Name: Rebecca Fielding
Occupation: Managing Director of a consultancy business: Gradconsult
What did you study at University? Chemistry
What extra-curricular activities did you get involved in at University that aided you achieving your career goals?
Throughout University I always had to have a job to pay the bills. I had to work three-four shifts a week, which didn’t leave much time for clubs/sports. That said I was a course representative for a year and a member of ChemSoc (the Chemistry Society). Outside of that there was plenty of ‘socialising’ and making the most of the Union’s many student nights and great bars on my nights off.
How do you think the activities you attended at University/Students' Union have supported you? (e.g. in gaining skills, confidence, experience etc.)?
I never lacked confidence! But that confidence came from a narrow, well understood frame of reference and understanding of the world before University. I had never met such a diverse and intelligent group of people before. Listening to others, understanding new perspectives, questioning my own views and how to work with others were all key non-academic skills developed throughout my University experience.
What was your first job after leaving University?
I was a HR Administrator at the Co-operative Group. I started two days after my last exam! Before that, though, I had been a part-time HR Assistant at Aon for nearly two years, working alongside my studies to develop experience and skills in my chosen career field.
How long did it take you, from leaving University, to achieve your career goals?
I’m not sure I have achieved my career goals yet, as I still have some really ambitious things I want to achieve. But I have felt from the first year into my career that I was on the right track and achieving what I wanted to (I got my first promotion within three months and from there I worked very hard and progressed quickly). I think that is key – to focus on doing what you are doing right now really well and preparing for your next step. If you focus too much on what you want for the long term you can get depressed, disillusioned and frustrated early in your career (I call it the ‘I’m too good for this’ syndrome) – I have seen that a lot.
What was the career path you took from leaving full time education to achieving your career goals?
I was promoted several times during my time with the Co-operative Group, taking on leadership and professional roles in Recruitment, Training and Project Management before eventually progressing to be the Group Graduate Programme Manager. During this time I was also elected to join the board of directors for the Association of Graduate Recruiters in the UK, a critical non-exec role in my personal and professional development. I moved on from the Co-operative Group to be Talent Manager for the UK & Ireland for HJ Heinz and a few years later joined Asda as the Head of Leadership and Culture for the UK. The Asda role had responsibility for leadership training (there were 20,000 leaders and managers at Asda at the time), performance management, talent programmes, culture and lots of other exciting work for over 175,000 people in the UK. By the time I reached Asda in September 2008 (just over six years after graduating) I felt that I was achieving many of my early career goals.
What is your typical work day like?
It’s a cliché to say there is no such thing as a typical day but there really isn’t. This week as an example I have been writing proposals for new clients, designing and delivering a training session for senior leaders, managing 2-3 existing consultancy projects, conducting some research, working on our end of year finances with the accountant, kicking off some new research, recruiting a new team member, starting to write some new content for our website, executive coaching and telephone interviews for a key client. Oh and did I mention the business development exploration we are doing into international markets or the world’s first graduate careers festival? Somewhere in amongst all of that I have two children under 5 and a father with Alzheimers’ to care for, too. Life is full, vibrant, demanding and I love every day.
How well prepared were you when leaving University, to feel confident in finding and applying for jobs?
I had worked in a HR job for eighteen months by then, done a year in industry with ICI and had multiple jobs (including supervisory roles) in restaurants and call centres from the age of 14. So in many ways you could say I was well prepared. I was certainly confident, familiar with the world of work and thought I knew what graduate recruiters were looking for. But in reality I was uninformed and probably a little over-confident/arrogant about my abilities as a graduate entrant into the world of work. My expectations were very high about the type of work I would be doing and the type of salary I would be earning; neither were accurate in the first instance!
On reflection, is there anything you would have done differently to prepare for the world of work?
I would have looked beyond the well-known brand names and big corporate graduate recruiters on campus. These employers are heavily applied to by most graduates and from what I now know about myself I would have much preferred working in a smaller business where I could make a big difference. I would have spoken to the careers service (I think I went in once as a student to pick up a copy of Prospects). I would have done much more research into the types of careers, opportunities and employers open to me before starting to apply. I would have attended more employer presentations and had much more meaningful conversations at the employer careers fairs.
What advice would you give to students who aspire to careers in a similar field to yourself?
HR is a hugely competitive career area, often topping the league table for the number of applicants per vacancy. So the application form stage is often the most competitive part of the process, by far. Spend time researching the business, the role and the culture of the organisation (beyond just their website) to really stand out at this stage. You must not have a single error in your written English or grammar. All roles in HR impact upon other people’s pay, training and careers, so attention to detail, accuracy, excellent administration skills and communication are all critical skills. Secondly it’s very helpful if you can get any work experience in the field, as HR is often not what people expect it to be. For example anyone who answers the question ‘Why do you want to work in HR?’ with ‘I want to work with people’ is an immediate no for me. Thirdly, don’t apply to work in recruitment if you want to work in HR. Recruitment is a very different industry, more akin to Sales than HR. And finally, remember that you may not start off in the most glamorous or exciting job doing work that makes the most of your talent/intellect; I certainly didn’t. But the person who gets promoted is the one who does that job really well, as quick as they can, and is a pleasure to manage. Work hard, do your best and pop a smile on your face every day – you’ll be amazed how many people don’t do it, and just how far it can get you.