1. How to understand an organisation and how it creates value
When researching an organisation, you shouldn’t just look at what an organisation does, but how it does it; explore the activities and processes within an organisation. From the outside, two organisations may appear to be delivering equivalent services or products in the same way. They may have broadly similar suppliers and workforce sizes, their location and other large-scale features may even be comparable. Yet the costs incurred by processes inside these two apparently similar ‘black boxes’ may be vastly different. So, although what goes into each organisation and what comes out may seem pretty much the same, the ways in which they create value could be radically distinct.
2. How to understand an organisation’s value
An organisation is a machine for adding value. In its simplest form this means it takes an input at one value and, if successful, converts it to an output at a higher value.
The concept is seen most clearly in manufacturing, where raw materials are worked on to produce finished goods that customers value and are prepared to pay a premium for. Whilst the raw materials or components already had worth, the process of manufacturing added more value.
Commercial awareness means being aware of how change to one aspect of an organisation’s system can have disproportionate, far- and wide-ranging impacts on many other components.
3. Where you fit in in the value chain
The course mentions three components in the value chain:
creativity: coming up with a new product or process
manufacturing: churning out the product (this is the tangible part of the chain but it adds less value than you might think)
marketing, branding and advertising.
When it comes to applying for a position within an organisation, ask yourself
Does your role fit neatly and exclusively into one of these three stages?
In terms of a value chain are you closest to the ‘inputs’ or the ‘outputs’ of your organisation? (Roles close to the input end might be procurement, enquiries, goods received, etc., those nearer to the output end might be invoicing, delivery, after-sales services, etc.).
We talk of a value ‘chain’ – but to what extent does a linear chain (receiving work and passing it on, with added value) represent your work situation?
Reflecting on the above will help you demonstrate your commercial awareness to a potential employer.
At Queen’s, you’ll find lots of opportunities to develop your skills, create your own brand and discover your own personal USP (unique selling point), that will ultimately get you hired in the future. Here, Lucy, Lauren and Daniella from our MEDIA programme reveal the different tacks they have taken to improve their employability and their career confidence.
‘I’m building an online brand’
“In the year of 2020, we have seen that anything can happen! This year has meant that not only have we as students have had to adapt our ways, but so too have employers. The increase of webcam interviews has meant recruiters will be researching candidates’ online profiles more than ever before. So, there is now more pressure to demonstrate an online presence to potential employers and recruiters.
But developing an online presence doesn’t have to be difficult! It can be as easy as gaining a social media following, constructing an online portfolio of works or starting a LinkedIn account.
Not only is LinkedIn free to use, it is also a great way of making connections with professionals in your sector.
There’s also a handy job search engine with plenty of job listings waiting for your application!
Not to mention, you can upload your CV and create content for potential employers to view when they’re exploring your profile.
So why not create an account? Simply add a professional photo, a summary of yourself, your skills and employment history and there, you have an online presence!” -Lucy Roy
‘I’m volunteering online’
“For a lot of young people, volunteering is a great way to gain skills for employment and gain independence. This has been a little bit tougher to do during the COVID-19 lockdown with a lot of charities closing their offices and working from home. I personally am a really dedicated volunteer of Women’s Aid and have been for over six years. I’m used to attending events and public speaking which both haven’t been possible. I’ve found a way that I can use my other skills to still positively impact the charity from home as I am a broadcast production student and have experience making short films. I decided I would produce short videos for the charity’s social media to compliment and promote their campaigns. For their autumn campaign, I made a short film called ‘Walk A Mile In Her Shoes’ where I emailed staff and volunteers to take a video of their shoes walking outside in their gardens or on their walk for example so that I didn’t have to come into contact with anyone and I could still edit together a really powerful piece to push their campaign forward and encourage more engagement. This really benefited my skills and working remotely under the extreme circumstances of the pandemic, but still being able to produce work.
If there is a cause or charity you volunteered with before the pandemic and you haven’t felt connected or felt there was no way you could contribute, then think deeper and approach them. Maybe they don’t know how you could be helpful but see it as an opportunity to progress your career and enhance and gain skills. For me, this was producing short videos because that was something related to my degree and I knew I was capable of it but whatever degree you are in, think about what skills you have or need for that career and approach a charity that could really do with your help remotely through these tough times. This could also be as simple as an online fundraiser for a small local charity that is struggling to stay afloat. So get involved and make a difference in your community from the comfort of your own home so you can develop your CV.” -Daniella Timperley
‘I’m attending career-enhancing events’
“Cinemagic, Belfast’s Film and TV Festival, hosts a CineFocus Jury event every year. If you like to watch films and appreciate the cinema this type of event is for you. Do you tend to discuss and review the films you watch? The CineFocus Jury event is for you!I recently took part in the event. The event is for 15 – 25 year olds which means it is the perfect event for students in university. You have the opportunity to watch movies from all over the world. Review, comment and judge them with forms that you send in. Ranking the films as you review them you decide what will be shown at the festival.
It is an interactive and challenging experience based on your critical skills and experience with film. You can add it to your CV as an experience.
It is pretty easy to do, you email and apply for the event. With a small fee you receive the details to sign and receive the link to go onto the online Cinemagic Festival online. You create an account; login and the event should be added to your screen. It’s as simple as that.
Cinemagic is a great site for events along the media sector. It’s also a way to connect with others in the industry and join events where they host meetings with professionals in the media sector. It’s a great place to gain valuable insight. So be sure to check the website out!” – Lauren Watt
Find something you’re interested in! Blogging is a great way to improve your employability, as regular articles will show off your content-writing skills to employers. On the other hand, playing a team sport will demonstrate that you understand how to work in a team. You could even try a hobby that is a bit more ‘out there’ – pushing the limits of what is considered the norm will give employers a reason to look twice at your CV!
Write, write, write
Queen’s has its own newspaper and other platforms which provide plenty of writing opportunities – get involved with these to hone your content and copywriting skills to stand you in good stead for graduate jobs. There is always a reason to improve your written communication, and journalism also contains elements of research. Ask around and find out what you can contribute, and don’t forget to keep a record of what you do to show employers later on!
Learn a language
Having a second (or third) language under your belt can help you to stand out in a competitive jobs market. Business in all forms is increasingly international so mastering a well-used language such as Spanish or French will often give you an edge. What’s more, the hard work and dedication that learning a new language entails is bound to impress employers. There are plenty of online resources and apps available to help you to become bilingual!
Take a short course
There’s no better way to improve your graduate employability than by embarking on a short course to improve your skills. Short, online courses from providers such as FutureLearn and Coursera are available in a range of subjects, so if you want to discover what’s involved in a particular role or brush up on soft skills there will be a course for you. It doesn’t have to be related to your career – any course taken demonstrates to employers your initiative and organisational skills!
Become an ambassador
Being a student ambassador is the perfect chance to demonstrate your drive and commitment, all without doing too much strenuous work. MyFuture often advertises opportunities for student assistants in the university and students’ union in a range of areas. Often these jobs will pay, so it can be doubly worth your while applying. Lots of companies also have university ambassador schemes, which you can apply to as well!
For more on developing your employability at Queen’s visit our Degree Plus site and find out how you can get an award at graduation on recognition of the skills you have built up.
Sarah McKeag, Associate Director for Talent Attraction and Acquisition at EY Belfast talks skills-based recruitment and how it differs from the traditional recruitment process.
EY are one of the big four professional services firms. We have about 550 staff in Belfast at present and 18,000 staff in 21 offices across the UK. We are traditionally known for bringing staff into their chartered accountancy-based exams, be that an audit business or tax business. We have a large consulting business in Belfast and we bring in students now down different routes, through data analytics, project management, contract and procurement management – so there is a wide opportunity for students at all levels within EY. We are a global organisation in 150 companies worldwide. So, the opportunity for students to move and to travel and gain that vast exposure is there, right on their doorstep in Belfast.
Strengths-based recruitment at EY
We have stepped away from traditional [recruitment] routes, we did this about 10 years ago and we work with an organisation called the Centre For Applied Psychology. They have helped us develop this strength-based recruitment process to assess potential in students. So that is the main difference in strength-based recruitment: we’re not looking for the students to have had work experience or experience in a range of things, we’re looking for the potential they have to become leaders in our business and to become successful in our business.
We review our process every couple of years. We review the strengths we use, the frameworks, to make sure that they are aligned to the people who are performing the highest in our business and then this helps assess this potential in the students coming in. So, if we think about what other employers use, they typically use a competency-based approach and the difference between a strength and a competency-based approach is around the energy and enthusiasm – competency can be learnt, whereas a strength is something where you have that natural enthusiasm and energy around doing. It is something you do well and you do often and you enjoy doing all that time. We use that across all our student recruitment, from the online assessment centre to the final interview. The majority of the strengths we use for EY are the core strengths from across all of our programmes we operate, but when you get to that final interview, we’ll have more focus strengths for the area you applied for.
Strengths that EY recruit against
These are the core strengths that we would measure:
In the know
We are not looking for students to have done reams of work experience, we will give them a situation or a task and we will ask them how they would approach that, how they would feel about that, we may give them a number of tasks and ask them to choose their preferred 5 or we may give them a group activity and ask them to evaluate on how they have done in that activity and what they would do differently next time. We want them to have these strengths in their mind, when they are going through our process and think about how would I deal with the situation, what would I rely on to do that?
For example, if we look at the strength curious, we are looking for people that are always challenging and asking why they are doing something, they are looking for new ways to do something and challenge how something works or what’s driving a change in analytics they see so it is that curious, finding out what’s happening and what’s coming next.
Adaptable and resilience
I think at the moment adaptable and resilience are particularly important. That’s been huge for the students we have brought on in the past 6 months. But equally for the students that are coming towards their last year in university or starting university in a different way than they had ever envisioned themselves. How can they make the most of the circumstances they are in at the moment? Things are frequently changing so there needs to be a level of resilience so they can manage that change process. So that they don’t get change fatigue, so they can have coping mechanisms for stress management, they know when they are stressed and how to deal with that.
The number savvy one is not looking for someone that has done further maths or additional maths, however we are a number business and whether that be in data analytics or it be in our audit business, you will be given large volumes or data, sometimes numerical, and you will need to be comfortable working with that. People have to have a level of comfort around that, and understand what drives business or what drives our customers businesses as well.
The team player one, we will assess on our EY experience day in our new virtual assessment. This is a really good way at seeing everyone’s energy and how they interact withing a group. In our business you will work in teams and they can be small teams up to very large teams. So you need to have an understanding of how to integrate into a team, what roles you tend to take on, what your strengths are. You do not need to be the leader of that group, quite often you just need to be the person who focusses that group or remembers to bring the group back to a certain point or build on someone else’s idea. We are not looking for the person who talks the most or loudest, but the person who brings the most value to the group, this may be bringing in people who are more quiet in the group or bringing a focus back to the task at hand. We also need those people who start the group off, who get everyone focussed on the task.
Prepping for a virtual strengths-based interview
Make sure your technology works
Make sure you’re comfortable to come on camera
Don’t forget you can blur your background in video’s if it makes you feel more comfortable
We want to see your face and your interaction
Virtual interviews are different from face to face as that rapport takes a bit longer to build up, however our assessors are very comfortable coming on to the camera
Make sure your WIFI is as strong as it can be
Make sure you will not get interrupted
Make sure you do all your prep work before hand
Identify your strengths
For identifying their strengths, particularly before the final interview stage, and you’re thinking about the job that you are going in to, quite often it quite difficult to identify your own strengths but if you think about your energy level – something you do well, you do often and you enjoy doing. It might not be the first thing on your list as you know you can do it in 5 minutes, it could be the thing you treat yourself to or the thing you do first because you know you can do it in 5 minutes. It will be the thing your friends always ask you to do, it will be the role you always find yourself in in any camp or society – so if you’re really good with numbers, you’ll find yourself with the treasurer, if you’re very analytical, people will come to you with their problems to find a solution. The things your friends say you never shut up about as well or something you can talk about for ages.
We will give you a situation or tell you a bit about the area you applied to, a bit about the strengths that they look for and then we will ask you about the situation and what you would find yourself doing if you were in that situation.
In our final interview stages, there is a short presentation which we ask the candidates to do and that should be your opportunity to do a little bit of research around EY and that line of service you have applied for. The final thing would be around motivation. You will be interviewed by a partner or director, who is an owner of our business, and they will want to know why you wanted to apply to EY, why you have applied to that particular area, as that is the part they own. It is really your opportunity to show the research you have done into the business and into the pathway you have applied for. There is plenty of information on our website.
What is a good question for a candidate to ask at the end of the interview?
I personally think you should always ask a question at the end of an interview. You should by that stage, have built up a rapport with the interviewer, the questions I would tell you to absolutely avoid would be around salary and benefits, as this information is all on our website. There is plenty of time to ask the recruitment team prior to the final interview.
Our interviewers have typically been in the business for a number of years and have had a number of interesting career paths to that point. Questions I would focus on at the end of the interview would be around what is the best client they have worked on, what has been the most challenging client they have worked on, what has been their career path to date or what has been their most interesting role in the organisation. There’s lots of questions related to the company they can ask us. A lot of questions we are being asked at the moment are about the returns to the office and how we engaged with our teams remotely and what were the biggest challenges. The partners are really open to hear from new graduates about what would work and what they would need to see coming into the business and they are keen to know what they can do.
A question at the end of the interview is an opportunity for the candidate to get a view on if they see themself working for this person? Do they want to work on their team? Do they inspire them as a leader? That is what they should be thinking about shaping their questions around if I was coming in.
I found that it was because of the people who interviewed me that made me join, we built a rapport, we had a good chat and we quite often get feed back that our interviews don’t feel very formal and they turn out as more of a chat. When I got the offer, I made the decision because I really enjoyed the people from the company.
For students, you need to think about what you need to know to be on that team and what else you need to know about the leader of that team you will be joining.
Lunch and learn all about Queen’s employability award on 11 November from 12.30pm- 1.30pm.
What is Degree Plus?
Degree Plus is Queen’s employability award. It allows you to earn an extra certificate at graduation in recognition of the extra-curricular activities you take part in during your time at Queen’s. Volunteering, exchange programmes, peer mentoring and language courses all count towards the award.
How do you earn Degree Plus?
There are two ways of earning your Degree Plus Award. The first is called Provider Verified – where you complete one big activity and the activity provider automatically applies for the award on your behalf. The second route is called Combined Experience – this is where you complete two or more smaller extra-curricular activities and you apply for the award yourself, stating on the application form which of the 12 Degree Plus Employability Skills you enhanced during your chosen activities.
Provider Verified is the most straightforward way to get the award. Once you have completed the activity, you will automatically be recommended for the award. You don’t need to do anything else except collect your certificate at graduation (it will list the activities you completed on the certificate).
What happens at the Degree Plus Employability Festival?
During the Degree Plus Employability Festival, you will have a chance to meet providers who are offering programmes, activities and courses that are pre-approved for Degree Plus accreditation.
These are people who have the power to make you more employable in a number of ways. Firstly, the programmes they offer are designed to enhance your employability skills, making you instantly more attractive to prospective employers. Secondly, just by completing their activity, you will be provided with an award that you can talk about in future interviews as proof positive of your skills. Lastly, the fact that you took part in an activity and earned the award is in itself a testament of your initiative and automatically sets you apart from the crowd.
What types of providers are attending the festival?
From exchange and placement programmes to volunteering, research, mentoring and language courses, there will be a number of providers there offering a range of fun and rewarding activities that can help you achieve an extra certificate at graduation in recognition of the skills you have developed. All the providers attending the festival have confirmed that they are still running their programmes and activities this year.
Who else will be at the Festival?
You can also chat with the Degree Plus team and hear what employers like EY and NICVA have to say about the award.
Where is it being held?
The Festival is being held virtually in MyFuture, our online careers portal. You might previously have used MyFuture to search for jobs and events, or even to access CV help and support. But the portal has added a host of new features, including a virtual event hosting function, so we are excited to show you around.
Where does the lunch bit come in?
All attending students will be entered into a draw to win one of six £20 Just Eat vouchers – now who said there is no such thing as a free lunch?
The DEGREE PLUS EMPLOYABILITY FESTIVAL is being held virtually on 11 November between 12.30-1.30pm.
Degree Plus recognises the skills and experience you have built up during your extracurricular activities at Queen’s. The two important elements being that you have to take part in the activity while you are at Queen’s and that the activity must not be part of your course.
Here is more on the types of activities that count towards the award.
Eimear Gallagher, Business Operations Manager and Degree Plus lead says: “A lot of people try things for the first time at Queen’s. For any hobby, sport or activity you are interested in, there is a wealth of activities available. You might also be involved in full or part time work, volunteering or networking with employers. It is all available during your time at Queen’s and Degree Plus helps you make the most of that.”
Challenge and stretch yourself
As well as having fun, you can gain valuable skills and experience to impress employers through your extracurricular activities at Queen’s. A future employer might ask you what else did you do at Queen’s outside your degree. They will want to know how challenging and stretching those experiences were.
“Activities that genuinely stretch and challenge you are the ones that you enjoy the most,” says Eimear. “Those are the ones for which you will get accreditation.
She adds: “We also want you to learn and gain practice in articulating the skills that you are gaining from Degree Plus and the extracurricular activities you have been involved in so you can convey those with impact in an interview situation.”
Types of activities
Typically Degree Plus activities run the gamut from management and commercial awareness programmes such as Innovation Bootcamp, the Stock Market Challenge, Dragon’s Den, Free Student Membership of the Institute of Directors (100 free places) as well as Leadership Development programmes such as Queen’s Global Leadership programme, Inspiring Leaders, and Leadership in Practice (UOTC). Other activities include Students’ Union enterprise and volunteering programmes and Language Centre extracurricular courses. Extracurricular placement and internships also count towards Degree Plus. However, if a placement is embedded on your degree course then it cannot be used as part of your Degree Plus application.
Please note for 2020/21 some Provider Verified activities are not running while some are being offered remotely. To find out more, check our menu lists on the Degree Plus website for updates.
If you are applying for Degree Plus yourself via the Combined Experience route, then the two activities cannot be the same type of experience. You should combine two activities that developed different skills. For example, a part -time job in the supermarket and a language course, or volunteering in the community and participating in a sport.
How much time do I have to spend doing the activity?
The amount of time it takes to complete an activity depends on the intensity of the activity. At the minimal end it might be 12-15 hours right up to 200 hours over a year or two. The time invested depends on the activity and the nature of the activity.
If you are including participation in a sport as one of your two Combined Experience, for example, we want to know that you di more than passively turn up. It’s all about how much you engaged and what you got out of the experience as a result – this should all be reflected in your application form.
To find out more about Provider Verified activities for the year ahead, don’t miss our Degree Plus Festival on 11 November
At Queen’s, we refer to the two types of Degree Plus award using the terms ‘Provider Verified’ (formerly Route A) and ‘Combined Experience’ (formerly Route B) – but what do these terms mean and what is the difference? Eimear Gallagher, who leads the Degree Plus team at Queen’s, is here with this quick explainer.
A Provider Verified activity means a third party automatically recommends you for the award
The most straightforward route to gaining your Degree Plus award is through the Provider Verified route. This is where you complete a significant extracurricular activity from the approved list, for example, a Careers service development programme, SU Handy Helpers, an inspiring leaders programme or certain Language Centre programmes.
You don’t need to apply for Degree Plus via the Provider Verified route
The activities listed on the Provider Verified menu offer the opportunity to gain significant experience over several days, or months. In this case, the approved provider advertises organises and assesses the activity. The provider then submits a pass list to the Degree Plus team so we can update your QSIS record and arrange your Degree Plus certificate ahead of graduation. You do not need to do anything else once you have successfully completed the programme.
Why do you not need to apply for Provider Verified Degree Plus?
The activities on the Provider Verified menu have already been vetted by our Degree Plus team as being significantly challenging, so they are ‘pre-approved’ as being eligible for the award
A key part of Degree Plus is reflecting on the skills you have developed during a programme or activity. When you complete a Provider Verified activity, that reflection is embedded in the activity.
“Degree Plus is about developing your skills, experiential development and networking. If completed in full, a Provided Verified activity will include some form of articulating back to the provider what you have gained,” explains Eimear Gallagher who heads up the Degree Plus programme at Queen’s.
This means as part of the programme or activity, you will be asked to evaluate what you have gained through an assessment exercise. This might be a presentation, interview or application form set by the provider asking you to reflect on which of the Degree Plus skills you have developed and how.
Once you complete and pass the provider’s assessment exercise, your name will be added to a pass list and sent to the Degree Plus team to update your student record. You can complete as many Degree Plus Provider verified activities as you like. You will receive one certificate at graduation with the activities listed.
Combined Experience means you have to self-nominate yourself for the award
The Combined Activity route offers the opportunity to complete two or more small activities and complete an application form. The two activities should be from the approved menu and must demonstrate different Degree Plus skills. For example, you might complete the form using your part-time job and your volunteering experience as your two activities, but in your application form, you must demonstrate that you gained different skills during each experience.
Combined Experience menu activities include membership of a club or society, employer challenges and insight programmes and volunteering opportunities. “It could be a part-time job in Tesco or your local supermarket and a six-week language course,” says Eimear. “Work experience doesn’t have to be a placement with a graduate employer. It could be volunteering in the community in your home town, participating in a sport or Red Cross volunteering.”
You only need to apply for Degree Plus Combined Experience once. You will receive one certificate at graduation with ‘Combined Experience’ detailed on the parchment.
“The application formgives you the opportunity to practice articulating your experience on a form,” says Eimear. This practice will come in handy when you come to apply for jobs.
You will also need to evidence the activities.
“Evidence could be a payslip, an email from a voluntary group saying you have engaged in a certain amount of volunteering over a set number of weeks, or an email from an SU clubs or society confirming your involvement,” says Eimear.
Degree Plus is about actively engaging in activities, not passively turning up. In your application form, you need to demonstrate to the Degree Plus panel what you contributed and what you got out of it – keeping theDegree Plus skills at the forefront of your mind.
When do I need to apply for Combined Activity?
There are two chances to apply each year: the winter deadline is midnight on November 1 and the summer deadline is midnight on April 1.
While these deadlines are set to enable those graduating in winter and summer to achieve the award in time for their graduation ceremony, students in pre-final year can apply by these deadlines in order to bank the award early. In that case, it will remain on your student record and you will receive your Degree Plus certificate at graduation.
“If you are first or second year, you could use either of those windows to upload your application now and we will assess it,” says Eimear. “If you don’t meet it the first time, we will give you feedback, and you will have a second opportunity to re submit.”
If you missed our recent Degree Plus intro session, you can rewatch it here:
When it comes to articulating the skills you have developed during your time at Queen’s, Degree Plus is a great tool to have in your armour. Here is why.
Degree Plus is supported by employers
“Employers like EY and Nicva are putting their name to the award – that is an indication of the level of interest and support employers have in students who complete this award,” says Eimear Gallagher, Business Operations Manager at Careers, Employability and Skills, who heads up Degree Plus.
It quantifies your soft skills
“Degree Plus develops your employability. Even if an employer has never heard of the Degree Plus award, they will definitely be interested to see that you have completed a significant amount of extracurricular activity. It shows you have stepped up above and beyond your degree programme, and that you’ve managed your time effectively and balanced it with your studies,” says Eimear.
She adds: “The fact that you can present the validation of those activities in the form of a certificate helps to give employers security that everything you are saying you can back up and evidence through both your degree and your Degree Plus certificate.
It shows initiative
“Degree Plus is an indicator of initiative.,” says Eimear. “Degree Plus is not compulsory – it shows you chose to set up and accept the challenge of exploring a new interest.”
It allows you to practice articulating your skills
Both routes to Degree Plus involve an element of self-reflection during which you will be asked to analyse which of the Degree Plus skills you have developed and how.
With the Provider Verified route, this might involve a presentation or form at the end of the programme. For Combined Experience, you will be asked to complete an application form to evidence the skills you have gained during two extracurricular activities.
Either way, this self-reflective element forms a key part of the award.
“We want you to learn and gain practice in articulating the skills that you are gaining from Degree Plus and the extracurricular activities you have been involved in so you can convey those with impact in an interview situation,” says Eimear. “To be able to articulate these things and how they’ve helped you; how your employability has developed through them – that’s an important skill in itself.”