Into HR, via student societies, volunteering, internships and work experience – oh, and a degree in Philosophy and English lit!


Katy, a recent Philosophy and English grad from Edinburgh, wrote for us about her experience as a Human Resource Management trainee with Standard Life (including a placement in Canada) and how she got into it. (And no, I didn’t bribe her to write so positively about using the Careers Service!)

Via a series of Q&As below, find out how student societies, volunteering, internships and work experience , as well as her degree studies, all played their part in helping her to get where she is today.

How have you used the skills and/or knowledge developed during your degree in your career?

Time management and self-discipline are skills that I developed during my degree and I use all the time but I don’t mind admitting that I studied Philosophy and English for the love of it and the stuff I learnt bears no direct relation to the work I do now. However, being at university broadens your experience and makes you cleverer – that’s a benefit whatever you do.

 What experience do you feel helped you get where you are now?

During the summer of my penultimate year, I did an internship which resulted in being offered a permanent job so this work experience was central to gaining my current role. A previous summer job as a HR administrator as well as my time working for the careers service put me in a strong position to apply for the internship. My time as Head of Arts and then Treasurer for Fresh Air Radio gave me an edge against other candidates when applying for my role. I also spent some time volunteering for Shelter which I was able to talk positively about in my interview.

 Reflecting back on your career path between graduation and your current job; what career decisions did you make and how?

In my third year, I knew I wanted to get some structured work experience over my summer holiday. I used the Edinburgh Careers Service to look at internships and I felt that HR would be a good fit for me. It was not a conscious decision to find a career in HR – I just knew I wanted to gain experience. I used the Careers Service extensively during the recruitment process which involved several stages including a two day assessment centre. I was lucky that the role suited me and I was invited back for a permanent graduate position. Since joining as a graduate I have worked with my mentor and programme head to move between placements and plan my career moves.

 What advice would you offer to students who want to get into your area of work?

Having a good/excellent degree is only the baseline – you need to show you’ve had drive outside your studies to be involved with projects, societies, positions of responsibility etc. A degree in HR is not necessary but you need to have a proven interest in HR, know what it involves, both operationally and strategically. To be a business partner, you also need to show that you have strong commercial awareness and business acumen for the sector you work in.

 What general advice would you offer students making career decisions today?

Use your careers service, most valuable tool you have. Second most valuable tool is your network – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know (and who knows you). Don’t worry about making a firm decision about “what you want to be when you’re a grown-up” because no-one knows and jobs that exist now may not be around in 5 years’ time and your dream job might not exist yet. Think about what you want from a role right now e.g. location, work/life balance, the kind of people you want to work with, a feel-good company, lots of money – and think about the type of job that will match those things. Make sure to prioritise – no job’s perfect. You don’t know what a job’s like until you try it so don’t get wrapped up in one particular career – give yourself the freedom to try something and see how it goes.

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