Intern Insights: Arzu @ Mayor’s Entrepreneur Competition

Mayor's Entrepreneur 2020 Interns

Arzu is guest writing the blog today, telling us all about her role as one of City Hall’s Mayor’s Entrepreneur Competition interns. Read on to find out more about how she secured this awesome role, her top internship application tips, and to find out how you can win £20,000 for your sustainable business idea!

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My name is Arzu Abbasova. I am a final year BA International Relations student and at the same time one of the Mayor’s Entrepreneur Interns for 2020. It has been a while since I started this internship and to answer the questions I am asked about how I got this position and what I specifically do, I want to reflect on the whole process and share some tips alongside.

I saw this opportunity advertised via SOAS Careers Service and, checking the requirements, I decided to apply.

Tip 1: Make sure you change the settings of SOAS Careers Service on Facebook to “See First”- because if you do so you are never going to miss out the new opportunities.

That being aside I was very excited to apply for this position as I believed I was a perfect match. Generally speaking, I can say that the application process was very straightforward and consisted of 2 stages being the CV and the interview. The first stage was filling in the application form where I had to demonstrate the acquired skills with real-life examples and relate them to the job requirements.

Tip 2: Be specific and use the STAR technique, try to bring as many examples but make sure that you really emphasise how they are linked to what they are asking for.

I passed it successfully and got called to an interview which lasted around 20 minutes discussing how I could promote the competition and demonstrating my skills gained from previous experiences. I would say in all, the selection process was competitive because more than 340 people applied for the position and only 28 people got it. To my surprise (and my best knowledge) I am the first student to get the job from SOAS, which also puts great responsibility on me.

I applied for this position 2 years ago but could not pass to the interview stage, so it was my second attempt. I am bringing this up because it is a nice reminder to me (and I believe to the readers too) that if something does not happen at the first go it does not mean that it will never happen. So, developing your transferable skills and working in different environments can get you the job that you initially got rejected

Tip 3: Determination is the key here I would say.

Enough about the application process and time to move to what exactly my job is and what I am doing. To put it in a nutshell, my job is to promote Mayor’s Entrepreneur Competition on-campus, be the liaison between Mayor’s Office and my university, organise workshops and training, contact relevant people at SOAS, produce online content and much more. I am also lucky that the job can be easily fit around my schedule as it only requires 3.5 – 4 hours of commitment each week.

To give more information about the competition itself, the Mayor of London runs an annual Entrepreneur Competition which asks students from universities all over London to come up with sustainable business ideas to help make London a better place to live and work in.

For the first time this year, there are four separate awards focusing on the environment, smart cities, creative industries and health. The students enter their business ideas and the winners from each category get £20,000. By applying, the students gain valuable experience and skills that can help improve future employability, and this also gives them a chance to make a real difference to the way all of us live. Indeed, I totally believe that this is an opportunity not to be missed and would highly recommend SOAS students to enter the competition. In fact, SOAS students with the “Solar SOAS” project were finalists in 2014, and I am very keen to see a winner from SOAS this year.

Additionally, there are free workshops at City Hall which are being offered to all applicants and the first one for this year will be held on the 17th of December. This is also a fantastic opportunity to develop your business idea, get feedback on your ideas, network with like-minded students from universities across London and hear from past winners and finalists. Be sure to sign up via Eventbrite if you’re interested in applying!

As Brian Chesky, the co-founder of AirBnB said, “if we tried to think of a good idea, we wouldn’t have been able to think of a good idea. You just have to find the solution for a problem in your own life.”

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Arzu is a final year BA International Relations student at SOAS.

Help! I don’t know how to start my career planning.

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So, you know that the SOAS Careers Service exists. You know that you can access it Monday to Friday all year. You know you have access to it as a graduate. But you still don’t know how to start planning…and it’s feeling a little daunting.

First things first, relax. So many of us have been there. Career planning can seem overwhelming and laborious but it really doesn’t have to be, especially with so many resources from us for you to use.

Like most potentially stressful things in life, the trick is the ability to ‘chunk things down’ and start small. These questions are a great place to begin.

What are your career values?

By this we mean, what are the things you need a job to give you, in order to keep you happy and feeling fulfilled? Ask yourself “what are my motivators?”  It could be anything from needing constant challenge, to professional status, to the need to be helping others. It could even be that sweet sweet cash money flow. Your career values will be unique to you but they will change over time, so it is a useful question to keep asking yourself as your career progresses.

What tasks do you enjoy doing?

We have a tendency to jump ahead to the ‘end result’ without actually focusing on what we need to do in order to get there. Job titles only tell us a tiny amount of the story – try and understand what a job involves in terms of the tasks that make it up and make sure you are targeting roles that, on this basis, you will find enjoyable. Do you enjoy writing, working with spreadsheets, dealing with clients, organising and multitasking..?

What industries interest you?

For some people, career choice will always be based around the industry rather than the role. This is fine, of course. It is just a different way of approaching the same issue. Perhaps you have a hobby you can align to or maybe it is about the working environment that that industry creates. Are there any industries that feel exciting to you? Remember to do your research here – the perception can be different to the reality.

And that, believe it or not, is really all you need to get started. Of course, further research needs to happen from this point on, but in answering these question, you have already  started to create your framework of ‘what works for you’.

Want more? MySOAS Student is literally full of info, for all levels of career thinking. You have access to the Graduate Support Network as alumni. You have access to our events on CareersZONE. And, last but not least, we have appointments available every day for you to access.

Hannah Morton-Hedges is a Careers Consultant with the SOAS Careers Service.

Edited by Suzana Marie, Internships & Marketing Extraordinaire.

Alumni Careers: Being an Interpreter @ ICRC

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I never thought I would end up with a career in the humanitarian sector, yet here I am, working as an interpreter for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Niger. It’s a complex and challenging environment, but also deeply gratifying.

No two weeks are the same. I was never an office person, so getting out and speaking to people, hearing their stories, writing them up and then seeing the impact we have on people’s lives is a really important part of the job for me.

As a Hausa interpreter, the role predominately revolves around accompanying ICRC colleagues during detention visits. The ICRC visits people in places of detention across the world, ensuring that they’re being treated with dignity.

My role is to act as an interpreter between detainees and our staff. The visits are confidential and we share our findings with the authorities. As an interpreter, I have the opportunity to learn from everyone around me, which is a great way to build up my knowledge and experience.

Some of the places we visit don’t offer communication facilities to detainees, so we help to facilitate contact between those detained and their loved ones. It could be a simple phone call, a Red Cross message or sometimes we offer financial support so people can visit loved ones in the prison.

There have been occasions where we’ve called a family who haven’t heard from their relative in several years. That moment when they discover the whereabouts of a loved one is a really special part of the job.

It’s not all easy however. I arrived here in February this year. It’s not easy to uproot yourself from the life you’ve built at home; leaving your friends and family behind is especially hard. This is the burden of the job. Having said that, the work really brings you closer to your colleagues and they quickly become your second family and a home away from home.

While I got training before I took up the post, the only way to learn really is by doing, and getting stuck into the job. I would say the same when it comes to learning languages. I actually grew up in Niger, in a town called Zinder, so I had a pretty good grasp of Hausa from an early age. My parents are Scottish and Dutch, so growing up in a multilingual environment meant I quickly developed an ear for languages.

I studied Swahili and Development Studies at SOAS (2011-2015), which helped to develop my fluency in Swahili while also giving me a firm grounding in global economics and politics in the developing world. I spent time in Zanzibar and Kenya as part of my degree, which was hugely beneficial. To anyone learning a language, I’d say this is the best way to learn! Get out there, speak to people and really immerse yourself in the language – no book or classroom will help you in the same way.

While I was already able to speak several languages, my degree at SOAS gave me the qualifications and recognition I needed to really launch myself into this career. It was through my studies that I first encountered the ICRC, so undoubtedly the university has played a huge part in helping me get my first mission with this organisation.

Kai Vogt is an interpreter with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Niger. The ICRC recruits interpreters in more than 20 languages. To learn more about job opportunities please visit the ICRC Careers pages or contact Sophie Da Silva for more information on sdasilva@icrc.org.

 

So, when should you start using the Careers Service?

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We live in the Careers Zone, in SL62 in the Lower Ground Floor of the Paul Webley Wing. Come and say hi! 

When should I start using the Careers Service?

As a Careers Consultant, I hear students say ‘Ah, I don’t need to worry about getting a job until I graduate’. Other students are trying to gain some work experience to help fund their course but not necessarily to develop their career.  If this is your view then it is particularly important you read on.  

Students should go to the Careers Service within their first weeks. They should start to think about their career after finishing their course. This is where the Careers Service can help through career guidance consultations. During these, the Careers Consultant will explore your history and help navigate you through your career options, your interests, and your aspirations.

Why should I do it now when I have 3 or 4 years until I finish?

The reason is that alongside your studies, you should be adding experience to your repertoire in order to improve your career prospects. Here too, the Career Service can help with the resources available on hand. Do not forget that you are competing against many other candidates, and so the more experience you have, the more you stand out from the crowd. It’s best to start looking for opportunities for development as you go through you’re degree so that it doesn’t feel like you’re catching up with other members of your cohort once it gets to crunch time. Furthermore, increasingly, employers are looking for other skills beyond academic qualifications and work experience. You should use this to add to your CV. Volunteering, blogs, and part-time work are all awesome ways to demonstrate how you’re able to put your skills into practice. 

Your CV should be assessed by a Careers Consultant early on. They can help you polish it up ready for when you make those first steps into the welcoming arms of work. It can also help you with thinking about what to add in terms of experience, and what to look for to get yourself where you want to be.

So, I’ve have found an opportunity I wanna apply for, and I want to make an application. How can the Careers Service help me?

We can look through your application, help you with writing a covering letter, practice psychometric tests, conduct practice interviews and prepare you for assessment centres. All of this support will help enhance your prospects of success in whatever it is you’d like to do during and after SOAS.

It is important to continually use the Careers Service. Not only is it free, but it can be invaluable to helping you get through the doors and along the corridor of success in your career journey.

Ali Wylie is a Freelance Careers Consultant at the SOAS Careers Service.

On Graduating

SOAS Graduation 2014 Tuesday July 29th

Graduation: a time for celebrations, not comparisons.

Summer has arrived, and with it the abundance of graduation ceremonies that will be taking place all over the country. This is a time for all students to recognise and honour the achievements that you have been working hard towards.

And yet it is not a day without anxiety. Aside from worrying if you will trip when you name is called to the stage, a deeper concern often lays with students who have not done as well as they would have liked to or, worse still, are comparing themselves to fellow students who have done better. The risk is that this day of celebration will turn into a day of regrets. But you owe it to yourself not to let that happen; you’ve just completed an entire degree!

Remember now, everyone’s journey as a student is different. People arrive at university at different starting points and they face different challenges along the way. Degree classification does not tell the whole picture – it does not highlight the brilliance of your dissertation, or the strength and resilience you showed in overcoming the difficulties with a particular module, or the way you were able to bring the team together to deliver a great presentation. (And note that each one of these examples evidences skills that are in high demand in the workplace).

Remember also that graduation day is just the very start of the next phase of your life and, as we know, when it comes to career journey, success is found in how you finish, not where you start. There is no standard correlation between degree grade and career happiness (however you choose to define it) that is applicable to all examples. That person sitting next to you, receiving their First Class Honours, may not have even pondered their next steps yet or necessarily have the transferable skills needed to make a smooth transition into work.

So whatever degree you will graduate with, be sure to wear your cap and gown with pride and remember that this is the first day of the rest of your life.

Congratulations to all of you!

Hannah, July 2019

Hannah Morton-Hedges is a Careers Consultant with SOAS Careers Service.

Guest Blog: COMMERCIAL AWARENESS

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk

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Starter for 10:

  1. What do most employers want and few students think they have?
  2. Commercial awareness.

It may be essential, but for many it’s an apparently elusive attribute, desperately hard to acquire without reading the Financial Times daily, checking the Dow Jones Index at regular intervals or realising that hedge funds have nothing to do with gardening. Although the preceding is non-negotiable if you’re planning a career in the City, for the average student it’s just not necessary.  What is needed is an understanding of how the business world functions. A word to the wise: this includes those who intend to go into the third or public sectors – governments, charities and NGOs need to generate income and stay ahead of the game too.

At its most basic, commercial awareness is demonstrating that you know that businesses exist to make a profit, maintain / expand their client base and undercut the competition. Simple or what?

But how do you show this in applications, CVs, interviews if your experience is limited to the usual bog standard student job?

Don’t do this:

  • “My part- time role at Tescbury supermarket, involves shelf- filling, serving customers and operating the till.”

Not only is it blindingly obvious, it shows absolutely no appreciation of the most rudimentary business principles.

Try instead

  • “I work part – time at Tescbury’s, which has a turnover of £x000 and a weekly footfall of y customers, which has taught me to work under pressure.  Innovative staff training means I can deliver quality service and offer ideas for improving shop floor operations.  Targeted advertising and price match discounts have seen us outperform other local supermarkets.”

See what I did there? Quantification, a hint of pro-activity, tactical use of business jargon, a dash of business insight.

Now ramp up the volume:

  • promoting or running student societies / initiatives allows you to dazzle recruiters with your hands-on knowledge of finance, branding and contributing original ideas (all key to commercial success)
  • a nodding acquaintance with the news headlines is equally useful. You might be asked how a current political, social or business issue will impact on a specific job or organisation. Wrong answer/ no answer/ total bewilderment = lack of credibility.
  • would-be entrepreneurs should be able to provide evidence of investing time (not money at this stage) into exploring, researching, and, ideally, testing, the feasibility of their ideas
  • volunteering gives you a certain cachet, especially in the not-for-profit sector. Showing how you took the time to look below the surface and see how the organisation operates, obtains funding and keeps ahead of its rivals, will put you in pole position.

Commercial awareness? Easy when you know how.

Gill, March 2019

Gill Sharp is Careers Consultant with SOAS Careers Service

Guest Blog: INTERVIEWS – THE LAST WORD

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk

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Interview nearly over, end in sight, battle almost won.  Don’t relax just yet.  There are more hurdles to come:

#1“What questions do you have for us?”

Make the difference between becoming the jubilant first past the post and a regretful also-ran.  Avoid the trite, the tired and the time-worn.

DON’T:  ask questions to which the answers are readily available on the organisation’s website. (Nul points).

DO: focus on what you can give them. Less “Tell me about the chance to work in your Paris office” than “What opportunity will I have to use my French?” Or “How can I contribute to your international brand?” – which trumps “What are the opportunities for travel?”  You get the picture.

It’s not about you, it’s about them

If inspiration is lacking?

– put a new spin on a clichéd question.  Not so much “What will my training involve?” more “What makes your training stand out?”

– if they’ve asked you for a topical comment earlier in the interview, throw it back: as in “I‘d be fascinated to hear what you think about developments in this sector in the next 10 years….”

– seize the hour: what do they need to know about you – in order to give you the job, natch – that they haven’t already uncovered?   You can supplement your original answer with some cracking new material or go a step further: “No more questions, but I just wanted to tell you about x, y, z….”

Really want to leave the opposition standing? Zap them with this ace of an enquiry, along the lines of “What are the three key things you want me to achieve in my first few months in this role?”

Never fails.

DON’T dice with danger: never query the perks or the social life unless you want to come across as a crazed party animal.

DO: wait until you are offered the job to negotiate pay.  Right now you are dangling on their hook. Hold hard until they are skewered on yours.

BUT…what if they ask you what salary you expect?  If in doubt, stall for time.  Explain that you want time to assess what you have learned at the interview. If you do have an inkling of what constitutes reasonable remuneration, give them a ball-park figure at the higher end of the scale – because it’s entirely possible to negotiate down, less easy to raise the stakes.

# 2 Leave on a high.  Don’t scuttle away like a frightened crab.  Shake hands.  Smile. SMILE! Restate your interest and ramp it up higher. Try “I have really enjoyed meeting you and am more interested than ever in this job.”  A positive affirmation.  A winning move.

Gill, March 2019

Gill Sharp is Careers Consultant with SOAS Careers Service