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.
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.
Whether you are looking for a summer job, a placement or an internship, you can meet a host of employers from every industry with opportunities for students just like you. Here is who is registered to exhibit at the Work Experience and Placement Fair on 24 Feb.
Throughout the academic year, the Careers service at Queen’s host employer events, fairs and industry insight opportunities. These are a great networking opportunity and offer the chance to ask questions of some key players in your target industry.
However, often the word ‘networking’ can fill you with dread. Don’t fret – it’s something you do every day. “Networking is something we do everyday, often without realising it!,” says Emma Lennox, Queen’s Careers Consultant. “It’s about reaching out to people, sometimes with an objective in mind (potentially employment-related) and sometimes not.
It’s about connecting online and in person. If online, be professional, join groups and post meaningful comments, expand your network and be curious!” she says.
Before the sessions
Emma suggests doing a bit of desktop research before attending an employer event so you know who is going and what you might want to ask. While the guest speakers will be doing much of the talking, it doesn’t hurt to have a short bio prepared in case you are asked. According to Emma, this should answer three key questions: Who are you?
What do you do/study? What are you looking for?
At the sessions
Emma has prepared the following cheat sheet of questions you can ask employers at networking events:
How did you start in this area of work?
Where do you see a person like me fitting into this field (industry, company)?
What professional associations should I join?
What professional publications should I read?
What are some of the problems and issues your organisation faces?
What are the most necessary skills for these types of jobs?
What are the trends affecting your business?
What’s a typical career path for someone coming in at my level?
Can I keep in touch with you and let you know my progress?
The theme for the Work Experience and Placement Fair on 24 February is #ExperienceMore and we are giving you the opportunity to do just that with four amazing employer panels taking place in the run up to the fair. Designed to give you access to networking opportunities and to provide valuable introductions to key figures in your target industries, here is the who, what, where and when you need.
Want a career with international travel?
Join our expert panel to talk about their international career paths, their road to success and valuable lessons learned along the way. Hear from Michael Barton, Invest NI Regional Director for Canada, and Exchanges4Peace Jessica McClearn on working in NYC.
Whether you want a career in environmental conservation, heritage organisations, archives, museums or galleries, our expert panel will feature Louise Smyth from NI Museums and Kim McMonagle from the National Trust. They’ll be talking about the skills and experience you need to move into the sector.
Want to work in the Public or Not for Profit Sector?
Perhaps you want to work for a charity or an NGO, or forge a career as a public servant. Our panel features representatives from The Probation Board for Northern Ireland and the Community Foundation who’ll be discussing their own path to success and how you can move into the sector.
From arts & culture, music, publishing and film industries, you’ll need a portfolio. Join our panellists and find out what skills and work experience are needed to build your body of evidence successfully to move into the sector. Featuring employers from ALT Animation, Hypixel Studios, film production company Retinize and writer and director Rebekah Davis, this session will be packed with top tips on breaking into the creative sector.
Date: 24 February, 2.30-3.30pm
PLEASE NOTE: THIS SESSION WILL BE SCREENED WITHIN THE WORK EXPERIENCE AND PLACEMENT FAIR ON 24 FEB. ONCE INSIDE THE FAIR, LOCATE THE CREATIVE CAREERS STALL.
Nobody likes to be pigeon-holed – it stunts professional growth and limits your options. And the same can be said of employers. Just because a company dominates in a particular field or industry doesn’t mean they are only recruiting one type of graduate from one distinct discipline. In fact, some of the most successful and agile workplaces are committed to recruiting students from a variety of backgrounds to maximise creativity and diversify thought. Here are just four of them.
Chartered Accountants Ireland
‘We embrace diversity and creativity in the workplace – we want to see difference around the table’
“As a body we are keen to attract the brightest and the best but from all backgrounds which isn’t often known or appreciated and we find the employers we work with really welcome and endorse a mixed skillset and really welcome students coming from all degree discipline.
“As a Law graduate, to me, chartered accountancy was boring – it was going to be number-crunching accounting and it was a far cry from what I saw myself doing. I have to say my mind was completely blown. I often get asked will an employer not favour someone from a finance/accounting background and the answer is no. They don’t want to have everyone around their table with the exact same thought process and methodology. They really embrace diversity and creativity in the workplace and that really helps them excel, forcing them to innovate and disrupt the norm which is necessary in the modern workplace. Communication skills are key, which people mightn’t fully appreciate. The ability to make good decisions – to weigh up qualitative and quantitative data, to use critical thinking, to be a strategist and to influence others. So that emotional intelligence is absolutely core to becoming a good chartered accountant because ultimately that is a business leadership passport.”
‘It’s not just accountancy – there is a whole range of varied roles across the board’
“There’s lots of areas in PwC you can join as graduates – we don’t require a specific degree. As a Psychology graduate, it was never somewhere I’d considered because I just thought it was very corporate; that it’s all accountancy-based and it’s very professional and it’s maybe not for me. But actually, what I’ve found is that it totally is for me and it’s the right place for me to be. We are an accountancy firm, but there’s so much more than that – so we recruit graduates into consultancy, tax, deals, working with different clients, mergers, audit and of course accountancy so there’s a whole range of things you can do at PwC varied across the whole board.
Consultancy for example is very much working with clients and problem-solving and finding solutions for those clients. Someone might come to us looking to do a new business merger or something like that so our consultancy team would look into that for them and be their advisors.”
– Sarah Delaney, PwC
NatWest Banking Group
‘I’ve been here 14 years and probably had about 6 different careers.’
“The reason I’ve stayed so long in the bank is that, whilst I’ve been here 14 years, I’ve probably had about 6 different careers in that time. I have done a variation of different roles including business-facing HR consultant type jobs, business partnering jobs…Right now, I’m the HR business partner for three different areas and they are group business areas. I look after three business areas – financial crime and control, fraud prevention and shared services. These are the back-office areas – basically the bits of the bank that keeps everything ticking along, but you wouldn’t necessarily see those parts of the bank because they’re not there on the high street in branches and such. My role looks after about 8000 people and they are spread across the globe – predominantly UK, Poland and India but also I have a scattering of people in the States, Singapore and Japan and other ones and twos over the globe as well. So, I have very much gone from being an Island of Ireland-focused role back when I joined the bank 14 years ago to a truly global role now.”
– Sandra Wright, NatWest Group
Belfast City Council
‘In the council, you don’t just work on one thing, you have to flexible and respond to different demands.’
“We have a community plan which is focal to everything that we do and it’s called the Belfast Agenda and it focuses on Belfast becoming a safe, fair and inclusive city where everyone benefits from the success of the city. We’re looking for analytical skills, problem-solving skills, decision-making skills, communication skills – especially if you’re going out into the communities and engaging with the citizens of Belfast. As well as good written and oral communication skills, because you’d be working with a range of different audiences – so maybe colleagues, managers and members of the public. Researching and benchmarking skills are really important to us, work planning, project management and partnership working. So, whilst you’re at university, try to get as much experience as you can around that. Demonstrate that you’re self-motivated and you’re a good team player, and that you’re flexible in your approach to work. In the council you don’t just get working in one thing, there’s different demands all the time from different people and you have to be flexible in managing that demand, as well as working to tight deadlines.”
– Alison Long, Belfast City Council
To access more inspiring advice from business leaders, catch up on our Employer Panel series by re-watching our past events here:
Leaders from PwC, Citi, Deloitte and FD joined our first employer panel to give an insight into graduate recruitment in Northern Ireland. Here are eight takeaways from the session.
1.Skills matter more than your discipline
“It doesn’t matter what degree you have, it’s more important that you have the right skills – you can develop those skills at uni. A lot of these skills you already have. We want to know you can lead yourself and others. What was your role in a sports team, in uni projects, and at the Students’ Union…”
– Stephanie Gowdy, Senior Manager, PwC
2.You can flex outside your subject
“Lift your head from academic study and look at the type of work a potential employer gets involved in. Then look at the skills you could bring to that work. We have English Literature graduates who are bringing great analytical skills to PwC, for example.” – Stephanie Gowdy, Senior Manager, PwC
3.A global mindset begins at home
This is about more than where you have travelled (though if you do want to broaden your horizons, don’t miss Go Global Week). “We want to see that you are global and inclusive. That you can network and work with different individuals. Have you worked in a team where someone worked differently? It’s about showing you can be understanding of how different personalities work together.” – Stephanie Gowdy, Senior Manager, PwC
4.Store takeaways from employer events
“Aside from the right skills, we are looking for graduates who are interested and can tell us something about the company. Show us you have a passion for the industry. Come to events like this and pick up tips and share them.” –Carla McGlynn, Technology Site Lead, Citi Belfast
5.Influencing happens outside of Insta
“We look for collaboration. How do you work with others and bring them along? It’s all about how you can bring staff along with you.” –Carla McGlynn, Technology Site Lead, Citi Belfast
6.You can develop the skills you need at uni
“The skills we look for are:Management, Problem solving, Entrepreneurship, Creativity, Social Skills, Negotiation, Digital Know-How and Emotional intelligence. A lot of activities and skills you develop during uni will be appliable.” – Karen Butler, Director in Consulting and Head of Talent, Deloitte
7.There are opportunities to travel and make friends
“Take the chance and be open to new ideas and try new things you won’t know where it takes you. Our graduate recruits have gone to New York, London, Australia, Munich – you can go anywhere where we have clients. There is a big social aspect to it as well.” – Jordan Hendricks, Frist Derivatives
8.Use lockdown wisely
“Now is a good time to use the extra time to critically think about own skills and what you want to do.Use this time to optimise your CV – personalise your CV for each job. Do your research on the company you want to work for. Follow the industry, look on LinkedIn… that genuine knowledge comes across well in interview.” – Jordan Hendricks, Frist Derivatives
Don’t miss our next employer panel featuring KPMG, EY, FinTrU and Allstate
Whether you’re trying to build your personal brand or enhancing your profile for your job search, LinkedIn is a powerful tool.
The first step in building a LinkedIn Profile that will blow recruiters away is to know what industry and types of roles you are interested in. This will help you decide which of your skills to highlight more prominently and which keywords to use. Once you have an idea of what you want to do, it’s time to get to work on the specifics.
First Impressions count!
First and foremost – your name. You should only use your full name on LinkedIn, you don’t need to add any degree qualifications, nick names, initials, etc to your public name. You’ll also need to upload a profile photo – this is your opportunity to show how you present yourself! Make sure the photo looks professional, dress smartly and have a plain background.
The headline you choose here should be relevant to you – and get creative! This is the first thing people will read about you, so make it count. Your headline should be short, snappy and clear. Don’t forget you can also customise your URL!
Highlight your unique skills in the ‘About’ section
Imagine you’re in an interview and you’re asked, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ Your ‘About’ section on LinkedIn should sum up this answer. Take some time to expand on what makes you unique, highlight key achievements and portray who you are and your values. This is your opportunity to highlight your personal brand!
Be sure to keep in mind that this is a summary of your accomplishments, make sure it’s not too long. You want someone to be able to read it quickly and get a feel for who you are; if your summary drags on, readers may skip over important information!
Your profile is your profile, so it makes the most sense to write your summary and details in first person.
Your Experience and Education
If you’re looking for your first professional job, don’t panic about the experience section. Focus your efforts on the Education section – list the modules you took that are relevant to the job role you’re after. Were you a part of any clubs or societies? Note those down!
If you have had work experience, summarise the company you worked for and your role. Don’t include anything sensitive or confidential, like the names of clients you may have worked with. Highlight your key contributions to the role and the skills you use.
Don’t make this section a copy of your CV, use this as an opportunity to expand!
Your unique skillset
LinkedIn is the perfect platform to list out all of your key skills. Take the time to select at least 10 core skills to add to your profile. This will help recruiters to identify what talents you have, and help you to find jobs that align to your background. If you spend some time endorsing your colleagues, it will also help boost your profile if they endorse you back!
Whether you’re looking for your first job or just boosting your online brand, investing some time in your LinkedIn profile is never a bad idea. At First Derivatives, we’re excited for you to be taking that next step! Are you ready to join the #FDFamily? Take a look at our current vacancies here.
Want more top tips from employers, including FD, Citi, PwC and Deloitte?
Join our Virtual Employer Panel on 30th September between 1-2pm
We asked recruiters what are the stand-out traits they look for in graduates. Alongside the biggies like teamwork and leadership, they told us that a can-do attitude goes a long way. How many of these soft skills can you tick?
“Often times, it’s equally important that someone is able to communicate and has good presentation skills as it is the type of degree you have.”
Adrian McCarthy, For Purpose Ireland
“Most industries are highly regulated. Can you think of a time when you have had to demonstrate discretion and integrity? Would you be able to challenge the authority of they were displaying questionable ethics?”
Jo Ferguson, CME Group Belfast
A good attitude
“We’re looking for well-rounded individuals who have both the aptitude and attitude to thrive within their business.”
Kim McAllister, Almac
“We look for people who are enthusiastic, passionate and willing to learn. Attitude towards work is important, you should be willing to give tasks your all.”
Joelene Ridgill, Seagate
The ideal candidate must be a team player and show commitment to the job and the firm.”
Sarah Fleming, Muldoon & Co
“We look for passion and enthusiasm for driving change. We need people who are quick to adapt and who are always learning.”
Birgitta Swanberg, Liberty IT
We look for candidates who are driven to succeed and motivated to achieve targets set for them.”
Clodagh Mckeefry, MRP
“We are looking for individuals who are curious, creative, and have an interest in constantly developing. People who can take initiative, ask hard questions, and develop your skillset to be successful.”
Jared Kearney, Citi
Want more top tips from employers? Join our Employer Panel series starting Sept 30, designed to help you develop your professional network and get the inside track on getting hired after graduation.