involved. 

And this is about identifying the future leaders, both within business but also within NGO sector, just young people that are passionately driving change right across the world. So I was very fortunate to be invited to address this summit in Bogota, Colombia in 2017, and was introduced on stage by the then president of Colombia, President Santos and the late Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations. Both of those men spoke about the impact that Northern Ireland had on their journeys to peace, and this was a very humbling moment for me. 

When I addressed the summit, I realised the power of our generation and the generation watching this video, to effect real change, not just within the place we will call home, but also in terms of making an impact in the world. So I then began the process of building a team to put together a bid to bring One Young World to Belfast in 2023, and we were successful in that. 

How has your degree from Queen’s helped you?

Queen’s is that passport, not just for your career, but to accessing opportunities, and a fantastic network right around the world. So, you know, I’m extremely proud of the many hats and roles and things I’ve been involved in being a graduate of Queen’s University is really up there, and I look forward to continuing that role with Queen’s. 

What challenges have you faced?

When I was a lawyer, and some of the projects I work on, particularly some of the Civic roles that I have, I think one of the challenges your generation is going to face is how we engage with the people we disagree with. So one of the challenges is always when you have very passionate about change, or seeing something happen, and you encountered the resistance to that.

I think that one of the big challenges that I challenge myself every day, I think that we have to all turn on is what can we do to engage with the people that we disagree with, how we, I’ve often said we don’t have to agree but being disagreeable is a choice. So we need to find more places and spaces in which we can find that ability to respectfully engage with each other and actually see that compromise is an art, it’s not a sellout.

I think this is something that I encourage your generation to really challenge I think that the future will belong to those who can build relationships that can be constructive that can respectfully disagree with each other, but can see the common good can work together for the common good, can see the bigger picture that is the challenge of your generation. 

What gets your out of bed in the morning?

I don’t feel that there’s an average week. For me, I think that’s probably what I love most about my, my work. In fact, I don’t even feel like I have a job because I’m very fortunate that everything I do, whether it be in my business life or my civic life, they are projects and issues that I’m very passionate about. So I jump out of bed in the morning, passionate about making the change in the area that day, whether it be through being on the border shadows and LGBT youth organisation, whether that be in promoting the role of small businesses through the five and a half 1000 members, and I have the privilege of being Chair of the FSB, and speaking up on their behalf, whatever I can do to to advocate change, to advance those who are trying to make a real impact. 

That’s what sparks me on in the morning. 

What advice do you have for graduates?

I think that’s one of the most exciting things about this generation, the graduates of today is that you really do have a blank canvas to create the kind of life and career that you want for yourself. And Queen’s University, as I say, is the ideal place to give you that toolkit for you to be able to do that. 

It’s for me, it’s that life journey, it’s not just about getting that degree wasn’t really that important that you do, and it’s about the relationships that you build, the skills that you have, and they will sustain you for the not just years but decades ahead. And you know, as I said, it’s 20 years this September since I started Queen’s, and I’m reminded of something my late grandfather said to me, he said 20 years is a long time looking forward, but nothing looking back. 

And for the first time, I can tell you, it doesn’t feel like two decades ago I entered Queen’s University, but those two decades, I’ve had that original centre of Queens, which has, as I say, been a constant thread throughout my career both here in Northern Ireland and through the international experiences and opportunities I’ve had. 

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Inspiration Leadership New Year Semester 2

NEW YEAR MESSAGE FROM TREVOR JOHNSTON, HEAD OF CAREERS, EMPLOYABILITY AND SKILLS

“I’d like to wish all our staff and students a very happy and healthy New Year. Providing award-winning careers support and advice to over 24,000 students has presented extra challenges in 2020. From very early on, staff in the Careers Service recognised the importance of continuing to support our students and graduates with all aspects of career planning and decision making. That meant embracing digital platforms and moving all our activity online.

The response from our staff and students was to adapt quickly and immediately engage with our new mode of delivery. I’m pleased to say we have discovered some unexpected benefits that we hope will have a lasting effect from this point forward. We have found that we have been able to reach a wider audience and deliver support asynchronously, with students able to re-watch skills sessions and employer presentations in their own time. As a result of this flexibility, our digital uptake has increased.

Behind the scenes, staff have worked extremely hard to source software and a range of digital platforms that have enabled us to diversify our delivery, offer relevant content and engagement opportunities online, and ultimately transform the student experience.

I am extremely proud of what we have achieved together. There are, of course, many elements of this past year that we will want to leave behind, but it has also sharpened our focus on how we deliver our service.

As we prepare to launch a new semester, we are encouraged by the enormous scope of possibilities and we are focussed on offering a more flexible and accessible Careers Service in the future.”

Happy New Year from all the staff in Careers, Employability and Skills!

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Advent Calendar Leadership personal skills Skills

Careers Advent Calendar: 15 Skills That Make a Good Leader

  1. Honesty and integrity

2. Confidence

3. Inspire Others

4. Commitment and Passion

5. Good Communicator

6. Decision Making Capabilities

7. Accountability

8. Delegation and Empowerment

9. Creativity and Innovation

10. Empathy

11. Resilience

12. Emotional Intelligence

13. Humility

14. Transparency

15. Vision and Purpose

Read more about the 15 leadership skills here

Discover more about leadership on the skills section of our site. 

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Employer Engagement Employer events Employers Graduate recruitment Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair Graduate success graduateland Leadership

Highlights from Day Two of the Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair

Leaders in industry gave some valuable advice to students and graduates during some inspiring presentations and workshops. Here are some of the takeaways from Day Two.

Neil Chief Economist on Island of Ireland at EY gave the keynote speech. 

Here is what he had to say:

“The most important message for students is to remain positive and upbeat despite what you read. You can very easily feel daunted or intimidating. At a time of change or disruption, there are plenty of opportunities. If you think of it this way, when there is lots of problems, the world needs problem-solvers.”

“Keep your sense of positivity, observe and learn but don’t be intimidated as if that will close down opportunities.”

“The world is always changing. The idea you can map out a career ten or 15 years is not true, you have to keep flexibility in your mind and approach.”

“The place you thought you would get a job, that may not be the case. Think what you enjoy and what you like doing. Think what competencies or skills you have. Be less predetermined in what those opportunities might be.”

“Be open mind and absorb what you can. Recruitment is a two-way thing. It’s not just what you have to do to get an opportunity, it’s asking yourself, can be at my best in that organisation?.”

Lessons from Leaders

Mark McCormack, Head of Technology at Aflac 

“Problem-solving is one of the most important skills you can develop for any career. It’s what separates us from the computers; that and empathy – and the craic.”

“I might work with computers but it’s the people that make the work interesting and fun.”

“You learn that the things that make you successful in one part of your career are not necessarily the things that make you successful later on. You have to learn and adapt. If you are not learning, then you are probably not enjoying yourself.”

“We look for three things: adaptability, resilience and reinvention.”

“Stay flexible, keep learning and find some good people to work with and you can’t go wrong.”

Lessons from Leaders

Mark Dougan, Director, Prince’s Trust NI

“Courageous leaders are stepping up every single day in NI: teachers, nurses, youth workers, business professionals and young people like yourselves… you are quite literally being made into a leader as a result of this crisis.”

“Lead with courage with a small l.”

“The only thing certain is uncertainty. We have to learn to co-exist with uncertainty.”

“You are courageous leaders in the making and at this moment you need to intentionally decide to get in the game.”

“Yes, it’s challenging and you will make mistakes but the more you do, the more rewarding it becomes as you develop your skills as an effective leader.”

“Everyone is struggling with different challenges and none of those challenges outrank others. Think intentionally how you enable others to lead with courage; set them goals and give them clarity that they need to be courageous leaders in their own right and they will bring their best selves to work every day.”

“Be curious. Ask questions, lots of questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question.” 

Missed a presentation or workshop?

You can re-watch on our past events page here:

https://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/sgc/careers/careers-events/pastevents/

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Career planning Global Opportunities Leadership

Q & A: What Happens During Queen’s Career Development Programme in NYC?

Film & Theatre Making student Christian Green spills everything you wanted to know about Queen’s Career Development Programme in NYC.

What inspired your trip to New York?

I applied for the Career Development Programme to NYC because, as a film student, I have long considered the option of moving to America post-graduation. The trip appealed to me because of the focus on developing skills and personal traits that employers look for, like confidence, communication and professionalism. It also promised to help us to develop a, “global/cultural awareness”, and despite me being to America with my family on multiple occasions, I had not yet developed that awareness of America’s business landscape and what it is like to network and put yourself forward as a young business professional in that kind of environment. I was more than interested in the diverse range of pre-planned company visits and also the specific visit of going to meet a BAFTA winning filmmaker.

What were the highlights of the experience?

On a personal level, my top highlights of the trip would have to be:

Meeting with filmmaker Marcus Robinson at the World Trade Center and receiving an open invitation to come and work with him post-graduation.

Seeing the city for the first time. The hike I did on my own through Manhattan (visiting most of the iconic locations within the city as well as iconic film locations).

Going to see The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.

The Queen’s Alumni Networking Evening where I had the privilege to speak in front of past Queen’s students from all fields and generations.

Last, but certainly not least, getting to meet such a diverse and wonderful group of Queen’s students whom I had the pleasure of sharing this experience with. Everyone was able to take a lot away from the programme and we all made memories and developed friendships that will last us a lifetime.

What was the most surprising thing about the experience?

What surprised me the most whilst in New York was the fact that the world of business (whether that be corporate or commercial), even within a large city like New York, is not as intimidating as it is made out to be. When people think of business in its stereotypical form (briefcases, suits and all), we all instantly picture the elite, the select few. Who handle money and have careers that some of us could only dream of. My main observation from one meeting to the next during the visit was that this is not the case at all. Yes, you do need to have certain qualifications, a specific work ethic and can-do attitude in order to succeed but once you are in, everyone is just like you. Most of the people who spoke to us were either Queen’s alumni or natives of Ireland or Northern Ireland and because of that, they interacted with us all on a very personal level. They wanted to hear about us and what we studied and aspired to do just as much, if not more, than they wanted to talk about themselves and their companies/success stories. Even some of the CEOs that we met, who initially seemed quite intimidating and powerful, were not that much different from the nine of us seated around the table. They simply worked hard, dreamed big and made the right decisions when the opportunities came along. As sung by the legendary Frank Sinatra, “If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere”, and that just about sums up the world of success and professional business within New York; if you can get your foot in the door and be heard, the possibilities are endless.

In what ways has the trip been life-changing?

For myself personally, the key life-changing piece of information that I learned from the programme is that “corridor vision” can narrow down your career options and that ultimately, you can tailor your own future for yourself. For the people who are maybe are not so sure of what they want to do or they are open to the idea of alternatives, at each and every company in New York we were told in some shape or form, “If you come from a university like Queen’s with a good degree (no matter what field), that shows a certain kind of determination and aptitude to learn”. And with that, the opportunities for post-graduates who simply have the confidence to make the move and the determination to succeed are almost endless. Whether it be the likes of internships at KPMG or Moet Hennessy or the TwitterU programme, your degree does not tie you down to one door at the end of the corridor, one job. Do not become so fixed on this one role that you ignore all of the other opportunities that present themselves to you along the way.

In what ways did the trip enhance your CV?

In terms of my CV, the trip helped me add the credibility of being a Global Ambassador for Queen’s but also helped me to develop a lot of my own skills which I can now list with confidence such as public speaking, team work, team leading, presentational skills, organisational skills and professionalism. It really did open my eyes to what it is going to take for me personally to go out to the States and take in the culture shock but also adapt to it.

Discover more about the career development programmes at Queen’s

Discover more Global Opportunities at Queen’s

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Career planning Leadership

7 Ways to Get Involved with Careers at Queen’s

Peter Moor, BA English graduate lists seven ways to get involved with the Careers Service at Queen’s.

Trips

This has to be the best bit about the careers service – the different trips on offer!  I went on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to New York and Washington D.C as part of the Global Leadership Programme. For just £250, we went away for a week to learn leadership skills and all about the future of work. Each year, around 30 students go on the trip to a different exotic destination so this year it’s Toronto. There are also different trips to the likes of Germany, Brussels and London – all of which give you invaluable experience of what it’s like to work in different places across the world.

CV clinics

To get any form of work placement or graduate job, you’re going to need a mighty fine CV. The careers service offers regular CV clinics to make sure your CV is the very best it can be. These are free and have been so useful for me gaining different work placements. They’ll even have a nosey at your LinkedIn profile, making sure it is up to scratch.

Interview Practice

When you’re going for that graduate job, the likelihood is you’ll be put through your paces with a range of interviews. A good way to gain confidence in this area is to meet with one of the careers consultants to give you some hints and tips! Also, the Student Guidance Centre, where the careers services are based, have a room available if you ever need to do a video interview by webcam.

Careers Fairs

If you have no idea what area you want to go into then the Careers Fairs are perfect. Every few months, you’ll find a fair with representatives from all the big graduate employers. It’s a great opportunity to network with the people that you could one day be employing you! They’re also really good for finding work placement opportunities. A lot of degrees now include a paid year out in industry so these fairs are the best way to find the company you want to spend a year working with.

Social Media

One way to get involved Queen’s Careers service is to follow them on their social media on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn. You’ll find tonnes of useful advice and reminders for any events coming up. As a student, you’ll also have access to their online portal MyFuture to book onto any careers related event.

On-Campus Jobs

On the MyFuture portal, you can find lots of different part time jobs on offer at Queen’s. These range from being a campus tour guide and student ambassador (my job!) to helping with catering on campus. All of these roles are really flexible so if you have exams or assignments due, then you don’t have to do any work if you don’t want to. It’s also a good source of income to top up that student loan.

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Leadership

5 Ways Queen’s Careers team can change your life

Shing Him Mak, LLB Law, on how he’s used the Queen’s Careers service.

1.They’ll make sure your CV and Linked in profile are on point

Have you ever struggled to write a CV? Do you know what to put and what not to put in your CV? Do you know what HR managers are looking for in a CV?

Queen’s has a number of experienced career consultants who are always willing to check your CV. At most career fairs, you’ll find them at the booth near the entrance to provide a quick CV check service for you. You can also book a CV check slot online through Queen’s Career website any time.

2.They can help you formulate a career plan

Throughout your time at Queens, you may have different thoughts about your future career. Whether you’re applying for an internship, or you want to start up a business, the careers team are here to help. In my experience, Queen’s career consultants are very experienced and professional, and they can answer any career query you might have.

If you are struggling with career options, or any career related matters, book a consultation slot online through the careers website.

3.They have a direct line to major firms 

The employability team organise massive career fairs where almost all of the big firms are represented. Some firms even conduct their interviews on campus. If you want to know more how to get into your dream firm, or want to know more about the firms that can help when it comes to making key career decisions, then I would suggest you go to the fairs and talk to the firms. It is also a great chance to network, which you may find useful when it comes to the dreaded job applications.

4.They can hook you up with key employers

Many employers will have outreach programme where they will visit Queen’s campus and organise workshops for students. The most common workshops I have seen are CV workshops, communication skills workshops and employability skills workshop. If you have spare time, then you should definitely go to one these sessions.

5.They can take you on a life-changing journey

I’d say this may be the best part of Queen’s career service. I took part in the Global Leadership Programme, in which I got an opportunity to travel to the USA for a seven-day leadership training course at a discount price. They run a lot of programmes throughout the year, such as the London Law / Finance Tour, City Scholarship Programme and Brussel Study Tour among others.

It is never too early to plan for your future. And remember, with Queen’s Careers, Employability and Skills team, you are never alone in shaping a better future for yourself.