From Build-a-Bear to Building a Career
When I was applying to university, I was torn between: Law, a prestigious degree with good career opportunities and a good salary; or Philosophy and Theology. To the dismay of my father’s retirement plans, I chose the latter at the University of Edinburgh and spent four years studying, among other things, morality; transhumanism; and perhaps most importantly, the belief that at any point in time we can be transported to a different universe so we must dress appropriate for every possible time period. These were certainly the most interesting 9am lectures I attended, especially when our lecturer practised what he preached with his dress sense. I also spent a semester looking at J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the religious undertones and references these contain. So, while my Harry Potter trivia knowledge is currently unbeaten, my direction post-university was vague.
Surprisingly, there are not many jobs within Philosophy or Theology. This situation was beautifully illustrated by that day’s Scotsman’s front-page headline of “Now the Fallout Begins” with a rather glum looking Brexit-delivering David Cameron. I wasn’t worried. I had some work experience and the job market wasn’t as bad as 2008. I knew what I was going to do…kind of.
“So, what’s next after graduation?”
I received this question hundreds of times during my final year. Luckily, I had my immediate plans sorted. I was doing a year-long youth work internship working with my church to launch a youth project in the local area (www.hub104.com). This was a part time, unpaid internship and Edinburgh isn’t cheap, so alongside this I was working with my brother’s company - Activity Delivered. I’d been working with them running events at weekends during university and he wanted to grow the company and needed someone who knew the company and its vision inside out. I was brought in to do all things Business Development. The company’s initial focus was children’s birthday parties, but my main role was to launch into the wedding and stag and hen sectors and this was where I found my skill set. I had worked sales jobs during university (shout out to Build-A-Bear Workshop) and always loved the pressure and competitiveness of sales, relationship building and business development. I everything I learned at university aided these roles. To put it simply:
- You are given a question or a problem;
- Research and understand possible solutions to the problem;
- Present the solutions effectively and elegantly;
How I learnt this at university
- Question asks about Plato’s theory of xyz;
- Read, understand and analyse Plato’s theory and commentaries on it;
- Present his thoughts and commentaries in a pleasant and straightforward format while answering the question;
How I implemented this to Activity Delivered
- You are tasked with business development within the wedding sector;
- Research and understand the needs and requirements within the wedding sector;
- Present how your company can fill those needs in a pleasant and straightforward format;
- Get the contract / sale.
Whether it is university, business development, sales, or even recruitment, it’s straightforward. Task – Research and understand – Present solution – Win.
I was only ever going to be at Activity Delivered for a year, so it was time to start looking for what was next. I had a better idea idea of what I wanted to do now, so I followed that trajectory and ended up applying, interviewing and accepting a role with Sumdog, an online education company, as a District Relationship Manager.
“Relationship Manager at Sumdog? Like Slumdog Millionaire?”
My role with Sumdog was a combination of account management with anemphasis on business development. Our role initially required us to win accounts so was very BD and sales heavy. I really enjoyed this sales and competitive element to the role. Not only was I competing against similar companies, there was definitely competition between my colleagues. About a year into my role with Sumdog, they restructured, allowing me to plan the next move in my career and find my perfect role. Sumdog was an opportunity which afforded me further insight into the relationship management / business development / sales world and again, allowed me to refine exactly what I wanted to do and what I was good at.
“Recruitment. You’ll either be great and love it, or absolutely hate it.”
It was my dad who put me onto recruitment. As a freelance project manager, he has worked with several recruitment consultancies and has built up excellent relationships with them. I ended up having a phone call with my dad’s recruiter friend who runs a top London consultancy. Having spoken through my experience and skill set, he invited me to come to London for a few days and get some experience with them. He ended the conversation with “You’ll either be great and love it, or absolutely hate it.”
I loved it. It was fast-paced, competitive, pressurised as you’re maintaining relationships, developing new business, and selling yourself to prospective clients as the best person to fill their role. You’re searching for the ideal candidate, reaching out to them, selling the role to them, putting them forward for roles, and coaching them on interview techniques while simultaneously bringing in new roles to be working on, meeting new candidates and more. You’re certainly spinning a lot of plates all at once. Where do I sign?
I decided wanted to be in Scotland, so I came back and ended up being reached out to, interviewing with and securing a place at Eden Scott. Although not ‘technically’ being a graduate, they recommended I join the graduate program as this was the sector I wanted to be in and I the programme was a foot in the door. Now here I am; writing this blog at the end of the graduate program, despite graduating 2 years ago.
University is a fantastic experience and teaches so many skills to use throughout life, but don’t expect to know exactly what you’re going to do when you graduate. I knew I wanted to work within the sales / business development / account management world but if you asked me what I would be doing in 2 years’ time, I certainly wouldn’t have said recruitment. From doing business development during the week and running stag dos at weekends, to pitching and demoing education software to decision makers with billion-dollar budgets, and now to working within recruitment, it’s certainly been a few years of refining exactly what I want to do.
My Advice to Grads
University is a compass that points you in the right direction, but doesn’t tell you your destination
University is great for getting a degree opens so many doors for you. If you choose to focus on a humanities subject, your degree will be a more broad education rather than specific skills to aid you in your career. Although, in Philosophy and Theology’s defence, I have managed to start several conversations and form relationships with work colleagues with the statement “I studied Harry Potter at uni”, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t seal the deal on my employment. University taught me analytical skills, time-keeping, working to deadlines, public speaking and far more. It taught me how to engage critically with my peers’ opinions and debate topics, a skill I use every day.
Most universities also have a careers service which can help you with CV writing, interview techniques and help you find the right part-time, internship or graduate role. They are a fantastic resource and worth a visit!
Your first job doesn’t have to be forever.
A disclaimer on this statement: it’s not a good idea to be constantly moving around. It can be a warning flag if you’ve had ten jobs in the past two years and you will almost definitely be asked about this in an interview. However, your first job doesn’t have to be where you’ll spend your entire working life. If you don’t immediately know what to do, get some work experience. If you want to get into an industry, go and ask to do a week’s work experience with a company in that sector. Who knows, they might offer you a job at the end of it!
A huge number of companies, ranging from Financial Services to Retail to Recruitment offer graduate programs. It is worth noting that most graduate program applications close October / November time ready for interviews and assessments centres, so make sure you know closing dates and don’t miss out. Some programs are great for getting an all-round experience of a role. At Eden Scott, for instance, we spent six weeks moving round the various departments to understand each sector and get a feel for each industry. At the end of the rotations we present a business plan for where we feel we will be best suited before (hopefully) being placed with that specific team.
Even if you’re unemployed, do something productive.
YHave you graduated, but still haven’t secured anything? Make the most of your time and continue your learning; Ted talks are a great source of of learning opportunities and inspiration; Coursera offers free courses from top educators worldwide; Google Digital Garage trains you up on digital skills. If you’re a graphic designer or wanting to work in the creative industries, put together a portfolio. All these things will make you stand out from the other graduates actively seeking roles.
- Get a LinkedIn profile! This is your online CV and employers will use LinkedIn to search for new talent. Keep it updated and keep it professional; no one wants your profile picture to be you at a toga party in Ibiza.
- Do your research before an interview. Make sure you know the aims and values of the company. If you can work them into an answer it will undoubtedly impress. Google and LinkedIn search your interviewers to get an understanding of their background.
- Make sure you interview well. If you get nervous, practice - ask someone to do a mock interview with you. We offer mock interviews to our candidates as well as sending them out our “Ace the Interview” guide.
- All those rumours about keeping your Facebook sensible because employers will look at them? They’re true. Either lock it down, or make sure there’s nothing on there you wouldn’t want your prospective boss to see.
- If you’re in a role and being contacted by recruiters, please respond - even if you’re not interested. If you’re not interested, let us know and we’ll stop emailing you. We don’t waste your time, and we don’t waste ours trying to contact you – everybody wins!