All entries for July 2012

July 31, 2012

My internship with the FSA

Andy Waters

Andy Watters, MA student in International Political Economy, tells us about his internships with the FSA; how the experience helped him secure a graduate role and where it could take him in future.

What was your work experience?

In the summers of both my second and final years I worked as a summer intern at the Financial Services Authority. Both internships were 12 weeks long. For the first placement I worked in a Managing Director’s Office and for the second I worked in the organisation’s international division. I secured the first internship by being successful in the organisation’s 7-stage application process, and I was subsequently invited back for a second summer.

What did you learn and achieve?

The internships helped me develop in several areas that have since proven invaluable both with my academic work and further professional applications. It taught me how to stay motivated when working on projects with long time horizons, how to quickly and accurately identify relevant stakeholders for a piece of work, as well as how to be flexible and adaptable in my approach to work. In addition, the unique position of the FSA as the sole UK regulator provided me with a comprehensive overview of the British financial sector, and indeed how it fits into the larger economy, neither of which I was knowledgeable about before.

How will you market this experience to employers?

Ultimately I am striving for a profession in government along the lines of economic policy analyst or consultant, so the fact that I now understand how financial policy interacts with monetary and fiscal policy will definitely help me stand out in the future. In addition, I worked on projects that directly contributed to regulatory streams at the international level, and well as those that have since been distributed throughout the organisation to working level supervisors and senior level executives alike, which I am particularly proud of. However, more valuable than all of that is the sense of professionalism and confidence that I have acquired through working at the FSA; that has definitely been the single biggest gain for me.

What's next?

Once I finish my Masters dissertation I’ll begin a graduate post at the Bank of England in their Markets Division. That’ll last for at least two and a half years, at which point I’ll apply to rotate somewhere else within the Bank. After that, who knows? Regardless of where your career eventually takes you, I would 100% recommend work experience to other students. It’ll develop your business acumen in the field you’re interested in, help you to build on your oral and written communication skills and probably involve learning to operate effectively as part of a team too. Ultimately, work experience will give you the confidence and independence you’ll need to pursue and secure the graduate job you want.

July 25, 2012

Show what you know: the key to interview success

WhyThe 'why' questions are an integral part of any interview process. John Edwards, Graduate Recruitment Manager at the BT Group, explains why they matter and how to answer them.

Yes, it's competitive

Graduate recruitment selection processes are becoming more and more competitive as the leading universities globally deliver more and more highly qualified and talented students into the world of work. Do treat this as a competition, make yourself stand out from the crowd! A key differentiator for most employers will be how passionate you are about the career choice you have made and why you have chosen to apply for a role in their company. Other candidates will have similar levels of experience and knowledge in your chosen subject as yourself, but can they demonstrate as much commitment and passion as you?

Why this organisation?

Do your homework on the organisation. Make sure you can answer the following:

  • What is their customer base? Is it diverse or niche?
  • What challenges do they face in the market? How are they tackling those challenges?
  • How are they structured? Do they have different divisions? What do those divisions deliver?
  • Does a particular aspect in the company really appeal to you?

You need to get your facts straight. What do you know about share price (moving up or down?), revenue, turnover, employees, profit figures, recent announcements (good news or bad news). Be prepared to put your own personal spin on this – what does all this mean to you? Finally, you need to be absolutely convincing when asked, "What attracts you to this company?". If you are going to spend 2-3 hours filling in an application form or you are going to travel to an interview or give up a day to attend an assessment centre, 30-60mins thinking about these things is time very well spent!

Why this role?

So, why have you chosen to apply for a certain role? Why have you made this career choice? It is likely that this will be your first real job outside of an internship. How have you reached the decision to be a software developer, an accountant, a consultant? Why do you want to work in marketing, HR, law? If you can’t answer these questions there will be other candidates who can! You need to make your reason compelling. Remember the person who will be interviewing you is likely to be passionate and committed to this area as they have a career in it already. If you come across as driven it is likely you will work hard to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed and make a difference. This will make you stand out from your competition.

And finally...

Be proud to talk about any research you have done. Do you follow any career specific press i.e. Personnel Today, People Management? What do you know about the CiPD. For marketing, do you follow certain marketing campaigns? Are there technology blogs that you follow? What have you done in your spare time to prepare yourself for your first step into this career choice? Work experience, job shadowing, conferences, events? Be creative and share what you have done on your application and in interviews.

Perhaps all that seems like hard work and it is! But view at as an investment, do it in a committed way and you will reap the rewards on applications, in interviews and at assessment centres.

July 21, 2012

Should you take a stop–gap job?


It's easy to feel despondent about the graduate market; headlines screaming out news of 52 applicants chasing every vacancy, are enough to weaken the resolve of the most resilient job seeker. So should you be taking a low skilled, stop-gap job to cushion yourself against unemployment or wait for something better?

It ain't what you do, it's the way that you sell it!

Online forums are littered with anecdotal evidence that filler jobs are good – "any experience is better than none" and bad – "recruiters will think you lack focus and motivation". I think the argument centres less around what you do, than how you sell it. It calls to mind a recent conversation I had with one of our graduate recruiters, who was keen to stress that relevant work experience – whilst desirable – is only meaningful where the applicant clearly articulates the benefits. And many don't. You can go further with less, so don't write yourself off because you haven't had any industry or sector experience. Stop-gap or filler jobs can offer a surprisingly rich seam to draw from.

An AGR report released earlier this year suggested that Employers can't always find graduates with the right skills. A third of all recruiters failed to meet their recruitment targets for the 2010/11 cycle, with many employers citing a skills deficit as a contributory factor. Effective communication skills and team working capabilities are valued highly by employers, but these are areas of particular weakness for many graduate applicants. And here's the thing: these are exactly the skills that you'll acquire through temporary, stop-gap or 'filler' roles. Holding out for your big break might spare your pride, but fallow time will add nothing to your CV and simply leave recuiters wondering whether you can adapt to a work environment.

Look on the bright side

  • When the time comes for you to move into more substantive, challenging role, you'll be 'work ready'. Don't underestimate the importance of this. Punctuality and time keeping are essential whether you're working a bar shift or modelling economic growth.
  • Whatever the job you'll probably encounter colleagues you like and respect, and those you don't. Again this is good preparation for – and a mirror of – the professional workplace.
  • You'll acquire the evidence and examples to strengthen future applications. Telling an employer that you've worked in a call centre is unlikely to impress: telling them that you've developed organisational, communication and team working skills in a customer-facing role may go a little further.
  • Stop-gap jobs may not be the most fulfilling, but they'll keep you afloat financially whilst you re-double your efforts to find more challenging work.
  • If you're still trying to find your career niche, temping can be a great way of exploring different fields and may lead to some interesting opportunities. And at worst? Well you'll have some breathing space to consider where your future lies.
  • With the right approach and positive attitude, you'll develop a strong work ethic. This isn't just desirable, it's essential if you want to compete for graduate-track jobs.

Yes, there is a 'but'...

If you're still working in a bar two years after graduation it might be time to take stock. It's important for your self esteem (and 'employability') to keep moving forward and you probably won't be learning anything new after two years in a service oriented job. Good administrative skills are a must-have for many entry level and graduate positions, so why not find office or admin roles instead?

Remaining in a job that stifles your motivation is counter-productive, as you'll permeate negativity through any applications and interviews. For cash strapped graduates taking a filler job is often a necessity, but try to avoid stagnating in the same job.

A few tips:

  • Don't define yourself by your 'filler' job. You need to continue building your CV, but you can accomplish this through other means: learn a language, volunteer, set up a website, or start blogging.
  • You may not be in your chosen sector, but you can still make contacts. Join a professional association (if relevant), follow companies (and individuals) on Twitter and don't be afraid to use LinkedIn as a resource and network.
  • Set yourself a timescale for when you want to move on and stick to it. Or try to! Be realistic about what you can achieve and when, but don't expect change by osmosis. You have to put yourself in the driving seat.
  • You don't want to be pigeon-holed as a job-hopper, so move on when you need to, but stay long enough to pick up a good reference.
  • Improve your digital literacy, as over 90% of new jobs will require excellent digital skills. Gen Y are often seen as the tech savvy generation, but there's a huge gulf between being digitally aware and digitally proficient.
  • Keep applying. If you lose motivation, you lose direction and find yourself further way from your goals. Don't be afraid to ask for help with your CV and applications – there are plenty of people you can tap for advice (not least Student Careers and Skills, which you can access for three years after graduation)

And remember, a stop-gap job is just a staging post on the way to something better.

July 16, 2012

Beyond the Warwick bubble

Your future

Thanks to Emily for providing this entertaining and thought-provoking 'retrospective' of her time at Warwick...

Three years at Warwick have come to an end – I’ve left the 'bubble' for the last time, sold my books and destroyed three years of notes.

It’s an interesting time to be a graduate. After this week I’ll be a fully-fledged adult entering the ‘real world’, but with media articlestelling us fun facts about our graduate prospects (75% of employers are looking for students with 2:1 or higher, and that 66% of students get a 2:1 anyway), I’m getting fed up of feeling like a statistic. What else have I gained from university? What makes Warwick students stand out?

So I’m taking stock of what I’ve learned from Warwick, from approximately seven hundred hours of lectures and seminars (that’s some very rough maths) to everything else that’s happened in this chapter of my life, and I’ve got to admit that the number of opportunities I’ve had outside of the classroom has been pretty astounding.

I’ve been a pig/witch/fairy/dwarf (in a panto, although I’m sure I also felt like a pig and a witch during my exams...), fronted a rock band, presented a radio show, designed posters, run societies, done a bit of Shakespeare, run a festival, and probably forgotten a bunch of other things that I tried out in my first year when I joined around twenty societies on the same day.

Aside from these things being a bit ridiculous and ridiculously fun, they’ve also helped me develop as a person, as clichéd as it sounds.

As much as Warwick students get involved with this stuff for fun and not for what it does for our careers prospects, these things really have made all the difference. Without having done much paid work while at uni, I’ve now got a pretty packed CV and have had a hand in everything from marketing and events management to financial planning, the kinds of things that employers expect you to be at least familiar with (or so I’m finding out).

What have I learned?

One of the most important things I’ve learned is that everything I’ve done at university has contributed to who I am and given me skills that help me to sell myself, and even know myself better. I’m never going to be much of a sportswoman, but I can work with a team to run events. My radio presenting skills won’t be winning me any awards, but my communication skills have definitely improved... and so on.

Even though I don’t have the next five years of my life planned out, I’ve come away from Warwick with a good degree and a wide range of skills under my belt, thanks to the over two hundred and fifty student societies and the lovely people at the Careers and Skills who have helped me realise that it’s the other things we do – from small roles in plays to the mammoth task of running a society – that make us more than just statistics to employers.

We all know that degrees are important, but one of the best things Warwick can do for us is give us the chance to develop other skills that are invaluable in the real world, and opportunities that just don’t come up every day outside of a university environment. All we then have to do is work out what they’ve taught us, add them to that CV, and go hunting for the dream job (it’s out there somewhere...!).

So remember: I’m not a statistic. I’m a creative, adaptable, Warwick graduate who is fantastic at multitasking – and so are you. And if you should ever need a witch or a dwarf...

Emily Middleton is a Warwick graduate and has recently started work as a social media and PR account co-ordinator for Perfectly Social, a social media consultancy.

July 11, 2012

How to avoid fake internships


We've got a great post this week from Asaf, one of our careers consultants, talking about fake internships. Most organisations offer placements in good faith, but there are some unscrupulous ones out there. Make sure you know what to look out for and what to avoid.

Would you pay someone to get you a job? Would you pay someone to guarantee you an internship? If you are tempted to say “yes”, you need to know how to distinguish between a fraudulent offer and a genuine one.

I was recently approached by a student who was almost tempted to say yes and in the process, lose some serious money.

Let me take you through our journey...
*John saw an advert on a national job search website – the kind of website we all use. The ad was about an internship programme in the US. He clicked, sent his CV, and waited. A couple of days later he was invited for a telephone interview with the “US-EU Global Internship Agency”. What followed was a standard 30 minutes interview – it seemed professional, if generic. Four hours after the interview, he received an email offering him an internship with a company called “Global Financial Expertise” in the US. Great! The email also reminded him about a fee of $2250, payable to the agency. Not so great. At this stage John contacted Careers & Skills to ask for advice.

My first reaction was to be cautious – agencies don’t usually charge candidates. Agencies charge companies and in return they help companies to find – and place – suitable candidates. But there may be genuine agents or service providers who offer services, training, and even access to employers for a fee. Was “US-EU Global Internship Agency” one of them? By asking a few simple questions, you can find out quite quickly whether the organisation is genuine, or fake.

What do I get for my money?
We have seen companies that charge hundreds of pounds for a simple CV check that you can get for free from your careers service. In our case, the only thing the agent was offering John was a link with an American company.

What kind of internship is on offer here?
You need to find out more. What does the placement involve? What projects will you be working on, and where?

My advice was to call the company and ask them if they are aware of an agency that charges money for placing interns with them, but before sharing that with John, I decided to do some digging of my own. My curiousity was piqued and I wanted to find out more. Here's what I did:

  1. I googled “Global Financial Expertise”. Interestingly, the first result on the page was its Facebook page. Although you would expect Facebook to have a high page ranking, you wouldn't expect a company's Facebook page to appear before the company website. It also had a presence on LinkedIn. But when I searched further I found it didn't appear as a company at all, but as a group. Anyone can open a group on LinkedIn! I also couldn’t find any employees of the company there. This doesn't have to mean anything but I was immediately suspicious.
  2. I found their website. Yes, they had one. But – and this is a pretty big but – it just didn’t look like a website of a reputable financial company that recruits interns abroad. It used generic images, very little text, and I couldn’t see any company registration numbers or employees
  3. I checked their contact details. There was a telephone number and address but when I used Google Maps to locate the address, I found 25 other companies registered at the same address! I used Street View to tour the area. It didn’t look much like a global financial centre.
  4. As a final throw of the dice I went to the Warwick library business databases and used Factiva to search for “Global Financial Expertise”. Now that was interesting. I found news items from 2010 about withdrawing the company’s licence. So if the company is still operating today, it does so illegally. A quick google search for “Global Financial Expertise fraud” generated more evidence. There was little room for mistake; the company had been instructed to close down a couple of years ago.

This was the end of the journey for me. The agency is most likely part of the scam. Google them, and you find nothing. If I were John, I wouldn’t even take the trouble to phone them. Better to stick with employers that pay you, not the other way around. Scam internships are a very real problem, but you can avoid them.

Top tips

  • Be careful of agencies that charge you. What do you get for that money? Is the fee reasonable? Google the company name. Look at their website carefully. Can you get a sense of a real company with people, offices, clients and activities? Or are they “virtual”?
  • Search business databases like Factiva for news items about the company.
  • Google the company name + “scam” or “fraud”.
  • Check LinkedIn. Can you find employees from this company? Clients? If possible, contact them and ask further questions.
  • Look out for poor spelling and grammar – this can often the sign of a fake recruiter. Not all companies use specialist copywriters, but the genuine ones will certainly try to produce accurate, consistent and professional copy.

* All names and identifiers have been changed.

July 2012

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