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‘We build tech for human beings – real users that have problems to solve.’

Mark McCormack Aflac
Mark McCormack, Aflac

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.

Read next: Five tips for building a career around your passion

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Five Tips for Building a Career Around Your Passion

Natasha Sayee, Head of External Communications at SONI Ltd,  the electricity system operator for Northern Ireland on how she harnessed her passion to drive her career.

Natasha Sayee, Queen’s Law graduate and Communications lead at SONI LTd.
  1. Don’t rule anything out

When I was at Queen’s, if you told me I’d end up as a senior manager at a utility company, I really don’t think I would have believed you. I have a love of geography and environment and of nature. And I was a young Greenpeace activist. But I also had a love of debating, of the stage and of public speaking and was involved in local radio from I was about 16. . I wanted to be on TV. And I wanted to move in to reporting using my investigative nature, my passion for public speaking and my love of current affairs to become a reporter. And that’s what I did. I completed a Law degree. Then I moved to England where I did a post grad in Broadcast Journalism, worked my way through the BBC, until I was the most senior general reporter in the Belfast newsroom, and acting Ireland correspondent. And I worked on every story imaginable from the MTV Europe awards coming to Belfast to the unfortunate economic downturn and from elections to crime. I was at the top of my game, but it wasn’t exciting anymore. It wasn’t a challenge. And so I stepped into business, I haven’t looked back, I lead a team of amazing PR, Media Communications and engagement specialists doing the most challenging work I’ve ever done. What’s amazing about this role is that it’s a complete blend of everything I’m good at and interested in, so people, current affairs, and with that focus that we have on climate change. Well, I just come full circle in terms of my love for the environment and sustainability, which I really care about. 

2. Challenge yourself

I am really passionate about what I do. And if it’s challenging, then I bring my best every day. If ever it forces me to drive hard, then it is something I will stick with. And if you’re like me with a fire in you, with that drive, harness that passion, hook it into your career, and keep moving until it feels right and you will succeed. A Law degree from Queens has provided me with a really solid platform to allow me to make all of these jumps and leaps. It says to an employer that you’re informed, you’re considerate, you’re investigative, you’re confident and analytical. You could be a judge, it could be a barrister or a solicitor, an in-house solicitor, or you could become a reporter, or you can become a business leader… with a Law degree from Queen’s, really the world is at your feet.

3. Don’t be blinded by passion

I think at times my passion has blinded me, particularly perhaps when I was at the BBC, where I would have gone through walls to succeed without perhaps taking on board others or their feelings or collateral damage, really. And you can really only get so far on the steam of your own passion. To be truly successful, you need to take that passion, use it to motivate others, collaborate with them, understand what makes them tick. And then think about how you can combine all that fire together to achieve. All that’s possible. Passion is a great thing to have. It’s a warrior’s traits, but create your battalion. Don’t do it on your own, network and make those friends for life. I mean, my best friends are my family. I met them at Law school at Queen’s, they’re my units; they’re my power source. I just couldn’t imagine life without them.

4. Be a team player

You know, people with passion are warriors, we’re fierce, we’re strong. But I’ve learned that that can be intimidating. And that can lead to isolation. So don’t do a solo run, find your squad, find your network, your Battalion, you’ll achieve so much more together. And it will be a much better experience for you. You need to be empathetic as well. What issues are your colleagues dealing with at home? How can you support them? You know, really, relationships are the absolute cornerstone of good business, taking time to get to know those you’re working with. If someone doesn’t sound right in the phone, you’ll know that they there’s something wrong or if someone is on a video call, but maybe isn’t making as much of a contribution as they would normally. Well what’s going on, you know, you need to find that out and try to help that’s really important.

5. Give your passion context in an interview

If you’re interviewing for a role, display your passion proudly, and it will shine through, but make sure you back it up. And that means giving examples of how you’ve put your passion into play, to go the extra mile, whether that’s being top of your class in your subject, whether that’s volunteering, coaching others or taking on extra training. And try to keep a lid on your passion during an interview. What I find throughout my whole career, and it continues to this day, is that nerves and passion can be a really dangerous combination. So it can go one of two ways. You can appear arrogant and overconfident, , or you can get jittery, and you can end up waffling. So breathe, prepare, prepare again. And when you get into that room, whether you’re presenting or you’re sat in front of an interview panel, plant yourself, like a big oak tree, you know, really sink your feet into the floor, like you’re growing roots, and take some time to blossom. Channel that passion that you have to keep focused on what’s important and look after yourself and others. Passion is an exceptional standout quality. But it is like magic. And you have to challenge it and control it and make it work for you. 

You can stream Natasha’s recent talk on the Gradfest2-21 site here:

https://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/graduate-support/UpcomingLiveStreams/

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“It’s important to be able to adapt to any change that comes your way.”

Rebecca Sinclair, a Student Talent Advisor at EY’s London office on why employers value cross-cultural sensitivity and emotional intelligence. 

Rebecca Sinclair, EY

What is cross cultural sensitivity and awareness and why is it so important in the workplace?

I think for me cross cultural sensitivity is really about cultural awareness and being able to work with different people from different backgrounds to you at any level. So maybe as a student, you know, working in teams of different people, welcoming people from different backgrounds to yourself. And then also, when you’re working your colleagues, your manager will when you become a manager, the people that are working with you might be from different backgrounds, or cultural backgrounds or otherwise. So I think cross cultural sensitivity and cultural awareness is being aware of those differences and celebrating those differences so that everyone feels like they can bring their best self to work really, or to whatever environment is,

Do you think an international experience like study experience or work experience abroad might help develop that skill?

Definitely, I think any experience you can get that puts you in a maybe out of your comfort zone, or that helps you to meet people from different backgrounds, you get different experiences under your belt will, will help. And there’s no better way to get exposure to different cultures and different ways of living and different lifestyles really than to travel. And things like a year abroad or study abroad or traveling, you may not always get the opportunity to do that at a later date. So the more you can make the most of opportunities that come your way the better I think.

What is emotional intelligence? And how is it valued in the workplace?

I’ve actually done some learnings about this. Recently, we have had the EY badges programme, and I’ve done their badge in Teaming. So quite a lot of the learning was about emotional intelligence and more of the people side of things, I think. So emotional intelligence is different to, kind of, IQ that you actually think about. Emotional intelligence is having that understanding of other people around you, and learning to be aware of other people’s emotions, or how they might be handling a situation so that when you’re talking to people, you’re working with people, you can pick up on those natural indicators of how they’re feeling. And if you’re, you know, delivering news, you can start to get to know that person. So you can think, you know, what questions might they have that are going to come up from this? What concerns or other emotions might they be feeling? So you can be aware of that so you can learn to adapt your style, so that you can work with them really well?

What type of role would require emotional intelligence?

To be honest, I think any role that you are dealing with any people in any, any platform, it would be useful skill to have in terms of emotional intelligence. Particularly in professional services, the roles that you’re working with clients, and you’re building those relationships with clients, which for us personal services, it’s what we do giving guidance to clients. So having that emotional intelligence skill, being able to collaborate really well with your colleagues or with your clients can really help and you can build that positive relationship with your client. So it is definitely something that we look for, throughout the process, that ability to work with others that are different to you, if you’re in a group exercise, making sure you’re read in the room, and you’re making sure that everyone’s you know, everyone’s comfortable, and they’re able to share what they think if someone’s being a bit quieter, you know, check in and see if they have any thoughts that they want to share what they think about that’s been discussed so far. So it is definitely a really important skill that we look for during the process.

What other skills are linked to emotional intelligence? 

So yeah, there’s loads of strengths that are closely related to emotional intelligence. The ones that come to mind are resilience. So that’s one of the key strengths that we look for throughout the process. So resiliency, to keep a positive mindset and when challenges and problems come up, maybe you need to take a minute, think about what’s happened, regroup, and then keep towards that goal that you want to achieve and maybe that goalpost might change, but you still have that resiliency in you to keep going. So resiliency is a key one, and that links to team working and emotional intelligence, you know, being able to kind of rally your team around you, if you’re going through maybe a budget cut, or the switch to working virtually rather than work in the office, you know, trying to keep positive and, you know, working with your team to help everyone get through what could be a talent or could be a difficult time. So resiliency is definitely a key one. And the other one I’ll mention is adaptability. So this is another one of the strengths that we look for being adaptable is really about links very closely to resilience that looks better as a team working, and it’s about being able to adapt to changes that come your way. So if a that’s the scope of a project changes, or the budget gets cut in half, it’s about being able to still regroup, figure out what changes you need to make implement these changes. So maybe you need to have a change of timeline. And you might need to think, okay, what’s now our biggest priority, because we’ve got less time to get things done. Or if a date changes to five years in the future, maybe this project now needs to completely change, it becomes something different for the time being, until there might be other priorities that you need to work on. So I think being adaptable, and being able to collaborate with others around you know, what you can bring to the table, knowing your own being aware of your own emotions, and what you’re good at and what you’re bad at. And when you perform your best is all really closely linked, I think,

How would an employer, for example EY, assess emotional intelligence? 

Our application process is partly through, like online tests. And we have a job simulation, which is the third stage at the final online test, and that’s linked to the job that you’re going to be doing. So for that one, you’ll get questions that are linked to the role. So say you’re applying for consulting or you’re applying for insurance or tax, it’ll be linked to that role. And through the questions that you’ll get there. We’ll be looking for that, that strength. So how do you work with others around you? How do you handle a change in in what’s going on? So you might get questions around, you know, how would you handle this particular situation? Or this news has come out or this something’s changed in the- your managers running late? Or the client wants something different? How do you handle that? So we’re looking for that resiliency? We’re looking for that collaboration? How do you work with others? And then at the Assessment Center, which we call that experience day, you’ll have different tasks that you’ll do. So some of them will be one to one, some of them will be in a group. And throughout, we’ll be looking for that collaboration, strength. So, you know, how do you work in a team? How do you communicate your ideas, and also how to make sure that everyone else is also contributing their own thoughts, making sure that everyone’s getting the chance to share and hope bouncing ideas around and how you then kind of bring those ideas together into the final outcome. And then the last stage is the final interview. And this is with a senior member of the team that you’re applying for. And again, they’re really looking for that collaboration, you know, so you might want to have some examples in your mind of how you’ve worked in a team, what the team achieved, but also, what did you personally do towards that team success? How did you support the team? How did you make sure that everyone, you know, kept going? Did you face some challenges? How did you regroup and keep that going positively? So it’s a vital skill anyway, but it’s definitely really important for us because we work so much with clients. So it’s a really key area that we look for.

And how can you develop that skill? 

So, there’s two different ways to think about it. So there’s sort of thinking about the theory side of things and developing the strength. So there’s loads of good resources that you can do in terms of EY, I’ve done the EY badges. So I’ve done I could spend hours talking about it, but I’ll keep it nice and succinct. So I’ve done the teaming badge, which is very much about you know, how you work in teams, how you can make sure that the team is working effectively. Maybe you’re working like virtually as we are now maybe you’ve got colleagues that are in a different country or a different time zone, you know, how do you work together? So there’s learnings he can do through those kind of badges. There’s also a badge about diversity and inclusion. And that was where I learned a lot about, like cross cultural, we’re talking about a bit earlier about how you can work with people from different backgrounds. So there’s learnings you can do in that. And there’s lots of good courses on things like Udemy, about working effectively in teams and cross collaboration and cross cultural experiences. There’s also things you can do like on watching TED Talks. So I watched a really good TED talk that was called the power of introverts. And that was about something about their experiences of being an introvert and how they’ve gone through that experience, and how you can be making sure that those are quieter, and your team can still feel included. So there’s that kind of learning aspect to it. So is that good books and TED talks and YouTube videos that you can get involved in. And then there’s also the experience side to things. So when you’re thinking about your own experiences, whether it’s like workplace, so anything working in a team, you know, a consulting firm, or working in a team at a supermarket, or working in a team at a cafe or anything? What team experiences do you have? You know, try and think about who’s on your team? Or who’s in your, your business area? And how do they- How do they work? You know, and think about your own experiences? When are you happiest? What are you doing at that time? When do you feel stress, what might be causing that stress? And the more that you can learn about your own performance and your own emotions and what kind of drives you, you can then start learning about other people. And then you can bring that into practice, when you’re thinking about interviews and preparing the interviews, and thinking about what teaming experiences you’ve had, and it’s the in what did the team do? What did the team achieve? And then what have you done towards that? What’s your personal contribution to that team working?

Do you think a gap year might develop that skill a lot more?

So from my personal experience, I always went straight into the next stage, and I never took a gap year or year abroad or anything like that. It’s not essential, it’s not something that we look for, you don’t need to have it. But I do think that having that year abroad, or that experience says something a bit different, can definitely add to your, your strengths and your experiences. And especially it can give you a good platform to talk about, you know, challenges that you’ve gone through I know, some of the offer holders that we’ve had recently have talked about experiences like volunteering abroad and working in teams of people from lots of different countries and helping a community or doing something that’s just a bit different and a bit out there. So it can definitely add to your experiences your application and show that you’ve had these experiences and what you’ve learned from them. And it can get you to something a bit different to stand out. I think.

Do you think that travel can actually develop those qualities such as resilience or productivity, for employment in the future?

Yeah, I’m sure it would, I think resiliency is a difficult skill to master. So the more different experiences you go through, and you might have to face challenges and overcome them can definitely help build towards that. And many people do years abroad, or they spent time living in it in a different country that they would never have the opportunity to do. So you’ll naturally develop some strengths that you probably never would have had the opportunity to develop if you hadn’t had that opportunity. So I think it can definitely help to build your resiliency skills and learn more about yourself throughout that process as well. And also, it’s a great experience to try something different level a different country and you know, do something a bit different.

And so, why would employers like EY, for example, value resiliency or flexibility, in their employees?

So I mean, there’s gonna be loads of reasons why we look for it, but it’s definitely something that we look for throughout the process. I mean, look for it in our people. We’re very people focused organization, both in terms of the work that we do for clients, you know, we provide guidance to them, and what the client will need is constantly changing and evolving. A lot of the stuff we’re doing at the moment is on digital innovation and, you know, industries being massively disrupted by innovation and tech and especially that’s been escalated over the last year. Working virtually. So it’s a rapidly changing industry, a new regulation can come out or there can be a massive change in the wider environment like this last year has shown. So companies, our clients need to rapidly adapt. So we need to be there for them. And we need to be flexible and adaptable. And we need to be thinking about you know, what’s out there? Is there a new tech coming out? Or is there a new regulation coming out that might need to be thinking about so that we can be that go to advisor for them.

And so is that why employers look for someone who’s adaptable?

Yeah, so we call it agility in terms of the strength that we look for. So it’s about being agile to new, new things out there, whether that’s a new regulation, or a new way of working, or a new opportunity for one of our clients. And we look for that strength through your experiences, whether it’s, you know, previous work experience, or whether it’s working in a team, in a sports club, or working in some other some other experiences you’ve had in your personal life where you something changed. And, you know, it got through a difficult time or the last year and how you adapted to that and, you know, studied from home or worked from home or did something different. So we look for that agility, skill, being able to take on new opportunities, learn new skills, learn new, pick up new information, and then apply it to what we’re doing. So where you might have been our client site and been able to go up to a client and ask their advice. And the same in the kind of student environment, you might have been working in a team on a team project, and you can all chat and bounce ideas in person. And then you have to adapt that to online. And maybe you’re on a zoom call, or Microsoft Teams call or something else to then try and hash out ideas and figure out what you wanted to do. And it’s about how did you adapt to that situation? And what did you learn from that time?

How do you think employers can test a candidate’s agility?

So we like to look for that strength. And we like to challenge so you might have questions like, you know, what would you do? Or how would you handle if your client disagreed with you? Or how would you handle if your manager wanted to go in a different direction, and we’ll be looking for that response of how you’d handle the client, or how you’d handle your team. And maybe you’d, you know, reflect and go back and get some more evidence to support this change. Or maybe you’d work closely with the client on what they what direction they wanted to go in. And really, we’re looking for how you handle that situation, how you think about the clients best interests, how you maintain the integrity throughout that process, as well. So it’s the integrity of the company. And it’s also thinking about the client and how we can be supporting the client to get the best outcome for them as well.

How do you think students should use a gap year to develop skills such as agility?

Yeah, so I think it’s all about putting yourself out of your comfort zone during that experience. So whether it’s some kind of travel, or whether it’s some kind of volunteering, work, you know, think about what, think about why your comfort level is where you are now, and then try and think of things that are going to challenge you and they’re going to help you develop. So I didn’t take a gap year, but I did a volunteering project in Borneo, Malaysia. And we were working with a, a center there that work with disabled children, and we were building a sensory garden for them. And so through that experience, I had never had any real life experience of that before. And so it took me out my comfort zone, I was in a different climate, it was really hot and muggy that all the time, which I wasn’t used to. And I was working face to face with loads of different children I hadn’t met before, I hadn’t really had experience working with children before, and especially children with different kind of learning abilities. So that definitely put me on my comfort zone. And then I talked about that in my interview, but how I’d worked in a team with the other people that were there with me and we’re done like the physical work building this playground, but we’d also had this learning opportunity that hadn’t experienced before. And so you could talk about what you learn from it experience, how it’s then helped you when you go on to work with different people that you haven’t worked with before and from that learning so you can show that you’re really comfortable with working with different people. And you’ve had this experience and you’ve gained this from it.

Would you recommend something like that, like volunteer experience? 

I would recommend, like I said, anything that puts you out your comfort zone, and especially through the last year, there’s probably lots of different places that need support at the moment. So I think any experience that you can get that will put you out your comfort zone, that will help you to learn more about yourself and also more about others around you can help. So there’s loads of different volunteering opportunities that you can do, whether it’s more, you know, working with people, and there’s opportunities like in a teaching English in different countries, or working with children or working with adults, or there might be opportunities more like project based, like helping to clear up some land or build a house or something like that. And there’s also opportunities closer to home, I find that there’s like National Trust opportunities you can get involved in. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be abroad. But I do think that having experience to work with people who are different to you and different to your background, whatever your background, might be, can help you learn as well. So that when you then go into the working world, you know, you’ve had this exposure to different things. And you’ve developed skills about yourself, and you think, well, if I got through, like that time when I was away from home and like compensate, I can do this project. So I think it’s good in that aspect.

Interested in EY? EY are currently recruiting. You can find details of their current vacancies on the Gradfest2021 site

EY are proud sponsors of GradFest2021 

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“It’s better to compromise than to lose”

Viktorija Mikalauskaite, a Senior Associate in the Legal Department at FinTrU on the skills you need to be a future leader including the art of influencing, persuading and teamwork. 

Viktorija Mikalauskaite

Could you just tell us a bit about influencing skills, what are they and you know, what do they involve?

So um, influencing skills, you know, they are skills that you use to persuade someone that your idea is better than someone else’s idea that your suggested terms or make better sense and persuade someone to change their ways of thinking of but without forcing them to do so. But at the same time, respecting opinions of others and compromising or mutual agreement cannot be found, and it’s better to compromise than lose. What I like to say it is a combination of communication and persuasion and negotiation, but it also involves confidence which is an extremely important factor. And if either one of those elements are missing, then you will not be able to influence effectively, you need to be able to communicate productively, it needs to be changing your communication style, depending on personality or profession of a person that you’re communicating with or trying to influence. So whether it’s your employer, or a colleague or a client, the communication style will be different now. And an influencing it’s also about, you know, convincing someone to get on board and to gain that approval support from your team or employer on your suggested ideas. So ultimately, what you’re looking for from influencing someone is their backup. And, as I mentioned, before, communication and persuasion and negotiation, they all work hand in hand with confidence, you need to believe in yourself, you need to believe in your skills, you need to believe in your ability and your ability to influence and persuade. And, you know, that comes with time and practice and experience.

Is there anything else that you’d watch out on that, and any other techniques that we produce? 

I mean, there are several techniques that that, you know, graduates can use in the workplace, when it comes to influencing. The first one that comes into my mind is, you know, know your audience, know the people you work with, or the people you work for. So, you know, all of you who joined today, at some stage, you will be working with people that have different personalities, different level of experience, different needs, different roles, get to know them, don’t be afraid to flex your communication style, as I said, previously, when dealing with people from or, or employees from different backgrounds. Identify who you will be reporting to, and how much influence they have on the decision that company or team makes, you know, and, and really, you know, invest the time and getting to know people that you’re trying to influence and build those relationships, you know, you need to build the relationship to show how ambitious you are, and, you know, and to, to build your own personal brand that will distinguish you from the others. And, you know, if you show that you’re ambitious, that you can, then then you get noticed, people will remember you. And another technique, you know, build trust, which is also linked to know your audience. So, generally, people like to be a nurturing environment to know, but those who listen and show compassion and concern, that’s how you become trustworthy, you know, when you show that care and support to someone, you know, build upon that trust and build on the trust with your employer, by delivering work on time meeting deadlines, you know, go over, going over and above what’s expected from you, and, you know, volunteer to take extra workload if your capacity allows. And I suppose another one is, demonstrate your credibility, you know, you want to, you want to establish your reputation and prove that you’re reliable. And you know, by showing that you’re credible to your claim that you’re working with, or your employer or your client, you know, that helps to persuade them to agree with what you’re saying. And that can be achieved by, you know, being one of the strongest performers or top performers. And showing constant improvement and your quality of work and working well under pressure and, and even being accountable for your own mistakes. You know, if you made a mistake, raise your hand. Admit it, you know, don’t hide it. Don’t. Don’t defend it. Don’t blame it on someone else. Yeah, I mean, that will show that you have that sense of responsibility and credibility.

So what kind of skills do you need to put together to provide like a good case study in person or even in writing?

Well, you need to research you need to prepare, and you need to practice and, you know, communicate in a concise and clear manner. And whether it’s on paper or in person. And it’s important that your audience understands what you’re trying to say. And that you put your point across effectively. And, you know, you need to, if you if you’re presenting your case in person, think about your tone, you know, assess your audience to tailor your tone. So whether it’s a formal tone that should be using or more casual, but always remain professional. And that’s, that’s extremely important. And no, you’re topping inside out, you know, you don’t want to get stuck, especially the asked questions, and just spent about, you know, what is the purpose of that case? What is the goal here? And what do you want people to take away from that case?

Communication is extremely important. And being able to communicate effectively is essential for business. And it’s a foundation of influencing skills that I have touched on previously. And it’s also the basis for leadership and teamwork. And so it’s, you know, when you think about, you know, by communicating effectively, what that means is, you know, thinking about the content of what you’re going to say, or the content of a speech or presentation that you’re going to deliver, you know, sometimes less is more. And you know, how you present yourself when communicating, being able to answer the questions, as well as, ask good questions. You know, that’s, that’s a skill in itself. And, you know, when we talk about appealing to the head and to the heart, that for me goes back, you know, to know your audience. And if you know, your audience, and you can assess, then you can tailor your communication style, and you can tailor your tone. But you can also tailor the content of what you’re going to say as well.

What are some of the interview questions that kind of assess your influence and skills and your persuasiveness?

If an employer wants to assess your influencing skills of persuasiveness, they will most likely ask you a scenario based question. Okay. They would start with, give me an example of or tell me about that something or how you would approach certain situation. So, you know, an example can be, you know, you might be asked, tell me about the time you had to communicate effectively? Well, tell me about the time you had to change your communication style for different audience. So here, think about, maybe you delivered a presentation as part of the coursework that received the great feedback, or maybe you handled a social media account or, you know, for university or social. Yeah, that received lots of followers and became very popular, both very good examples to use, and, you know, for graduates. And you might be asked, you know, tell me about the time you worked with a difficult person. And, you know, here an employer would want to know if you have communication skills, you know, did you flex your style? What tone did you use when you talk with a difficult person? And, you know, did you confront that person over his or her behaviour? Another question you might be asked is, you know, tell me about the time, you know, you have persuaded someone to do something that, that, that they didn’t want to do. If you and that you both, you know, think about it being a part time job, and you convince your colleague to stay in the company, even though he or she received another job offer, you know, or maybe you don’t have a job, you know, if you, perhaps you convinced a person in your class, to join a charity event or similar initiative by university? Also, you know, a very good example to use for that question. And another question that, that is, a great question to ask is, tell me about the time you had an argument or disagreement with your teammate? So, this is a great question to ask by employers, because what they will be looking from your answer is that you have communication skills, that you work in a team. And, also, if you have problem solving skills, because, you know, if you had an argument, they’ll need to know how that ended as well.

What are ways that we could develop our skills then?

I mean, there are, there are the best way to develop and influencing skills or getting involved in various group activities, project work, or find a part time job that both involves client facing or customer facing. You need to get involved in the in the group activity because, you know, you, you could you can’t influence someone, if you’re not a part of the team, you know, at the same time, you can, you have a great insight in how others lead in the team, or you know, or what sort of ideas they have, you know, or ways that they use to influence someone and in the team that you pour it off. And, I mean, public speaking is a great way to develop influencing skills, you know, it will improve your confidence, it will improve your communication skills, and it will also help, you know, ways of different ways of interacting with audience Yes. Also, in university debates, I don’t know if you still have them in Queens, but university that is, is a great way to also develop influencing skills. And, you know, you don’t need to participate if you don’t want to, but simply by, you know, by watching the debate, you can have great insight. You know, as I mentioned previously, watching how others lead and how others communicate with the audience.

How do we develop then leadership potential? And how do recruiters assess leadership potential?

It’s a good question. And, you know, some people are natural leaders. But everyone can develop a necessary skill set. To become a leader, a great way to develop leadership potential is by taking on more responsibility. So volunteering to take an extra workload at work, if your capacity allows, but not taking any more than you can handle. And you need to go over and above than what’s described in your job description if you want to grow and progress. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Yes, and honestly, this is one of the best ways to learn something new. And it will certainly help to develop your personal brand and get noticed by people. And, you know, seek opportunities that allow you to develop leadership potential. Yeah, keep on top of university updates, to see if there are any project work going on, that you can take part in. So for example, maybe you can be a mentor, or maybe you know, you can get involved in the induction week, welcoming new students, or even coaching a sports team, you know, and equally important, and, you know, offer your encouragement and your guidance to people that you coach or people you work with, or even students in your class because leadership can be practised anywhere, as long as you keep learning.

Could you name a couple of leadership skills and qualities? 

These are so consistent, so many skills or qualities, you know, and the list goes on and on and on. But and some of them are you know, they should, you know you need to be ambitious, that’s your goal and focus on problem solving and organisation need to be organised, and keep the track and track the progress of work. And make sure to communicate that beats with the team, company client or to one another one is delegation. It’s very important, you know, you can’t do everything yourself, you need to learn how to delegate. You don’t delegate you for you to bring yourself up, but you delegate, you know, facilitate the workflow and help others in the team to grow and progress by allocating them the responsibility and showing that trust time management. Be aware of the deadlines. And always think how can I improve turnaround times, and learn prioritise. And once you once you learn how to prioritise, then you prioritise appropriately. 

How would you persuade someone who doesn’t seem interested in a project to get involved with the team?

And well, I mean, you need to first of all, and that’s a very good question. But I think I touched on this a little bit as well. Whatever I talked about, know your audience. So you know, if someone is reluctant to join the project team, then you encourage them to do so. You know, if you know that person and what they’re looking for their goals and why they’re not interested in the project. Try to find Is there something in the project that you can you can use to encourage them to join. So for example, maybe the project, create some opportunities that later can lead to better things or promotion or a payrise. You know, and you need to know once. First of all you need to know the project, what is the project, what the project entails? What are the skills that you can gain while I’m working on that project. And then knowing what the person is looking for, if he say no to that opportunity, while he or she is saying no, you know, what, what, what different? You know, what are they looking for exactly? And then, and then just find them, just find, you know, something that attracts them. So find something that would say, oh, by the way, you know, these are the skills that you will learn in the project. And by the way, do you know, did you know that, you know, people do well, then they get promoted to certain level or they moved to Fairfax?

So how do you strike a balance between influencing and forcing your opinion? 

Yeah, it is a good one. And so yes, as I said, influencing is persuading or convincing someone to do something, but without forcing them to do. Compromise was what you mentioned was not, yeah, so there’s a fine line, you know, you have to, you know, at some stage, you won’t be able to convince someone, or you won’t be able to persuade someone, but you have to find a compromise. And so rather than walking away from it, you’ll have to find a compromise. But I think there is a fine balance between forcing people to do something, rather than influencing. And it’s always thing professional, you know, and using the skills that that I mentioned today, earlier today, to, you know, speak professional, knowing your tone, knowing what tone do you use, you know, again, if you speak with your colleague, and the and your employer, you’ll use a different sort of tone. So you know, it’d be forcing someone your opinion, then your tone will change, if you’re trying to influence someone with the opinion with the communication style that suits a person. And then that’s not forcing, that’s talking. That’s a discussion that that leads to convincing or persuasion. So it’s the tone and assess the person who you’re talking with. And, and if you’re stuck, then try to see if there is a middle ground or a compromise that you can both come up with.

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“Stop thinking about a job title and start thinking about what you want your days to look like.”

John Maguire, North West Talent Partner at FinTrU gives his top tips on navigating the graduate recruitment and application process. 

John Maguire FinTrU
John Maguire, FinTrU

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.

Interested in working for FintrU? Rewatch our recent @QUBCareers Instagram Live sessions featuring FinTrU and browse their current opportunities on theGradfest2021 site.

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“The secret for a happy working life is just say yes to every opportunity. “

Chloe McKee, a COVID-19 laboratory manager at Randox, shares her advice for graduates.

Chloe McKee
Chloe McKee, Randox laboratory manager

What advice would you give to students graduating who haven’t yet secured a job?

My advice would be just keep searching. If you want something hard enough, it will come to you in the end, so don’t give up hope. You may go for the first job interview and it may not work out. Even the second or maybe the third might not. But if the first, second or third hasn’t worked, there is still going to be one down the line that is going to be right for you. So, just don’t give up hope and keep going.

How could a new graduate without a graduate role gain valuable work or other experience in the current environment?

The current environment is obviously a lot more difficult than previous years due to the pandemic. But my advice for new students graduating would be to look out everywhere for new experiences; there are going to be some out there for you. Any experience is better than no experience. Even if it’s a few hours volunteering. That’s going to make you stand apart from other students that don’t have the experience. Any experience is better than no experience.

What skills does your organisation expect of graduates and how can University leavers develop these while job searching?

Randox Laboratories has a strong emphasis on practical best skills, and especially within our COVID testing labs at the minute, because we are getting a lot of new graduates. So, in university just make the most of your practical classes by asking questions and learning new techniques. Don’t just go along with the flow, make sure you actually know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Randox is looking for someone who is really keen, willing to learn and wants to actually go far and wants to develop their career.

What is the best bit of advice you would give a graduate starting a new role?

The best bit of advice I could give is just to give your all. As a new graduate you have the advantage of being young and eager and ready for work. And this is really your time to shine. So, just really throw yourself into any job or any task you’re given. This will mean you will get the best experience possible out of the job.

What skills may students have developed in the past year? And how can they apply these in a work environment?

The past year has been challenging for us all, obviously, because of the pandemic. But that doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Having to work from home as a student has given people real adaptability to their work and we see that they’re coping better with change. This has given them a real resilience and eagerness to work, because they’re excited to get out into the environment, to come out and meet new people and learn new skills.

Why does the positive attitude in the workplace matter?

A positive attitude in the workplace is half the battle – if you have a positive attitude and are ready to learn, you’re going to go far. You’re not going to have all the skills that they are looking for initially, but those skills can be built up If you have a positive attitude and are ready and eager to learn.

How important is confidence? And what advice would you give to increase your confidence of work?

Confidence is key. Ultimately, you have finished your degree so you know that you specialise in your subject, trust the knowledge you have. Don’t forget that once you enter a job, and there’s always room for more learning. Take training courses, ask questions, ask your manager what you can do. There’s never room to stop learning.

To what extent is it okay to admit you don’t know something when starting a job?

My advice would be to always be honest: if you don’t know something, that’s okay. Ask your colleagues for help. It’s better to ask for help and then do a great job and not ask for help and struggle. All your colleagues have had a first day as well, so, everyone in that job has been in the same position as you. So don’t be worried about asking for help. It’s better to ask for help than not.

In a recent poll of our students, 80% said job satisfaction is more important than financial security. How can our graduates find job satisfaction, and what is the secret to a happy working life?

I would agree that job satisfaction is more important than the money. For me, job satisfaction comes from doing something that you’re interested in, that’s going to satisfy you and to do what you love each day. And secondly, working with a good team in a good company. If you enjoy going to work and seeing your colleagues every day, it makes your job so much easier. The secret to me for a happy working life is just say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t shut yourself off to anything, you never know what one training course or what one trip away with your work can do. It’s all about who you meet and who you know in that sector.

What do you love about your job?

I love a lot of things about my job and my colleagues would definitely be a big part of that. I’m lucky to work in a great team who’ve all come from different academic backgrounds so I’ve learned so much from each of them. Another thing I love about my job is the fact that every single one of us here is playing a massive fight against COVID-19 and the pandemic and this will be something to look back on in years to come and be proud of.

What advice would you give to someone who isn’t sure they are on the right career path?

Just experiment! You don’t know until you try. You have to go into a job and give it your all before you know it’s not the one for you. Having said that, when you’re in that job and it’s not the one for you, that’s okay. You’re getting experience and you know what you want out of your career – it’s almost like fine tuning your career. Ultimately, you’ll find out what job you really want.

Interested in Randox? Randox will feature on our @QUBCareers Instagram during the week commencing 28 June talking about commercial awareness. Visit the Gradfest2021 site to find out more.

Randox are proud sponsors of Gradfest2021

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“You can find a job that challenges and excites you”

Declan Lupari, Former KTP Associate at Queen’s is a VR/AR Developer within the Digital Construction Team at Graham. Here is his top advice for graduates.

Declan Lupari KTP
Declan Lupari, former KTP Associate

What has been the most challenging part of your career?

The most challenging part was having no construction background whatsoever, I came from a computer science background. So getting in trying to learn everything as I went. Getting a bit overwhelmed with all the jargon and acronyms can be a bit daunting at the start. But people are there to help you identify, develop you and your abilities further. But I think the greatest milestone was just completing the KTP project and seeing the effect of my products and projects on the company.

What advice would you give to students graduating who haven’t yet secured a job?

Yeah, just be patient. Your dream job’s not going to be the first thing that appears on Indeed or Glassdoor or anything. Like I worked for O2 straight out of uni for a couple of months selling phones in a touring van so it’s definitely not the same route I’m in now. But keep tabs on the likes of indeed or Glassdoor and see what’s popping up your your interests and what’s relevant to your degree and to your also your interest as well. And don’t doubt your, your abilities you just graduated. So you definitely get the skill set to do well, and be confident whenever you do apply for that job.

What is the best bit of advice you would give a graduate starting a new role?

Just take it as it comes. Like I was saying, I had no idea what the construction sector I had a basic history in virtual reality. I did that for my dissertation. So I had the passion for and I had a bit of that, that no heart at the start. But take every day as it comes. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your team members, they’re there to support you and help you make sure you’re producing the best work. But you’re also enjoying your work as well, making sure everything’s going all right for you. I would like I wouldn’t know the knowledge I do know, if I didn’t reach out to my team members and ask them what certain acronyms meant or how to write an email to a director or just little bits and pieces that you’ll pick up on the way. Don’t expect to know everything. On the first day you’ll pick it up as you go.

What does this year look like for a graduate starting a job? will people be office based or working from home or a blend of both?

I think it’ll be a blend of both. I’ve recently just been to the office, which is a big Rarity this year. It must be about three times have been in the office since August. But we just had two graduates actually starting today in our team, and they were on boarded and inducted and everything online. But as things start to become more open, people become more comfortable being in confined spaces or offices, I think that’ll start to open up a bit. And we’ll start to see people eye to eye in offices. And yeah, it’ll be a blend of both up until then. And then hopefully going forward. It’ll be more office space. But adapting to online has been a big thing this year. So it could be that way for a bit.

Why does the positive attitude in the workplace matter?

I think it’s a an integral part of the work the working life, it’s essential for developing strong relationships with your team members on also clientele. And I think it’s a big a big factor in getting returning customers as well, a positive attitude. You can see it a mile away. And it shows ambition shows eagerness to learn. And it cements those relationships in that collaboration and teamworking just a bit further.

To what extent is it okay to admit you don’t know something when starting out in a job?

Well, that was me the first month or two months with jargon and acronyms, everything. I think it was the first week, I didn’t really want to come off as I didn’t know completely what I was doing. So, when I took it upon myself to do that research, that also helped as well. But I think reaching out to your colleagues, they’re not gonna think less of you, they were all in the same position that you were initially as well. So they’re there to help you. And again, you’ll just pick that up as you go along. Don’t feel too much pressure to know everything on the first day – you’re not going to.

How important is it to find a job that excites and challenges you?

I think it’s very important to have a job that excites you and challenges you. If you go in doing the same mundane tasks that you don’t like, it’s the days are gonna drag, you’re not going to care how much money you’re making. There’s more important things to life than money, you need that, that spark and that challenge. And achievement may be small challenges, or big challenges, they’ll spur you on to do better. And if you have a passion for that job as well, it’ll only spur you on further. So the sky’s the limit for that. And then eventually, in that field, you’ll earn that money. But that’s not that shouldn’t be the driving factor. It should be what you want to do every day.

What was the driving force behind your major career decisions?

I knew I always wanted to go into something to do with computers. I’ve been passionate about it since no age, I’ve always been brought up a random technology, my dad coded whenever I was young. So there’s always computers, devices, soldering irons sitting everywhere. So it was always something I was passionate about. And that led me to go into computer science and management at Loughborough University. Absolutely loved it. It was challenging. But I think the fact that I had the passion towards computers, and technology drove me on to do well and then reach out and look for a job that had that ticked all those boxes. It wasn’t like thing I wasn’t looking for was money – it was the hands on approach and having a lot of contribution to a project on getting to do what I love each day. And I’ve just progressed from that.

What do you love about your job?

I’m fortunate enough to see projects the whole way from ideation to deployment and use and feedback etc. But I love seeing progress – whether it be through my own ability through projects that I’ve cocreated and seen their impact and as Jack was saying the feedback from your work whether its solo or teamwork – it’s a different feeling and it spurs you on to do better in your own work and to encourage others to do their best as well.

If you could go back and give yourself some advice on your first day what would it be?

Like I was saying before, no one expects you to know everything on your first day – everyone’s been in that position, everyone’s had their own first day with fears and doubts. Just take every day as it comes. Keep asking questions and don’t be afraid to reach out. 

What advice would you give to our graduating cohort? 

Don’t stress yourself out if you don’t get your dream job straight away. You may be rejected by a few interviews, it doesn’t mean that job isn’t there for the taking. Take every day as it comes but give it your all.

Interested in KTP at Queen’s? KTP will feature on our @QUBCareers Instagram during the week commencing 19 July talking about creativity and lateral thinking. Visit the Gradfest2021 site to find out more. 

KTP are proud sponsors of Gradfest2021 

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“I’ve travelled to Frankfurt and worked with exciting clients like Google”

Maths Graduate Shannon McAteer is now a Business Consultant in Technology Risk at EY, Here is how she got there…

Queen’s Maths graduate Shannon

Describe your career path to date. 

I began applying to graduate jobs during the summer of my graduation, and I had already decided to apply to EY and other “Big Four” firms. I had online assessments to complete for EY and then I had to attend an assessment centre for a day to complete various tasks with different interviewers and other candidates. Once I passed the assessment centre, I had one final interview with a Senior Manager in Belfast, and soon after this I was told I had been successful, and I would be starting in September that year. The job began with 2 weeks training in Dublin (with all expenses paid which was nice), and once back in Belfast I started on my very first audit for Belfast City Council. After a few other short projects, I joined the team working on the Google engagement in November of my first year, and I have been working on this project ever since. So, I was definitely thrown in at the deep end but there is always plenty of support, and all grads just learn as we work on different projects. 

Why technology risk? 

Even after I finished university, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do as my career, and with Maths as my degree, it didn’t really narrow down my options at all (which is good and bad). I had first learned about the “Big Four” at grad job fairs, and I started to do my research to see if any of the career paths they offered interested me. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be an accountant, so technology risk caught my eye, especially as this is a sector that is continuously growing and changing. As I had applied for several companies, in the end I was torn between another Big Four company and EY, but as soon as I completed the assessment centre, I knew it was the company for me. EY is very people orientated, and everyone I met seemed really nice and helpful, and I also knew there would be opportunity for travel through EY, which definitely interested me as well.  

What is your current role like? 

The current project I am working on can definitely be stressful at times, and sometimes the hours are long during really busy period, but the team I am working with is fantastic, and this always motivates me to do the best I can for the benefit of the project as a whole. There are always new tasks and things to learn because it’s such a huge company with so many internal systems, and the scope of work we do for Google is always growing and changing, which makes every day new and challenging. 

What does an average week look like for you?

I will be honest and say most weeks are not just a 9-5, but the team I work with is quite flexible in terms of the hours you work each day, which is great. There can be lots of calls with the client, but also time to work by yourself and get work done which I enjoy too. We also have regular check-ins with the team, which includes sub-teams in Belfast, the US and the Philippines, so the different time zones can also be an interesting factor.  There are also always lots of social events, for my project and for technology risk or just the Belfast office, all of them have been virtual recently of course, but hoping to start getting back to in-person events now too. 

What is the most challenging part of the job?

The longer hours in busy periods can be tough sometimes, I have had to work a few weekends and it can be stressful because of tight deadlines. But we always manage to get the work done, and the team will always be on hand to help. 

What is the most rewarding?

Getting to work as part of the team has been the best experience of my EY journey so far. It is a pretty big team consisting of people from all over the world, which is always so interesting and exciting. Also, at the beginning of my career in EY, I had the opportunity to travel to Frankfurt, Germany, to complete a data centre visit. I went completely on my own, and although it was scary at the time, it definitely helped me with my professional and personal development and is something I’ll always remember! 

What are your career aspirations? 

I want to keep moving up through positions in EY and hopefully become a Senior Manager one day (if not higher up). I also want to complete more qualifications to do with IT, cybersecurity, etc, to keep up to date with the ever-changing trends in this sector. 

In what way do you feel like you’re making a difference in your job?

Through our work for Google, we’re making one of the biggest companies safe to use for all of its customers around the world and getting to be a part of this is very rewarding. 

What expectations did you have about this career path that you have found differed from reality?

During the first 2 weeks training, I don’t think any of us thought we would be thrown straight into proper projects the way we were, I thought there would be a lot more training, or even just helping with smaller tasks on different projects. But I have enjoyed learning new things right from the start, and I always think it’s easier to learn on the job.  The Coronavirus pandemic has obviously changed things massively, so there has also been less travel and time in the office than I initially expected, but I am hoping to still experience this at some point soon. 

What skills did you learn at Queen’s that have helped you in your career?

I learned so many skills during my time at Queen’s that have helped me, for example; people skills, organisational skills, independence to be able to work alone but also being able to work well as part of a team. I also learned how to manage strict deadlines, and how to try and keep calm under pressure. As well as this I picked up so many basic computer skills that I still use every day during work now, like google sheets/docs etc.  

What advice do you have for students and graduates wanting to move into this area?

I would recommend definitely doing some research about which service line you want to go into, and then also which sub-service line, as EY or other similar companies have so many different roles and opportunities available. However, I know for EY there is always the chance to move around within the company if you feel another role would suit you better. A lot of EY’s hiring process is based on whether you’re a good fit for the company based on what type of person you are, how you work etc, but this works both ways, so it’s really important to be sure big companies like EY are also suited for you and what your career aspirations are.  


How did your Queen’s experience help your personal and professional development?

Studying at Queen’s helped me gain and improve upon so many professional and personal skills, without which I may not be where I am today. It also enabled me to enhance my interpersonal skills through completing a volunteering programming at the Sandy Row Community Centre and obtaining the Degree Plus certification which has been a significant factor in my personal and professional development. 

What’s the one thing you’ll never forget about your time at Queen’s?

My graduation day was one of the best day’s in my life to date. Being able to celebrate finishing my degree with my family and friends and knowing that all of my hard work over the last 3 years had paid off, is something that I’ll never forget. 

Interested in working for EY? Don’t miss our employer panel on 10 June at 12pm on @QUBCareers Facebook. They will also be talking all things Workplace Culture live on @QUBCareers Instagram at 12pm on 17 June. Visit the Gradfest2021 site to find out more. 

EY are proud sponsors of Gradfest2021

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Gradfest 2021: Personal Skills Audit

Personal skills

Organisation

Time keeping 

Time management

Planning 

Self-motivation

Work quickly/ accurately

Using initiative

Coping with stress 

Self-awareness

Working to deadlines 

Multi-tasking

Prioritising

Working under pressure 

Assess and evaluate my own and others work 

People skills

Team work

Customer service skills Leadership

Interpersonal skills Communication (oral and written)

Presenting/ Making speeches

Networking Negotiating

Handling Complaints

Management/Supervisory experience

Persuasiveness and influencing

Technical Skills

Collecting and analysing data

Foreign languages

Technical skills/ Knowledge specific to industry

Use sign language

Write reports 

Occupational area specific knowledge/ information

General skills

Problem solving

Decision making

Numeracy

Arrange events and activities 

Business/Commercial awareness

I.T.Skills

Identifying/evaluating options 

Editing/summarising information

Identifying problems (troubleshooting)

Qualities Sought By Employers

Enthusiastic/willing to learn 

Honest Reliable/dependable 

Resilient

Creativity

Can accept criticism 

Hardworking 

Conscientious 

Sensitive to others

 Assertive 

Friendly/likeable 

Outgoing 

Driven/ambitious 

Independent

Proactive

Cooperative

Trustworthy

Fair 

Patient/Calm 

Energetic 

Socially confident 

Optimistic 

Respectful

Polite

Original

Detail orientated

Adaptable/flexible

Able to take responsibility

REMEMBER – when saying you have certain skills you need to be prepared and be able to demonstrate HOW you have EFFECTIVELY used this skill

Some sources of examples:

Placements/internships

Part time Jobs/ holiday work Voluntary work

DegreePlus

Practical/Technical knowledge Project/ research work Student representation

Clubs and societies Enterprise programmes Courses and Seminars

Sports

Music

Drama

Travel Languages Charity Interests

Anything that involves teamwork or skill will be highly desirable

Find out more about how you can develop your personal skills on our website. 

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Gradfest2021: 4 Ways to prep for a job interview

This four-point interview prep checklist has been put together by our awesome Careers Team to help you nail that all-important job interview.

1. Cover the basics

Be in the right place, at the right time

Make sure you know who you are meeting, when and where. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people mess up the logistical details of job interviews – either by miscalculating the time it will take to get to the interview location and arriving late or by noting the time or location down incorrectly. Confirm the date, time and location, along with your attendance when you respond (promptly) to the interview invite. Avoid awkward introductions my memorising the name of the person you are meeting.

If it’s a video, skype or phone interview, make sure you are in a quiet location that has a good connection.  For video or skype, make sure that your surroundings and the clothes you are wearing look professional.

For more tips on virtual interviewing and assessment  centres, check out our Career Resources on the GradFest2021 site.

2. Do your research

Employee testimonials can give you a feel for company culture

Look up the company’s website, paying particular attention to their mission, strategy and values – try to weave these into any answers you give about why you want to work for the organisation. Learn who their clients/customers are and who their competitors might be. Don’t just look at what a company says about itself (many employers provide company information via MyFuture), but what employees and past employees say about them. Review sites such as Glassdoor allow you to read what employees say about the company culture as well as interview experience. 

Take time to investigate what is going on in the relevant industry and how that impacts upon your prospective employer.

For top tips on how employers are navigating the post COVID-19 workplace, check out our Masterclass on adapting to the changing world of work.

3. Know what job you are applying for

Research what you’ll be doing and who you’ll be reporting to

Read and re-read the job description so you can refer to it in your interview answers. Look at the company website for more role information and how that fits in the structure of the organisation. Look for networking opportunities to speak to people in the company or the industry.

Our LinkedIn Masterclass has loads of tips for networking online. 

4. Sell yourself

You are awesome – you just have to show them how

Once you have an understanding of the organisation and the role for which you are interviewing, think about your key selling points and how they relate to this job. Evidence with examples each of the elements in the person specification.
It can be useful to use a mind map to remind yourself of elements from your degree, your extra-curricular activities and your work. Or to use a timeline for the last few years to draw out the key milestones and what you gained from them. Pay attention to the things you really enjoyed and the challenges you overcame.
Use this evidence to prepare STAR-formatted answers for each of the skills elements in the person specification.

Check out our employability skills resources for key skills employers are looking for and how you can develop them.