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January 31, 2013

A first night, not a dress rehearsal: acting professionally during a graduate internship

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Stripy sock manCalling all students and grads: before you step into the workplace, think about your behaviour and the impression you want to create. In this post, Kimberley from our Placement Learning Unit, tackles the thorny issue of professionalism in the workplace...

Your first forays into a professional working environment as a graduate can be unnerving. Leaving full-time education, where you are increasingly encouraged to consider yourself a favourite customer, entitled to all sorts of services and facilities, can be a shock. Even during the holidays, when many students perform the same role as full-time, permanent staff, there can still be a sense for both parties that this is part of the student experience. It is only after graduation that the familiar sense of context falls away, removing all of your usual cues and references for expected attitudes and behaviour. Insecurities can set in: How do I act? Will I be treated like an adult, or the “new kid”? Am I allowed to ask for help?

What is professionalism?

Professionalism, as a set of behaviours and values alongside your key employability skills is your armour against these insecurities. Acting professionally in a work environment is vital in order to uphold your organisation’s standards and brand and avoid potential embarrassment. It's also your key to gaining the respect and support of your colleagues, with the sense of understanding and belonging that these bring. Longer-term, developing a reputation for professionalism can benefit your career; in an environment with high stress or conflict - or where discretion is highly prized - behaving in an appropriate and professional manner will get you noticed. For the right reasons!

Monster, the career management portal, lists ten ways to be professional at work adapted below. Perhaps you’ve learned these the hard way, but it's worth checking in now and again to make sure you embody - and reflect - positive working values:

1. Competence. You have the skills and knowledge that enable you to do your job well. As an intern, your job may be to learn first, then do!

2. Reliability. People can depend on you to show up, and submit work, on time.

3. Honesty. You tell the truth and are upfront about where things stand. Careful not to be outspoken or rude, and make sure you’re ready for any repercussions if offering criticism.

4. Integrity. You are known for your consistent principles.

5. Respect for Others. You treat everyone as if they matter. Grasping the preferred level of formality when speaking to your managers is a quick win.

6. 'Self-Upgrading'. Rather than letting your skills or knowledge become outdated, you seek out ways of staying current. As an intern, showing you are an eager, self-starting learner goes a long way.

7. Being Positive. Avoid pessimism. Having an upbeat attitude and trying to be a problem-solver makes a big difference

8. Supporting Others. You share the spotlight with colleagues and work well as part of your team.

9. Staying Work-Focused. Not letting your private life needlessly impact on your job.

10.Listening Carefully. You check understanding and give people a chance to be heard.

In reality, professionalism could be dictated by company policies (e.g. internet/social media/mobile phone use), by the examples made by senior members of staff (it could be important to sense-check whether you have chosen the right person to emulate!), or by the more intangible “culture” of your office or organisation (e.g. dress-code). It’s important that you bring yourself up to date immediately with any company policies, as failing to uphold these could result in dismissal – ask your line manager or HR department if you are not sure what applies to you, or where to find it. Your team’s notion of professionalism will be more subtle – notice when colleagues make disapproving comments or display negative body language in response to someone’s behaviour, particularly regarding personal boundaries, communication with customers, or teamwork.

Think before you act

When you are on an internship, it’s important to run through a quick internal checklist that will immediately put you in the best position:

  • Who is my direct “boss”? Who else has control of my workload/line management?
  • Who will I work closely with?
  • What policies are in place that I might need to read through?
  • What are other people wearing, and how are they behaving in their work areas? (check dress code and food/drink/lunch arrangements as a bare minimum)
  • When will I need to actively demonstrate my professionalism?
  • Who or what might tempt me to behave unprofessionally?

Behaviours to avoid

CV blogger Kate Seidametova, writing on US website Resumark, notes some of her top behaviours to avoid:

1. Arguing or engaging in an open conflict with a co-worker. Disagreeing is OK (and can sometimes produce a more informed decision) but do it respectfully and politely and don’t cross the line. Use good judgment and watch your manners.

2. Dressing “too casually”. If you come to work sloppily dressed your looks will portray an image of a disorganized and messy worker. Dress professionally, especially if you your boss is on a conservative side

3. Making comments or jokes that could be offensive to others. Always avoid references to anyone’s personal characteristics such as nationality, race, gender, appearance or religious beliefs at work. (Be careful not to be lulled by “office banter” – you’ll still be responsible for your own words, should you be overheard)

4. Raising your voice or acting on emotions. If you’re an emotional person, try to take a break and calm down before an important conversation. People often do and say things driven by a spur of the moment that they later regret.

5. Lying. Being deceitful or dishonest will tarnish your reputation for life if you get caught. It is just not worth it.

Over time, you will begin to define your own idea of what constitutes professionalism, based on the behaviours you have seen in yourself and others, good and bad. You will be influenced by the cultures that you have worked in, their level of formality and the specific challenges of those environments. Wherever you go, and wherever you end up, Kate’s final words on the subject make a mantra worth repeating:

Professional behaviour is never having a need to prove that you are superior to anyone else

November 12, 2012

Making the most of your internship

Klara KanFinal year student Klara Kan reflects on her recent internships with PwC and HSBC and shares her thoughts on making the most of your work experience...

Career choice is a tough decision to make. Internships can really help you make more informed decisions, and potentially secure a graduate position at the end of the internship. Over the summer, I had the valuable opportunity to complete two internships at PwC (London) and HSBC (Hong Kong) respectively. While both offered me totally different experiences, what is common is that I have learned so much from the internships that I would not have been able to acquire from my formal studies alone.

Be proactive

Most large companies nowadays offer internships to penultimate year students. As in my case, they are often very structured and tailored to university students. Both organisations I worked for valued interns’ personal development and were greatly supportive. So it is important that students take on as much as they can. During my internships, I was proactive in asking for extra work. I wanted to make the most out of my time and I was glad that I did. It was also a fantastic opportunity for me to observe others around me. There is only so much I could learn from the company website and brochure. The way my colleagues interacted, talked or even dressed, told me a lot about the organisation’s structure and culture, and what made them successful in their careers.

Set objectives

At the beginning of an internship, I set a list of objectives and discussed them with my mentor. For example, for my internship at the professional services firm, I set my objectives as follows:

  • Understand the firm’s structure and different lines of services; the team’s structure and operation.
  • Acquire and apply new skills, business and technical knowledge.
  • Understand the different stages of an audit, the work involved, responsibilities and methodologies.
  • Perform assigned tasks in line with the firm’s documentation standards and methodology; proactively seek feedback to improve performance and incorporate feedback into actions.
  • Contribute to the team to the best of my ability and be proactive in helping the team.
  • Network and build relationships with other interns, team members and staff in my business unit.
  • Be proactive and curious in all my work and throughout my internship.
  • Bring a fresh insight/ suggest new ideas to clients/ teams.
  • Understand the market/ sector and clients’ needs; serve clients.
  • Make best use of my free time; find sectors I am interested in and be proactive in seeking opportunities for work shadowing or work in those sectors.

I also had regular meetings with my mentor and the HR to talk about my progress. I found this to be extremely beneficial because not only did they discuss my performance with me, they also explored my long term career options and goals with me. The business environment is dynamic and rapidly changing, what employers look for in graduates now is an agile mindset and flexibility. At both professional services firms and banks, it is very common for employees to change departments at different stages of their careers. I was very open during those meetings, discussed my options and aspirations with them and sought their advice.

Take responsibility

I carried out unsupervised work most of the time during my internships. After rigorous selection processes, it makes perfect sense that companies have high expectations of their interns. The work that I performed mainly consisted of what a new graduate joiner would do, so the internship gave me a real taste of what it would be like if I were to join them upon graduation. While it was essential for me to perform tasks under minimal supervision and to a high standard, it was equally important for me to make sure I asked for clarifications when areas were not clear to me. In advance of taking up work, I also did pre-reading to get a grasp of the context. As an intern, I had to pick up complicated subject matter quickly. Interns may make mistakes and errors, but what is crucial is to learn from them and improve continuously. Proactiveness is highly valued.

Another aspect of my internships that I really enjoy is networking with different level of staff across the firm. I make useful contacts and also become very good friends with some interns. Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed my internships and I would encourage students from all disciplines to apply for one. It is never too early to start.

*Klara is a final year management student and careers rep for WBS.

September 25, 2012

Working at Christie's

Katy Richards

Ever wondered what it was like to work for Christie's? Well, you can find out in today's guest post from Warwick grad, Katy Richards. Katy tells us how she worked her way into her current role as Executive Assistant to Christie's CEO...

I applied for the Christie’s internship programme when I was still at Warwick, as I thought the scheme would be a great way to get real hands-on experience. I was right: from my first day, I felt very involved and as I began to prove myself I was given more tasks and projects. It was also my foot in the door.

My tutor at Warwick encouraged me to apply for placements in a selection of departments, to increase my chances of getting an interview. I interviewed with the press office, knowing almost nothing about PR, but they took me on because I was keen, motivated, and my degree proved I can write. Which is key for writing press releases! As my 6 month internship was coming to an end I was offered, and happily took, an internship in marketing. A few months later, the role of Coordinator for the European PR team came up. They already knew me, I knew how the department worked … I interviewed and got the job!

I was in the press office for a year and loved it. I was in charge of all department administration, and provided support to our other press offices in Europe. I most enjoyed preparing for the London evening auctions. Journalists come to those sales, expecting to be looked after, provided with stats after the auction, Christie’s thoughts on the art market etc. The team all stay for the auction, watching it on a TV in the office, whist updating spread sheets with each lot’s final price as the hammer falls. I also ran the press campaigns for a couple of specialist departments, which allowed me to work with our specialists, write a press release for their sales and pitch to journalists.

After a year, I was asked to interview for a temporary position, as personal assistant to the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer. The job was originally a 2-3 month secondment, after which I would return back to press. HR wanted an internal candidate who has existing knowledge and understanding of how Christie’s worked. I hadn’t been thinking of a change, but the opportunity of meeting the CEO was one I couldn’t miss. I interviewed with Steven and he offered me the job. It was a steep learning curve, but I was lucky that as he was new to Christie’s we could learn together! After a couple of months, he asked me to take on the role permanently.

My title is now Executive Assistant and my job involves planning the CEO’s schedule and all his travel, helping him prepare for meetings, events, speeches and anything else I can. I have a line manager and assistant, and together we support the CEO in running the company! I get to travel a little, which is demanding but great fun.

I believe that I got each job I have held at Christie’s because I have always been enthusiastic, a problem-solver, and I remain quite calm under pressure. I do try to network, but I think it’s when you really start to work your way up that that becomes a key tool for ‘opening doors’. To date, it’s been what I know, not who I know. I find Christie’s and the art market fascinating, and working alongside a new CEO allows me to understand and be a part of the changes he is making to help our company grow.

*Katy graduated in 2008 with a degree in History of Art.

September 12, 2012

A day in the life of an ad intern

Charles Oben

Charles Oben graduated from Warwick this summer with a 2:1 in French with International Studies. In a previous blog post Charles revealed how impressed employers were with his visual CV and soon after was offered an internship with Adconion Media Group. I recently caught up with Charles to find out how's he getting on...

What does your job involve?

I’m a sales intern within the Global Sales Team for Adconion Media Group, a performance driven online advertising network. Adconion, amongst other things, run online display campaigns (those ads you see parading all over the net) and try to get consumers to interact with them. My job is end to end campaign management for these campaigns; set-up, optimization, reporting, invoicing and post-campaign analysis.

How much training were you given?

Training lasted for the first few weeks and involved a complete introduction into the business; learning about the relationship between ad networks, publishers and clients, understanding all the different roles within the varied stages of campaign management, and learning how to use all of the in house systems. It was a lot to take in initially but an interesting learning process.

What does a typical working day look like?

Cliché as it may sound, no day is exactly the same as it depends on many things like which campaigns are live and if they’re experiencing any problems, or if we have any campaigns to set up and what type. So things change, but I do have some routine duties:

  • Every morning I pull up the pacing report which tells me how all our campaigns are performing and then I send this off with notes to the relevant delivery managers so they can make changes.
  • On Tuesdays and Thursdays the Global Sales Team has its campaign management meeting where we look at all the campaigns that are currently live and decide what steps need to be taken next. In these meetings I give an overview of each campaign’s performance.
  • Recently, I was given five campaigns to manage and so I’m responsible for all the client communications and sending out weekly reports with the latest stats showing the performance.

How much responsbility have you been given?

The training wheels are off and I’d say that I’ve been given quite a bit of responsibility, and I’m gradually getting more all the time. I think to be given your own campaigns to manage only after a few weeks of training is an achievement. Obviously I still have much to learn, but I like that I’ve been given the chance to really get stuck in with the work.

How closely do you work with other graduates and interns?

There are four interns working in sales at the moment, I don’t really work with two of them as they’re in a different department, but one of the interns sits next to me and our responsibilities often overlap.

What is the best part of your job?

The office culture, without a doubt. Working in advertising is fun and that’s certainly the case in Adconion. Everybody is really warm and friendly, there’s music playing throughout the day, people talking and the table tennis table in the breakout area gets used a lot. We had our own Office Olympics not too long ago and amongst other things, there was an arm wrestling competition and chicken limbo contest. People work hard, but they play hard too.

What tips would you give to other students wanting to work in this area?

Be likeable, network, and do a lot of stuff, particularly the last two. During my interview, my degree was only mentioned in passing (as it’s not related to advertising) and I was simply asked if I got a 2:1. My interviewers were far more interested in my work experience, all the extracurricular activities I had done and the fact that my CV proved that I was very proactive.

I also only found out about the internship through networking – one of the people I now sit opposite to is the sister to one of my brother’s friends who I met during the Queen’s jubilee. So I certainly think networking is important!

* Charles also blogs about his experiences as a new grad in the working world.

August 21, 2012

My B–Hive experience: from creative brief to the NEC


This is a guest post by Kate Watson, who graduated from Warwick this year with a degree in Theatre and Performance Studies. Kate entered the prestigious B-Hive competition and won a top placement with the NEC Group. She recounts her incredible experience here...

I've always been passionate about theatre and chose my degree based on this, hoping to find an area of the arts that I could pursue as a career. After completing a marketing module and working in the marketing department of the Royal Concert Hall Nottingham, I knew this was where my future lay. Unfortunately - often due to misconceptions - theatre students sometimes get overlooked when it comes to business related jobs. The B-Hive competition was my way of proving to myself (and employers) that I was as able as any other degree student to succeed in marketing. And I did!

B-Hive - what's it all about?

For those of you who haven't heard of the B-Hive competition, it's an opportunity for students from universities across the West Midlands to put their skills in marketing, PR, Advertising, Graphic Design and Web Design to the test by responding to a creative brief posted online. The judges select the best responses, inviting students to present their ideas to a panel of industry professionals; last year's panel included representatives from Deloitte, NEC Group & National Express. It's a great way to get your name out there and offers a fantastic (and much sought after) opportunity to gain paid work experience, with some of the Midlands biggest recruiters.

Working at the NEC Group gave me invaluable experience of working for a large organisation - experience that I probably wouldn't have got otherwise. The NEC Group incorporates several large venues across Birmingham, including the NEC, ICC, NIA and LG Arena, as well as ticketing agent The Ticket Factory and catering company Amadeus. Consequently, the office is a fast-paced, vibrant place to work, full of busy - yet friendly - staff each making a contribution to a different area of the organisation.

Getting experience

My main role during my time at the NEC was in digital marketing. This presented both challenge and opportunity, as it was a not an area I'd previously considered working in. Amadeus had gained a large contract - catering at the Olympic park during the games - and consequently wanted to update their website to highlight the variety of events they cater for and services they provide. The main website template had been created and I was responsible for inputting visual elements of the website, ensuring the images used reflected the key themes and messages within the website copy. This task highlighted how important branding was to each strand of the NEC Group as each part of the organisation had to exist independently with its own key aims and messages, while existing under an umbrella organisation, the NEC Group. I think this gave me an excellent insight into marketing strategy and how to align the message and the delivery.

Working in a large organisation

I was introduced to the advanced and intelligent e-bulletin system the NEC Group used in order to target customers effectively with events. Due to the large variety of events taking place in each of the venues, it is important that customers are not bombarded with information about everything taking place at the venues each month. Consequently, a system is used which tailors an e-bulletin to each customer's needs, advertising Justin Bieber to previous concert attenders of his or similar concerts, while promoting car shows to automotive enthusiasts. While I have used segmentation previously to understand audiences needs and wants, I have never seen it used on such a scale - a direct result of working for such a large organisation with the financial resources to introduce such sophisticated technology.

Looking ahead

Working at the NEC Group allowed me to experience working for a large organisation. Having worked for smaller companies previously I have now had the opportunity to explore the pros and cons of each, and consider my options for the future when pursuing my career in marketing. During my placement I had an interview at the Town Hall, Symphony Hall Birmingham, securing a more permanent position as Marketing Assistant (maternity cover). Unfortunately this meant that I had to cut short my time with the NEC Group, but I am extremely grateful for the whole experience and know that it will continue to pay dividends in terms of the skills I've gained and the contacts I've made. In applying for the B-Hive competition I was determined to stretch myself and show that I could thrive in a fast-paced, commercial environment and thanks to the NEC Group, I've done it. Future employers will now see that I am an arts graduate with creativity and business experience and I feel confident that this combination will help me stand out when applying for more permament roles in marketing.

The final word...

I would certainly encourage Warwick students to apply for B-Hive. Not only will it give you fantastic experience in a creative industry environment, but potentially a great head start to your career. Submit that brief - you don’t know where it might take you!

* If you're tempted to have a go, check B-Hive for further info and dates for your diary

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