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Valuable lessons from previous graduates

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

“Every rejection is a learning experience”

Niall McLaughlin, kdb+ developer, AquaQ Analytics

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

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

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

Jack McCloskey, Seagate

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

“Working as part of a team is so important”

Zachery Jordan, First Deriviatives

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

“Explore your options; squeeze every opportunity”

Michael Kelly, IBM London

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

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

Skills our grads advised you to develop:

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

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Career planning Global Opportunities Leadership student success Student success stories

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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Alumni international careers international experience international students student success

Alumni inspiration

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

Azhar Murtaza

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

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

Accept and adapt to challenges

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

Develop networking confidence

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

Innovation in action

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

Advice for new graduates

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

For more inspiration download our Grad Guide 2020