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Account Executive: Inspire Me

Weronika ZBenning1 June 2016

As part of our #UCLInspireMe series, Arthur talks to us about his Account Executive role at Gorkana, an award-winning media intelligence company.  Here he talks to us about how he got this role and shares some tips for UCL students who want to get into the sector.  For more insights from recent graduates working for smaller organisations, visit https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-careers/ and search #SMEProfile.

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How did you get into your role?

My name is Arthur, I’m 24 and have been working as an Account Executive at Gorkana since April 2015. I finished a master’s degree in Autumn 2014, followed by two comms internships in the charity sector. Because I was involved in PR, I’d obviously heard of Gorkana, though not for its analysis services. I had spent a (perhaps excessive) amount of time ‘playing’ with its media database – a must-have tool at the outset of any PR planning and campaign targeting. I found out about my current role simply by going on the Careers section of the Gorkana website. Having always had a keen interest in the media, the description of the role really appealed to me, was roughly in line with what I’d recently been studying (political communications) and let’s be honest – I needed a job. Slightly disenchanted by the early days of my job hunt, during which I was told I was either “overqualified” or didn’t have “enough experience”, I applied to Gorkana with relatively low hopes, I must say. I was impressed with the first contact I had – a prompt response by HR and a real demonstration of interest in my background. From that moment, it all went quite fast. I had an interview, a test, and a few days later – I had a job!

What are the best things about working in your role?

I think one of the best things about Gorkana is that it really invests in people. Pretty much my whole first month in the company was dedicated to training me and other newbies. When so many companies are obsessed with work experience – even for entry-level positions – and simply won’t give you a chance if you don’t have the experience – the experience that no one gives you the opportunity to build – it was refreshing to find Gorkana was not one of them. While a solid academic record and some experience are undeniably valuable, Gorkana gave me a chance to demonstrate my value in the workplace without a set range of pre-selective, arbitrary requirements. And I hope I’m not getting ahead of myself by saying that, but I think it’s been relatively successful so far.

As for the role itself, there are many rewarding aspects to our work. Finding out that your report is discussed at an organisation’s managerial meeting or used as the basis for PR strategy is one of them. Generally, when clients express gratitude for what we do for them, it’s a nice feeling. I also like working in a fairly niche industry, which simultaneously gives you an interesting overview and glimpse into the world of media. There is huge variety of clients here at Gorkana: from government agencies to financial groups, charities, clothing companies, transport companies, videogames publishers, tech companies… We get a lot of insider knowledge on a vast array of sectors, some of which we probably wouldn’t learn anything about otherwise.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

The technicality of the job can be a bit overwhelming at first, but that’s what the training is for, and like everything else, it takes time. I never felt like I was thrown into the deep end, but at the same time, I was trusted and given the opportunity to get stuck in right away and progress rapidly. Deadlines can be demanding and inevitably clash. When new to a company, it’s virtually impossible to predict how long things are going to take or anticipate the various issues that are going to arise, so it has its challenges. But it’s not something to panic about – we work in teams and people help eachother. There is a huge sense of accommodation and problem solving. People work hard, but not blindly and unnecessarily hard. I hear of workplaces where you have to stay until at least 7pm everyday even if you don’t have anything to do, just to look good in front of management – Gorkana is not one of those places.

Job roles at Gorkana are also really interwoven, which can be challenging when you’re used to working by yourself at university. Even back at uni, I used to dislike working with others on projects, presentations etc. It was always somewhat chaotic – people would disagree and go in different directions, I was never happy with what came out of it. In a professional context, it’s challenging but also much more ordered and efficient. And necessary. You don’t achieve anything by yourself in the workplace – or not quite. You have to listen and be heard. Team work is the essence of any work.

What top tips would you pass on to a student interested in this type of work?

I always found that spending a decent amount of time on a company’s website was key to taking in what the company was about, its ethos and where you would fit in – what you would bring personally. There is a reason why all that stuff is written on there – companies showcase themselves in that way and communicate things that are meaningful to them. So they should be meaningful to you. You don’t have to be an expert in a sector you’re trying to get into – your interest will be more crucial but will need to be substantiated with a perceptive understanding of the work you might be doing and its wider environment. That applies particularly to companies where the technicality of the work is not necessarily something you can learn from previous experiences. Rather than looking at whether you know things, what will be looked at is whether you’re capable – and in particular able to learn and to adapt to a team, immerse yourself in an environment that you’re by definition not familiar with.

I regret not having taken more advantage of my uni days to build up a greater amount of work experience. This is primarily what is looked at by a lot of companies, although I do believe the key is – rather than accumulating lots of experience – to build good, relevant experience. Quality over quantity. And be smart and selective about how you present yourself to an employer – tailoring your profile to their needs and expectations.

 

Gorkana is attending UCL Careers’ Global Citizenship Employability Programme, where they will be participating in a “speed interviews” event. They will also be at the UCL Jobs Market, taking place on Wednesday 8th of June, advertising vacancies with immediate starts.

Chris Penny’s Communications Internship at Portland Press

Weronika ZBenning5 May 2016

Internships, placements, work shadowing….when it comes to selecting a career they’re all great ways to ‘try before you buy’. Some UCL PhD programmes contain a mandatory placement period, a few months where students must do something unrelated to their research. These prove invaluable to the students involved, so in this series of posts we hope to spread the career knowledge by speaking to three PhDs about their placement experiences.

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Interview by Shadae Samuels, Placements and Vacancies Officer, UCL Careers.

Image taken from Chris Garcia.

Chris Penny is a current PhD student with the London Interdisciplinary Doctoral Training Programme.  He is based in Sandip Patel’s lab and his PhD project is studying the molecular physiology and signalling functions of an intracellular ion channel. Through Chris’ project he was able to experience writing papers and reviews, which piqued his interest in potentially pursuing a career in publishing. This made publishing the perfect option for his PIPS placement to provide him with the opportunity to gain new skills and find out as much as possible about the industry. Chris secured a 12 week placement with Portland Press, a leading provider of high-quality publishing and knowledge dissemination solutions. He was supervised by the Executive Editor, Clare Curtis.

How did Chris secure his PIPS with Portland Press?

Chris initially researched a large number of publishing houses, he speculatively sent his CV and cover letter; he would then follow up his application with a phone call to the organisation. He found this approach was quite time-consuming and did not yield a high response, so Chris reached out to his own network for contacts in the publishing industry. Luckily Chris had a friend who previously worked at Portland Press Ltd and they put him in touch with a member of the editorial team. Chris organised an interview, and he was offered an internship starting a few months later. Chris would advise anyone applying for internships to utilise their contacts and be persistent in following up with the organisation. Having a contact in the organisation really helps with getting your application noticed!

What did the company look for in a placement student?

Portland Press wanted someone who was enthusiastic, willing to learn, and able to ‘have a go’ at a variety of tasks, some of which were mundane and others that would be more challenging. It was good to have someone who had little or no experience in the publishing industry so that they did not arrive with any preconceived ideas. The only requirement they had was for the intern to have scientific knowledge.

What did Chris do on his placement?

Portland Press is the wholly owned publishing subsidiary of the Biochemical Society, and produces the Biochemical Journal and Clinical Science, among other titles. It is a really exciting time to work there, with both the Society and the Press going through a number of changes to their look, systems and processes. Chris’ role mainly consisted of qualitative and quantitative data analysis, building upon his lab skills in the context of publishing. This included carrying out extensive citation analysis, looking at which research is high profile and which areas could be improved. Helping with the peer review submitted articles, Chris was able to generate strategies for expanding the research that is published by Portland Press, and he helped with commissioning experts to write the hot topics of the week.

What did Chris gain from the experience?

The placement was an opportunity for Chris to experience the other side of academic publishing. From the placement Chris gained commercial awareness, which he found particularly useful as this experience is very difficult to come by during a PhD. He improved on his analytical skills, market research skills by soliciting reviews, launching new content and searching for peer reviewers. Chris broadened his scientific interests as he was exposed to research in areas he was almost completely unaware of previously.

How did the placement contribute to Portland Press?

Portland Press is going through a period of significant change both in organisational structure and in processes. The work Chris undertook provided some foundations for future development of the department, and helped the creation of an overall strategy. The Biochemical Society is committed to the advancement of science for academics and students. Part of its ethos is to foster education and student opportunities. Therefore being part of the BBSRC PhD placement programme was the perfect way to meet this for Portland Press.

Has the placement influenced Chris’s career direction?

Since the start of his PhD Chris always wanted to go into post-doctoral work, however he enjoyed the editorial and strategic aspects of his placement.  Therefore Chris would certainly consider joining an editorial board while in academia if possible, but would also consider working in publishing outside of academia. Chris has a better understanding of the publishing industry and hopes the experience will come in handy for articles he will publish in the future.

If you’re a UCL PhD or researcher wondering how to secure work experience or a more permanent post, book an appointment to speak with one of our advisers. And for advertised opportunities check out UCL Talent Bank and JobOnline.

What are the five skills most sought after by today’s graduate employers?

ManpreetDhesi5 October 2015

This guest post is from the team at WikiJob, the UK’s largest graduate jobs forum.

As a graduate it is important to know what type of skills potential employers are really looking for, aside from the competencies specific to the position. Put simply: if you understand this, you can prepare a stronger application than other candidates.

Your degree is far from the only factor that will determine how suitable you are for a role. Employers and HR professionals will be looking for a combination of transferable skills and evaluating how you have acquired these during your academic studies and work experience. But what are the most important skills for today’s employers –  and how can you relate them to a specific opportunity?

How to Market yourself Event

These are five skills that are among the most valued in the current graduate workplace:

Communication

Written and verbal communication – specifically the ability to convey information clearly and concisely – is fundamental to any job role. In your application, make sure that you provide examples that demonstrate how you have used persuasion and negotiation skills. One of the most effective ways to showcase your talents in written communication is via your cover letter, CV and application documents. Be concise, use a clear structure and focus on results achieved.

Analytical Abilities

Analytical skills are crucial in many different occupations; not just data-based or technical roles. Within the workplace, you’ll need analytical skills to review business processes and identify improvements, or perhaps complete market research to explore avenues for growth. Employers may assess analytical or numerical competency through a psychometric test.

Here are other examples of when analytical skills might be needed at work:

> To review large amounts of quantitative or qualitative data, and produce a report or presentation based on the results;
> To solve a problem, evaluate viable solutions and select the right one for the business;
> To apply critical thinking and analysis to tasks in design, marketing, programming or system management;
> To get the most out of Excel for data analysis.

Teamwork

All employers, regardless of the organisation, will look for graduates who can demonstrate the ability to work cohesively with others, solve problems collectively and work effectively in a team. It may seem simple, but your ability to get along with people is a trait you should make clear in your application and subsequent interview. Demonstrate how you can contribute to a team, provide ideas to improve services, or show how a team you were in improved performance after receiving constructive criticism.

Commercial Awareness

Understanding the world of business and how organisations work together is a vital skill in employment, as commerce is increasingly multinational. Commercial awareness means understanding not only how the business operates but how it can be influenced by competitors and suppliers, and how businesses have to evolve to meet the changing demands of customers.

Time Management

Graduate roles often include many different responsibilities, and employers will look for candidates who can address multiple and often conflicting deadlines which routinely arise in the workplace.

As such, ensure that your application addresses how you manage your time well. This could relate to your studies and perhaps a period of work experience or voluntary work. Show how you prioritised to get the most important things done within your deadline.

Are there other key skills which should have made the list? If so, please let us know by adding a comment below.

– James Rice, Head of Digital Marketing, WikiJob

Find out how Skills4Work at UCL can help you gain these skills employers are looking for: http://skills4work.net/

How my arts degree led to a career as a digital entrepreneur

ManpreetDhesi16 September 2015

This guest post is from Zoe Amar, Director of Zoe Amar Communications
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Earlier this summer Forbes proclaimed that arts degrees were the hottest ticket for a career in tech. It reminded me of my own journey from a BA in English Literature at Warwick to running my own digital marketing agency, working with clients such as Charities Aid Foundation, The Commonwealth War Graves Commission and The School for Social Entrepreneurs. Careers in digital and communications are popular options for undergraduates, as is eschewing the conventional graduate scheme for life as an entrepreneur. UCL have asked me to share what I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Accept that any career path you choose may be circuitous and involve some risk. After graduating, I was an English teacher for a year before heading to law school then working in the City. But even though I did well in those jobs and learned a lot, there was always something missing. I quit my job as a lawyer and thought long and hard over what I wanted to do next, aided by John Lees’ invaluable book How to Get a Job You Love. It was a bit scary to walk away from a well paid job but without doing that I would never have ended up in a job I love so much. I took a placement doing marketing on a pro bono basis at a national charity which specialised in digital services.  Just a few weeks in they offered to create a new role for me as head of marketing, and after I’d been there for 5 years I left and set up my own agency. I’d say learn whatever you can from every job you have and follow your instincts about what is right for you.
  2. Digital doesn’t mean that ‘soft’ skills are redundant. As the Forbes article showed, digital is evolving rapidly and requires strong technical and analytical knowledge. Yet people skills such as being able to ‘read the room’ and nurture client relationships are necessary to capitalise on the benefits of digital. Much as I love it, digital is just a set of tools. It’s how you use them that counts.
  3. Being an entrepreneur is hard but rewarding. It might sound glamorous but running your own business means taking on a lot of risk and round the clock hard graft. The upside is that it stretches you and is incredibly empowering. It’s also offered me amazing experiences such as working with household names, giving a lecture on digital strategy at Cambridge,  and doing a bit of radio and TV. If you have the opportunity to work for yourself I urge you to take it. I’ve run my own business for the last couple of years and recently blogged about everything it has taught me.

I’d recommend that anyone starting out in their career is open minded and learns everything they can.  Work isn’t one linear path from university to the corner office anymore; it’s a journey. Enjoy it.

Zoe Amar is Director of Zoe Amar Communications. She also writes for The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network about how nonprofits use digital, and is a trustee of a national charity.

To discuss career options, book an appointment to see a Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.