After an incredibly hectic second semester I finally have some time to sit back and reflect on the most recent developments in my Alumni Leadership Mentoring Programme (ALMP) experience…
As I write this I am yet to receive a job offer for next year, having been rejected from numerous different graduate schemes across a range of different industries/sectors. Interestingly though, when I look back over the different applications and interviews that I gave, I can find flaws in every single one of them. This isn’t because I hashed them out without due care; or because I am an overly self-exigent individual. But rather because my mentor, Andrew Garner, has given me an entirely different perspective with regards to career management and entry-level recruitment. I genuinely can’t stress just how refreshing it is to get some career advice that is different to the generic stuff you find online. Having had a illustrious career in executive search, Andrew understands exactly what it takes for candidates to differentiate themselves, all the way down to the intricate little details.
‘So if Andrew has given you such good advice, how haven’t you got a job yet?’ I hear you ask. Well I think the answer is fairly simple – knowledge can’t simply be transferred from one person to another. After all if you’re looking for a mentor to give you all the answers or ‘the secret to success’ then the ALMP will probably disappoint you. After all learning is a process, and thanks to Andrew I have been able to gradually improve as a candidate by analysing my performance in interviews and critiquing my applications with complete scrutiny.
Now whilst the mentors probably can’t give you any ‘secrets to success’; what they can give you is their supreme network of contacts. With Andrew for example, once I decided that I would like to explore the idea of working within marketing, he put me in contact with the co-founder of one of the UK’s leading digital marketing agencies. Thankfully, the digital marketing guru to which I was introduced was incredibly unpretentious and agreed to take some time out of his day to meet me and discuss careers within the sector. It was an unbelievable experience, going down to London and getting to rub shoulders with this hugely successful business leader; but more importantly I was able to get an unprecedented impression of what life would be like working within an agency. Whether the meeting will lead to something more in the way of career opportunities is perhaps too early to say, however it just goes to show what kind of doors these mentors can open.
Second Meeting – February
Following our first meeting, Mike offered me the opportunity to complete some work experience at Sainsbury’s which I was very keen to do. In the time since our last meeting, Mike had been announced as the next Chief Executive Officer at Sainsbury’s.
I decided to complete 3 days which were very well organised. I worked in marketing for a day and spent the next two days with a mixture of buyers and members of the own brand team which is my dissertation topic. Meeting the buyers allowed me to decide that I do want to pursue a career in buying in the future and the own brand team couldn’t have been more helpful with information for my dissertation and general information about their roles within the business. I had a meeting with Mike on the second day and it was clear during my time at Sainsbury’s how well respected he is within the organisation. The meeting involved further career guidance for me and discussions about Sainsbury’s current position and Mike’s forthcoming promotion. It was also very useful to speak to Mike about my dissertation. The 3 days at Sainsbury’s confirmed that I would like to work as a retail buyer, and I would definitely consider working for Sainsbury’s in the future after experiencing how the business works and meeting such enthusiastic people.
First Meeting – October
I applied to be mentored by Mike Coupe, the commercial director of Sainsbury’s, for my final year of my business management degree after returning from my year in industry as a buyer at Halfords. Between applying for the scheme and returning for my final year, I managed to gain a graduate job, but I was still keen to discover more about a career in retail and for guidance throughout my final year.
We arranged to have our first meeting in Watford as Mike was due to complete a competitor store visit. We met at the station before going for lunch and walking around the store. It was very interesting to hear about Mike’s career with various retailers and current position at Sainsbury’s. We discussed what I wanted to gain from the programme and how he could help with this, as well as talking about my career plans and time at university. It was great to hear his opinions whilst walking around the store and to get some advice about my graduate options.
Back in Oxford
I was invited back down to Oxford so I could learn more about the different roles within HR. My visit was extremely exciting and I was able to spend the morning with the frontline team who answer all the telephone calls and emails directed to the HR department. I learnt a lot from the frontline team, and was able to listen to the calls first hand via the training headset they use to train staff how to answer the variety of queries they are asked. I was surprised at just how varied the phone calls could be, from reference requests to telemarketing etc. A member of the team also went through the case management system and how emails and telephone queries were categorised and logged. I really enjoyed sitting with the frontline team and believe that if I want to really understand HR I would have to sit on the frontline to gain the breadth of knowledge and experience needed to be a good HR generalist.
Over lunch and into the afternoon I met with the Operational business HR team. This was an area I really didn’t know much about so I was really keen to hear and discuss their area of work. As Amey (the company) is a service based business, they have to compete to win contracts for all types of areas of work, for example road maintenance. I found out a lot about the bidding process, including what to include, but also potential costs and risk associated if the bid is successful. We also discussed the mobilisation process at Amey and how important that can be for winning bids and also ensuring the transfer of business runs smoothly for the parties and employees involved. I was able to learn about business skills not just HR, for example, cost and risk and TUPE legislation.
Later in the afternoon I met with my mentor Valerie and we spoke about my future career plans, the different options I was currently looking at and what suggestions Valerie had for increasing my chances of getting a graduate job. We went over the best ways to network and apply for jobs. I find talking to Valerie very encouraging and her guidance in HR, but also career advice and her own experiences really useful.
For the last part of my day I met with a member of the rewards and benefits team. I love the sound of this area of HR and the different ways in which a company reward their staff and how this can impact on morale. This could include cycling to work schemes to discount for many different high street shops.
This is the second visit I have had to Oxford and I have learnt so much from spending time with Valerie and the different teams within the HR department at Amey. The HR team are all really lovely friendly and interesting people to talk to and I hope the Valerie’s next mentee takes any opportunity offered to go and visit them.
Visit to Currencies Direct Head office, London
After my first contact with Mayank he made it clear that he wanted to meet up in person and that he had a few meetings to go to in Birmingham over the coming weeks. Unfortunately that did not happen so we got into contact again and he proposed a trip to his head office at 51 Moorgate in London. With the aid of his secretary we finalised a date for early December and I went down not really knowing what to expect.
This office is the worldwide headquarters for business, which Mayank himself started with only £8,000 and has now become the business which trades over £2.5 billion in currency this year. I went to the office suited and booted, obviously knowing I was going into a professional financial environment which I have had experience of before. I wanted to hopefully impress and not stick out like a sore thumb.
When I got to the office it was pretty impressive, the kind of thing you would expect in London for a leading currencies company. The first thing I saw was a member of the company giving a television recording and a nice lounge area where I was told to wait until Mayank was ready.
When Mayank was ready I went to his private office and we gave a bit of a formal intro about each other. From here I made about 5 pages of notes about all the stuff we talked about, including my questions I had sent in advance although a lot of the time it was taken in several different directions. Mayank is very honest and open and much of what we talked about linked to key principles to be successful, not just in business but principles that will help you in life.
The range of the conversation covered his business and experiences, his mistakes, other successful British business examples and some of his philanthropic experiences which gave me a great insight. Overall the trip was a success and he offered me the possibility to come in for a week and see how the business worked. It was amazing how much you can learn about it just under 2 hours!
Midway through October I had the pleasure of speaking to Mayank for the first time. This was after an introductory email sent by myself to his office and by working with his secretary Sara to arrange a suitable time, particularly as Mayank is normally very busy and travels frequently.
Before the meeting I made sure I prepared a clear template so we could hit the ground running which contained notes covering my key goals, ways to communicate, scheduling and what I wanted to achieve from the mentoring process. I also had a good read of the current blogs to see what kind of different approaches the mentees used and how effective they were.
For the call itself it lasted about an hour and it was a fantastic first experience. It is clear from the first moment we spoke that Mayank was a person with vast experience, who was very humble and really appreciated his core roots which have supported his successes. The conversation went through many of the keys events in life which he drew strength from and some of the essential values and traits you need to achieve whatever you want to do in life
Being quite passionate about business myself, we spoke about many of the day to day obstacles that Mayank faced during the early development of Currencies Direct company. We focused on his values which he has worked to install in his companies such as, empowering every individual, being passionate about what you do and not allowing limitations from within to hold yourself back. We also talked about the early origins of his business and numerous challenges he faced on a day to day basis.
To end the call we briefly spoke about how the next meeting could be arranged, and that a good idea would to be to forward my questions so Mayank would have time to think about what he would say in advance.
All in all a good first meeting, even if just having a telephone call with someone who I have never met can be a bit strange!
My second meeting with Jane Lodge took place in the second term. At the end of first term, I had been accepted onto my first choice engineering graduate scheme. I used the advice Jane had given me on how to practice for interviews, especially using the mirror and making eye-contact with myself when giving a presentation to practice for my assessment centre. In addition her advice to do as much research on the company, including recent events, was very useful as I was asked what the company had done recently. With this the requirements for our mentorship relationship had shifted, I was confident on my initial career path and was no longer actively seeking any graduate schemes. I thought for our next meeting that we should focus more on Jane’s career path and advice on succeeding in a career path (including being a career oriented woman).
I prepared a series of questions and concerns I had for Jane for our next meeting. As it was a sunny day, this time our meeting took place outside on the grounds of Birmingham. Below are some of the questions I asked and discussed with Jane:
1. What characteristics/skills do you have/recommend to develop?
2. How/why would you change your career path?
3. How do you deal with work life/personal life balance
During the meeting, Jane was very open with me and answered/discussed with me all the topics I wanted to cover. I told her about my initial plan for remaining on the graduate scheme and becoming a chartered engineer which she agreed with. I was pleased with this meeting as I was able to understand how Jane was able to have a successful career and think about how I would like to live my life once I started working. I was able to ask Jane all the questions I wanted without feeling self-conscious and feel that it is a truly valuable opportunity. We have decided to meet again in the third term and I am looking forward to further insight on what life would be like once my working career truly begins. I am pleased I decided to take part in the alumni programme as it forces you to seriously consider your future plans and what steps to take to ensure you are successful.