Getting Active Again

So I am now “one of those people”I have started Couch to 5K ( a 9 week running programme) This won’t sound that remarkable to most people. A lot of people have exercise integrated into their lives, but it has taken me a long time to get back into it.

Spoiler: this post does not contain any before and after pictures, neither does it contain any inspirational quotes.

Why have I bothered?

I used to run when I was at School – always long distance. People thought I was mad for liking cross country but it was something I could do relatively well; running for my district and my county sometimes. But I didn’t keep the exercise up while I was at uni which was an error. I forgot the positive feeling of running and when I discovered my body wasn’t as healthy as I thought it was  in my early twenties I had kind of resigned myself, rather sadly, to never putting my trainers on again. I did yoga and the like but I didn’t really see myself as the regular gym going type.

I envied my friends who seemed to always be out on their bikes, or doing marathons and other amazing things, tracking their exercise and living by their fitbits but was never compelled to try and follow suit – seeing this level of activity as unattainable now my body decided it wanted to act as though I was an old lady. To this day, whenever I find my body struggling to do basic things I refer to it as being my old lady body or OLB for short.

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Healthy body, healthy mind?

In addition to my physical health, the prospect of going to the gym, running in public and the associated little/no make up look that often goes with it was also daunting for my mental health as well! I did try the gym for a while pre-instagram boom and anxiety had me in a state where I was convinced as soon as I left the gym people were laughing at me for even trying. I told myself that if I couldn’t do a ‘reasonable’ stint at the gym (what does that even mean?) It wasn’t worth going at all.

But here I am, almost on week 3 of ‘couch to 5K’. Going to the gym every other day, I have even having managed going running in public more than once. Week 1 I felt constantly shattered,  asking myself when I would feel like #thisgirlcan  and “I don’t sweat, I glow”. I wondered where the boundless energy associated with being healthy, could be located. But I have pushed through and I now think that doing something is better than doing nothing.

We live amidst an instagram frenzy with almost everyone on there and tons of lifestyle and fitness posts. I already notice a difference in gym goers. The guys are more muscly and the girls are leaner-more power to them but that is kind of intimidating as I kill myself on a treadmill.

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I get the impression that there is increasing pressure on young people to look good or to be living life in a certain way. I used to think the pressure was mainly on women but now I can see guys are expected to look a certain way as well. I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone who aspires to look like the instagram posts we see and is battling inner demons like the ones I have described above. I’m surprised at myself and am apprehensive that I will hit a wall sometime soon, but I’m no longer making excuses.

This post isn’t meant as a brag, I’m just happy my body is currently letting me get out of bed and more. I’m feeling a tad more positive and as though I now earn any time I choose to sit on the couch and do very little.

My next step is to make sure I couple this exercise with some decent, healthy food before/after the gym. Any tips on that would be gratefully received; @eemaalou 

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Students, why should you bother networking?

So I haven’t blogged in a while. And this might sound like a really obvious question “why should students bother with networking?” but  it occurs to me, that many students do not like networking and will try to avoid it if they can.

When I say networking I mean generally holding a conversation with someone who they don’t usually interact with. Some of you may read this and think “well maybe it’s just you?” but HA! It’s not, because I have heard the same message from other colleagues.

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To some, networking feels like a very loaded term. I know plenty of  people who do not like it. They don’t like the pressure, the notion that ‘everyone is just out to get something’. They don’t like that subtext of “please give me a job!” But it doesn’t have to be that way and networking isn’t just for jobs.

Working in a University the first thing that comes to my mind with regards to students and networking is; Can networking be taught? Should it be part of university courses?

My instincts tell me NO! Networking is simply conversation and people, regardless of whether they are introverted or extroverted can be, almost “tricked” into doing it if they have the right opportunities. Everyone has a good conversationalist inside them they just need the right topic and the opportunity to shine!

Also, surely networking doesn’t need to be taught as part of a university course when university is such a naturally social place?! However, many students go to lectures, with headphones in, turn up just on time to sit with the same people and don’t often venture outside of those groups.

Unfortuantely it is the fear of the unknown, of being judged that puts students off networking. Whereas the smallest bit of ‘putting yourself out there’ could help and would take minimal effort. Going to a lecture slightly earlier to see who you can catch conversation with? Sitting with a different group of people to usual and chatting with them? Just a couple of things that could make you slightly better at striking up conversation.

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I spend part of my job organising events which may have networking as a component and then students don’t turn up! Even with incentives like guest speakers, prizes and food they can’t see the benefit. This is because students don’t always have the long game in mind. With increase in technology use people generally want things NOW so often small talk and exchanging business cards feel like obstacles.

Often at networking evenings I get “what are we meant to do here?” or “I don’t know what questions to ask”  which suggests to me that a lot of students simply lack confidence.

It’s interesting as well how networking throws into stark reality all the bragging we may have put down on paper on CVs or cover letters. Perhaps if you’re uncomfortable vocalising these things you need to revisit what you have on paper so you feel more comfortable if you need to speak up about how good you are.

I know there are many students who don’t need this kind of help or are happy to go out and make their own fortune BUT networking would help the less confident people and keep the more confident people’s skills in tune so it’s still worth doing.

A lack of confidence in some students is also obervable in lectures and seminars. Both as a student and now as a staff member I have noticed that many students don’t want to pipe up and say anything. Networking is similar to  a seminar – a general exchange of knowledge.

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Many students are reluctant to share information in seminars for fear of being judged or being called to account for a view they are sharing and they need to get past that to flourish in whatever they choose to do after graduating.

Networking opportunities within your university are the best place to ‘risk failure’ before you face bigger companies or potential bosses at careers fairs or interviews

I can talk for Britian but I am really poor at small talk and to this day still need to work on my “elevator pitch” so if nothing else maybe working on that would be a starting point.

Anyway, I’ll leave it there for now; Here are some links;

Why should I bother with networking?

Networking tips from Forbes 

How to avoid cliche phrases in networking or interview situations 

For those of you who want to build contacts online 

Being found by a recruiter via social media

I started to write this post around 4 months ago and never quite finished it. I thought I would try and get it posted because it’s the summer holidays and during this time some students and graduates can find its hard to keep motivated for work/job hunt/ continuing their studies. So something new and exciting happened to me recently. I was approached by an employer via twitter. OK so on the surface that might not sound that interesting or great but he contacted me solely based on my tweets. He is a well known and successful investor/business advisor who wanted to talk to me about the possibility of working for a start up he had helped establish. What followed was games of email tennis, phone calls and an eventual interview. I had to sign a NDA so I can’t really talk details but I wanted to share some lessons I learned or that were reinforced by being approached this way. I’m sharing this experience not to brag but as proof that this kind of thing DOES happen. I hope by writing this I manage to help illustrate the value of keeping an online profile up to date/appropriate. Also with employers saying that graduates aren’t ‘job ready’ when they have finished their degrees I think any little thing you can do to present yourself well to employers will help. (She says having not touched her Linkedin profile in a long time). If you don’t really know where to start a free online course might help because you never know when this kind of thing will come around.

I had to put a minion in here somewhere

Some lessons I learned/had reinforced were;

Seek advice from a close colleague or someone who has been in this situation before I did this and it was probably the best thing I could have done in preparation. It put things into perspective for me and made me feel more calm.

Be patient  For all the emails or phone calls that may come after someone has approached you- be prepared to wait. Sometimes you may have to speak to the same person more than once, or wait for international calls or wait for a reply about a solid interview date. It can be really exciting being approached out of the blue but that doesn’t mean the rest of the process will run at the same speed. Don’t be left hanging but also don’t push too hard. You may not be the only person on their call list.

“All good things come to those who wait”

Be prepared for an air of mystery…  This seemingly came from nowhere. It was sparked by a single tweet I sent. And I had kind of accepted that this project was in ‘stealth mode’ so they needed to make sure they could trust me before they would share certain info with me. I arrived at the interview knowing there were a variety of possibilities on offer so it was in fact quite hard to feel completely excited as I didn’t know what kind of thing they had in mind for me. When this opportunity didn’t work out for me (due to geography and the nature of their working environment, not for lack of skills) not knowing what particular role they had in mind for me also made it difficult for me to feel disappointed or as though I had missed out on something…

Maintain a poker face.  Going back to my previous post, don’t come across as too keen a bean, keep your cool even if you are super flattered someone plucked you out from the internet for an interview.  

Do your research Although I knew the interview would be casual I should have looked at things such as London weightings on wages. When I was pressed to pick a number as a potential wage I may have looked ill informed giving a number they could have laughed me out of the building for. The number i gave them was also unreasonable for a start up as well (wishful thinking…)

 …but hey you don’t ask you don’t get Employers who are honest with you want the same in return. No need to labour under false pretenses if you have particular expectations or needs don’t be afraid to communicate them. I’m talking working hours and pay rates, not hammocks and extra long lunch breaks though.

Make sure you’re able to ask all your questions Although I was asked if there was anything further I wanted to know and I managed to get some questions out, put them under pressure to answer everything you have in mind before you leave. I held back a little as I thought I had fudged another part of the interview and lost a bit of confidence.

Don’t be scared to send a follow up email If you forgot to ask something follow up with an email to ask about things you forgot to ask in person. Some of those things may seem fairly obvious but due to the surprising way this all came about it was harder to be rational and think of everything when I got excited to be recognised by this person. I hope this post has been useful for some people. Comment, like and follow my blog if you liked it.

Are you satisfied with your University degree?

I haven’t blogged for a long time now. It’s taking me a while to put posts together that I’m happy with as well as remaining current with things.

Working for a university, I have had my assumptions of what the “typical undergraduate student” is, challenged several times. Just when I think I ‘know’ students, something comes along and surprises me. With this in mind I find that what Times Higher ed reported this morning reaffirms what I have been saying about students all along.

Students expect ‘value for money’ and are very demanding of their institutions but don’t always take a proactive approach to their experience while studying at university. 

Firstly, I would like to say that I do not uphold or work to support the notion that higher education should be for the privileged few, I don’t think it should be structure to keep ‘the plebs’ out and I fully support access to higher education schemes. I think anyone should be able to go to uni if they want to. But not everyone knows what they are getting in to. And in fact a plan b is often hard to come by especially with schools and colleges being pressured to send their pupils to uni.

Rather confusingly I’m am also not sure whether I agree that HE should be completely free. <

ANYWAY

According to these Hepi-HEA findings students think their lecturers need to have teaching qualifications in order to lecture them. And while, as an undergraduate 2008-2011 I would have agreed with them (was very surprised to learn that lecturers didn’t have at least a PGCE or similar) there are so many different types of lectures and lecturers and someone who means well may not necessarily deliver a great lecture for a variety of reasons. Equally just because someone has a teaching qualification doesn’t mean they will deliver amazing, inspiring lectures. A colleague of mine would say that students are only satisfied if they get the education they want, but that might not mean they are getting the education they need. And a satisfied student may not be a challenged one.

At the risk of teaching grandmother to suck eggs, I think there are a couple of things here;

Firstly lecture styles may need to change or improve and that doesn’t necessarily mean more work for everyone. By having a dialogue with students you can find out so much. This doesn’t have to mean more surveys or focus groups, even by establishing casual conversations you can gain anecdotal feedback that can help tweak a module. Academics can seem intimidating but students are scarily similar to them sometimes. Also integrating technology or social media into the classroom can go a long way to enhancing student experience.

If you ask your students if, instead of fees, they would be willing to pay the equivalent for a night out/access to their local bar/club/venue (for arguments sake this could be £3-£5 outside of London) and they say no – then things should probably change or at least get an update.

BUT this relies on student engagement (oh if only we could ensure that!)

This leads me to my second point that students should play more of an active part in their educational experience. Use the established systems such as course rep or your student’s union and don’t just go to meetings, ask questions, raise issues. If students want something to happen they need to speak up, don’t expect someone to do it for you! If you’re passive in your time at uni it’ll happen to you not be shaped by you. The worst thing that could happen is that you’re told no which sometimes (believe it or not) is accompanied by a good reason.

How many times has a student avoided an ‘awkward’ conversation? How many times has a student been procrastinating?

A friend of mine pointed out on Facebook:

 ” (students) massively misunderstand the nature of what they are ‘buying’ A lot of them seemed to think that they are buying an entitlement to a 2:1 by just going to lectures. They don’t buy into the idea that they are actually ‘buying’ ACESS to the knowledge, not the knowledge itself. That they actually need to work for their education. This is not helped by governmental and media rhetoric that treats education like you order take out”

Another part of the findings the article draws attention to is that students don’t know where their fees are going. This again means students need to find this information out for themselves. Google, ask your faculty. But don’t just sit on the information. It’s important to understand it at least even if you don’t want to challenge or ask questions. I don’t think undergrads are given enough time to process or understand the loans they have taken on, which, with increasing fees is ever more important.

I think better knowledge and awareness and better student engagement will help drive positive change. Which I know will be too ‘hippy-diipy’ for some people reading this, will sound like absolute effort to a lot of students I work with and I won’t be the first person to have said it.

This would be made easier if students coming into the system had more help with the transition from School/College to uni. This can be achieved by Schools and Colleges providing support (although they aren’t exactly twiddling their thumbs for things to do) and by peer support/buddying schemes at universities. Uni shouldn’t be a choice that’s entered into lightly or because someone thinks they have to do it or that they have failed at life if they haven’t.

It would be good if there was also more in terms of alternatives to uni and I don’t just mean apprenticeships. I wish I had at least taken a year out before coming to earn some money and get some work experience, I think I would have spent my time at uni focusing on more important things  (yeah thanks time hop for the absolute gems you keep reminding me of on facebook) and would have thrived a little better.

This is a very simplistic look at things, put together in a hurry on my lunch break. It MIGHT help if lecturers had more qualifications it MIGHT help if students knew what they were getting for their money. But students underestimate their ability to effect change or to educate one another.

No one wants to put themselves out there for fear of being judged. But most people only get uni once! So make it count! Even if it’s not linked with anything academic, do something to make a difference!

So it’s been a while, I have some news

Last time I wrote a post here I had been to an interview and had been feeling very frantic. Since then I had another interview I may blog about later (I was approached via social media which some people don’t believe can happen) but first; I HAVE SOME NEWS

I have been made permanent in my position at work

After having worked here for nearly 3 years my contract has gone from fixed term to permanent. I am seriously happy. This doesn’t mean I will stay here forever and I will continue to pursue opportunities for roles I am interested in BUT it does give me some stability. For the first time since graduating 4 years ago I feel I have something sorted. I have earned this.

The latest job search actually had me feeling more stressed and anxious than usual and I think that was clear from my last post. I’d like to thank all my friends who have listened and picked me up during this tricky period.

I have yet to decide whether to keep this page up. I had started it as a means of fine tuning my skills, then to try and help students learn more about certain job titles . I also try and share the great posts I enjoy reading a lot of which are written by friends of mine. Now I find myself increasingly tempted to blog about the things I am passionate about. Which may or may not be good for my online professional profile, I have definitely shared a lot with you. But there have been work related posts too!  However I will admit I got a little bit hippy-dippy around new years. I guess what I am saying is, it’s hard to see where to go from here…

SO HELP ME OUT PLEASE, INTERNET 🙂 

If any of you feel inclined to write a comment below telling me the kind of posts you’ve read on here and found interesting/useful or which kind you think I should keep writing that would be great.  hint… click the links above if you’re not so familiar.

How can you say no to that face?

 

 

January’s lessons

I wanted my second post of the year to be about things I have realised or learned in the first month of the year. WHERE DID JANUARY GO?! I might look back on this later in the year to see whether I take heed or remember any of these lessons. Some of these may sound similar and you might think “Really? All of these things in a month?” but it’s true! A lot of these refer to specific situations I don’t feel like going into detail about but I hope they can help other people reflect about how fast time passes and how we should make the little lessons count…

A lot of this is going to sound SO hippy dippy…

New age philosophy major, I am not

 

People can surprise you

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that someone you thought you knew or perhaps someone you didn’t really know, then forgot about, can some how reappear and surprise you. I like to think I am a good judge of character but I love it when people prove me wrong…for the better I mean.  Give people a chance.

Love is blind

And people are stupid. I swear there is some kind of psychological theory that could explain why people are great at giving people advice about their relationships but when it comes to their own all logic goes out the window! (wow, did I sound angry there?) .. I am very guilty of having done this myself though soooo….

I may be quoting the fictional character House here but: “everybody lies”

Sometimes people lie for no good reason. Sometimes people lie to you and you feel like “OK, so you think I’m stupid?” but a lot of the time people lie to avoid admitting they are wrong or have made a mistake. I have to take this lesson and try and not take it personally sometimes.

Sometimes people would rather write things online than reach out to those closest to them but this can come in positive and negative forms

I have had to reassure students who are employed to help other students, that just because someone doesn’t want to meet in person doesn’t mean their messaging them online is any less valuable. Sometimes people are more articulate in the written form and sometimes people are shy. But it isn’t a reflection of the person who is there to help, or their ability.

On that note, give people a chance to grow. I can try and help but I must be patient

I can do my best to lend a hand or give advice but you can lead a horse to water…

 I am able to take awkward situations into my control and tackle difficult subjects with people I never thought I could do that with

As much as people can surprise me, I can also surprise myself in my ability to take on awkward conversations. I had to do this recently and took the time to step away from a situation that made me angry, breathe and then return to it. Taking the time to think was a great idea and definitely helped me deal with it better.

I can be positive after what feels like a long period of feeling negative

I was fairly worried when I encountered post Christmas blues recently. I thought “Really?! This is how I am going to start 2015?!” I knew the job search was looming and I got a couple of rejections early January but was able to shake it off and get on with things thanks to some great advice from my friends.

My body will sleep when it needs it, stressing about getting my 8 hours won’t help

On the theme of worrying and feeling bad my sleep hasn’t been great lately and I got myself worried that I wasn’t getting the 8 hours we’re meant to have. I know a lot of people who don’t and still function. Yes my body is rubbish and I suffer with fatigue but I need to resign myself to the fact my body will sleep when it needs it.

For every idiot you encounter there is another, awesome person who will come in and restore your faith in humanity

This sounds very similar to the first point “people can surprise you” but recently I had a conversation with someone who restored my faith in my ability to write. I have come close to closing this blog more than once and now thanks to her, I think I will try my best to keep it going as long as I can.

Be OK with not knowing all the answers, to questions or with regards to life plans / let things play out

Lots of people keep asking what I will do when my current role comes to an end. I have now officially put teaching (in Schools at least) as an option to one side and I am looking for my next opportunity. I feel a little flustered when I think about my next steps and when people ask “so what do you want to DO?” and I don’t know the answer I need to be OK with that. There is a common misconception that is ingrained into people’s minds from a young age that you need to know what you’re doing, truth it, no one does.

If you’ve made it to the end of this post – great! Apologies if it has read a little like a really bad self help book. But if you liked it maybe you’d like this book I have been flicking through. 

Spotlight on: embarking on a Deloitte grad scheme

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.

Role models

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.