Rupert. Languages Graduate. University of Nottingham.
1. Tell me how your career journey has gone since you graduated?
Interestingly, I’ve just resigned from Amazon today. I’m actually changing sectors, going into financial services.
How has my career journey gone so far? Wow what a big question. I think it’s been good to have two big brands on my CV; once you’ve got 2 years at Kingfisher and 3 years at Amazon under your belt, that has weight to it and recruiters approach you. Once you get started it does get easier for sure. The first hurdle is the hardest. Actually, psychologically, if you’ve never had a job before you don’t know what the working world is like (although maybe you’ve had internships etc). But yeah, it’s really hard to say, I want to be positive about it and there’s such a mix of things I could say.
The Kingfisher scheme was good. I had a year in France and the UK. I had the experience of working abroad, being given a lot of autonomy then moving to a different operating company with a different culture and then Kingfisher restructured and centralised so I had three great stages within which I learnt a lot from. I could’ve stayed there but they were cutting headcount so that kind of pushed me out in a way – that sounds bad but they were a good employer.
Then I moved to Amazon (jewellery/watches division). It’s a very different company, you almost don’t know until you get there really and actually see it. It’s been a huge learning experience, having that traditional bricks and mortar retail for 2 years then 3 years of e-commerce. But I just felt like it wasn’t a great cultural fit, I needed a change.
So now I’m working in financial services (called JDX consulting) and it’s a much smaller and different sector but a lot of the skills are transferrable so I think everything I’ve learnt in terms of influencing skills, project management skills and analysis and technical skills, particularly from Amazon, are relevant across sectors. But you’ve really got to drive that because recruiters will offer say, Amazon account manager or an e-commerce role or retail consulting. If you want to go out of that sector you really have to pitch that yourself because recruiters are working for the clients and trying to get clients, rather than trying to get you a job specifically.
The main take-aways are you don’t really know what it’s going to be like so you’ve just got to do it to see what it’s like and it’s okay to change. I think it’s important to really work out what you enjoy, be pushy and make sure you enjoy what you’re doing and are valued in the company. You should be excited about going to work. Obviously you’ve got to jump through hoops, that’s the game, but don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re a very well-qualified (particularly if you’ve got some experience under your belt) and competent person and really think about what you want and the type of sector and work you’re really going to thrive in.
2. What was your motivation for choosing this career?
I think the main thing was that I was really attracted to the big, well-known consumer brands which kind of went under retailing FMCG. I thought it would give me some good well-rounded commercial experience; a buying department, own the PNL, getting familiar with the contract management, negotiation – so it felt like really good well-rounded training. And also opportunity to work abroad and make the most of my language skills, so both jobs at Amazon and Kingfisher I was set apart by that, I was fairly suited to those roles because they’re specifically looking for those language skills. Nestle had something like 2000 applicants but with Kingfisher there were only 600, obviously it’s a less known organisation, but it was also restricted because of the role being open only to French speakers. So having languages is a really great way in to getting into these jobs.
3. In the beginning did you use your degree knowledge and skillset you got from uni?
Languages for sure, from uni. But also I think the internship helped so much, you’d learn how to do business essentially, the importance of custom centricity and basing everything on customer needs, being commercial, quantifying the opportunity, prioritising, presenting with conviction and impact - so the internships were definitely invaluable. I really think that to get and understand what works going to be like you’ve really just got to do it. I think, unis’ do careers’ advice but you need to just get in there really, otherwise it’s only theoretical, you learn by doing. You can read a business book but until you’ve lived it you don’t really take on the learning.
4. What new skills have you developed?
I think commercial acumen and that lead into things like prioritisation, understanding commercial organisations…You’re there to grow sales and margin so that’s just so essential, that’s really the no.1 thing. I’ve learnt a lot of analysis, taking a complex problem, whatever that may be, and finding solutions. Finally, being really focused, relentless almost, in driving those solutions to fruition so you can actually demonstrate business impact. Also as you progress in your career you’re building up stories about stuff like; this is the problem I had, this is what I did and this is what I delivered.
5. At this stage are you where you’d hope to be in that time frame?
Yeah, I mean I’m not sure about publishing this but I’ve had a very good experience, 2 years at Kingfisher and 3 years at Amazon doing retail and e-commerce has been a great experience. I haven’t had the best experience at Amazon, I’ve had 5 managers in 2 ½ years and there was a bit of a mismatch between them and my values, it wasn’t a great fit. So I would’ve liked to have been further, you’re expected to get promoted in a couple of years at Amazon but I think they kind of a couple of reasons for that, not necessarily because I was bad at my job, I am good at my job, but if you fall out with your manager and have 5 managers and disagree a bit with some of their approaches being made then that can hold you back, you’ve got to learn to forget the politics.
6. Did you have a career plan?
I guess I’d say what do you mean by that? I guess you’ve got to do something that sound obvious but make sure you do something that you have got some interest in whatever it may be that attracts you to it, something that you really admire and get excited about because at the end of the day you’ve got to go and sit in front of them and you’ve really got to convince them that you want to work there, they’ve got to feel it and when you’re there they’ve got to see the passion so I don’t think you need a long-term career plan, be ambitious for sure but you don’t know until you get there, so don’t be too fixed. Have a plan on how ambitious you want to be and what you’re interested in but just have a go and try it out. It’s normal to change company or change sector in a couple of years, don’t feel like you have to be too committed, I know that’s different for say medicine or law, but you can still change so I think go for something and be flexible
7. How did you make it happen?
Work experience was the main thing because all the graduate scheme application and interview processes are the same. They’re all doing the same playbook of whatever the latest best practice is which is competency-based interviewing, which I had no clue about, I didn’t know about how important culture was, so you really need some work examples so you can demonstrate the competencies they’re looking for. And the companies are completely over the top, you’ve got kids who’ve only done a few months’ work experience and they’ve got you in an hour asking you 10 competency based questions and 5 follow up questions, which is completely over the top but that is the kind of model, so you do need to get work experience. But you can also blag your way in on chance, if you’re really warm and enthusiastic and recognise, like, look I realise I haven’t necessarily got the experience you’re looking for but if you just get on really well and are enthusiastic. It’s not essential but it does really help if you’ve got work experience. Also I think I had a lot of support from family friends and stuff so they tell you what the companies are looking for and how you can approach it. Try and find people who can help you, if you’ve got contacts, and that can come from anywhere really, get some advice on CV, cover letter, approaches; basically start networking really.
8. Job hunting strategy?
I looked at top 100 companies because I thought it made sense early in your career to have a big brand. That’s not to say it’s the only way because the guys who’ve made the most money and have the most seniority have joined small companies that have done well, it’s just a more risky strategy. You don’t have to get a big brand on your CV but that’s what I just started to do. It also felt like the big companies have the resources to invest in training which is not necessarily the case because actually even when they say it’s a grad scheme it turns out to be an entry-level job for a few years and there is actually quite little infrastructure, so actually I think it’s more about the brand.
9. Who did you take advice from?
Family friends in senior commercial roles. Anyone and everyone really; friends, parents anyone who you think could be useful, not necessarily in your network per-say but who could still help.
10. What advice would you give a fresh graduate – a 20 something version of yourself?!
Be balanced, because you need a job and the best way to do that is to have a job and still do other things. It’s super competitive and it’s really intense but go through it and keep everything else up. Don’t drop stuff because just focusing on work isn’t a sustainable strategy. Maybe that’s not appropriate for everyone and maybe you could phrase it more positively but I’d say really go for it, but there’s more to life than work. It can be a bit intense and you are going to get knocked down, you will get rejected but you’ll keep giving it a go and do stuff you enjoy so you can keep a positive mind-set and go back to it with energy because it’s so easy to feel defeated because it is a long gruelling process, it might have 5 or so stages.
11. Any challenges during the transition from uni to work?
Yeah, I think it’s how you behave at work that’s so important. So whereas uni work is like an intellectual academic exercise companies expect you to be extremely enthusiastic and high energy and passionate for the brand, almost to a level of “brand-evangelicalism”, you really need to live and breathe it with you non-verbal communication, show your commitment, passion and drive. It’s not good enough to just do your work; you need to be volunteering for projects, getting your share of voice across in meetings, be positive and all that kind of stuff. It’s completely different; you have to be really conscious of behaviour being read in the right way. Read the situation, if something isn’t up for debate kind of judge the situations for what they are I guess and if there’s something you need to do just do it and if it’s up for debate then you can challenge but be aware that that’s not always the case, be aware of the office culture.
12. Advice for first week and few months of a new job? (office etiquette, politics, etc.)
Get everyone to like you. Be really friendly and get everyone onside, be really enthusiastic. Basically you’ve got to show enthusiasm, don’t worry too much about specific stuff about the organisation just go for lunch, go for coffees, get on good terms with everyone, then when it comes to needing something from someone or working with them or actually, your 2 years are up and who are we going to hire and actually it comes down to who do we want to keep on and a lot of it is down to who you like. It’s not just work; it’s work and people liking you and whether they want you to stay. Putting in that kind of groundwork and seeing it as part of work, going for pints, being present at the ciggie breaks is more important than you know, staying late every night to pull some more data.
13. Anything you would do differently if you could start over?
No, I think I’ve learnt a lot from it. I’m not sure retail is the best sector to work in, it’s really struggling, retailers are going into administration every week, it’s very tough. So I would say try and get into a growing, profitable sector. But I don’t want to be too negative but just be mindful of the consequences of being in a business that is in trouble is tougher than potentially one that is growing.
14. One final top tip?
Start early. Get your work experience, get your applications out, don’t fall off the treadmill without a job if you can.