Nobody likes to be pigeon-holed – it stunts professional growth and limits your options. And the same can be said of employers. Just because a company dominates in a particular field or industry doesn’t mean they are only recruiting one type of graduate from one distinct discipline. In fact, some of the most successful and agile workplaces are committed to recruiting students from a variety of backgrounds to maximise creativity and diversify thought. Here are just four of them.
Chartered Accountants Ireland
‘We embrace diversity and creativity in the workplace – we want to see difference around the table’
“As a body we are keen to attract the brightest and the best but from all backgrounds which isn’t often known or appreciated and we find the employers we work with really welcome and endorse a mixed skillset and really welcome students coming from all degree discipline.
“As a Law graduate, to me, chartered accountancy was boring – it was going to be number-crunching accounting and it was a far cry from what I saw myself doing. I have to say my mind was completely blown. I often get asked will an employer not favour someone from a finance/accounting background and the answer is no. They don’t want to have everyone around their table with the exact same thought process and methodology. They really embrace diversity and creativity in the workplace and that really helps them excel, forcing them to innovate and disrupt the norm which is necessary in the modern workplace. Communication skills are key, which people mightn’t fully appreciate. The ability to make good decisions – to weigh up qualitative and quantitative data, to use critical thinking, to be a strategist and to influence others. So that emotional intelligence is absolutely core to becoming a good chartered accountant because ultimately that is a business leadership passport.”
‘It’s not just accountancy – there is a whole range of varied roles across the board’
“There’s lots of areas in PwC you can join as graduates – we don’t require a specific degree. As a Psychology graduate, it was never somewhere I’d considered because I just thought it was very corporate; that it’s all accountancy-based and it’s very professional and it’s maybe not for me. But actually, what I’ve found is that it totally is for me and it’s the right place for me to be. We are an accountancy firm, but there’s so much more than that – so we recruit graduates into consultancy, tax, deals, working with different clients, mergers, audit and of course accountancy so there’s a whole range of things you can do at PwC varied across the whole board.
Consultancy for example is very much working with clients and problem-solving and finding solutions for those clients. Someone might come to us looking to do a new business merger or something like that so our consultancy team would look into that for them and be their advisors.”
– Sarah Delaney, PwC
NatWest Banking Group
‘I’ve been here 14 years and probably had about 6 different careers.’
“The reason I’ve stayed so long in the bank is that, whilst I’ve been here 14 years, I’ve probably had about 6 different careers in that time. I have done a variation of different roles including business-facing HR consultant type jobs, business partnering jobs…Right now, I’m the HR business partner for three different areas and they are group business areas. I look after three business areas – financial crime and control, fraud prevention and shared services. These are the back-office areas – basically the bits of the bank that keeps everything ticking along, but you wouldn’t necessarily see those parts of the bank because they’re not there on the high street in branches and such. My role looks after about 8000 people and they are spread across the globe – predominantly UK, Poland and India but also I have a scattering of people in the States, Singapore and Japan and other ones and twos over the globe as well. So, I have very much gone from being an Island of Ireland-focused role back when I joined the bank 14 years ago to a truly global role now.”
– Sandra Wright, NatWest Group
Belfast City Council
‘In the council, you don’t just work on one thing, you have to flexible and respond to different demands.’
“We have a community plan which is focal to everything that we do and it’s called the Belfast Agenda and it focuses on Belfast becoming a safe, fair and inclusive city where everyone benefits from the success of the city. We’re looking for analytical skills, problem-solving skills, decision-making skills, communication skills – especially if you’re going out into the communities and engaging with the citizens of Belfast. As well as good written and oral communication skills, because you’d be working with a range of different audiences – so maybe colleagues, managers and members of the public. Researching and benchmarking skills are really important to us, work planning, project management and partnership working. So, whilst you’re at university, try to get as much experience as you can around that. Demonstrate that you’re self-motivated and you’re a good team player, and that you’re flexible in your approach to work. In the council you don’t just get working in one thing, there’s different demands all the time from different people and you have to be flexible in managing that demand, as well as working to tight deadlines.”
– Alison Long, Belfast City Council
To access more inspiring advice from business leaders, catch up on our Employer Panel series by re-watching our past events here:
Sarah McKeag, Associate Director for Talent Attraction and Acquisition at EY Belfast talks skills-based recruitment and how it differs from the traditional recruitment process.
EY are one of the big four professional services firms. We have about 550 staff in Belfast at present and 18,000 staff in 21 offices across the UK. We are traditionally known for bringing staff into their chartered accountancy-based exams, be that an audit business or tax business. We have a large consulting business in Belfast and we bring in students now down different routes, through data analytics, project management, contract and procurement management – so there is a wide opportunity for students at all levels within EY. We are a global organisation in 150 companies worldwide. So, the opportunity for students to move and to travel and gain that vast exposure is there, right on their doorstep in Belfast.
Strengths-based recruitment at EY
We have stepped away from traditional [recruitment] routes, we did this about 10 years ago and we work with an organisation called the Centre For Applied Psychology. They have helped us develop this strength-based recruitment process to assess potential in students. So that is the main difference in strength-based recruitment: we’re not looking for the students to have had work experience or experience in a range of things, we’re looking for the potential they have to become leaders in our business and to become successful in our business.
We review our process every couple of years. We review the strengths we use, the frameworks, to make sure that they are aligned to the people who are performing the highest in our business and then this helps assess this potential in the students coming in. So, if we think about what other employers use, they typically use a competency-based approach and the difference between a strength and a competency-based approach is around the energy and enthusiasm – competency can be learnt, whereas a strength is something where you have that natural enthusiasm and energy around doing. It is something you do well and you do often and you enjoy doing all that time. We use that across all our student recruitment, from the online assessment centre to the final interview. The majority of the strengths we use for EY are the core strengths from across all of our programmes we operate, but when you get to that final interview, we’ll have more focus strengths for the area you applied for.
Strengths that EY recruit against
These are the core strengths that we would measure:
In the know
We are not looking for students to have done reams of work experience, we will give them a situation or a task and we will ask them how they would approach that, how they would feel about that, we may give them a number of tasks and ask them to choose their preferred 5 or we may give them a group activity and ask them to evaluate on how they have done in that activity and what they would do differently next time. We want them to have these strengths in their mind, when they are going through our process and think about how would I deal with the situation, what would I rely on to do that?
For example, if we look at the strength curious, we are looking for people that are always challenging and asking why they are doing something, they are looking for new ways to do something and challenge how something works or what’s driving a change in analytics they see so it is that curious, finding out what’s happening and what’s coming next.
Adaptable and resilience
I think at the moment adaptable and resilience are particularly important. That’s been huge for the students we have brought on in the past 6 months. But equally for the students that are coming towards their last year in university or starting university in a different way than they had ever envisioned themselves. How can they make the most of the circumstances they are in at the moment? Things are frequently changing so there needs to be a level of resilience so they can manage that change process. So that they don’t get change fatigue, so they can have coping mechanisms for stress management, they know when they are stressed and how to deal with that.
The number savvy one is not looking for someone that has done further maths or additional maths, however we are a number business and whether that be in data analytics or it be in our audit business, you will be given large volumes or data, sometimes numerical, and you will need to be comfortable working with that. People have to have a level of comfort around that, and understand what drives business or what drives our customers businesses as well.
The team player one, we will assess on our EY experience day in our new virtual assessment. This is a really good way at seeing everyone’s energy and how they interact withing a group. In our business you will work in teams and they can be small teams up to very large teams. So you need to have an understanding of how to integrate into a team, what roles you tend to take on, what your strengths are. You do not need to be the leader of that group, quite often you just need to be the person who focusses that group or remembers to bring the group back to a certain point or build on someone else’s idea. We are not looking for the person who talks the most or loudest, but the person who brings the most value to the group, this may be bringing in people who are more quiet in the group or bringing a focus back to the task at hand. We also need those people who start the group off, who get everyone focussed on the task.
Prepping for a virtual strengths-based interview
Make sure your technology works
Make sure you’re comfortable to come on camera
Don’t forget you can blur your background in video’s if it makes you feel more comfortable
We want to see your face and your interaction
Virtual interviews are different from face to face as that rapport takes a bit longer to build up, however our assessors are very comfortable coming on to the camera
Make sure your WIFI is as strong as it can be
Make sure you will not get interrupted
Make sure you do all your prep work before hand
Identify your strengths
For identifying their strengths, particularly before the final interview stage, and you’re thinking about the job that you are going in to, quite often it quite difficult to identify your own strengths but if you think about your energy level – something you do well, you do often and you enjoy doing. It might not be the first thing on your list as you know you can do it in 5 minutes, it could be the thing you treat yourself to or the thing you do first because you know you can do it in 5 minutes. It will be the thing your friends always ask you to do, it will be the role you always find yourself in in any camp or society – so if you’re really good with numbers, you’ll find yourself with the treasurer, if you’re very analytical, people will come to you with their problems to find a solution. The things your friends say you never shut up about as well or something you can talk about for ages.
We will give you a situation or tell you a bit about the area you applied to, a bit about the strengths that they look for and then we will ask you about the situation and what you would find yourself doing if you were in that situation.
In our final interview stages, there is a short presentation which we ask the candidates to do and that should be your opportunity to do a little bit of research around EY and that line of service you have applied for. The final thing would be around motivation. You will be interviewed by a partner or director, who is an owner of our business, and they will want to know why you wanted to apply to EY, why you have applied to that particular area, as that is the part they own. It is really your opportunity to show the research you have done into the business and into the pathway you have applied for. There is plenty of information on our website.
What is a good question for a candidate to ask at the end of the interview?
I personally think you should always ask a question at the end of an interview. You should by that stage, have built up a rapport with the interviewer, the questions I would tell you to absolutely avoid would be around salary and benefits, as this information is all on our website. There is plenty of time to ask the recruitment team prior to the final interview.
Our interviewers have typically been in the business for a number of years and have had a number of interesting career paths to that point. Questions I would focus on at the end of the interview would be around what is the best client they have worked on, what has been the most challenging client they have worked on, what has been their career path to date or what has been their most interesting role in the organisation. There’s lots of questions related to the company they can ask us. A lot of questions we are being asked at the moment are about the returns to the office and how we engaged with our teams remotely and what were the biggest challenges. The partners are really open to hear from new graduates about what would work and what they would need to see coming into the business and they are keen to know what they can do.
A question at the end of the interview is an opportunity for the candidate to get a view on if they see themself working for this person? Do they want to work on their team? Do they inspire them as a leader? That is what they should be thinking about shaping their questions around if I was coming in.
I found that it was because of the people who interviewed me that made me join, we built a rapport, we had a good chat and we quite often get feed back that our interviews don’t feel very formal and they turn out as more of a chat. When I got the offer, I made the decision because I really enjoyed the people from the company.
For students, you need to think about what you need to know to be on that team and what else you need to know about the leader of that team you will be joining.
Lunch and learn all about Queen’s employability award on 11 November from 12.30pm- 1.30pm.
What is Degree Plus?
Degree Plus is Queen’s employability award. It allows you to earn an extra certificate at graduation in recognition of the extra-curricular activities you take part in during your time at Queen’s. Volunteering, exchange programmes, peer mentoring and language courses all count towards the award.
How do you earn Degree Plus?
There are two ways of earning your Degree Plus Award. The first is called Provider Verified – where you complete one big activity and the activity provider automatically applies for the award on your behalf. The second route is called Combined Experience – this is where you complete two or more smaller extra-curricular activities and you apply for the award yourself, stating on the application form which of the 12 Degree Plus Employability Skills you enhanced during your chosen activities.
Provider Verified is the most straightforward way to get the award. Once you have completed the activity, you will automatically be recommended for the award. You don’t need to do anything else except collect your certificate at graduation (it will list the activities you completed on the certificate).
What happens at the Degree Plus Employability Festival?
During the Degree Plus Employability Festival, you will have a chance to meet providers who are offering programmes, activities and courses that are pre-approved for Degree Plus accreditation.
These are people who have the power to make you more employable in a number of ways. Firstly, the programmes they offer are designed to enhance your employability skills, making you instantly more attractive to prospective employers. Secondly, just by completing their activity, you will be provided with an award that you can talk about in future interviews as proof positive of your skills. Lastly, the fact that you took part in an activity and earned the award is in itself a testament of your initiative and automatically sets you apart from the crowd.
What types of providers are attending the festival?
From exchange and placement programmes to volunteering, research, mentoring and language courses, there will be a number of providers there offering a range of fun and rewarding activities that can help you achieve an extra certificate at graduation in recognition of the skills you have developed. All the providers attending the festival have confirmed that they are still running their programmes and activities this year.
Who else will be at the Festival?
You can also chat with the Degree Plus team and hear what employers like EY and NICVA have to say about the award.
Where is it being held?
The Festival is being held virtually in MyFuture, our online careers portal. You might previously have used MyFuture to search for jobs and events, or even to access CV help and support. But the portal has added a host of new features, including a virtual event hosting function, so we are excited to show you around.
Where does the lunch bit come in?
All attending students will be entered into a draw to win one of six £20 Just Eat vouchers – now who said there is no such thing as a free lunch?
The DEGREE PLUS EMPLOYABILITY FESTIVAL is being held virtually on 11 November between 12.30-1.30pm.
Leaders in industry gave some valuable advice to students and graduates during some inspiring presentations and workshops. Here are some of the takeaways from Day Two.
Neil Chief Economist on Island of Ireland at EY gave the keynote speech.
Here is what he had to say:
“The most important message for students is to remain positive and upbeat despite what you read. You can very easily feel daunted or intimidating. At a time of change or disruption, there are plenty of opportunities. If you think of it this way, when there is lots of problems, the world needs problem-solvers.”
“Keep your sense of positivity, observe and learn but don’t be intimidated as if that will close down opportunities.”
“The world is always changing. The idea you can map out a career ten or 15 years is not true, you have to keep flexibility in your mind and approach.”
“The place you thought you would get a job, that may not be the case. Think what you enjoy and what you like doing. Think what competencies or skills you have. Be less predetermined in what those opportunities might be.”
“Be open mind and absorb what you can. Recruitment is a two-way thing. It’s not just what you have to do to get an opportunity, it’s asking yourself, can be at my best in that organisation?.”
Lessons from Leaders
Mark McCormack, Head of Technology at Aflac
“Problem-solving is one of the most important skills you can develop for any career. It’s what separates us from the computers; that and empathy – and the craic.”
“I might work with computers but it’s the people that make the work interesting and fun.”
“You learn that the things that make you successful in one part of your career are not necessarily the things that make you successful later on. You have to learn and adapt. If you are not learning, then you are probably not enjoying yourself.”
“We look for three things: adaptability, resilience and reinvention.”
“Stay flexible, keep learning and find some good people to work with and you can’t go wrong.”
Lessons from Leaders
Mark Dougan, Director, Prince’s Trust NI
“Courageous leaders are stepping up every single day in NI: teachers, nurses, youth workers, business professionals and young people like yourselves… you are quite literally being made into a leader as a result of this crisis.”
“Lead with courage with a small l.”
“The only thing certain is uncertainty. We have to learn to co-exist with uncertainty.”
“You are courageous leaders in the making and at this moment you need to intentionally decide to get in the game.”
“Yes, it’s challenging and you will make mistakes but the more you do, the more rewarding it becomes as you develop your skills as an effective leader.”
“Everyone is struggling with different challenges and none of those challenges outrank others. Think intentionally how you enable others to lead with courage; set them goals and give them clarity that they need to be courageous leaders in their own right and they will bring their best selves to work every day.”
“Be curious. Ask questions, lots of questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question.”
When it comes to articulating the skills you have developed during your time at Queen’s, Degree Plus is a great tool to have in your armour. Here is why.
Degree Plus is supported by employers
“Employers like EY and Nicva are putting their name to the award – that is an indication of the level of interest and support employers have in students who complete this award,” says Eimear Gallagher, Business Operations Manager at Careers, Employability and Skills, who heads up Degree Plus.
It quantifies your soft skills
“Degree Plus develops your employability. Even if an employer has never heard of the Degree Plus award, they will definitely be interested to see that you have completed a significant amount of extracurricular activity. It shows you have stepped up above and beyond your degree programme, and that you’ve managed your time effectively and balanced it with your studies,” says Eimear.
She adds: “The fact that you can present the validation of those activities in the form of a certificate helps to give employers security that everything you are saying you can back up and evidence through both your degree and your Degree Plus certificate.
It shows initiative
“Degree Plus is an indicator of initiative.,” says Eimear. “Degree Plus is not compulsory – it shows you chose to set up and accept the challenge of exploring a new interest.”
It allows you to practice articulating your skills
Both routes to Degree Plus involve an element of self-reflection during which you will be asked to analyse which of the Degree Plus skills you have developed and how.
With the Provider Verified route, this might involve a presentation or form at the end of the programme. For Combined Experience, you will be asked to complete an application form to evidence the skills you have gained during two extracurricular activities.
Either way, this self-reflective element forms a key part of the award.
“We want you to learn and gain practice in articulating the skills that you are gaining from Degree Plus and the extracurricular activities you have been involved in so you can convey those with impact in an interview situation,” says Eimear. “To be able to articulate these things and how they’ve helped you; how your employability has developed through them – that’s an important skill in itself.”
Whether you are graduating this year or just want to bank the award early, Eimear Gallagher, who heads up Queen’ s employability programme, is here to answer all your burning questions.
What is Degree Plus?
“Degree Plus is about encouraging you to get involved in extracurricular activities in and around Queen’s, but also to give you the opportunity to get a reward for that; to get an accreditation from the University and have it recorded on your Queen’s QSIS record,” says Eimear.
She adds: “At graduation, in addition to your Queen’s parchment confirming your degree, you also get a Degree Plus certificate. That is confirmation from the University that you completed an activity or activities and it will name the specific activities you have undertaken as well.”
What counts towards Degree Plus?
“There are a large number of activities to choose from, the last count was over 180. There are two different routes – Provider Verified and Combined Experience,” says Eimear.
“There is no compulsion to do it,” says Eimear. “It’s for people who want to differentiate themselves and to stand out from the crowd; stand out from others with whom you’d be competing in graduate labour markets.”
Eimear Gallagher is the Business Operations Manager at Queen’s Careers, Employability and Skills. To contact the Degree Plus team, email email@example.com
At our recent Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair, we hosted over 130 top employers from all industries and sectors. We took the opportunity to grill them for their best career advice, so you can learn from leaders at the top of their game. Prepare to be inspired…
Use Queen’s Careers Service
“I would advise students to engage with the University Careers Service. Guidance from careers advisors in making applications, developing your CV and identifying future career paths is invaluable. The University Careers Service works closely with employers such as Almac, they know what we are looking for and can really provide added value through employability training and support. Programmes such as Queen’s Degree Plus Award provide students with a great opportunity to develop and hone the key skills needed to succeed within the workplace.”
Kim McAllister, Talent Acquisition Manager, Almac Group
Keep an open mind
“If I was to go back in time, when I was starting my career, the key thing I would say is to keep an open mind. Back when I was finishing my undergraduate degree, I had a very specific idea of what I wanted to do but I ended up going down a route I wouldn’t have imagined in terms of working in recruitment and HR. I studied drama and English initially and the field of work I am in now is really focussed on people. I actually draw on a lot of the stud I learned in terms of communication styles and people from my undergraduate degree into my current role. So yeah, keep an open mind when you are finishing your degree about what it is you want to do. Be patient. Sometimes it can take a while to find the right kind of fit for you when you are graduating. Even in your first year or two of a graduate role you want to get everything right from the first go. It is okay to make mistakes along the way so be patient with yourself.”
Adrian McCarthy is the manager of For Purpose
“Always take the opportunities, don’t doubt yourself. You don’t know where they will lead and what you will learn along the way.”
“I’d say, try to get as much experience as possible whether it be through part time jobs, internships or volunteering. For example, working in a shop or restaurant…if you can handle angry customers, you can handle anything!
“Also remember that it’s not just about having the grades. Yes, they are important, but transferrable skills such as proficiency in Microsoft packages, time management, first aid training or experience in organising events, to name a few, are also important. A wellrounded individual who can adapt to different environments and maybe bring something new to the table is very appealing to employers.”
Robbie Barr, Partner, Muldoon & Co
Engage with employers
“Go to as many events run by employers as possible. They really give you an idea of the culture of the workplace and a feel for the people that work there. Liberty IT have a Tech Carnival event which we make as reflective of our culture as possible, it’s pretty casual, has a focus on our people’s passion for technology and is full of employees that are happy to tell you anything you want to know about working for LIT.”
Birgitta Swanberg, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist, Liberty IT
Have a career plan
“Know what your end goal is and plan your next move from there. Know what you need to do now to get where you need to go. Look for opportunities, even if you take small steps, those steps might take you closer to your end goal, whatever they may be. Be patient but don’t settle. Do your research and make a plan. This will help you when you want to apply for promotion or career advancement.”
Clodagh Mckeefry, Corporate Recruiter, MRP
Try new things
“Try new things and put yourself out there. You could end up in the best position by taking a chance and trying something new. Sometimes it is good to fall outside of the box and not to limit yourself to obvious career choices. Skills are interchangeable.”
Jared Kearney, Senior Campus Recruiter, CitiUK and CitiIreland
You can upload your CV to your profile, so that will let an employer know what you’ve done. The key is to articulate what you have learned and the skills you have collected along the way. Employers want to know what skills and experience you can bring to the role. Below you will find a list of top skills employers told us they are looking for in student and graduate recruits, along with a brief explainer. Tag as many of these as you can to your online profile ahead of the event.
Cognitive/intellectual skills, such as:
Problem solving:Ability to analyse issues, identify barriers and offer/implement potential solutions. This may involve prioritising tasks, coping with complexity, setting achievable goals and taking action. It may also involve innovation at relevant points.
(Other terms might include – Thinking creatively/Decision making)
Applying subject knowledge and understanding: potentially from the degree pathway.
(This might also include researching the types of industry/roles that the subject knowledge could lead to and mechanisms for doing this.)
Professional attributes/attitudes such as:
Communication skills: the ability to communicate effectively in a range of professional contexts (both orally and in writing).
(Could also include body language, presentation skills, listening skills, communication styles)
Teamwork: the ability to work with others in a team, to communicate, influence, negotiate, demonstrating adaptability/flexibility, creativity, initiative, leadership and decision-making.
(Might include knowledge of their teamworking style, types of teams, working with remote teams, leading teams, running meetings)
Interpersonal skills:includes ability to engage with and motivate others, sensitivity, global and cultural awareness, moral and ethical awareness and the ability to adjust behaviour accordingly.
(Other terms might include – Emotional intelligence, self-awareness, building on strengths, self-management)
Leadership skills: leading other individuals or groups through a set of complex decisions as part of goal achievement within projects or significant and challenging activities.
Utilise modern technology:associated with work place or work-related activity.
Information technology skills: includes ability to learn, apply and exploit relevant IT programmes.
Business and organisational skills such as:
Business operational skills/ Commercial awareness: understanding of relevant commercial, marketing, management and/or financial processes/principles. Awareness of differences in organisational cultures and practices.
Business communication skills: Written, verbal and/or online.
(Could also include – Business etiquette, coaching, collaboration, influencing others)
Language Skills and Cultural Awareness
Proficiency in foreign languages: developed through courses or overseas experiences.
Cultural awareness/intelligence: and the ability to implement this in a variety of multicultural contexts.
If you haven’t registered for the Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair yet, make sure you do it today. Use your QUB email to enjoy uninterrupted access to our virtual platforms and register for both days so you can experience everything on offer.