This post is about Sasha, a fellow Politics enthusiast and admirer of King Charles Spaniels (don’t deny it, I’ve seen photos!) having been a Sabbatical Officer, among other roles, he is now about to embark on the Deloitte Graduate scheme, something many of the students I work with aspire to…
Background and work experience
My undergrad is in Politics and Economics (2:1), and masters in Global Politics (Merit), both from the University of Southampton.
Work-wise, pre-University, I interned at UBS before University, and then during University, I worked in China as a TEFL volunteer in the summer of first year, worked as a receptionist at SUSU for a couple of years. Post University, I was a Sabbatical officer at the Union for two years, responsible for education issues, before then working at the University’s Strategy & Planning team as an intern for 4 months.
In January this year, I had a fixed term contract at ComRes, the political polling company, as a Junior Analyst, and am currently a Researcher at a brand consultancy called Appetite, where I’m researching for a book they are trying to write based on their campaign ‘Business made Better’. In September, I’ll be starting a grad scheme job at Deloitte, within their Operations Consulting team.
Advice for people wanting to do a Masters degree
My main driver was actually my UG dissertation – I thought I was done with education, but it turns out that I hadn’t really found my passion within it. Looking at international development really made me want to ask more questions, and become a better researcher, so I looked into it. It was also a calculated decision, given roughly 60% of people leave University with a 2:1 – and when I (genuinely) somehow got a scholarship to do the Masters, all bases were covered.
In terms of advice, I’d make sure it holds a relevance to the type of career you want – don’t JUST do it because it’s interesting, or you were good at it. Also, don’t JUST do it for the employability – it might get you in the door a few more times for interview, but without the rest of the employment package, you get found out. It IS harder than UG, and much more reading, plus the social aspect of lots of people leaving is noticeable, so make sure you’re prepared to make the sacrifices – it’s not just another year at University.
Being a Sabbatical Officer for Southampton University Student’s Union (SUSU)
A Sabbatical Officer is an elected position held within a Students’ Union, and are the elected heads of the organisation, normally a Trustee, and also normally with a portfolio for a portion of it. At Southampton, I was elected two years running (you can only do two years because of government legislation)to be the Academic Affairs officer, responsible for being the lead representative on educational matters to the University and wider community, as well as leading and supporting around 500 volunteer course representatives.
The job itself, and its an interesting time with new teams starting across the country, is what you make of it. You start with an initial idea of what you want to achieve, based on your manifesto and things you pick up on from students, but then you learn about how the organisation is run, the staff structures, the past work people have carried out, what ongoing projects there are, and what are the immediate priorities.
For me, the Union had just restructured the whole of my areas staffing structure, and the University had restructured its course organisation – so I had a real blank slate of setting up the course representation system, setting the work priorities for SUSU in the area, and working with the University to introduce the changes it needed to, in order to make the courses the best they could be. In my first year, the white paper on Higher Education came out, and in my second year, £9k fee students arrived, so there was a lot of political shouting going on, and lots of change to help steer, as the University basically prepared for a completely unknown world.
It was the most incredible and challenging thing I could imagine, going straight from my degree, mainly because of the fact you’re elected – many see you as a leader, others see you as a representative to always be seeking opinions – and getting the right measure of the two is impossible. Equally, the average student doesn’t pay much attention until it directly affects them, and so enthusing others to be passionate about your work is a test – and you do discover a lot about yourself, your working style, and how you handle stress.
How did he hear about being a researcher for a brand consultancy?
Funnily enough, my current job was a friend of a friend one. It’s only an internship being paid London Living Wage, and the company is only 15-people large, which might explain why they didn’t have the strictest recruitment method – but I nearly worked for them in September last year, when they were looking for a researcher, but for one reason or another, delays meant I took up work elsewhere, and so when I was leaving ComRes, I had already made first contact and made a connection. Had this not come through, I used my peers who had changed jobs a few times to put me in touch with recruiters they knew, or previous managers, to have coffee with and just network.
It really is a shame to say that networking is important – but then to employers, applicants can be anywhere on the scale – if they’ve met you before, and like your personality and have an idea for the way you present yourself, communicate, and think, then in that sense, its not surprise its so important. When you hear jobs on w4mp having 300 applicants on average, for what are mostly minimum wage jobs – you’re going to need to be doing more than just simply applying for lots of jobs, even if that means calling up the office to talk on the phone about the role before you email your application.
Highlights of working life so far
So far, I’ve not worked client side in the private sector, so the best thing is the variety of projects. I’ve seen statistics about charity work, financial reputation scores, energy sector concerns – being in analyst positions has opened me up to all sorts of information. In the current job too, analysing interviews with business leaders on what makes a good business and a better society is almost like having a one-to-many tutor group – each day I learn a neat way of phrasing something, or a new way of looking at a problem, and its great, because I’m being paid to learn.
Least favourite thing about working life so far
Across most jobs I’ve had – self direction, middle management, and lack of training. Sometimes, you just need someone to give you a bit of a steer, or a bit of acknowledgement of how you’re doing and how to do even better. At the jobs I’ve had, it’s been very much on-the-job learning, and not much set aside for courses, or time to really work with a manager and think about how I’m producing outputs. The middle management one is a curve ball, because there’s nothing more frustrating for me, as analyst, to make a recommendation and hear ‘well, no we’re just not going to do that’ without a reason. These are all rare events, or small grumblings, but in my ideal job, these would be the things I’d address primarily.
Why did he decide to work for a “big 4” company?
I don’t see myself as joining a big 4 – because that immediately makes people think I saw the money, I saw the power, and I thought I’d set myself up for life on easy street.
I applied to Deloitte (I didn’t to the other big 4s) because I believed the work they do, the way they claim to behave, and the values they claim to demonstrate, made me think it would be a good fit for me. They were talking about social good on their website, about empowering people, about driving sustainability, gender equality, and making sure they were being responsible – as well as saying they were a quality outfit.
Having worked at a Students’ Union where you learn a lot about values, vision statements, and the importance of culture – and having worked in some places where there was really bad line management, or really bad work conditions – I have developed a keener sense for what I want in my work and the company I work for than I did have, fresh out of University.
In fact, before Appetite, I was 1 for 2, in terms of turning down 2 jobs at interview, because I made sure I worked out they were right for me, as much as I was right for them. I don’t have huge savings – I felt like an idiot saying no, sorry, but you spend over half your waking life at work – I was going to refuse having an awful time of it, and those two jobs wouldn’t have progressed me in anyway close to what I was looking for. Luckily it’s paid off, some would say (and I’d agree!), but equally, I’d hope that my clarity in what I want in a job came across in interviews as a positive – Deloitte are renowned recruiters of people who fit in, and knowing I would fit was certainly an advantage for me.
Deloitte is quite popular among graduates and students alike, what is Sasha’s advice for anyone who wants to work for them?
Don’t see the £, don’t see the word consultancy and think that sounds cool, and certainly don’t see the fact they recruit 1400 people each year and think it’s a guarantee.
On the money – I always feel that as long as you’re covering your living costs, earning big money can come later at this stage of the career – get the right training, get the right experience, have a good mentor/ manager, and work out what you want to do. Plus if you’re not passionate about what you do, it’ll show in your work ethic, on the way you fit in the organisation, and the respect people have for you when you leave the organisation – which could hurt you in the long run if you don’t show the right attitude.
On recruitment, I think Deloitte recruit around 1400 – but then that’s across 4 major work areas (Audit, Tax, Consulting, Finance), so 300 each. Within each, there are 4/5 streams of work, so 60 each. Then, there are multiple locations across the country, so maybe 5-10 each. Plus – they get so many graduate applicants, they can afford to have a low recruitment one year (or a few) if people aren’t up to scratch – so if you want the job, you need to be really on the ball for each stage.
The rest is standard job advice – be VERY explicit about what you’ve done (not just being the social sec of a club – but the events you’ve run, or business contacts you’ve communicated with), and importantly, what skills that means you’ve developed. Many of these firms talk in competencies – find out what theirs are, and match your examples to them, and just keep saying that your experiences match what they’re looking for.
Insight into the Deloitte recruitment process
Apparently its 7 stages or so – and I actually first applied January 2013, so its taken 15 months to get the offer. I’d applied late last year – so another top tip – apply on July 1st. Get it in ASAP, its first come first serve. Applying late meant that they filled up positions in my stream, so I could have applied for another stream and carried on, but I deferred my application to this year, because I knew the area I wanted to work in (sorry risk/ tax/ HR).
For Deloitte, you do an initial screener application – who you are, grades, reason for applying – raw basics. Once passed that, you get more competency based questions to answer, you get maths and verbal reasoning tests (seriously – do practice tests), I may have had a phone interview (I cant remember), I certainly had an assessment centre with a group task, individual task, and interview, and then I had the partner interview.
A lot of people worry once it gets to the face-to-face stage, but for me, I felt if I didn’t do well enough, or they didn’t impress me enough, it clearly wasn’t meant to be – so I was quite relaxed. I prepared – I looked at Deloitte’s website, I looked at Deloitte in the news, and general economic commentary – but that therefore meant that I couldn’t have done more. I had no reason to panic, as it wasn’t a test – interviews aren’t a test – they’re a conversation.
The group task is the most interesting, because everyone feels they need to win the argument/ have their idea be THE idea, but really they’re testing how you analyse a task and communicate – I made sure I referenced the strategic objectives of the task, and related my answer to that, but made it a conversation and asked people their ideas, and happily had a discussion about them. I remember even joking that we’d never agree, so let’s just go for it and see what happens.
The partner interview is nearly all about relationship from the bat, I felt – proving that, yes, youre capable, but more than that, you’re a person they can see themselves working with, trusting, and having around the office. You have to give a presentation, but my partner literally said ‘ok well apparently you need to tell me something on interest rates – tell me something I haven’t heard a million times…’ – obviously prepare, have handouts, know your slides without looking – but know they’re not testing the content exactly – its how you communicate it, how you respond to questions, how you think through your answer. Knowing the exact impact of interest rates on bonds wont get you the job on its own.
What’s the worse interview situation Sasha has been in?
I’ll give two angles – because I’ve done a lot of recruiting from being a Sabbatical Officer, and naturally seen a lot of recent graduates at interview because of the type of work and pay levels that fit certain people more than others.
As a recruiter
I’ve seen some absolutely horrible applications, as if they hadn’t ever read the job description, didn’t even try to write sentences that related to what the Union did, or even what the role would do. Contextualise your answers, reference what your skills/ experience might mean for the position you’re applying for, and be explicit again – as above. In the interview though… it’s nerve-wracking, definitely, but if you’re prepared and know your experiences well (you should –they’re yours) then the only thing you need to concentrate on is making sure you articulate yourself to them so that they can understand you. Yes its in the application probably, but in face-to-face, you can go much deeper.
One candidate I remember was brilliant on paper – she’d campaigned for all sorts of women’s rights at her University, ran music festivals, organised RAG raids – she sounded unbelievable. Get to interview – “so can you talk us through I time you’ve had to organise an event?”… ‘Well, I was RAG officer, so I did a lot then…’ – ARGH. You cant recruit that. What is a lot, what did it involve, what was difficult, what did you enjoy, how was it successful, what would you do next time, what do you wish you did, why did you decide to do it – a million questions should trigger in your head as soon as you hear a competency question, and so many just answer the question in a single line… I mean it IS hard to remember to keep explaining things, to make sure you covered lots of ground, and been explicit – but you have to give them something to at least be able to ask a follow up question to.
As an applicant
One interview I had that was bad – the line manager was in the interview, as was a senior analyst (it was for a junior analyst position) – and neither would look me in the eye for more than a few seconds. There was no engagement, no excitement at the thought of hiring me, and basically that all summed up to – no inspiration to want to work there. Just from sitting there, I got the strongest impression that the manager wouldn’t be strong at communication objectives or managing me and supporting my growth, and worse, it just didn’t seem like they enjoyed the work they did.
And ones where I’ve done awfully – there are many – I just couldn’t work out what they wanted from an answer. I would be annoyed at myself, but you just learn, plus also, and this isn’t said in a way that tries to vindicate my performance, but sometimes the questions are just bad. I had one question which made up a scenario – and having said it depended on xyz variables – which way do you want me to take it, and they gave no answer back, it’s in the lap of the gods, and sometimes it’s just not meant to be.
Does Sasha’s new role match his career aspirations. Where will it take him?
This is where I constantly feel an idiot for doing it, but equally, the way I’ve thought about the career I want has worked for me really well.
First, I started with the sort of impact I want to have –and for me, that’s about helping people make better decisions that will have a long term social impact. It’s taken me a few years to refine that – it doesn’t roll off the tongue, but basically I thought about what I would want to say I did with my day when I got home.
Before I’d worked that out, I thought about the skills I wanted to use. As an objective minded and curious person, I’ve always liked understanding situations, asking questions, using data or opinions, and explaining ideas to people – essentially, analysis and communications. By identifying that, I then thought about what jobs use those skills – not what sector I wanted to be in. From management/ strategy work, to research, to data analyst, to campaign organising, PR, public affairs – there was quite a range that I knew I would therefore enjoy, because it challenged me in the way I like to be – it also helped in interviews as I had a ready-made answer for why I wanted the job in principle, before then talking about the company.
And so at the moment I’m analysing interviews, reading secondary research, and writing chapters of a book, as well as opinion pieces – because you know what I look for in work, you’ll agree that that sounds ‘very me’. I don’t intend to stay in brand consultancy forever, because there is a point where I need to find a passion for the industry, but certainly at the start of my career, I’m open to experiencing anything that tests me in the right way. Like most people, ideally I’d have some sort of charitable role to my work – but actually, one thing I’ve discovered is that private companies can be better placed to do the work of NGOs because they have the resource to scale operations, and actually can enact the change – who knows, in a few years I could go to Primark and try and review their supply chain management, because it uses the skills of analysis (of operations), the strategic way of thinking through the long-term impact, and is heavily communications based – WITH a social impact. So I wouldn’t shut anything down without knowing it wouldn’t challenge me in a good way.
What is the most valuable lesson learned just starting out on his career path
People buy people.
You can call it networking, you can call it sucking up or using contacts – but let’s face it, if you had the choice between someone you’ve never met before, and is therefore a risk, and someone who you’ve got to know even the slightest bit, then you’re a safer option. That does mean it can work against you if someone thinks you’re just not up to a task – but for someone starting out, determination, courage, and openness can open up a lot of doors. That goes for when you’re in work too – don’t say no to tasks, don’t clam up and not have an opinion, and don’t just not get involved in the office. Be fun, be active, suggest ideas, be helpful – people remember that. Even if they don’t remember what you did, they remember how you made them feel – never a truer saying. Works in social situations, works at work.
I’m slowly collecting a list actually of people who I believe have similar core beliefs to me (in terms of social action, how the world should work, what aspirations they have), similar ways of working (objective, collaborative, and discursive), and also positive personality traits (helpful, kind, fun). Jaki Booth, the ex-Chief Executive at SUSU was very much a mentor across many of those attributes; Steve Chisnall and Andrew McCargow at the University of Southampton, and some colleagues at ComRes – I wouldn’t call role models, but certainly when I’ve seen how they act, I’ve made a mental note to try and learn.
Best piece of advice?
Never go back.
I think actually the best piece of advice I was given was to think about my skills, not jobs, when looking for work – but I’ve explained that one.
Never go back means that in exactly as it sounds – if you move on, or situations change, adapt and change with it. Never go back to what was comfortable before, because it will never be as you left it. Whether that’s an old company, an old partner, or an old community you lived in – take the happy memories, remember them, learn from what you need to learn from, and use them to make your next step. Be positive, and look forward to what’s next.
His advice to future graduates?
You will not get a job.
That’s just to scare you. My real piece of advice is ‘you will not get a job just because you deserve it. But that’s ok – other people have different aspirations to you.’
I’ve spoken to a lot of people who say “I did lots at University, loads of extra curricular activities – I’d be/I am really annoyed if I wasn’t employed/ soon”. Welcome to the meat market – everyone is thinking the same, doing the same, and trying to stand out. Doing a volunteer position really well is the same as someone who just lies about it – IF you fail to articulate it in the right way. See the RAG officer example – anyone can say that, but if she had gone into detail that you cant make up – wow it’d have impressed us. But you have no entitlement with a degree – 50% of our age group will have them, and some industries are harder to get into, where you’re waiting for someone to give birth, retire, or die.
So don’t get hung up on it – worrying about not having a job benefits no one. Motivation is an absolute beast after 6 weeks unemployed (been there), let alone a few months like some people I’ve known – but the only thing you can do is ask ‘what do I need to do differently’ – whether that’s talking to a recruiter (they’re a shortcut for employers – good recruiters will sometimes be your only way into a company), talking to friends about people they know and opportunities that are available, or simply just broadening your search to include more jobs, lower wage, and more travel. Have your limits, but do accept that having a job is always the easiest way to get another job.
Plans for the future
I got asked this in my Deloitte interview actually – or at least ‘what will you be most proud of in 5 years’ time.’
I said I’d be most proud of the people I meet – I know the type of people I want to meet, and if I meet them, we’ll encourage and challenge each other, and ultimately, hopefully we’ll do something really great. A social change, some sort of challenge, or just doing a job really well – that’ll only happen with good people around me.
And so that’s my plan for the future – I’ll go to Deloitte, I’ll work hard and do my best to learn and have an impact – but I’ll especially try to meet the people there and make new connections that will shape the next part of my life.