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Why interning at a start-up is an incredible learning experience

By Rachael Richardson-Bullock, on 9 June 2021

Read time: 3 minutes

Written by Elena Raimondi, UCL Alumni.


I graduated from UCL with an MPhil in Philosophy in March 2021. With a background in Philosophy, by the time I graduated I was eager to gain as much hands-on work experience as possible.  

I craved learning new skills and practical knowledge in a business environment and I figured that a start-up would be a great place to start. I joined TidyChoice as a Human Resources intern and it has proven to be an incredible learning experience. In this blog postI want to share my experience so that it may encourage more graduates to join start-ups. 

London start-ups 

I am sure that you have heard about the dynamic London start-up ecosystem, a universe of fast-growing companies born of a single brilliant idea and fueled by the cutting-edge work of small but close-knit teams. It is easy to get hooked on these companies’ vibrant culture and success stories, and so I did.  

My learning experience 

Within my first couple of weeks, I have become an integral part of the team. My colleagues rely on me for recruiting and onboarding new professionals, and my suggestions to improve our HR processes have already been implemented. It was always going to be a good learning opportunity, but I did not expect the learning curve to be this steep. I have learnt so much so fast, and there is still so much more to experience. 

Reasons to intern at a start-up 

Here are some of the reasons why interning at a start-up has been one of the most intense learning experiences of my life and why I would recommend it to any recent graduate. 

1.) Work directly with the founders and managers 

You learn directly from those who envisioned the company, created it, and have run it since its inception. The knowledge and know-how that is passed on to you comes from the people who have steered the business through good times and bad times and learning from that experience is invaluable. 

I collaborate closely with the Operations Manager at TidyChoice. I am supervised by the company’s co-founder and CEO and I meet weekly with the rest of the team, including a brilliant CTO, who co-founded and literally built our website. All of them know the business inside out and are the ideal people to learn from. 

2.) Gain insights into every aspect of the business 

Not only do you oversee the whole business function you are working in, but you also get to see how the whole start-up works organically. You will be able to peek into all aspects of the business and have the chance to easily collaborate with any of your colleagues when your areas overlap. This allows you to learn beyond your own function and job description. 

For instance, as a HR intern, I know everything that is going on in our recruiting and lead each of our candidates throughout the entire recruitment process, from the moment they first get in touch to their activation on our platform. In addition, I’ve also regularly learnt a lot about Operations, Marketing and Product Development because we regularly have team meetings where everyone explains how the business is going on their end.

3.) Learn to think critically 

Critical thinking is a great skill and at a start-up you are constantly encouraged to think about how we do things and what can be improved. That encouragement allows you to connect more deeply with your job, understand it better and learn to figure out problems on your own. 

I can discuss my suggestions to streamline our recruitment process with colleagues. I am encouraged  to suggest and implement improvements as part of my role. In this close-knit team where very little is set in stone, every new proposal is either quickly rejected or adopted, leaving room for new ideas. 

4.) Handle a lot of responsibility 

When the team is small, colleagues and customers will inevitably rely on you. Colleagues are there to support you, but it is up to you to own your role and help the business succeed. 

At TidyChoice I am responsible for recruiting and onboarding new professionals, so my performance immediately reflects on the success of the business. I have a material impact on the business and my colleagues count on me. 

5.) Learn hands on 

Autonomy, initiative and speed are truly valued in a rapid-growing company, so you will start doing your job on Day 1 and learn it as you go. Your colleagues will shadow you at first, but there is no bench time before diving into the job. It is a challenging environment and you can progress quickly. There is no limit to the level of responsibility you can take on. 

At TidyChoice, I was shadowing interviews as soon as I started the internship. I was conducting phone interviews on my second day (while being shadowed) and I learnt how to navigate our systems and carry out essential tasks in the first week. While I have a handbook that I can refer to, I mostly rely on my colleagues’ feedback to learn and improve at my job. 

6.) Variety will keep you engaged 

In this shapeshifting business, you learn more than one way to do your job. Processes are constantly evolving and improving, so by the time you have mastered a certain task, you need to be ready to master the next one. 

In my role, every day is different and I have a high level of autonomy over how I manage the work. Whilst my performance is assessed against deliverables, it is entirely up to me how I meet targets. 

7.) The potential for growth is exciting 

Being part of a fast-growing company means that you have the opportunity to develop new skills as your role evolves. If you are flexible, you have the opportunity to expand your knowledge beyond your current function. 

My current focus at TidyChoice is mostly on recruiting and onboarding, but the role is expanding to take on more HR functions. I also contribute to other business functions, such as marketing where I am asked to provide my input and opinion on new advertising campaigns.   


For these reasons and more, interning in a start-up is an incredible learning experience and an exciting career move that I would encourage all graduates to consider. If you wish to acquire valuable skills and practical business knowledge when you are fresh out of university, you should definitely give it a go.

Assistant Management Accountant: Inspire Me

By Weronika Z Benning, on 24 August 2016

September 2016 sees the first cohort of students starting at the new School of Management postgraduate campus at Level 38, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf. Located just one floor above is Level39, Europe’s largest technology accelerator space for finance, cyber-security, retail and smart-city technology companies. Level39 offer small businesses the space and support to grow, through a tailored curriculum, expert mentors, and a variety of events, and have helped entrepreneurs turn simple products into multi-million pound businesses.UCL School of Management’s Employer & Alumni Engagement Officer, Ally Hawley, spoke with UCL alumna Vesela Vukova to discuss her role at Level39.

Vesela Vukova

Vesela studied the Finance Pathway of Masters in Management, graduating in 2015, and is now an Assistant Management Accountant at Level39.

How did you get into your role?

In my third term at UCL School of Management I was doing a consultancy project that was focussed on technology and co-working environments in London. I was doing some market research and Level39 just stood out from the other places I had researched as an amazing place! It is the largest accelerator for fintech, cyber security, retail and smart cities led technology companies. I checked their website careers section frequently and an opportunity came up, I applied and got the job!

What are the best things about working in your role?

I love that my role goes beyond crunching numbers, it’s about understanding what stands behind the numbers, and what can be done in the future to accelerate a company’s growth. Also I like that my role involves working with all the stakeholders of Level39, from Team39 to our parent company Canary Wharf Group, to Level39’s members, to the suppliers that we use.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

I previously worked in corporate banking and in this role the answers to all the questions that came up in my job were either written down somewhere, or there would be a department within the organisation to help. In start-up industries there is no guidance already written, you must set up the processes and procedures, which can be really challenging. On the positive side Level39 has a really entrepreneurial team and we always find a way around the problems that we face.

What does a typical day in your job involve?

My job is really diverse, there is no typical day. Some days I’m focussed on accounting and financial reporting as that is a major part of my role. Some days I am meeting with suppliers or meeting with Level39 members to support them with financial matters. Other days I will work on other projects with my Level39 Team, for example helping to integrate a new system.

What skills are important in this role?

Problem solving is really important, as are attention to details, pro-activity and people skills.

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

In general terms I would advise students to develop their networking skills and to search for opportunities that are out there. More specifically in relation to my role I would advise them to develop their problem solving skills. One way to do this is by obtaining as much knowledge as possible either from lectures, case studies or any other UCL activities. The real life cases that I studied as part of my Masters really helped me to gain practical, hands on experience.

What do you think about the new Canary Wharf Campus for UCL SoM Post Graduate Students?

It is quite similar to the reason why Level39 is located here. Fintech, Cyber Security, retail and smart cities are all present right here in Canary Wharf. Being here makes it much easier to connect with organisations in these sectors, as well as the other located here such as banking and finance. This is the same for students, it is much easier for them to attend employer events, interviews and internships. It also means it will be easier to attract high quality employers to come onto campus and engage with students. I definitely think that students will benefit from being based at Canary Wharf!

To find out more about the School of Management and its Canary Wharf Campus go to: https://www.mgmt.ucl.ac.uk/

To find out more about Level39 visit: www.level39.co

Why should I consider working for a startup?

By Weronika Z Benning, on 17 May 2016

Guest blog post by TalentPool

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It might come as a surprise to many to learn that the percentage of UK graduates who end up working for one of the well-known graduate employers is under 20%. Our recent research shows that there has been a significant shift in the type of role that graduates seek when they leave university, with over 50% of recent graduates now wanting to work for startups.

So, why are graduates moving away from traditional roles and what opportunities can startups offer to them? At TalentPool we’ve come up the top 5 reasons why we’d recommend working for a startup:

You’ll receive a huge education – Working in a smaller company means that you’ll gain a real insight into how a business truly operates. You’ll also be given the chance to try on a lot of different hats as, being part of a small team, you’ll most likely be required to be involved in all aspects of the company – this is great if you are still making your mind up about what you’d like to do after university.

You’ll have responsibility from the word go Working in a small team means that there’ll probably be nobody else in the company with the same skill set as you or doing the same thing as you. You’ll be given freedom to explore and bring to life your own ideas. It also means that you’ll be an integral part of the team, which is pretty amazing for a recent graduate.

Youll really have an impact  – The high level of responsibility you’ll have means that you’ll really be able to see the value of your own footprint. This is not only very exciting but also incredibly rewarding! And your hard work and successes will definitely not go unnoticed.

Youll learn from true innovators – Working so closely with the founders of a startup gives you a unique opportunity to soak up all their knowledge and experience. Exposure like this is especially useful if you think you might like to start your own business one day.

Youll work in a great environment – Аt a startup up you get to know your co-workers very well very quickly! The atmosphere is relaxed (often you’ll find you can wear what you want and there is little or no hierarchy), but you can rest assured that there will never be a dull moment. At a startup up you are really encouraged to be yourself in order to realise your full potential.

Working at a startup presents you with an amazing opportunity to grow both personally and professionally – a great starting point for those of you straight out of uni. Of course, this does not mean that working for a startup is for everyone… But, to put it simply, if you like the sound of a fast-paced, energetic and creative work environment where you’ll get to try and learn about lots of new things then it’s probably for you!


For more information and exciting career opportunities in startups & SMEs, check out our website http://www.talentpool.com. 


– Sophie (Head of Marketing at TalentPool)

Starting your own small business: Safe & Sound Festival Services, a case study

By Weronika Z Benning, on 26 February 2016


As part of our #UCLInspireMe series, Joseph Newton, Co-Founder at Safe & Sound, talks to us about startups and shares some tips for UCL students who want to get into entrepreneurship. For more insights from recent graduates working for smaller organisations, search #SMEProfile.

 Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 10.36.37

How did you get into your role?

I first became interested in starting a company just before I moved to UCL to do my PhD in Biochemical Engineering. Once at UCL, I quickly realised that there were a lot of opportunities here to help me achieve this goal. My department allowed me to study MBA Electives at London Business School, which gave me a great foundation in business. In the first year of my doctorate, a group of friends and I entered Engineering YES (Young Entrepreneurs Scheme) and won a few prizes (including winning our heat). This was the first time that I seriously considered entrepreneurship as a career.

A year later, after being approached by Jordan (Co-Founder) with a business idea, we entered and won the UCL Advances’ Idea Accelerator; an 8 week accelerator programme designed to help students bring their ideas to life. Having obtained funding through a UCL Bright Ideas Award, we have since been working to turn the business plan into reality, Safe & Sound Festival Services.

Safe & Sound Festival Services is a luggage transportation service for festival goers (from cities to festival sites). Through our service, we are aiming to reduce carbon emissions at festivals by (1) encouraging the use of public transport, and (2) by reducing waste left at the festival site (we offer a return luggage service). http://www.sasfestivalservices.com/
What are the best things about working in your role?

The best thing about running a startup is the freedom to operate; I see a direct result of the actions that we take (whether it’s good or bad!), and every day I learn something new. I know that a lot of people find entrepreneurship to be a lonely path, however working with Jordan makes everything we do a lot more entertaining. We also support each other and complement each other’s skill sets.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

The biggest challenge is undoubtedly managing to balance my PhD and running a startup. Another big challenge is establishing clear procedures and policies for situations that we haven’t come across before. Also, building credibility as a startup and fostering relationships in a slow-moving industry is a challenge that we are currently facing.
What top tips would you give to a student interested in this type of work?

UCL Advances is a great place to start if you’re interested in starting a company. You can read as much as you want, but the best experience is through action. My top tip? Get a contract signed for everything you do!
Are there currently any opportunities for UCL students with Safe & Sound?

Safe & Sound is currently looking for an intern to join us this summer to help with marketing, sales and managing operations. Our website can be found here:

We are looking for an intern to work with us as part in the UCL Advances summer internship scheme this year.

Safe & Sound is looking for UCL undergraduates (or recent graduates) to join their vibrant startup this summer for an 8-12 week internship. Students should be prepared to get involved in all areas of the business, however should be particularly interested in marketing and sales, operations, the live music/festival industry, logistics and events management. Pay is £250 pw tax-free. Please apply with CV and cover letter to info@sasfestivalservices.com .

Or visit: http://jobonline.thecareersgroup.co.uk/ucl/student/DisplayVacancy.aspx?id=e9241ac1-4ac1-46ba-abed-eb8ac084e808

Operations Officer: Inspire Me

By UCL Careers, on 10 October 2015

As part of our #UCLInspireMe series, Laura Davies, UCL Alumnus (BSc Human Science, 2013 and MSc Technology Entrepreneurship, 2014) and Operations Officer at BaseStone, talks to us about how she got this role and shares some tips for UCL students who want to get into the sector. basestone.laura

How did you get into your role?

I’m Laura, I am the Operations Officer at BaseStone. BaseStone is a tool for architects and engineers to capture and communicate data more effectively. It connects people and data in construction, reducing costs and mistakes on projects.

I found out about the role through a mentor of mine. She knew the founder of the company and knew that they were looking for someone to help them grow the business. The majority of the team was made up of software developers so they were hiring for new employees on the business side.

I chose this career because of the opportunities for growth. There was a huge amount of potential for me to develop my own skill set, confidence and abilities in so many areas. I think I recognised that the business was at a really interesting point – the technology was in demand by the industry and there were many customers in the pipeline.  But there was a need for all of the pieces of the puzzle around the technology to be put in place – I wanted to be the person to do that! It was an exciting challenge and I knew that this would give me a breadth of experience like no other.

What are the best things about working in your role?

I think working with the a team that care so much about what they do is my favourite part of the job. Everyone is so passionate about our mission – bringing change to the construction industry. We work very closely together so it really helps that we all get on!

The work is also interesting. What we are doing is quite ground-breaking – we’re disrupting an ancienct industry. It’s really interesting to be part of the change. I get to go out on construction sites to visit our users. So I have been on Crossrail sites, seeing London’s future infrastructure being built which is pretty cool too.

As part of my role, I work with a huge range of people – from graduate engineers to important industry figures. It’s great to have that diversity

Biggest success in your role?

I am really proud of the community we have built around what we are doing. As the industry is quite old fashioned, we’ve developed our own community of disruptors. We hold events to champion disruption and discuss the future of the built environment. The last event had over 120 attendees and caused a real stir in the industry.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

The biggest challenge is having to hit the ground running with things you’ve never done before. But technology is a really supportive industry – there are mentors, events, free courses and many meetup groups that you can get advice from.

It’s a challenge but it pushes you to realise your full potential. It provides an excellent springboard for your career.

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

Developing your network is the single most important thing. As I mentioned, the world of startups and technology is friendly and supportive. People will generally be happy to have a coffee or call with you if you reach out to them. So don’t be afraid to ask!

I would recommend getting some experience in a startup before you jump right into one. I did the UCL Advances Summer Internship Programme in my second year of university. You get a paid internship for 8 weeks in a small company – I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

You can also develop yourself and build your skill set. I did the CodeFirst:Girls coding course which gave me coding skills that I still use today. There are many free courses like this in London, for both men and women to develop skills in tech. UCL Advances also do many events and workshops.

Good luck!

To find our more about working in a startup, either come in an speak to a Careers Consultant or visit UCL Advances.

Eight reasons to work at a start-up

By UCL Careers, on 6 August 2014

This blog post originally appeared on the Develop you Career blog

James Pursey is the Head of Inbound Marketing at carwow, an online comparison site for new car buying. He gives us his eight reasons why you should consider working at a start-up.

“I graduated university in 2011 and wanted to join a start-up but was drawn into the corporate world on the promise of juicy pay cheques and a clearly defined career path. I decided I’d take the suit route for a few years to save up some cash, then leave to start my own business.

After six months I quit my job and joined the start-up I should’ve gone with from the outset. I realised I was foolish to make a career decision based on what I felt I should do as opposed to what I actually wanted to do. After all, it’s crucial you enjoy what you do because otherwise it’ll suck the life out of you over time.

In the past couple of years I’ve worked at a corporation, two start-ups and also on the other side of the table as a start-up founder. I’m in an unusual position because I actually have an informed opinion on whether start-ups are better than corporates. Although I clearly think start-ups are the better option, there are many benefits to corporate companies such as security, wages and progression, but you most likely already know those bits.

Instead, here are my eight favourite reasons for joining a start-up.

1) Be your own boss

You don’t have to run a start-up to have ownership over something. Start-ups tend to operate on a matrix structure, which means you’re responsible for what you were hired for, it’s up to you to do your job, and there are no line managers.

2) Things happen really really quickly

Small teams move a lot faster than huge companies can, so if you have an idea you can normally get it put into practice within a day or two, not after six months of meetings and red tape.

3) Learning from the top

As I said a second ago, there’s no hierarchy here, and if you get in early enough you’ll be working directly alongside the executive team, learning directly from the people pushing the business along.

4) You’ll learn a shed load of stuff

Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be a content marketer, oh wait… maybe a social media guru, nope how about a developer? Start-ups promote cross-training, so you’ll learn things about subjects you had no idea about, boosting your skills portfolio and future employability.

5) It’s bloody good fun

You’ll be working in a fast-paced work-hard, play-hard environment with people with similar motivations and interests to you.  What doesn’t sound fun about that?

6) You can progress quickly

In less than six months I’ve gone from being a sales exec to running inbound marketing. If you have the right attitude you can progress fast.

7) There are all sorts of perks – weird ones too

From beer-stocked fridges and full fry ups every day, to Christmas parties abroad and pool tables in the office, start-ups are pretty cool environments to work in.

8) The bumping-into-old-friends situation

You bump into someone you went to secondary school with and the inevitable question of “what do you do for work” comes up. Saying you’re an accountant may be the perfect career for you, but you may be the type of person that wants to answer that question and blow someone’s mind – “I’m running inbound marketing at a start-up that just raised over a million pounds from the guys that invested in LoveFilm, Betfair and Zoopla, we’re providing consumers with a service they’ve been crying out for when it comes to buying a new car”. Winning.

There are lots of pros and cons to both startups and corporates. Only you can decide which you think you’d prefer. Just don’t make a decision for the wrong reasons.

Ever thought about working for a smaller organisation?

By UCL Careers, on 21 February 2014

Smaller businesses can be a positive career choice for graduates.  Some of the benefits that emerged from recent research undertaken by The Careers Group’s Research Unit include the use of technology in recruitment practices and speedy, personalised responses to applicant, the provision of flexible and diverse training routes, absence of rigid graduate schemes and the pooling of training and development with other small and medium sized organisations.  Similarly, research carried out by GTI Media and Step found student respondents who had come into contact with smaller organisations almost unanimous in believing that smaller businesses were better at developing skills, personal development, early responsibility and giving graduates a chance to stand out at work.  So, think about keeping your career options open, investigate work experience or internships with smaller businesses and think about creative ways to find and target these organisations (UCL Careers can help with this).

Resource of the month – Best British tech startups (The Guardian) – interactive resource: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/interactive/2014/jan/12/silicon-roundabout-best-british-tech-startups