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From Queen’s to global peacemaker

Conor Houston, Queen’s Law graduate is Director of Houston Solutions Limited, and Chairman of several organisations including the Federation of Small Businesses Northern Ireland, One Young World 2023 Belfast, and of Fleming Fulton School. He is also the Governor and Trustee of the Irish Times Media Group.

Conor Houston

What does Queen’s mean to you?

 I’m often reminded of Seamus Heaney, his famous line when he talked about the original centre. I think, as I reflected, I’m making this video today, Queen’s University very much is for me, my original centre. It’s where I formed my passion for Law, which was the career I practised in for most 10 years. But it also gave me a number of skills, perspectives and opportunities that continue to this day, and I’m very proud that I have for almost 20 years, I’ve had an association with Queen’s University. 

What was your Queen’s experience like?

I graduated in 2004, with my Law degree. I had a fantastic three years at Queen’s, made a lot of friends who are still very much friends today, and I suppose it ignited my passion and interest in in law and the rule of law. I was very fortunate through my times at Queen’s to be involved in a number of summits and conferences, but also to go and study at the European Public Law Group Academy in Greece, in 2004, which was a really fantastic opportunity. It was my first time, I suppose, with young people from right across Europe studying together, all the different languages, cultures coming together and united by European Union law. 

That was a very formative and special time. And in fact, a number of the things that I’m continued to be involved in, tend to have that international perspective and lens. After I had completed my Law degree, I went on to study for my Master’s in Human Rights law, and was very fortunate that there was an opportunity to do a cross border element. So I did the first half of my Master’s in Queens, and the second half of my masters at the National University of Ireland in Galway. And again, that was a very special time and experience and a number of the friendships and relationships I enjoy to this day were because of that cross-border experience. 

What was your first graduate role?

I graduated from Queen’s with my Master’s and I then went back to Queen’s to study at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies, where I was finally admitted as a solicitor in 2008. I was lucky that I had a firm that I did my apprenticeship with John J. Rice and Company in Belfast, which was a criminal and human rights firm.I worked there for almost 10 years and was fortunate to be involved in many of the pioneering human rights cases of that time. I was dual qualified in that I was qualified both in Northern Ireland and also in the Republic of Ireland. So I practised a lot in Belfast and Dublin. And during my time in practice, I was very involved in the profession. Firstly, through the Young Lawyers Association, the Northern Ireland Young Solicitors Association, which I ended up becoming Chair of, and we had some fantastic conferences and events and a lot of fun with that group. I was then the first lawyer for Northern Ireland to be appointed to the board of the European Young Bar Association, which our relationship continues to this day. And 2010, we actually brought the European Young Bar Association conference to Belfast, so it was fantastic to bring all these international lawyers to our city. 

What has been a career highlight?

I suppose a combination of all those roles, as well as being so very fortunate to be representing some leading human rights cases represent journalists, politicians, and many others. I suppose I became very interested in how law can affect change, I was very passionate about making a difference. And that’s what attracted me into law, the power of law to create change in a society. 

I was very fortunate that the cases I got to work on, were very much about driving that change. But I suppose I became interested in how could I do even more so in 2014, I was awarded a scholarship by the United States State Department. And I spent a few months, I took a sabbatical and took a few months out to Boston College and then into Washington, and on their rule of law programme, which really started to develop my thinking more around the skills and experiences and perspective I had, and what I could do. 

Whilst my mission was very much about helping people and making a difference, trying to refine what I could do with that, I became very interested then around maybe getting involved around politics and trying to create change to help complete our peace process, and to, I suppose, realise the enormous ambition and potential of Northern Ireland. 

What are some of your favourite work-related projects? 

I was very honoured to be appointed as the programme director at the Centre for Democracy and Peacebuilding. And I worked there for a number of years and worked on some fantastic projects around working with, for example, community organisations, youth groups, loyalists bands. And it was a great privilege to be involved in their work in trying to help to complete the peace process and build capacity within both civic and political society. 

One of the amazing projects I got to work on with them was the EU debate programme, which was set up about nine months before the EU referendum. And the idea was to create a space for informed thinking and debate in Northern Ireland, on the issues that the Brexit referendum would have, particularly as it pertains to Northern Ireland. 

I was involved with the board in rolling out a very ambitious programme where we engaged with community groups, youth organisations, religious organisations, every political party in Northern Ireland. And we really began a conversation, we weren’t trying to determine the outcome of the debate, we were trying to make sure that there was a debate. So we were neutral in that we weren’t trying to tell people to leave or remain, we were just trying to present all of the arguments and create that space. And that was a very humbling experience. 

Queen’s University Belfast were very involved in supporting that project. In fact, we launched a new debate in the Great Hall in Queen’s and academics from the School of Politics, including Professor David Phinnemore were involved in writing a briefing paper for us. So it was very important to us that it would be underpinned by that credible academic expertise, but also the have that support of the reputation of Queen’s.

Why did you set up your own business? 

I decided to set up my own consultancy, and I suppose what brings together a number of the clients and projects that I work on, is that one thing to realise the ambition of Northern Ireland. So I work with a number of leaders, all of whom may be coming from very different backgrounds and sectors, but all of whom are very passionate about realising the enormous potential of Northern Ireland, and trying to drive change here. 

I suppose that’s what unites the number of projects that I’m privileged to work on now. And as I mentioned, I’m government trustee of the Irish Times Media Group. So the Irish Times is owned by a trust, and there are eight of us appointed to effectively act as the shareholders of the group. So we’re there to sort of look at the long term vision and that’s been particularly interesting, interesting in an age of post truth and thinking about the lines around freedom of speech, etc. So, and a lot of that, of course, goes back to the learnings that I had when I studied both my Law and Master’s degree around the issue of proportionality and competing rights. 

What is One Young World? 

I’ve been involved in leading a bid to bring One Young World to Belfast in 2023. So in 2017, I was asked to address the one Young World Youth summit in Bogota, Colombia. One Young World is the world’s largest youth summit. It brings over 3000 young people from every country in the world, to a city each year. And it’s one of the only organisations aside from the Olympics that actually gets every country in the world involved. 

And this is about identifying the future leaders, both within business but also within NGO sector, just young people that are passionately driving change right across the world. So I was very fortunate to be invited to address this summit in Bogota, Colombia in 2017, and was introduced on stage by the then president of Colombia, President Santos and the late Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations. Both of those men spoke about the impact that Northern Ireland had on their journeys to peace, and this was a very humbling moment for me. 

When I addressed the summit, I realised the power of our generation and the generation watching this video, to effect real change, not just within the place we will call home, but also in terms of making an impact in the world. So I then began the process of building a team to put together a bid to bring One Young World to Belfast in 2023, and we were successful in that. 

How has your degree from Queen’s helped you?

Queen’s is that passport, not just for your career, but to accessing opportunities, and a fantastic network right around the world. So, you know, I’m extremely proud of the many hats and roles and things I’ve been involved in being a graduate of Queen’s University is really up there, and I look forward to continuing that role with Queen’s. 

What challenges have you faced?

When I was a lawyer, and some of the projects I work on, particularly some of the Civic roles that I have, I think one of the challenges your generation is going to face is how we engage with the people we disagree with. So one of the challenges is always when you have very passionate about change, or seeing something happen, and you encountered the resistance to that.

I think that one of the big challenges that I challenge myself every day, I think that we have to all turn on is what can we do to engage with the people that we disagree with, how we, I’ve often said we don’t have to agree but being disagreeable is a choice. So we need to find more places and spaces in which we can find that ability to respectfully engage with each other and actually see that compromise is an art, it’s not a sellout.

I think this is something that I encourage your generation to really challenge I think that the future will belong to those who can build relationships that can be constructive that can respectfully disagree with each other, but can see the common good can work together for the common good, can see the bigger picture that is the challenge of your generation. 

What gets your out of bed in the morning?

I don’t feel that there’s an average week. For me, I think that’s probably what I love most about my, my work. In fact, I don’t even feel like I have a job because I’m very fortunate that everything I do, whether it be in my business life or my civic life, they are projects and issues that I’m very passionate about. So I jump out of bed in the morning, passionate about making the change in the area that day, whether it be through being on the border shadows and LGBT youth organisation, whether that be in promoting the role of small businesses through the five and a half 1000 members, and I have the privilege of being Chair of the FSB, and speaking up on their behalf, whatever I can do to to advocate change, to advance those who are trying to make a real impact. 

That’s what sparks me on in the morning. 

What advice do you have for graduates?

I think that’s one of the most exciting things about this generation, the graduates of today is that you really do have a blank canvas to create the kind of life and career that you want for yourself. And Queen’s University, as I say, is the ideal place to give you that toolkit for you to be able to do that. 

It’s for me, it’s that life journey, it’s not just about getting that degree wasn’t really that important that you do, and it’s about the relationships that you build, the skills that you have, and they will sustain you for the not just years but decades ahead. And you know, as I said, it’s 20 years this September since I started Queen’s, and I’m reminded of something my late grandfather said to me, he said 20 years is a long time looking forward, but nothing looking back. 

And for the first time, I can tell you, it doesn’t feel like two decades ago I entered Queen’s University, but those two decades, I’ve had that original centre of Queens, which has, as I say, been a constant thread throughout my career both here in Northern Ireland and through the international experiences and opportunities I’ve had. 

Read next:

Lessons from a tech leader

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Adaptability advice Alumni Employer Engagement Employer events Employer Insight Employer Panels Employer Q&A Employers Gradfest2021 Software With Digital Technology Technical skills Technology

‘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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Alumni Deloitte Diversity Gradfest2021 Graduate success Transgender

‘Bringing my whole self to work as a transgender woman’

Queen’s graduate Kristen Guy, a transgender woman who specialises in the development of training solutions for Deloitte on how she gained the confidence to become her authentic self in the workplace.

Kristen Guy from Deloitte

How did Queen’s shape your journey?

I’m an ardent, proud trans woman, and it wasn’t always the case, I’ve only recently come out a few years ago, and I only recently found fulfilling employment in the last five years. So getting to where I am now it is, it was a challenge. But I’m glad where I’ve got. I’m proud to say that I am an alumni of Queen’s. I studied Psychology at Queens, and I graduated in 2013. My time at Queen’s was amazing. I had the time of my life, I made the most amazing friends and I’ve got nothing but good memories. But one of the main things I absolutely loved at Queen’s was I joined the Queen’s LGBTQ+ Society. And that is when my life really took off. I made friends in that society that I still have today. And that provided me with the foundation of becoming my authentic self.

What skills did you learn at Queen’s?

So, I picked up a few key skills at Queen’s, for instance, Teamwork, public speaking and research, which is a big part of Psychology, which is definitely beneficial for my job now. So I’m really thankful for the education I received at Queen’s. It was amazing.

What challenges did you face after graduation?

After graduation, I was feeling quite anxious, scared because I didn’t know what was going to come next, I had the usual anxiety about am I going to find a job, what’s it going to be like living in the working world. And for me, I just, I was feeling really anxious or really depressed because I knew I wasn’t being true to myself. And I was still identifying as male back then. And for me putting on a suit, going to interviews just felt wrong to me, I just oh used to destroy my confidence in myself, because when you don’t feel good about yourself, you’re not going to portray yourself in a positive light whenever you’re going to be interviewed by people. So I struggled my first few years, because I hadn’t taken the decision to transition at this point. But I was still looking for work. And I had no confidence in my ability. So I wasn’t putting myself forward for graduate jobs. It was call centre jobs I did here and there. I did have fulfilling times and made good friends, but I just was never happy. And then one day, I was just like, no, I need to get a job that I find fulfilling, personally. So I started to plan for more jobs, more based around admin jobs. But I found I was quite unsuccessful and it must have been because I just wasn’t portraying myself in a good light. I had such a barrier up around myself, that I wasn’t being authentic in the interviews. And I think that really comes across.

What interview tips do you have?

My advice to anyone out there not just people who maybe are in the LGBTQ+ community, but for everyone, is that when you’re going to job interviews, just be yourself. Because at the end of the day, we’re all human beings. We all have our own friends, family, personal lives. And I think that’s very important to bring with you and to be proud of. And if you’re passionate and positive about something that will shine through during your interviews and people are more likely to gravitate towards you.

How did you find your current role?

I saw an advertisement for Deloitte’s Assured Skills Academy, a training course for nine weeks that trains you on all of the main aspects of working in consulting and business consulting. I googled Deloitte and I was really excited because I saw loads of positive stories about how Deloitte puts diversity and equality on their agenda. So, regardless of your gender identity, your sexuality, your ethnicity, they don’t mind as long as you are hardworking, and you just become a member of the family.

Why do you think you were successful in the interview?

In the interview, something changed, like an epiphany, a light bulb moment. And I didn’t wear a suit to the interview, I just wore a shirt and trousers, because I wasn’t going to compromise myself any further. And in the interview, I decided to be myself. I spoke passionately about my time in Queen’s, and also my time being involved with Queen’s LGBTQ+ society. And the interviewer started, asked me about that, and they were really excited to hear more about that. And obviously, I got more passionate when I was speaking about that because it’s something that was really important to me.

And so, I got onto Academy. It was amazing, but I’ve got to say, there was tears along the way.

What was your first graduate role like?

I started Deloitte not knowing what to expect, because I won’t lie I didn’t even know what I was planning for. For the most part, I didn’t know what Deloitte did. They were an accountancy firm, but they did consulting, I didn’t really know what consultancy was.

So, basically in my job, we work for private and public sector clients. And if they’re introducing a new technology or like a new HR system, our team is involved in the transition from what the company used to use to what they use now. So there’s some members of the team who actually are the functional team who go and develop the new software. Some members of the team work in the chain side of things, which is tracking what the changes are, and mitigating all the changes for any potential sort of risks to the audience or the company that are getting it, and where I come at the very end is I create training and learning materials for the new system. So this includes demo videos, interactive learning, quick reference guides.

It’s fabulous. I’m quite a creative person and creating demo videos and the voiceovers and all it doesn’t really feel like work to me, like I get absorbed in it. And I really, really enjoy it. So my videos are viewed by thousands of staff members for some of the companies and clients I’ve made it for. So, I definitely feel like I’d make a real difference to the clients that we serve.

How did you learn to be your authentic self at work?

When I first joined and Deloitte, I decided straight away just to be open and transparent with my managers about my intent to transition because I was still presenting as a male. My manager was amazing, she’s absolutely fabulous. She was like, that’s not a problem at all, let us know what support you need and what we can do to help you. And Deloitte actually has a trans champion scheme, which means that a senior member of the business and directors and partners will partner with you to ensure that you’re being fully supported in your work.

My transition was slow. I was presenting as male in Deloitte for maybe my first two years, just because I didn’t get to the point where I wanted to be in terms of being on hormones, my hair length, different issues like that. But what was great was, Deloitte is very flexible, when it comes to your working hours. So, I actually have a condensed working pattern and Wednesday was my day to attend all my appointments I needed to go to for my transition, it was great. And then two years into my job I got promoted, which was amazing. And I decided I needed some time off to socially transition from my previous self Ben to Kristen who I am now, so I took a month off.

And that’s when I started you know, and dress and feminine full time, I legally changed my name to Kristen. It was very nerve wracking going back to life to Deloitte because obviously everyone knew me as Ben before, although my intent to transition was well known as people knew that I was transgender. And then I remember the nerves, but no one cared. There’s a few slip ups here and there with my old name but nothing was intentional, just people were so used to calling me that before, it happens with my family and friends as well.

But I am two years on from that, amazing. People just know me as Kristen. Being trans isn’t what defines me in the work anymore. And I thrive because of the effort that I put in to my clients and the work that I do. And I got some actually amazing news today, I actually got promoted, I just found out I got promoted again today. So four years on from feeling hopeless, not knowing where I was going to go in my career, I can say an area that I am really proud of myself as a Queen’s graduate, because I didn’t think that day was going to come. I thought I was going to be unemployed forever or in a job that wasn’t fulfilling that I wasn’t going to be my authentic self as a trans woman. And that’s not the case anymore at all. I live life to the full, I enjoy my career and I am looking forward to the future, it’s going to be great.

What advice do you have for graduates?

The advice I’d give you is be confident in yourself, even if you don’t feel confident in side, portray yourself as confident to the outside world, because that is a big skill that I’ve picked up in my professional and personal life. Because with my transition, there was a tendency to think, oh, people are looking at me or I feel awkward, anxiety. And I just decided, you know what, screw it. If they’re looking at me, they’re looking at me because my hair is looking good.

Want to hear more from Kristen? Watch her live stream here.

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advice Enterprise SU Gradfest2021 Start Ups

‘Finding the confidence to launch my own business’

Francesca Morelli, International Business with French graduate on pursuing her start-up dream. 

Francesca Morelli

Business in the blood

I loved my degree. I was one of those people that was just so interested in what I was studying. I come from a family business background, my family owned an ice cream business on the north coast of Northern Ireland. I’ve worked in my family business most of my life, so I already I always had an interest in business. But as well as with my Italian background, I kind of loved thinking about business in a more international context. So really, this was the perfect degree. 

International experience

For me, I love travelling, I love languages. But then, as well, I was really keen to enter into the business world like, like my family have done since 1911. What I really loved about the degree was the placement aspect in the third year. So that was a compulsory element to my degree, we had to go to a foreign country to a French speaking country, to undertake a placement. So in 2017-18, I find myself in Paris working in a startup studio. So a startup studio is a fairly new model. It’s essentially where there’s kind of one founder or funder, really, he partnered up with some early stage entrepreneurs, to develop their businesses from the ground up. 

First taste of the start-up scene

[In the start-up studio] they pull resources, which is great. So it meant that not only did I have the chance to work in one start-up, but I had the chance to work in a few start-ups, and that we were in the one office together, we shared knowledge. We all worked together nearly as part of the one company even though we were all working on little separate companies. I just loved the whole start-up aspect I was started working on one of the start-ups when their platform had just under 2000 followers. And by the time I left at the end of that year, the platform had grown to over 10,000 followers, I was starting to generate some revenue. So for me in the very kind of traditional sense of business, I was very used to you know, you give me £1.50 for a scone, and it cost me 50p to make it and I make my profit. And this is very different model where a lot of them were building for acquisition. So I got very used to ‘Okay, we’re working every day towards an end goal, we might not make money straight away.’ But that’s kind of start-up life. And I really fell in love with the whole thing. The fact that these people around me were so passionate, they were so dedicated to a common goal, knowing that maybe years down the line, they would sell out to a big platform or a big company and make loads of money. It might have taken them years to see that. But it was in everybody’s minds. I think I just really fell in love with it, with the passion of everyone I was working with. 

Entrepreneurship at Queen’s

I came back to Queens in the middle of 2018 to finish off my degree. I was contacted by a start-up founder in Belfast to come on board his team after he had seen what I’d done in France.I had been on his LinkedIn network for a while. We started working together on a tech start-up in Belfast. And my final year ended up being completely crazy. I was a director in this start-up. I was doing pitching competitions. I was going for funding. I was starting to ask business people to you know, become involved in what we were doing. And that really gave me amazing experience. And in my final year of uni, I also got involved with everything.

There are so many amazing opportunities out there that disappear once you’ve graduated. So really do try and get involved in stuff. The things that I was interested in were the likes of QUB Dragon, Innovate Her, these are run by Enterprise SU and the Students Union. If you’re interested in business, if you’re interested in start-ups, do go on to Enterprise SU’s website and see what all they’re up to where they’re on social media as well on Instagram and Twitter, and they’re always running great things. So do go and have a look. But I got involved in those programmes, which, you know, come out of it with Degree Plus as well which was fab.

Giving back to the start-up community

Enterprise SU gave me amazing support. After final year, I’d spent so much time with the Enterprise SU team that helped me so much. And I’ve done some so many of their programmes that I actually then applied for a job in their department. And I, this was really good timing for me, because while I was working on the start-up, while I was trying to build this early stage business, I was able to work with a team at Queen’s and kind of advise those students coming behind me so they can learn from my mistakes.

So two years later, I’m actually still at Enterprise SU. And I continue to support and advise students, start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Spotting a gap in the market

I now own completely my own business called VAVA Influence. We are Northern Ireland’s first dedicated influencer marketing agency. I decided that there was a great opportunity there for the event marketing agency, and I took a step back from the tech start-up. It means that it’s okay to try new things. And there was an opportunity there a gap in the market and myself and my business partner, Chloe really jumped at the chance. So I mean, it’s working okay, for me right now, our influencer marketing agency is doing really well.

It’s doing well we’ve built a client base. And we’re still growing. We’re still learning every day. But I wouldn’t had that had I not just throw myself in. I took advice and support from everybody. I got all the free advice go in. I talked to everybody that would talk to me. And it really is working out for me now. And we’re hoping that it will grow and grow into the future. So if you do want to start your own business, if it’s something you are thinking about if you want to get further support, advice, do get in touch with us at enterprise SU and we will be able to signpost you

Leveraging your network

Since graduating in 2019, I’ve had some amazing experiences. I would not have the network I have no I had it not been for LinkedIn. Some people cringe at the very idea.

But if you can at try and work up the courage to get on LinkedIn, to start posting, you don’t have to pretend to be this whole other persona. Be yourself on LinkedIn post about what interests you. Post about what you might like to explore, do some reading, connect with people that you think are relevant in the industry, you might want to go in to connect with people you admire, read and learn, LinkedIn is brilliant. And I really would encourage anyone studying at the minute or anyone who has just graduated to get on it and start building up that network. It can be a scary thing to do. But it doesn’t have to be you know, just try and take it in your stride and, and start putting yourself out there. 

Don’t be scared to reach out and talk to people ask for help. Even more so now I think after COVID people are really willing to support graduates to support students and give advice, you know, you’re not being cheeky asking for it. And if there’s somebody you admire, or somebody you’d like to ask for advice, do send that message, you will find it really worth it.

Keeping the faith

There is a lot of pressure [on graduates]. It can be difficult that I’m no stranger to that. So what I would say is that if you do find yourself in that position, don’t lose heart, everybody is in the same situation right now. And what I were trying to say is, you know, look online at stuff you can do to improve your skills, there are so many free courses and things you can take online at the minute that will improve your CV at the will improve your skillset. There’s, you know, Google digital garage, there are so many courses online now that you can take for free, that are going to improve your skill set and your CV as you go out and look for opportunities.

The more you do and the more you get involved with the more appealing you’re going to look to an employer.

Got an idea for your own business? You can contact Francesca at Enterprise SU and check out theEnterprise SU website

Categories
Alumni Global Opportunities Gradfest2021 Graduate success History and English Teaching

Career lessons from a graduate teacher

Maddie Warren, a Queen’s History and English graduate and a newly qualified teacher offers her advice to students and graduates.

Maddie Warren, teacher and Queen’s graduate

You are supported to explore your options at University

When I started at Queens, I thought that I might want to be a teacher. And I did my first year of Queen’s and I kind of like I loved it. I loved getting involved in different things at Queen’s, I became a student ambassador, and did lots of tours for Queen’s, and kind of really, really enjoyed my first year. And towards the end of it. I had a bit of a careers crisis where I thought that maybe I didn’t want to teach. Maybe that wasn’t the right role for me.

I kind of had a bit of a freak out and really, really didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I had a chat with my university professional tutor, which was really helpful. And I also went to a few talks that were run by different businesses at Queen’s and one of them was an organisation which organised things like camp America and stuff like that, and I got in contact with them. And they ended up getting me a placement to go and work in Spain for the summer. So I went over to a lovely place near Marbella, in the south of Spain. And I spent my first university summer kind of working there looking after some children, learning Spanish and teaching English there. And that was amazing. 

Education is an experience, not just a route to a career

My summer in Spain was kind of life-changing for me. I realised that I didn’t need to have a career when I finished university like straightaway. I met a lot of different people who were travelling around and I realised that there were kind of like loads of different things I could do and doing an English degree or humanities degree didn’t lump me into doing just the one career. So that was a really, really great opportunity for me. When I came back to Queen’s for my second year, I got really involved with the Widening Participation Unit, and started to do a lot of outreach stuff with the university. So I started to help to run workshops for primary school children, who might be the first in their family to go to university and kind of really work with some of the deprived communities around Northern Ireland.

And I found that so rewarding, probably the most rewarding experience that I ever had. I met some really, really interesting people from all over Queen’s and I met some people who

really kind of motivated me and helped me to think about what I actually wanted and to think of education as, or my education path and my degree as more of an experience than a direct route into a career.

Build up work experience where you can

I ended up going and spending my summer in America where I worked for a camp for young girls, and doing a lot of empowerment work with young girls in America, and sort of building them up to feel like they can, they are equals and have the same opportunities. The camp was a no-technology camp, and fully outdoors, we were living in the woods for the whole duration of it. And that was really, really great for the kids, especially some of the girls who had sort of had no confidence in society without things like makeup, or their phones or things like that. So that was really, really great.

Yeah, I loved it. And kind of ignited that passion, again, to work with young people. And yeah, to work, it was nice to get to work with them sort of outside of an educational setting, and do different kinds of workshops and things with them.

Life experience will benefit your career

The experiences that Queen’s had given me made me feel like I could become a better teacher if I had more life experience. So it was really important for me after graduation that I didn’t just kind of graduate from my degree and become a teacher straight away because I wanted to have experiences that I could bring to the classroom and bring to young people to help them become rounded people. I think that school is so much more than just your kind of academic education. I think it was really important to me that I was able to shape children as citizens. So I really wanted to get some more life experience. So I decided that I wanted to do an International Development Master’s.

Global experience is life-changing

My Master’s degree is in gender violence and conflicts. And when I went into the Master’s, I knew that I wanted to do some work in India. So when I was writing my thesis, I got the opportunity to move out to India and become a research assistant for a charitable organisation called Men against Violence and Abuse.

It was about working with men, especially in deprived communities in Bombay, to prevent abuse against women. It was really, really tricky for me to kind of set that placement up, I had to do it all myself. But luckily, whilst I had been at Queens, I was given the opportunity to kind of sort some placements out. I went to college in America for a while and had a lot of support with that at Queen’s, but had kind of been taught the skills to set things like that up. So I went out to Mumbai, and I didn’t know anybody. And going out there was probably the scariest experience of my life. But I did make some amazing friends and I got to work with this brilliant, brilliant organisation. I got to do some really great research with them, which benefited them and also write my thesis at the same time. So kind of a win-win situation really. I worked a lot with boys who were at college, so between the ages of 16 and 18 running workshops, discussing the treatment of women in their society, especially by sort of the older generation of men and how they wanted to improve it and what they already knew we did a lot of training around sexuality, and around transgender people, which is kind of still a very, can be a very frowned upon thing in some Indian societies.

There are different routes into teaching

I applied to a few different teaching courses. And there are lots and lots of routes into teaching, which I think people kind of don’t really realise. I ended up doing a route called Schools Direct where you are kind of placed with a school and you have a university link. So I worked at a school in West Sussex and had a link with Sussex University and found it so rewarding from kind of day one. It was definitely the most nerve wracking thing I’ve ever done in my life. My interview was to teach a year eight class of 13 year olds, I had never taught before, I had kind of worked with, with young people to do workshops and things like that. But there are a lot more interactive than lessons where I had never kind of led from the front like that. So that was really scary, but it obviously went okay, I got the position. 

Life throws your curveballs

I went onto my teacher training in September of 2019. That’s was an absolutely exhausting year. I think a lot of people say that teacher training is one of the hardest years of your career if you become a teacher. I don’t know if I’ve been in the career long enough to confirm or deny that. But I can definitely say that it was exhausting.

Funding for teaching degrees is quite limited. It’s becoming even more limited. So I was having to work at the same time. I would go to school Monday to Thursday, University on a Friday. And then Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays, I would work at a restaurant. I was lesson planning and marking in the evening, I was still writing University assignments. I was absolutely shattered. And when the pandemic came in the March I was our placement stopped. And I was absolutely crushed.

Honestly,, at first, the pandemic was a bit of a, I was slightly grateful for it, because I don’t know if I would have been able to keep going at the rate that I was. Luckily for me, I had been offered a job just before the pandemic hit. And the job that I had been offered was to start in June. So I had a couple of months between finishing my teacher training and starting my job were kind of nothing was happening. And then I started my job in June and I started teaching online, which is not something I think any teacher had ever planned to do was a massive learning curve as elsewhere a lot of things during the pandemic. But I found it really rewarding, you know, found that I was kind of getting to know some students online, which was really nice. And, and yeah, it was great. And then I went and started in school in September, and have been at the school for just over a year now.

You’re still learning on the job

During the year, I have been involved in a couple of other things. I do some mentoring. So I do mentoring for students who are often economically deprived eor socially deprived in some way. And I also work with the woman’s voice group that we have in school. I do some mentoring there and I help run some some workshop sessions, which is kind of more like the stuff that I had been doing before.

I have found teaching so incredibly rewarding. I absolutely love it. I think that’s the skills that I learned at Queen’s, the things that I was able to do in terms of student ambassador in terms of working for the WP Unit, in terms of the trips abroad, going to college in America, working in Spain… they helped to set up for me all of that really. It gave me a huge amount of confidence. It also allowed me to be independent and kind of gave me guidance on how to do things whilst ensuring that I did them myself, which I think are things that you kind of don’t necessarily learn whilst you’re at school.

The hours are long

In terms of my career now, I think that people massively underestimate the hours that go into teaching. I leave my house by seven o’clock, most mornings, and it is not uncommon for me to get home, you know, half, five, six, I would say. The last week of term has been quite lovely, because I’ve been able to leave nice and early.

There is always extra, your job is never finished, there is always extra things you can do. There are always kind of students that you care about that you want the lesson to be tailored for them in a certain way. There are always more things you can plan. There are always more parents you can contact. It’s a job that is never finished. And it has been really, really important to be able to prioritise tasks in, otherwise I would live at school.

So that has been a thing  I underestimated, kind of how never ending the to-do list is and the fact that you just can’t like it’s it is impossible to do at all. I am a person who loves to finish things and you just can’t do it. So I think I definitely underestimated that.

The rewards are huge

Working with young people is just so rewarding  –  seeing the difference in their progress both academically and as people is phenomenal; having kids come and tell you that they love your subject or they have a great lesson,; having kids email you over Christmas to say Happy Christmas because they have built relationships with you. Back in May, I had a group of students invite me to a birthday party in my classroom for me, where they had baked me cupcakes and decorating my classroom and hid in a cupboard.

Lots of people have said to me that they think they would enjoy teaching, but they think it would get really samey which always shocks me because I have never done anything which has been so varied in my life! I can teach the same lesson four times in a week, and it would never be the same.

And just  knowing that you can shape their future. And knowing that, as well as being able to shape their future, you can really make students feel seen and feel represented. 

There are no career wrong-turns

To an extent there are no wrong decisions. I think that everything can teach you something. I think the decision, the people that I have met because of the choices I’ve made… I can’t imagine my life without the people that I’ve met at university or my travels in in the different organisations that I’ve worked for. And yeah, I just think that things come around. If you’ve done something and it’s not right for you, then make another decision and find something else. I don’t think that careers these days have to be linear.

I felt a huge amount of pressure coming out of university to know what I wanted to do. I felt that from my family, I think, to kind of know what I wanted to do; to get job; to settle down; to make money for myself. And actually, it’s okay to just take a break to figure things out to try different careers. You don’t have to get it right first time.

You can re-watch Maddie’s recent live stream here:

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

Categories
Employer Engagement Employer events Employer Insight Employers Gradfest2021

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/

Categories
Creative thinking Creativity Employer Engagement Employer events Employer Insight Employer Panels Employer Q&A Employers Fusion Antibodies Gradfest2021 KTP Lateral Thinking

Problem solving and creativity in a graduate role

Leona McGirr, a former KTP associate at Queen’s and a Team Leader at Fusion Antibodies on how to hone your lateral thinking skills to land that graduate role.

Leona McGirr, former KTP Associate at Queen’s

Why are problem solving abilities essential in virtually in any graduate rule?

Yeah, in any job, you’ll always have to solve problems…There’s always an opportunity to solve a problem. Anything from small like fixing the printer to something bigger, like what we’re working on and trying to find a treatment for COVID. And so there’s always an opportunity to learn and develop these problem solving skills.

How can you develop this problem solving skills and demonstrate them to the employers to the recruiters?

Look at the root cause of the problem and ask the question, why. Start tweaking things, and see, we’ll see what you get, essentially, instead of just spending and buying a new something, and so can always ask the question, why and if you give these examples to the employer, that they will say that these skills are transferable. 

How will interviewers assess how you approach the problems? And how can you demonstrate your logic and implementation to the recruiters?

Give loads of examples and those different examples both in your personal life and in work because as I said, all these skills are transferable. And it kind of gives the people who are interviewing you an opportunity to see what type of person you are and how you solve the problems and how you go about doing this. 

How can you answer a problem solving competency based question? How can you answer them?

We would always use the STAR method, which is you say the situation, the task, the action and the result. And so just make sure to include each one of them within any example that you give, that’s usually the most common way of doing it.

To what extent can games such as Sudoku, or Chess, can help strengthen your ability to swing strategy early and creativity?

I actually think all scientists love chess as well. It essentially lets you kind of plan ahead and see the bigger picture and see how one little thing that you do can impact and essentially either win the game or lose the game for you. Again, it’s very transferable into science trying to fix a wee problem on a stage every time.

Are there any problem solving techniques you can develop or refer to our students?

So for us in R&D, our standard way would be root cause analysis. So essentially, you ask the five why’s. So for example, an experiment didn’t work? Well, why it didn’t work? Because the two proteins didn’t bind? Well, why didn’t they bind? Because maybe one wasn’t stored correctly? Well, why wasn’t it stored correctly, and then bring it down to well, actually, there wasn’t enough space in the fridge. So even though you thought it might have been one thing, by the time that you break it down and ask why every stage, you realise that it’s actually something else, and it ensures that it won’t happen again.

What is creative thinking? And how can you demonstrate it?

It’s really having a different viewpoint and a different perspective on a problem. And I think that’s essentially key. For example, in my current company, I was the first chemist in an essentially biological company. So I was able to offer a different perspective on things. And it’s usually quite creative in comparison to what everybody else might think. And it’s just drawn on my existing skills and experience.

Why it is so important to show a recruiter that you come up with an innovative solutions to a problem, or an improved way of doing things? Why it is so important?

Because it shows that the candidate is willing to learn, and they’re innovative, and they’re creative. And essentially, in a workplace, everything can be improved. The worst thing, what we want to hear would be somebody who says, this is how it’s always done, instead of asking, why has it been done? And just don’t accept the first answer. Always keep asking why, and how can you improve? Both in your personal life and in work.

Why do recruiters like to see a creative thinking in a graduate hires? 

Well, it really shows the potential and shows that somebody can take initiative to try and solve a problem where more sided escalating, and having that under control, and that there is a lot of potential that you can develop that particular skill. So we’re always keen to see that.

So how to demonstrate your creativity in graduate applications, or let’s say in interviews?

Yeah, give loads of different examples, and be it something you’ve done, maybe a hobby even. It’s really nice to hear all these different examples, instead of always referring to one example, maybe your degree, always ask or always talk about personal life, part time, jobs, everything, because it allows us to see what type of person you are, as well and a lot of times, the stories are actually really interesting.

Okay, how do you develop or improve this, so, you know, creativity skills, how to improve it?

I would say just take every opportunity and go take a few risks, and don’t be afraid to try and do something outside of your comfort zone. With every stage of my career, I have challenged myself, and have always had a very steep learning curve. And I think that is actually quite a lot of fun. And again, it allows me to be creative in different ways and drawn different strengths.

So can you give us some examples of lateral thinking to draw on in an application process?

Yes. So essentially, think outside the box, and don’t take the most obvious answer as being the root cause. And if you can disprove something, well, it then in theory can be a possible solution. Ideally, what we would do is we will get a post-it note and we’d all sit around and be like, well, what happens if this was the case? Or I wonder, could this be the case? And you just go crazy with this and don’t rule anything out.

What are the links between problem solving and entrepreneurism and a good leadership? 

I think being an entrepreneur and a true leader, you need to be innovative. You need to challenge yourself and not be scared to take a few risks. And the most important thing is to learn – the road to being an entrepreneur and your own career is bumpy. You can go on a few circles, but as long as you learned, that’s the most important thing I think.

So how can you problem solve in a workplace? 

Anything from something minor like fixing the Wi Fi, fixing a computer, fixing kettle, they are all problem solving. So initially asked me, well, what’s the problem? or how can I make this current situation better? You can always improve just incrementally try something, try different lead and maybe see what the result is and just document what that result is, and see, can you improve?

So how can you bring this creativity in your graduate roles?

I would learn around the subject and draw on your own past experiences. I don’t think there’s, no such thing as a stupid suggestion. All ideas are good ideas. A lot of the time, you need to ask other people for advice as well and see how they would approach something.

Don’t be afraid to take a challenge. Take all the opportunities you can. I still don’t have my own career figured out, I don’t know where I’ll be in 10 years, 20 years time, but I know it’s going to be loads of fun. I would advise anybody to take any opportunity and just have fun along the way.

Interested in KTP at Queen’s. Find out more here.

Categories
employability Employer Engagement Employer events Employer Insight Employer Panels Employer Q&A Employers Gradfest2021 Technical skills Technology Version 1

‘University graduates can be the catalysts for organisational change’

Dermot Murray, Senior QA Engineer at Version 1 gives his top tips on embracing workplace systems and tech.

Dermot Murray, Version 1

Why would you say enthusiasm to embrace tech is important in graduate roles?

It’s very important. Just in terms of the kind of innovation and bringing a fresh perspective to companies. So, like graduates are at the forefront of theoretical thinking. And what we’re looking to do is actually apply this knowledge into the real life and into the work industry. So, like if you take for example, a lot of kind of, you know, hardware and software, you know, the iPod Touch, for example, let’s say you know, it’s quite redundant nowadays because things change very quickly. And what we’re looking at is innovation and more efficient ways of working in industries, so, you know, one thing that companies can fall in the trap of is, you know, being reluctant to change. And actually graduates can be the catalyst for leading change. An example I can give would be, you know, the pandemic, for example, working from home. This is the kind of new normal that everyone’s really in, but you know, your university experience user being at the forefront of this, and how did you adapt and overcome these challenges? You know, the initiatives you use brought in terms of communication, engagement, socialising? These are all the things that need to be transferred into the industry. And these are things that we’re looking for. So it’s extremely important for enthusiasm and embracing change.

In what ways does your business rely on tech to maximise performance?

So it’s no surprise that for Version 1, it’s absolutely essential. So, we are consultancy, and we do specialise in supporting the digital transformation for clients. So we bring people through a journey using various technologies, what we try to do is use the cutting edge to deliver for our clients. But internally, so that’s the probably technical side. But you know, what we actually do ourselves is we use it to communicate and standardise. I’ll give a few examples of, you know, some of the kind of tech initiatives that we do, we have a podcast, you know, once a year one in which we have conversations within the industry. On our website, we’ve got webinars, blogs, white papers, news articles, and these are things you know, to engage with the industry and engage with many different people, social media platforms, that Instagram that I’m on right now, we’ve also got Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. You name it for contact. And internally, as much as maybe you know, us, us and university, we’re using teams to communicate with clients. And finally, then, you know, we’ve got like a SharePoint with a widevariety of tools, for using timesheets, you name it, so absolutely essential, yes indeed.

How would you go about proving ability to use common programmes and apps in an interview?

That’s a good question. It’s hard to kind of slide that into the question, how you’re phrasing that. I think the star approach is quite interesting. So, you know, kind of being concise and what that really is – situation, task, action and result. And maybe within the action, you could incorporate these kind of common tools and what you’ve done. So maybe an example that I could give would be that, say, one of your modules, and you’re required to do presentation, will, the action in which you can provide could be, you know, using PowerPoint efficiently and effectively, to relay the information to your peers, to you know, everyone, like the ultimate result being you know, like you achieve top marks. And also, there’s definitely ways of fitting into the question tools in which you know, you can, you know, provide results for if that makes sense.

What examples can you use of innovating to maximise technology?

One example could be for a solution, there could be an alternative tool or technology that could be used, or maybe you could extend in a technology. So for example, that’s you know, we’re on a Teams meeting, Microsoft Teams, and we’re trying to kind of collaborate together, you know, some project, there’s a tool – Slack, which can actually be used for sketching. And that’s quite useful for like, you know, drawn with feedback, kind of in sketching, going through walk walkthroughs so you know, instead of using teams, maybe you could migrate your kind of communication to Slack. The point on expanding then is, you know, using it in additional scope as well, slack also has like a kind of app directory as well. So you can add in polls, you know, chatbots news feeds. And there’s different ways of just, you know, not kind of following what is set in front of you, but actually using your initiative and, you know, embracing the tech really, and, you know, leading on further so I suppose.

How would you advise a student to show their passion for tech when they don’t have a tech background? 

So, I suppose from my perspective, I have to put myself out of the mindset of being in tech. But that’s, I think, a good way of kind of, you know, showing your enthusiasm can really be through hobbies and interest, really. So that’s dependent on the person, but I’ll give you an example, maybe of a few kind of hobbies and interests that I have, you know, if I’m reading a book, for example, you know, I’m interested in reading, specifically, one of the books I’m reading right now is on the stock markets, flash boys are called, and it’s on high frequency trading, and the kind of idea of being closer to the stock market servers. Think sports, you know, we’ll play a bit of football. And I’m kind of using, you know, stat sports. So it’s kind of integrate and, you know, heart monitor, kind of initiatives and all that stuff. And then Sports Science again that podcast I’m interested in, there’s one, dark net diaries, but just kind of cybersecurity focus. So even though I’ve kind of got my technical job, if you picked up the side, there’s a whole wide range of kind of, you know, industry within tech and these tech tools in which you can like, kind of, take your hobby, and maybe think of, you know, some kind of innovation in tech tools that you can use to, you know, showcase that. So, just a few points of my interest might not be to impress everyone here.

How can you show that you have the ability to adopt and use technology in an interesting way?

Yeah, so I think you could maybe think about how you can use it an interesting way, think about, like, what you’re currently using stuff for the think of like, you know, your smartphone, for example. It’s got so many applications in which you can download, as I mentioned, with your hobbies, you know, Strava, being able to, like, you know, detect your matrix of roaming, for example, everything, these are kind of, you know, common applications that you don’t really think that you’re using, but you’re actually using, think of maybe, you know, smart appliances, for example, around the house, you might have kind of smart TV, or smart lamp, and how you can actually then, you know, showcase that and help people. So I’ve got family that always asked me ‘Dermot, how do you do this, do that.’ And I’m always kind of demonstrating to them, but also by kind of, you know, using this tech, you understand it more, and you can actually demonstrate it to other people. And that really helps with your show of skills with kind of, you know, leadership, it helps for what the industry is really looking, you know, you’re looking a community of practice people who share, collaborate and transfer knowledge together. And just by getting cool, and getting stuck in really kind of corny, it’s not.

How can you embrace technology and help others to do so?

I’ve really touched on that and for example, of maybe helping, you know, that’s, you know, like, update the latest software on his phone or laptops, for example, some security plan says, and my mom dad’s face, you know, helping them kind of just stuff yet. And that’s kind of you know, one of the things really just by getting involved and getting stuck in even necessarily you don’t quite understand that at the time but by getting involved in that tool, and helping other people you know, you’re helping yourself as well. And I think it’s just kind of a stage of getting involved really is the best way to do that.

How important what would you say, is practical experience of workplace technology.

So, I do think it’s kind of very important, you know, you’ve got the theory behind it, and you want to kind of, you know, put it practical. So that’s the kind of stuff you know, with uni, you’d want to take into the industry and kind of get stuck in. And that really is the word kind of get stuck in. I never imagined myself kind of growing up to be a software tester. But getting involved in the IT industry, you see kind of what opportunities arise. And not even just within the kind of tech sector, think about the other different industries, in which you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting involved in, but by you know, utilising tech tools and, you know, embracing innovation, think of that as the bigger picture rather than, you know, specifically just tech related, but innovation. Going back to kind of, you know, tech, there’s a lot of open source tools that you can use, and they will be free to use in terms of, you know, try and find the right things, there’s a lot of free trials of stuff. So for example, maybe like Photoshop or video editing skills, if you need some experience, but then in industry, or within a kind of, you know, hobby that say, I don’t know what but you can maybe use that for like 30 days or seven days, and that might be sufficient to kind of pick up your skills. Finally, as well, like, there’s, if you’re going technical, there’s, you know, Azure has free courses for students, and it also has a free account where you can get, you know, up to 200 pounds, etc, you know, that kind of sandbox and play with kind of technical tools. And, yeah, I think as well, one important thing is even like the practicalness of social media is so important, and a lot of kind of students and people forget, you know, how important it is for companies. So even just, you know, you’re you’re getting full freight and with kind of social media, and that practical way of applying your skills. 

How can you demonstrate that you have developed key workplace skills, and technology?

Yeah, so the demonstration then is kind of, by providing and showing examples of how you’ve kind of came up with that, I think, like, by demonstrating as well, you need to kind of understand, firstly, that it depends on the role. Or at least, like, there’s a lot of opportunities in which you can actually, you know, enhance your skills, I would give examples of, you know, on LinkedIn, if anyone’s involved aon LindkedIn, there’s a lot of webinars in which you can kind of do get involved within tools and tech and understand kind of components. As well as that specifically within your industry. I think like one or two personal references, which I used to be Udemy. And it’s good for kind of, you know, harnessing and developing skills, and then being able to present them and relay them back into work back into my CV and back into kind of, you know, day to day skills as well. So there’s a lot of opportunities out there. And there’s a lot of kind of free things that you can view online and just taking upon each of the applications as well, such as meetups really, like might be a bit hard during the pandemic, but embracing the change, maybe you know, Slack or, you know, Teams might be a good solution for that. So webinars. Yeah.

What soft skills would you say go hand in hand with tech skills?

There’s, there’s a lot really like, one thing to think is, is well, that, you know, technology skills are just tools of making your soft skills more efficient than effective. So like numeracy skills, for example. I mean, that that’s really given within the IT industry, you know, you could talk about coding performance or all aspects, but not just specifically with the IT industry, like you can think about, you know, your communication skills with putting this many times but social media, using teams, you know, creativity skills as well. creativity to complex solutions, like my job is doing quality assurance, and it kind of plays into analytical thinking and problem solving. And by problem solving, you have to be very creative on you know, there’s a lot of constraints to the problem and how you fix that. So there’s there’s definitely ways to express willingness to learn as well. So embracing the technology which is the key point of everything, being able to, you know, go into new skills and new tools and test new systems up correctly. And even gone non technical within the IT industry, you know, there’s a lot of project masters and kind of, you know, Scrum masters etc project manager sorry that, you know, we really focus on organisation and there’s a lot of kind of tools that are available to you know help kind of do that, calendars, JIRA for, you know, management. So, they’re inextricably linked, really in my opinion.

What would you say you should include in the IT skills section on your CV?

Yeah, that’s a good question. I suppose it’s dependent on the possession and the industry, I mean, you should really do your research on kind of, you know, what type of roles you’re applying for, and kind of think about that, I think, but whenever you were talking about the common applications in the office 365 suite, you know, there’s always, you know, opportunity ability to kind of show that, and that’s, you know, applicable across any industry. Think about the bespoke software on which you can use, might go back to, you know, if you’re doing some design with somebody with a website in Photoshop could be useful, you know, five years from now, that could be a tool your skill to be included. But going back, then definitely have a look at the industry standards in which you’re applying for. So if I go back to my kind of key position, I’d be looking for kind of buzzwords with selenium, kotlin, cucumber, postman, Java, just you know, as an interfere. And if I just see that within an application, that would pique my interest, and you know, like, that would be the same thing that you need to think then is going to position like, take up the industry standard tools, and learn a wee bit about that. So whenever you go into, you know, an opportunity or an interview, you’re able to kind of, you know, demonstrate ‘Yes, I know what that is certainly’. Also, it’s always nice to kind of add in any certifications that you’ve got within your university – Udemy courses, as well as other mentions. And definitely, as well, like, you can also maybe use going back to the kind of soft skills that you’re mentioning, you can maybe then use IT skills to support your soft skills. So I’m good at communication. Here’s a reason. So evidence based as well so it’s ready and can be used really.

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Categories
Employer Engagement Employer Insight Employer Panels Employer Q&A Employers Uncategorised Version 1

“The Google news tab can tell you the most recent company info, so you are not caught out in an interview”

Graham Ryan, Strategic Resourcing Manager at Version 1 gives his top tips on navigating the graduate recruitment and application process.

Graham Ryan, Version 1

How can I use my LinkedIn profile to stand out?

Okay, so first, depending on what you’re interested in from a business point of view, you know, follow the companies or [graduate] programmes…writing blogs, as we know, for the last couple years is a huge thing, you know to comment back on people you are following that are in your area that you either want to get into, or you’re in at the moment. But also don’t forget the personal side, your own interests, things like that don’t feel that LinkedIn is purely just from a business point of view. If you write a blog on something you’re interested in, that’s not necessarily in the area, you know people, you know, people like that and people are open minded, but definitely get involved, certainly from a blog point of view and liking and sharing material.

How do I build valuable work relationships in a virtual environment?

Okay so, when you’re coming onboard and starting in a new role you have to make a good first impression – that’s key. Regular catch up sessions with the business, don’t be scared to have chats with different people across the business. Gain trust from others by keeping up communication.

So, if I was going to do one thing today to make me stand out in the recruitment process, what would that be?

Just one of the key things here as far as research, you’ll find a lot of people do this but when you’re Googling a company just go in news tab, find out the recent stories so you don’t get caught in interview if a company has had a recent win they ask you about. Have a look at the news tab of Google when you are going for an interview in a company, it’ll give you the recent news just in case it’s brought up and you never know it might not be brought up, or the candidate could bring it up, which would be obviously very impressive, if someone did that.

What is the etiquette for virtual meetings? Should I keep my camera on, should put my hand up to contribute and when should I use the chat feature?

So obviously always camera on, unless you’re told otherwise. Certainly, camera on in interviews settings and meetings. The chat is used throughout, some people raise their hand on Microsoft Teams for example or else just write a comment if it’s a question or something like that. Don’t be afraid of what the right thing to do is, all the tools that are there, so put up your hand or write in the comment section… don’t overthink it. Don’t overthink it, don’t be worried about it. There’s no right or wrong way.

If I don’t like my job how long should I stick at it?

You might get better opportunities to move into different roles in the company. The opportunities are not going to be handed to you then, and you know if you get in, put your head down. Mightn’t be an area where you want to end up or stay, but just work hard on it and all of a sudden you’ll see the opportunities come at you, without a shadow of a doubt.

What are the top skills you’re looking for in graduates?

So in terms of technical skills first anyway in terms of that so like software engineers, it’s a big thing at the minute, data analytics, business analysis, DevOps engineers their level of skills and soft skills, well maybe we can upskill on themselves, you know, depending on the company, certainly development is a key area that we’re looking at. 

What support will I get starting a new job working from home?

You’ll get senior leaders in the business who are really impressed when graduates reach out to them. People are easily accessible nowadays – I know it’s not face to face but everyone’s online – a quick catchup for a 5-10 minute chat – you know it’s there. It’s seen as a really positive thing for senior leaders. 

What do you love to see in a new recruit?

Attitude, someone who’s very driven, open-minded. If you come with all the knowledge but a bad attitude a wrong attitude. Certainly, someone who comes in fresh and ready … It’s just a good idea to try different things and to get involved in different things based on the different projects and different teams and to hit the ground running.

What can I do to make myself more employable?

Okay so, so, upskilling. Use the time to upskill if you’re out of employment. We’ve seen in the last year people taking up banana bread and people have done stuff with their career as well – just explain what you’ve been up to as well.

What is the most common mistake you see in interviews?

Like at the end of the day an interview – it’s, it’s a conversation with a stranger. When you’re having a conversation with a stranger on the street you don’t just shut up shop. Treat it as a conversation that the interviewer’s trying to get more information out of you. So if you don’t know something or you’re unsure – get them to reword the question, what I would say certainly if you don’t know you don’t know. Be aware of the waffle – it’s natural because of nerves. But in terms of an engineer because it happens it’s actually taken for nerves as well as the press that every given question, but just think about it from that aspect. First impressions are key you will get some hiring managers that will listen to what their thoughts are, you know – have a smile like we do on a face to face smile and a strong handshake. Be yourself. Because if you come in with a shop. You know it’s just hard to come back from that.

Where can I find opportunities?

Ask your mates who’ve been through it recently or their siblings – you’ll be amazed at the different companies, you’ll get by reaching out to your friends and things.

If you Google news on a company how can you drop it into an interview without it sounding rehearsed?

You just say for example, there’s always a situation, when you get an opportunity to ask questions. Just say I noticed you won that or you’ve acquired this company – can you tell me a bit more about that? Bring it forward in the interview and wait until the end. 

What could I ask at the end of the interview?

Keep away from the question to ask for salary and things like that. Another thing you could say is, how would ideally a person succeed in this role? How could I shape this role? Rather than “what are the benefits?” Another thing to say is just, just not to curse. I know it sounds easy, but just to be conscious of that.

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Categories
Adaptability Discover EY Emotional Intelligence EY Gradfest2021 resilience Workplace Culture

“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.

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