Learning Opportunities at Lancaster University

Lancaster University Management School provides opportunities to learn outside of the conventional classroom based learning, creating a learning environment well suited to various styles of learner.

One such learning experience that I have taken part in during my second year of study is a management module, which involves working with a live client, to aid in resolving a real-world problem from the organisation.

The module is competitive from the beginning, with each group competing for their organisation of choice from a list of business (local and some further afield) who have partnered with the University to work with Management School students. This involves producing a ‘project bid’, in which the team must illustrate their understanding of their chosen client’s issues, as well as the team strengths to create an argument demonstrating why they should be allowed to work with the particular client. Once the bids have been evaluated, those who presented the strongest arguments are awarded the clients they requested to work with, and all other teams are allocated the remaining organisations.

Luckily for me, our project bid was strong enough to be awarded the client that we most wanted to work with. This was a small, local charity which meant our experience was very intensive and our involvement was perceived as being particularly important to the client.

Working with a charity was particularly rewarding, and a personal highlight was visiting the charity at the start of the module to learn more about the client. This was a great opportunity to speak to stakeholders and staff members to find out first hand important information about the problems faced. It was also great to be in a learning environment outside of University, in a real working environment and facing real organisational issues.

The project did not come without its challenges, though. An important part of the process for my group was to collect primary research, which involved approaching local people in the town centre. This proved to be more difficult than we had ever imagined, and encouraging people to speak to us wasn’t exactly easy!

The module runs over two terms, and is an intensive, hands on, real life experience. Working outside of the classroom acts as an opportunity to fully understand and experience the discrepancies between theory and practice, and understand the subject (in my case, management consultancy) in a much more in depth way compared to simply learning through lectures and seminars. Not only this, but this experience is a great CV booster – you can demonstrate real life skills working in a professional manner with genuine clients who have sought your help.

The assessment for this module involves an individual essay, which acts as an opportunity to reflect on the learning experience and how your understanding of the subject has changed with exposure to a real world consultancy issue. There is also a group report and presentation to the client, allowing you to showcase your hard work. The presentation is primarily for the client but moderated by the module tutors and lecturers, and therefore it really requires you to integrate your theoretical knowledge and practical experience in order to appeal to the different audiences.

I chose to study this module because I wanted to gain hands on experience whilst learning, and that is exactly what it provided. It truly is a one of a kind learning experience which inarguably throws you in at the deep end. Nevertheless, the experience is invaluable, providing real work experience and aiding in your academic study. It is an excellent opportunity to develop your interpersonal skills, and be able to show your understanding of a University subject in the real world.

The hunt for an internship

Internships are professional learning experiences that can help build career networks and contacts. Internships are usually aimed at undergraduate or graduate students, the position involves the intern working in an organization for a fixed period, usually three to six months, sometimes without pay, to gain work experience.

Typically, an undergraduate student taking a three-year degree will partake in a summer internship after their second year. When looking for an internship, it is important to make use of all available resources. There are many websites specifically dedicated to providing undergraduate students information about available internships.  These websites can be easily found with a Google search, the websites also have filtering tools where you can narrow down the internship opportunities available with your personal interest.

Be strategic when applying for these internships, as they are usually three months long so it’s important you enjoy working at the company and will learn from the activities involved with your role there. Search for companies or job roles that will assist you in your career path. Also, make use of the careers department at the university to help find an internship and help with every stage of the application process.

Paid internships are ideal, although you don’t have your degree yet, your time, skills and knowledge gained so far at university is valuable.  There are plenty of paid internships available, for a lot of these roles you will be involved with real work rather than just administrative tasks or running errands. If you can afford it, unpaid internships or volunteering can still be extremely beneficial experiences. You can get serious work experience, build a portfolio and establish a network of professional contacts which can help you after you graduate.

In a 2013 BBC article called ‘’Internships: The competitive world of work experience” by Lindsay Baker it was said that at the time competition had never been so fierce for internships. The article also included a quote by Pullin of milkround.com, a website specialising in opportunities for young people. He estimated that for the most popular sectors such as: IT, marketing, and business – there are at least 100 applicants per internship.

It goes without saying that these internship applications should be taken as serious as applying for a real job, like you will be doing once you graduate. It is therefore pivotal to do your research on the company, they want to know why you have chosen them and why they should choose you. It can be tempting to use the same generic answers for each application but taking the time out to learn more about the company and submitting a bespoke application specific to them will help you stand out.

“After carefully considering your responses, unfortunately on this occasion we will not be progressing your application.”

Some of us are familiar with the dreaded automated message above, finding out all out time and effort have been to no avail. The average student goes through several different applications before they are successful. These applications are extremely lengthy and can be quite tedious. It can also be discouraging when you have passed through many of the application stages but fail to pass the final stage, it’s a case of so close, yet so far. The optimistic way to look at these unsuccessful applications is that they are good experience that you can learn from for the next application, so don’t give up.

Some companies do not give feedback for on an unsuccessful application, especially in the initial stages, in this case do not hesitate to contact them and request feedback, doesn’t hurt to try. Most companies however provide feedback for applicants who become unsuccessful after the online ability tests/assessment tests stage, for example a Numerical Reasoning Test Feedback Report, which may tell you your score on the test and some actions to improve in the future.  They can also send you a Candidate Feedback Report which will include your strengths and weaknesses in each test. It can be useful to the read this feedback and if you agree with their criticism, work on a plan to improve your performance on these tests.

Also, note that companies have numerous opportunities for undergraduate students so if you weren’t successful in a programme, maybe there’s another one that you’re better suited for. Good luck on the applications!

Management Undergraduate of the Year Awards 2017

Having just received an email confirming that I had made it to the assessment centre stage of the Management Undergraduate of the Year 2017 awards, I thought it was definitely worth sharing my experiences.

Stage 1: Online Application 

I’m someone who’s very organised. I check my emails every day and always take note of the interesting things that I can be doing outside of my degree. However, I must admit that if you had asked me 6 months ago whether I could see myself applying for the Management Undergraduate of the Year awards, then I probably would have raised my eyebrows at you. I looked at the email sitting in my inbox and deliberated over it for a while. I knew that it would be a great addition to my CV, but I was unsure how far I would get through the process. After debating over it for a few days I decided that I would have nothing to lose by applying for it, plus, the fact that it was sponsored by Enterprise Rent- A – Car would give me some brilliant opportunities for networking, and would be a great experience of putting myself in front of a graduate employer- the fact that they were TargetJobs Graduate Employer of the Year 2016 was an added bonus.

After getting over the initial nerves of applying I had to go through the online application process. This involved filling out all the usual information such as grades and personal information, but also included some scenario-based questions. This was the time when I was really glad that I had got so involved with societies and other activities outside of my degree as it gave me an opportunity to use these as examples of the times that I had demonstrated the competencies that they were assessing. The online application stage also included a verbal reasoning test and a numerical based test, which is something that I have always struggled with, but I buckled down and managed to complete it.

After completing the online application I had to sit and wait for approximately 2 weeks to find out if I had been successful in this stage of the application. I was amazed when the email dropped into my inbox and the talent acquisition director  told me that I had made it into the Top 50, from a pool of over 200 applicants. The news was such a shock to me as I never thought I would get past the first stage.

Stage 2: Telephone Interview

Having made it through the first stage, the next stage was to be a telephone interview conducted with the Talent Acquisition Director at Enterprise. In this interview, I was asked why I applied for the award, what surprised me about  Enterprise and once again asked to describe situations where I have demonstrated key skills that a manager should demonstrate.

Given that this was the first graduate job style interview that I had undertaken, I was somewhat nervous. I was watching the clock like a hawk waiting for the phone to ring. When it did I took a deep breath and the interview seemed to go by in the blink of an eye. I answered all his questions as clearly as I could, making a note to mention the research that I had done into the company (A really vital thing to do in any job application process), discussing how impressed I was with the 37 various awards that Enterprise has won. We also discussed the extra curricular activities that I do outside of my degree, and he seemed fairly impressed with my involvement with 4 societies and having 2 part time jobs.

At the end of the interview he asked me why I thought I should get through to the assessment centre stage. I told him how I was really passionate about the company, and how I really thought the opportunity to demonstrate my skills physically as well as verbally would be valuable.  He told me that he would be in touch within the next couple of days to let me know whether I had been successful in getting through to the final stage.

Those next two days were the most agonising I have ever experienced. Even though I had only applied for the award without much anticipation to get very far, I now had a vested interest in my success. When checked my emails a couple of days after, I was thrilled to find that I had been invited to the assessment centre. Words couldn’t describe how happy I was, as not only was this the first time I had applied for something of this calibre and done well, going from being within the 200 applicants to being in the top 30 candidates within the entire UK was something that I was so impressed with.

Stage 3: Assessment Centre

With the end of this month heralding the assessment centre, I am fully prepared to make the best impression I possibly can on the assessors. Regardless of whether I get through to the final though, what this process has taught me above anything else is that I should push myself into doing things that I would not normally do, as who knows where it may lead me.

Self-discipline

I briefly mentioned in one of my previous blog-posts about budgeting the idea of Adulting. I expressed that University is an opportunity to become independent and begin adulating.  The term adulting can be found in the urban dictionary, it is essentially the process of becoming an adult by behaving like an adult, to do the things that adults regularly have to do. I also mentioned the new financial responsibilities students have to take on at university which prepares them for adult life, such as: budgeting, paying their rent, grocery shopping, laundry, purchasing text books, printing etc.

In this blog-post I would to emphasize another area of adulting which is the importance of self-discipline. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines self-discipline as the ability to make yourself do things you know you should do even when you do not want to. As students these things can be making yourself go to your lectures and seminars, this can be especially hard for students that live off campus. This a struggle that all undergraduate students face but once you think about your long term goals this should hopefully be enough motivation to get up and do what you have to do.

Also, when you think about all the time, money and general effort that has gone into you doing a university degree, you want it to all be worth it at the end of the day with a great degree classification on your graduation day. Another point I’ve heard people make regarding this topic is that, in those moments when you are feeling demotivated, to think about what a privilege even being able to further your education is. We are all aware that further/higher education in some other countries for example developing countries are restricted or limited to certain groups of people. Also, the ability to use student finance is a great benefit because it provides a system which enables students who based on their family income would normally not be able to afford university education.

Apart from thinking about the previous points, another way in which you can motivate yourself is by having a vision board. A vision board is a tool used to concentrate and maintain focus on specific life goals. This can be any board (physical or virtual) which you display images that represent whatever you want to be, do or have in your life. In addition to this you should also consider the practical actions needed to put in place to achieve that certain goal.

Realistically, there will be times when you feel stressed, demotivated, anxious, overwhelmed, home sick etc. A natural reaction in these times would be to confide in your friends who can be your support network but whatever you do it is important to seek help and not keep it all to yourself. There is help provided by the university to help you deal with issues outside of your studies, whether financial or personal. Don’t beat yourself up, give yourself a break, we are all humans and hence have imperfections. Self-discipline is very difficult, planning each day can be a great way to ensure you are being productive with your time and doing the things you know you have to do. For example, make a ‘To Do’ list, it can be very satisfying to tick off the activities on the list once completed.

Dealing with everyday activities – doing the dishes, cooking, cleaning, laundry etc., although they may seem simple can be challenging for some people. At the end of the day, most people start university as a teenager (average age in the UK is 18) and most people live on campus during their first year so they can no longer rely on other people to help them with certain activities.

With this new found freedom and independence it can be tempting and easy to fly off the rails.  Especially if coming from a strict environment back home, it can be tempting to initially just do whatever you want when you want, eat and sleep when you want etc. There is no one bossing you around and telling you what to do, you are essentially completely in control of managing a whole life – your life, which can be a very big responsibility.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

― Theodore Roosevelt

This quote by Theodore Roosevelt supports the idea that nothing good comes easy, so we should expect the challenges to come, if we struggle or fall we should still endeavor to get back up and learn from our mistakes.

Overall, I’m sure after university we will all be able to reflect, see the growth and the difference between who we were when we came to university and who we are leaving university as.

Telephone Interview: Grant Thornton

I recently had my telephone interview with Grant Thornton last Sunday. It was quite nerve-wracking watching the clock and knowing my phone would ring any moment. This was my third telephone interview. I had one last summer with ICAEW to become the campus ambassador and one with PwC, then this one with Grant Thornton. Here are a few tips on how to do your best in telephone interviews.

Step 1: Prepare

I know that it seems obvious but if you prepare in advance then the interview will run smoothly. I researched about Grant Thornton first on their website, then found out about them from other sources such as accountancy age. I applied for Audit and found out through Accountancy age that they had just welcomed a new audit partner to the team. I actually referred to this in my interview. It just shows the level of depth that you have gone into to learn about their company. If you are applying for Grant Thornton, check out their ‘spilling the beans’ blogs as these contain vital information and helpful tips which allow you to broaden your knowledge of the company and understand how current employees view the company. It allows you to find out about current roles of employees and their working environment. This gives you a valuable insight into the company so definitely check these out.

Step 2: Write bullet points and have these in front of you

I researched the key values and competencies of Grant Thornton and wrote these in bullet point form with short notes on how I have utilised these in my life. I used different coloured pens to highlight important points that I could say during the interview. I also had a copy of my CV in front of me in case the employer asked me about it. It’s good to have notes in front of you but try not to write too much as when you’re talking it can be difficult to find the information you could use if you have written large blocks of text.

Top tip: Try not to rustle the papers if you do decide to have notes as the employer might hear and it sounds very unprofessional

Step 3: Relax

If you sound nervous over the phone, the interviewer will notice. Try to relax your voice so it sounds smooth and unshaken. You will need to sound confident and friendly. Maybe answer the phone starting with ‘Good evening, Jade Street speaking’, obviously tailor it to you, if it’s morning say good morning and try to use your full name, maybe not your middle name but if you think it flows better do what makes you feel more comfortable.

Have a few deep breaths before the telephone interview and have the confidence in yourself and your preparation. Make sure that you sound friendly and not over confident. No one will be impressed if you’re too cocky.

Step 4: Ask questions

I asked a few questions at the end and the interviewer was very impressed with them. I asked about any further reading that I could undertake to ensure that I had the key knowledge to excel at this company and they gave me a lot of advice regarding contacting buddies as they have a buddy system and certain books which will guide me through the key information I will need.

Step 5: Reflect

Don’t agonise over the interview picking out every little detail but give at least 2 minutes after it to think about what went well and what you could have improved upon. Doing this will help you to get a grasp of how well it went and how to improve for future interviews as you will probably have more than 1. I have already had 3.

Further assistance

If you are still worried about your interview, there are the regular drop in sessions and events ran by the university to help you succeed. They can probably give a deeper insight and some more hints and tips in the secrets of a successful interview so don’t be afraid to seek help. My networking skills were awful so I attended a networking evening ran by Lancaster University last year and it helped me to develop my skills. I managed to make new contacts and find out about an employer connect scheme ran by Lancaster. I was paired up with a chartered accountant and all of this was due to me attending a networking event. This just shows how valuable the help from Lancaster University really is. Grasp these opportunities whilst you can.

‘Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them.’- William Arthur Ward

Good Luck in your future telephone interviews.