Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Graduate to Grown-Up: Vicky

Vicky, age 34.
Studied Business Management at the University of Hull,
graduated in 2009. 

As a fresh faced graduate, what did you want to do?
I actually wasn't that fresh-faced, I don't think I ever was, as I didn't go to university until I was 21. I had originally been accepted to study law at the University of Leeds following my A Levels when I was 18. However, as the summer passed, I decided that university wasn't right for me at that time. I, therefore, got a job at the local council in the mail room and, over the next three years, I worked my way up into a position that at 21 I considered pretty good. A job came up in my department which meant a big pay rise and lots more responsibility; however, I needed a degree to even apply for it. It then dawned on me that every job above my pay grade required a degree. However, none of the jobs specified what degree.

As I wanted to progress I felt that I had to go to university and, by 21, I felt ready. As I had a job and had just bought my first house, there was no way I could go to university full time or out of town. Therefore I checked out the university of Hull's website to see what part time degrees they offered. I eventually decided on Business Management as it seemed like a degree that I could use for the job I wanted, and also for many others if I wanted a change in the future. As I had studied and enjoyed Business Studies at A Level, it seemed like the right choice for me.

I did defer a couple of modules during my degree as my mum passed away and it hit me hard. But I managed to get back on track and graduated in the summer of 2009, aged 26, with the rest of my class. Although I didn't actually go to my graduation as I couldn't get the time off work. 

I had my now husband, Chris, during the time I was at university and we were living together so there was no way I planned to move away. Instead, I waited patiently until a promotion came up at work. I applied and got it. 

What do you do now?
I am now a Senior Emergency Planning Officer. I write emergency plans for flooding, fires, terrorist attacks etc, and I really love my job. 

Has it been a smooth journey to get to that position?
Once I had my degree, yes it was. In fact, I have been promoted twice since I graduated. But I think that it mainly because I was in the department already. I imagine that after graduation it can be a struggle to get a job in the industry you want to work in with so many graduates vying for the same positions.

What's been the biggest lesson and the biggest regret?
A big lesson for me was learning how to juggle my time, working full time and studying for a degree. It was hard work but I think that it helped my time management skills a lot, and maybe that's why I manage to work full time and run a blog now. Sometimes I regret not going to university full time when I was 18 and living the true student lifestyle. However, I know deep down I just wasn't ready. I didn't have the motivation and I know I wouldn't have tried my hardest and probably ended up regretting my time there. I was also lucky that at 21 I was considered a mature student(!) and, because I didn't earn that much, my university place was funded by the government, meaning I left university without any debt. I don't think the scheme exists any more, and for the opportunity I was given, I feel very lucky. 

Where do you see yourself in 10 years' time?
That's a tough one. As a travel blogger - maybe travelling the world full time with my husband in tow. Maybe a stay at home mum with a couple of kids and dogs, or maybe still doing what I'm doing. It's not that I don't have hopes and aspirations, it's just that I'm happy doing what I'm doing now, and having worked hard to get here, I'm going to try and enjoy it for as long as possible. 

Do you have any advice to someone struggling through their twenties?
So much advice, but how much of it is good advice I don't really know. I loved my twenties, yes there were ups and downs but apart from losing my mum - the most inspirational woman ever, it was a pretty good decade. I worked hard and I certainly partied hard. My main advice is to learn to say yes, kiss the boy (or the girl), travel if you can, live your best life, take your make up off before you go to bed and remember tomorrow is another day. One mistake or mess up doesn't mean it's the end of the world, although it might feel like that at the time - I've certainly been there. Focus on what you want and strive for it, even if you don't get it just try your best because that's all you can do. Oh, and let your personality shine, it's something that can and will set you apart from the rest of the crowd. 

Follow Vicky's travel adventures at:

Or find her travel blog on FacebookTwitter or Instagram

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Graduate to Grown Up: Emma

Emma, age 26.
Studied English at King's College London,
graduated in 2012. 

What was your dream job as a recent graduate?
I really wanted to go to drama school straight after university and train to be an actor. A lot of things made me reconsider though - or chicken out, whichever way you see it. I got quite ill the summer I graduated and lost a lot of confidence. I wasn't ever sure how to make it work financially, and I was finding other areas in the world of theatre that got me a bit curious.

What do you do now?
Right now, I'm working full-time as Executive Assistant at the Almeida Theatre in Islington. It's a completely brilliant producing theatre that, in spite of being small in size, produces some really bold and adventurous new work. We currently have Hamlet in the West End, with another two production lined up for the next six months, as well as 1984 on Broadway - so it's a great combination of being intimate and international at the same time!

In terms of getting here... the day I handed my dissertation I got a call from a director/writer I had worked with during an internship in my first year of university: she needed an assistant producer for her play in the West End and I jumped at the chance, and ended up by accident becoming interested in producing. I spent a couple of years working with a company producing new British musicals, working front of house on the side every evening, and trying to create as much of my own work as possible. It all got a bit much working day and night though, and I started to lose track of what I wanted to do and where I was going, so I took a year out to travel to Australia to work at the fringe festivals over there. I worked the weirdest mix of jobs ever, including giving advice to pregnant women and staging a group of four year olds' first Christmas nativity. 

At the end of that year I saw this job going at the Almeida and it seemed like everything might fall into place. I was dying to work in a venue, but had also started writing more and wanted to be closer to directors, writers, theatre-makers. I still write and perform on the side, I find it hard to stand still, but why I'd recommend this role to anyone wanting to break into the world of theatre, is because the access and relationships you form with so many people are unrivalled. Theatre is a difficult industry to break into and it often involves a lot of working for free or very like money and if you, like me, need to somehow pay rent at the same time, you end up working around the clock. It took me a while to work out a balance and, admittedly, having a more stable job and taking a break from being freelance has kept me sane; there will always be so many people willing to take your place or work for less money, but I'd always say protect your self-worth, say no sometimes, trust your instincts, and definitely don't feel guilty about flirting your way to free food in Pret.

What is life like working in the world of theatre? Is it 'the dream'?
I love it for so many reasons; it's a hub of creativity, you can wear whatever you like, everyone has a good sense of humour and your team is in it for the love of the work which is good for the soul. My job is quite Devil Wears Prada - I look after the diaries of the Artistic Director, Executive Director and Associate Director which can be a bit mad. People skills are a must, and being inventive, good at writing and capable of spinning a million plates also helps. It often means I have no idea what's going on in my own life and sometimes need five gins at the end of the day. Alongside the admin, I also do copy-writing for the theatre and read script submissions, which is what I love the most. Working in theatre can be strange hours - you're often seeing shows in the evening, but that also means you start later, so every cloud. I'm starting to learn that nothing is 'the dream' - we grow up on Disney and The Notebook  ideals but life is definitely equal amounts of "I can't believe I have a famous person's email address" and "I wonder what it must be like to be able to afford tampons AND food".

How important is your life outside of your job in progressing your career?
It's the most important thing for me. I have a habit of constantly looking ahead and putting a lot of pressure on myself to 'get somewhere' even if I have no idea where that is, and I just end up in Ikea. I do an improvisation course once a week which I'm obsessed with because the people are the most wonderful humans on earth, and it's also extremely good for the soul to just play like a kid for three hours on a Monday and make each other laugh. I also co-write with a brilliant comedian and one of my favourite people on earth, Tamar Broadbent; we wrote and performed our first comedy play SPLIT this year. I co-host and co-produce a podcast called Heroine Addicts with some brilliant women, and write my blog I've learned the hard way that if you do too much, and try to be superwoman, you burn out so I try to avoid getting ill or having major anxiety attacks by having at least one evening in a week to completely chill out, maybe go on a run or just hang out with my boyfriend in a way that isn't brushing our teeth in the morning before work.

Where would you like to be in 10 years' time?
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION. I really want to be a paid writer. I'm still figuring out my 'thing' - I love writing funny stories and I'm thinking about having a go at a book. Perhaps the dream would be to be Britain's equivalent to Amy Poehler. And as cliché as it sounds, I want to make sure I keep writing honestly and I'd like to think that whatever I write makes a difference - even if it's just making someone laugh on a cloudy day, or breaking a stigma, like letting the world know that we all get flaky nipples from time to time. But also on a basic level, the goal is being happy and healthy and to stay true to myself. I'd like to have a roof over my head and a kettle that isn't too slow. I'd like a better mattress and goodness me I'd really love a dog and to speak better Spanish. And endless, endless croissants. 

Check out what Emma is doing & saying on:

Monday, 14 August 2017

Graduate to Grown Up: April

April, age 33.
Studied Economics at the University of York, graduated in 2005. 

Immediately after you had graduated, what did you want to do?
I had been fortunate enough to obtain a place on a graduate training scheme as an actuary. However, after working there for 3 weeks, I knew it wasn't right for me. I'm not one to give up easily, but equally I am a big believer that life is too short - and, if you aren't happy, do something else. Within a month I managed to get on a graduate scheme with KPMG, and started in the Corporate Tax department.

What do you do now?
I still work for KPMG 11 years on, but I now work within the Restructuring Team. After working in Corporate Tax for a couple of years, I moved to M&A tax. Then the recession hit, so there wasn't much M&A work, but there was lots of restructuring and insolvency work - so I moved teams. That is definitely one of the advantages of working for a large firm.

What was your motivation for setting up your own business, and what have you learnt from that?
My inspiration for Prenderland Books came to me one day when I was tidying my little girl's bookshelf. She was about 18 months old at the time, and already had so many wonderful books - yet there were so many others I wanted to read to her too. It made me think about book swaps and the fact that, although we know lots of people with children, we never say to them "would like to borrow some of our books, and we'll borrow some of yours?" It was then that I decided to set up a website to promote the idea of sharing books using book swaps. The content of the website developed over time and, when it launched, it included top tips and stationery for Book Swap Play Dates, Book Swap Parties and Book Swap Events. It also included lots of ideas for how to have even more fun with books, free activities to download, and a free Book Ladder challenge. 

As well as providing lots of free resources to inspire children to read and have even more fun with books, I now sell some Prenderland products. Our current products are alphabet and number flash cards, alphabet and number mounted wall prints, a height chart, reward charts with stickers, and a range of greetings cards. I have learnt so much from setting up my own business, including managing social media accounts, how to work with illustrators, and how best to negotiate with regards to wholesale sales. However, most of the skills I have needed in relation to my own business have been transferable from my role at KPMG - for example, project management, networking, prioritising tasks and managing people. 

What has been the biggest challenge of your graduate life so far?
My biggest challenge, by far, has been juggling being a mummy and having a job. I am very fortunate that my job is very flexible - KPMG allowed me to reduce my hours to 4 days a week and work from home. This kind of flexible working is, in my opinion, essential in on order for parents/carers to achieve a good work life balance. Without this flexibility I wouldn't be able to have the career I have and spent the amount of time with my girls as I do. Even with this flexibility, being a mum is still a challenge! There is no rule book, no right, no wrong, no one size fits all approach. You have to learn as you go!

What advice would you give to anyone struggling through their early twenties?
My advice would be to set yourself some clear goals: what do you want to achieve, and how do you intend to achieve it? The goals should be realistic and should come with a time frame within which you are going to achieve them. Ask yourself what help you are going to need from others - it will be impossible to do everything by yourself. Most importantly, believe in yourself and your dreams. Dream big, do something you enjoy, and don't let anyone dishearten you. If other people think your dreams are silly, just work even harder to prove them wrong!

Interested in finding out more about Prenderland Books?
Check out their website:

Or find them on FacebookTwitter or Instagram

Friday, 11 August 2017

Graduate to Grown Up: Ben

Ben, age 31.
Studied Geography at Lancaster University,
graduated in 2007. 

On your graduation day, what did you want to do next?
I actually missed my graduation as I was working as a PADI Dive Master in Indonesia, supervising and teaching scuba diving to research students. I spent a couple of months out in Indonesia whilst i tried to decide what to do next. I always knew that a traditional office job wouldn't suit me and that, ideally, I wanted a career where I could work outdoors. However, it was difficult to know what steps to take or what career would be best. 

What do you do now?
I currently work as an Event Manager at Aim for the Sky, a company I set up a year after leaving university. On event days I spend my time managing my team, setting up and supervising team building activities, and teaching country sports - such as clay pigeon shooting and archery. However, I am also responsible for all of the organising and planning ahead of time. I work with my clients, and with hotels and venues, to ensure that everything runs smoothly on the day. As a business owner, I am also responsible for all of the business finances, marketing and day-to-day office management, so my job is pretty varied.

We have an activity venue in Chester where we teach clay shooting, archery and air rifles. The farm also has a quad trekking centre where groups can go off-road and explore the Cheshire countryside. We are there most weekend and host lots of stag/hen parties, as well as groups of families and friends. I really enjoy my job, especially when the weather is good. During the week, our main focus is the corporate team building events. These range from small groups of 15-25 people to large events with 150+ delegates.

Before I started Aim for the Sky, I worked for a number of other events companies as a freelance instructor, teaching archery and helping out on team away days. This experience was invaluable as I was able to see what other businesses did well, and what could be improved on. When I launched Aim for the Sky in 2008, I originally focused on teaching country sports, and actually worked as a subcontractor for a number of the events companies I worked with initially. After that, I expanded into team building, creating new and exciting activities including our 'construct a catapult' challenge and our treasure hunts. My main focus has been to build unique activities that are good fun. I really want clients to be impressed and excited when they arrive at our events, and see what they'll be doing with us. 

Has your degree been relevant in your success, and are you glad that you went to university?
My degree isn't really relevant to what I do now. However, I'm still really glad I went to university. I met a great group of friends and, more importantly, I met my wife Natasha there. She is one of the main reasons I started Aim for the Sky, and has always encouraged me to do something I love. Although she works full-time as a solicitor, she is also a director and shareholder of Aim for the Sky and is a great person to talk to about my ideas and ambitions for the company. She's currently on maternity leave as our son Edward is just 6 months old, so we're getting to spend a lot more time together at the moment.

Whilst I definitely enjoyed my time at university, I'm not sure I would recommend it to someone hoping to work in events now. The cost of tuition fees has increased significantly since I attended university and, in reality, industry experience is much more valuable in this line of work. There are courses available in event management, but I'm not sure how useful they really are. If you can gain work experience in the field you're interested in, then I would definitely recommend that as a good place to start. 

What are the best and worst things about being your own boss?
The worst thing about running a small business and being your own boss is that if you're tired or unwell, you still have to go to work. It doesn't happen that often, but when it does, it is difficult to keep going. Due to the type of events we organise, we also have to work very long days on occasion, particularly if we're travelling to an event further afield. I'm not a morning person, so definitely don't enjoy a 5am start, especially if I know I wont get home until 9-10pm. Luckily it's not every day, and the events usually make it worthwhile, but it's definitely a side worth considering if you're thinking of starting your own business. On the plus side, you can decide when you work, so if I need a day off during the week or want to spend time with my family, I can do. 

The best thing about running my own events business is definitely seeing our clients enjoying themselves, and receiving positive feedback about our activities and events. We're really fortunate that all of the customers we work with are looking to celebrate with colleagues, family or friends, so generally come to us with the intention of having fun. We have a number of clients who have come back to work with us year after year, it's great to see familiar faces and to know our team have done such a good job the client has come back to us again. Sometimes we work long days, but it's all worth it to know that the groups have had an experience they'll remember, and talk about it with colleagues, friends and family.

What's next for you?
We have just launched our new website which is really exciting. We're already seeing an increase in the number of event enquiries we're getting from the site, so hopefully that will continue to increase. We're currently based in Cheshire, and do a lot of work in the North West. However, with the new site launch, we are looking to branch out to cover more areas and regions of the North of England and the Midlands, so hopefully we'll see an increase in the number of events we have in those other areas. 

Long term, we would like to set up our own activity centre and clay shooting school. We have a great venue in Chester that works for us now, but ideally we would like our own purpose built centre. The biggest challenge is finding the right land, so our goal over the new few years will be to try to find the perfect location and start the planning process. 

Interested in finding out more about Aim for the Sky?
Check out their website:
Or find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Graduate to Grown Up: Hayley

Hayley, age 29.
Studied English Literature and Linguistics
at Dartington College of Arts (now part of Falmouth University), graduated in 2010. 

On your graduation day, if I'd asked you what your dream job would be, what would you have said?
I wanted to be a screenplay writer, or a journalist. I am still writing, and I have written pieces for papers and magazines. I wish I had more time to write for leisure. I would love to write a book. 

What do you do now?
I own a PR company called Boxed Out PR, and I run a campaign called FlowAid, which provides free sanitary products to homeless women. I started out doing an internship at a video blogging company, where I presented and did product reviews. This was fresh out of university. Whilst working there, I was in communication a lot with PR companies, and I discovered I preferred PR and had a huge interest in it. I liked the idea of promoting people's businesses and products, and working with exciting start ups. So I took another internship at a Cloud computing company. The internship was 6 months paid, and I was offered a job at the end of it. Even though I hated it, I worked my way up to Marketing and PR Manager and even managed the merge when the company was bought out. I then moved over to a PR agency in London, which I adored working for. I was there for a while before being made redundant. I then decided to set up my own company, Boxed Out PR, so I took a temp job in a secondary school library for money, and set the business up around it. I went full time about 4 months afterwards. 

I set FlowAid up in 2015 after reading an article in VICE. This was an entirely new playing field as I had no experience running campaigns without a team, or charities. It has literally been learn as you go. But since establishing FlowAid, I have partnered with St Mungo's and Ealing Soup Kitchen, supplied sanitary donations to several women's charities and, last year, I did a TEDx talk about the campaign, and the issues caused by not having free access to sanitary products. 

Why do you do it? What motivates you?
I love working for myself, and I have always wanted to run my own business. I love the challenges, and thrive on change. And it is always worthwhile with big client wins, and building great relationships. It isn't easy, and I am continuing to learn and develop, but that's all part of the process. I suffer from anxiety, which running my business can be a cause of sometimes, but it is also the thing that calms me down as I feel as if I am achieving something. What motivates me is building my business and being put in the same position as larger PR companies. I bought my partner on as my business partner when I took the company limited in January, and I love that we build the company together.

What do you do outside of your job that fulfils you?
FlowAid is my other evening and weekend job, this gives me great satisfaction knowing that I am helping people. I also enjoy going to the gym, as this allows me space from work, and allows me to switch off for a while. I also love cooking and writing, but I don't get to write as much as I would like. I purposefully don't work at the weekend so I can spend time with friends and family, and it is important to switch off and recharge. I don't think my business would be successful if I didn't get time to mys as it allows me to step back and look at things from a different perspective. This is usually when I get my best ideas. 

What advice would you give any struggling graduate on how to become a #GirlBoss?
Network and build your contact list, and leverage them. Nowadays, it isn't what you know, it's who you know. Your network is your net worth and the sooner you start build it, the better position you will be in when you're older. Also, don't judge people, or write them off because they can't help you now. They may be able to help you later down the line, and having them may mean the difference between unemployed and employed. I have met people before who have contacted me two years later about opportunities. It's important to leave a good, lasting impression. My grandad always said to me, people who are nasty and rude get to the top quick, but don't stay there as long, as there are always people looking to pull them down. True professionals, who help others, get there slower but stay longer as people want to push them up.
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