Challenges are committed to growth. We want to help businesses grow and we want to help people grow. This is the first edition of our “Meet the Pro” series. Here we will gain insight from industry experts and ask the important questions about how they got to where they are today. Today we meet with Stephanie Nicholson, Management Consultant at Accenture.
Name: Stephanie Nicholson
Current Position: Management Consultant
Did you do anything similar to the CW ICS programme before you were 35?
No, sadly not! I think this type of experience looks very impressive on a CV. It shows several things that are attractive to potential employers. For example, that you have experienced different cultures and adapted to different environments, as well as helping others, developing time and organisational skills and working in a team.
What was your most recent position, with what organisation and which sector was this in?
I work for a management consultancy, where we work on different projects helping clients with big organisational change programmes. My most recent position was on a project in Financial Services, helping one of our clients to reduce their operating costs. This involved us looking at ways to cut spending, such as consolidating offices to rent out or sell off real estate, making processes more efficient, and outsourcing work to low-cost locations, such as India. I travelled to Mumbai four times with this project to work with the teams out there, which was a great experience. There were differences in office culture and in how we approached challenges, so it was interesting to learn from each other, to work out how to communicate and work together.
What was your first job?
My first job was at my local dance school, teaching ballet and tap. I grew up dancing and started off assisting my dance teacher with the nursery ballet classes and gradually took on more classes during the sixth form. Through this experience, I developed leadership and coaching skills. I also enjoyed it a lot and it paid pretty well for an afterschool job!
Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
After graduating I took a temp job for the NHS back in my hometown of Oxford. I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do once I graduated and I felt a bit lost at that time in terms of my career. I applied for a wide range of graduate schemes and wasn’t getting very far on any of them and that was quite discouraging. One of my more senior colleagues at the NHS was an IT project manager who I got along well with, and I have her to thank for at this point giving me a much-needed kick to get myself in gear! She encouraged me to write more applications, gave me ideas of companies I would be a good fit for, and told me not to be put off by previous rejections. She helped me to work out that one of the reasons I hadn’t succeeded in the past was that I didn’t really know what I was applying for or why. My colleague helped me to find careers events I could go to find out more about different industries and this information helped me to write much more relevant, detailed applications which then led to me being offered the position at Accenture. I needed someone to tell me to stop being defeatist and believe in myself, and I try and remember this lesson at other points in my career where I am not sure whether I can succeed in something or not.
Advice for Young People
What are the three most important things to ensure you continue to progress throughout your career?
Keep learning. The worst thing you can do is to let yourself feel satisfied that you know everything there is to know about your job. If you aren’t learning anything new you aren’t furthering your own skills and that won’t help you to progress – and you will get bored! You should always be asking yourself what else you want to do, and asking your manager what you can do to improve.
Enjoy what you do. Work isn’t always fun, sure, but there should be a level of satisfaction that you get from it that will keep driving you and make you want to work harder.
What three things do you look for when hiring a young person?
I studied languages, so I have to admit that one of the first things I will look at is the grammar, spelling and language used in a CV or personal statement. If that is not your strong suit, get someone else to check it for you. Mistakes show that you weren’t thorough and paying attention to detail. It seems minor, but you don’t want to be ruled out based on this before you get a chance to prove yourself!
I would also look for transferable skills that are applicable to the position, be that from academic or work experience. Things like teamwork, leadership and time management are useful no matter what the job is. I would also look for some hobbies or extra-curricular interests. I want to get an idea of what you’re passionate about and who you are outside of your work/studies.
Lastly, if you are going for an interview make sure you turn up on time (or early) and look professional, first impressions are important.
What is the most difficult interview questions you’ve ever been asked? Hopefully, it’s none of these questions!
My least favourite interview questions are “where do you see yourself in five years?” and “what is your biggest weakness?” The “five years” question is still one I struggle with. I think that it is actually better to keep yourself open to opportunities that come along and re-evaluate what you are doing and the direction your career is going in on a regular basis. So I try and keep my answers here fairly vague around wanting to manage a team, to have had at least one promotion etc. That seemed to work ok, but if anyone has any better suggestions then let me know! The “weakness” question is tricky because you obviously don’t want to talk yourself down too much. You also don’t want to be too obvious in turning this into a positive so that it looks disingenuous. If you can show your awareness of the weakness and how you are working to mitigate it then it shows you are trying to improve yourself, which is a positive.
Some young people feel frustrated that they cannot get the job they are after or start a business and feel anxious about their future. What would you say to them?
As I mentioned before, I have applied and been rejected for plenty of jobs. So know that you are not alone in feeling that frustration! Apply for lots of positions and don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, that way it won’t be such a disappointment when one or some of them don’t work out. And make sure you research the company and the position, this will come across. Avoid generic reasons for applying such as “the company has a good reputation” – this isn’t specific enough to that company.
Remember that lots of very successful people failed at the beginning. JK Rowling often talks about being an unemployed, single mother before Harry Potter became a success, and how she sent her manuscripts to lots of publishers and was turned down again and again. But she believed in her product and she didn’t give up. You learn a lot from your failures, probably more than from your successes. So don’t give up. Ask for feedback, if possible, where you have been unsuccessful and address those points going forwards.
Speak to people in the industry you want to go into; find out who your friends and family know who can offer advice. You will find that people are more often than not very happy to speak about their experiences and offer help. How did they get to where they are? What skills can you work on that will help you? Can they help you to get some work experience? Work experience is a great way to bolster your CV and see for yourself whether it is definitely the career that you want. Also look for local careers events where you can go and speak to representatives of companies and industries and ask any questions you might have. The more information you have the better.
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