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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

December 06, 2012

Not sure what to do when you graduate? Try TEFL

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Today's guest post is from Helen Hargreave of leading TEFL provider, i-to-i. Helen talks through the benefits of teaching abroad - how it can boost your CV, broaden your horizons and help you stand out in a crowded job market.

Thinking about what to do after University? Job climate got you in a panic? Look no further than TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) - your ticket to instant employability.

This is your chance to get ahead of the rat race, boost your CV, gain valuable working experience and travel - the people you meet, cultural immersion and the fun you have are a nice added bonus! If you can speak English you can teach English with no experience necessary, sound tempting?


There are over 1 billion English language learners = the world needs TEFL teachers!

If there was an opportunity for the taking, this is the one. You’ve got a degree, so why do you need a TEFL certificate too? In most countries a degree is needed for visa purposes but a TEFL qualification will provide you with all of the necessary training to make you a confident teacher.

As the demand for English teachers has increased (especially in Asia) employers are also demanding the level of teaching experience and training that comes with a TEFL Certificate.

Which TEFL course is for me?

When choosing your TEFL course and destination, here are a few things to consider:

  • What age group do you want to teach?
  • What kind of hours do you want to work?
  • What kind of environment do you want to work in?
  • How much teaching experience do you have?

Asking yourself these questions will help you find that dream TEFL job!

What happens when I am qualified?

Armed with a degree and a TEFL certificate the world is your oyster! As soon as you’re qualified you can start applying for TEFL jobs all over the world and get paid. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Italy, Nicaragua...wherever takes your fancy!

Explore typical TEFL jobs to discover where you could be and how much you could be earning!

What do most TEFLers do?

At i-to-i we find the most popular TEFL hotspot is China. Home to the Great Wall and Peking duck, China has an extremely high demand for TEFL teachers as many parents are now sending their children to learn English as young as two! With many employers offering free accommodation, airfare and food it’s no wonder that China is top of the destination charts.

Many TEFLers use their new skills to make the most of learning about another culture. Most TEFL contracts are one year long and this might seem like a daunting prospect but there are endless positives to teaching for one year. It is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture, perfect your teaching and get paid for it, get to know your students and more importantly see how YOU’VE impacted their lives - not only this but it demonstrates to future employers your dedication to a worthwhile cause.

Working hours will vary from contract to contract/place to place etc. but on weekends and evenings TEFLers tend to make the most of their new surroundings!

How can I take TEFL further?

TEFL doesn’t have to end after a year. The beauty of TEFL is that it can act as your passport, allowing you to pick up teaching contracts in whichever country takes your fancy and turn TEFL into a long-term career.

Where will TEFL take you? Download our free Top 10 Destinations to find out more.

Helen Hargreave is one of the TEFL Experts at i-to-i the leading course provider. See more articles by Helen on the The TEFL Blog

November 26, 2012

If only…3 things graduates would have done differently

RegretUniversity can be a great experience: it's a time to try new things, broaden your horizons and make memories that last a lifetime. Enjoy what's on offer and you'll find yourself in a win-win situation: having fun whilst accumulating the skills and experiences you need to compete for jobs later on. Just don't leave it too late. Every year, some grads look back on their time with regret; wishing they'd got more involved, and taken time to prepare for life beyond the bubble. Well, hindsight is 20:20 so find out what our grads 'wish they'd done'...

I wish I'd got involved in extra curricular activities

  • It's never too late to rectify this one. Have a look at the SU societies page to see what's going on. Getting involved with clubs and societies is a great way to acquire the skills and qualities employers are looking for. Team work, leadership, communication, problem solving skills - societies provide fertile ground for developing and enhancing these 'transferable skills'. However, you do need to become an active member; passive participation will not create the opportunities or experiences you need to persuade prospective employers. Don't worry if you're not a budding Olympian - there are over 200 clubs and societies, so you're bound to find something that chimes.
  • Try to manoeuvre yourself into a position of responsibility: social secretary, treasurer...or maybe president? Not only will this provide rich pickings for future applications (great for competency questions) but it sends a clear signal to employers that you can handle responsibility and lead from the front.
  • You don't need to stop at societies: if you're politically inclined, there are campaign groups or perhaps you'd like to hone your journalistic talents by writing for the Boar, or contributing to RaW.
  • Have you considered volunteering? Over 10% of our student population are involved with Warwick Volunteers, many of whom find this enormously worthwhile and life-affirming. The projects are challenging and diverse and there's plenty of scope for you to flex your organisational and management skills if you decide to apply for a position as project leader.

I wish I'd applied for internships sooner

  • In some sectors paid, structured internships are used to feed the graduate talent pipeline; if you want to compete (seriously) for jobs in banking and finance, you'll need to go the internship route. And apply early in your second year. Most internships are open to penultimate year students, so you can't afford to adopt a 'wait and see' approach.
  • Don't get too caught up with the semantics. The term 'internship' has morphed into a 'catch all' word for a period of (substantive) work experience, but whether your interest lies in engineering, law or PR you'll need to get some work experience. In some sectors you'll need to be much more proactive in seeking out potential opportunities - speculative approaches may be the way in, so don't sit back and wait for things to happen.
  • Try before you buy! It doesn't matter if you change your mind and decide career success lies elsewhere. Work experience plays an invaluable part in shaping your career ideas. Finding out what you don't want to do, is just as important as realising what you do.
  • If you're not sure where to start, then come along to our work experience drop-in, 10-12 Monday to Friday in the Learning Grid (term time).

I wish I'd used the Careers Service

  • This seems to be a recurrent theme: every year graduates tell us they wish they'd used the services on offer. That's not to say you won't reap the benefits if you return to us as a graduate, but it's much easier (logistically if nothing else) to make the most of the Centre whilst you're on campus, or living nearby.
  • We're not suggesting that you formulate a detailed plan of action mapped out for the next 5 years - starting early can pay dividends but it doesn't mean you're committed to a specific career path. Gathering information about different sectors, understanding what recruiters look for and using this intelligence to shape your university experience and build your CV, is time well spent. We can help whatever stage you're at, whether it's helping you explore your ideas, find work experience, practise your interview technique, hone your CV or apply for postgrad study.
  • It's not unusual for some students to claim our employer focus is too narrow, and overly reliant on the big corporate giants; this is sometimes (conveniently?) cited as a reason for career apathy, "there's nothing here for me". Well, it's true to say the city and finance firms have a strong campus presence, but don't let perception cloud your judgement. We are actively working with 98 of the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers and have a flourishing sector event programme covering areas as diverse as retail, HR, arts, public sector, technology and international development. Add to this an increasing range of niche events available in your department; many of which are led by your careers consultant or in collaboration with target employers. So, what's stopping you? Check out the schedule and come along.

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.

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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