Author Archives: Freya Gioiosa

Event Review: Lecture on Leadership in Challenging Circumstances

This guest lecture was hosted by Cath Bishop, a former Olympic rower and former British diplomat, who now works as a leadership speaker and consultant with organizations and business schools.

Cath started the lecture by talking about her experience in sport and how she got into rowing. Her lecture focused on three main themes:

  1. High performance under pressure
  2. Constant learning
  3. Communication under pressure

Maintaining High Performance under Pressure

“This requires clarity, constant learning, and collaboration with others. Ask yourself, why do I get up in the morning? – Clarity of your goal, the purpose behind your hard work. Clarity is about defining your daily focus. Clarity highlights what you want to achieve, and why it matters to you. Eventually, you will find a way to attain it. You can’t expect to always possess the answers.”

From a leader perspective, leaders should create an environment where everyone you’re responsible for feels connected and comfortable.

Constant Learning

Cath moved on to talk about the attitudes we have toward constant learning. Most sport teams train to win, plan to win and play to win. Don’t. Instead, plan to learn whenever possible. Think of every experience as a learning opportunity. This is common practice amongst high performers, and they often share two other traits:

  1. They seek feedback
  2. They regularly review their successes and failures, asking how they can improve their performance, even if only by 1%

Q: How can you be effective in a complex, hostile environment?

“Be resilient, adaptive and flexible. It is crucial to be self-aware under immense pressure, to understand yourself in your worst circumstances – to know what your triggers and to manage your behavioral patterns. Seek authentic, collaborative relationships with people who are willing to go the extra mile for you.”

Communication under Pressure

Communicate with others and always remember that the consideration of others comes before everything else. Communication is at the heart of a high performing team, and of a true leader. “Never lie knowingly, be honest with who you are, and in what you say”. Always listen more than you speak, especially in an argument with another colleague. Talk about what really matters to them – what concerns them, because it is only effective communication when you speak on a personal and relatable level. Oftentimes, people are too focused on getting their points across which leads to a double-fail situation.

Collaboration Rather than Teamwork

Find something in common, share a common purpose, challenge perception, check reality, and be less competitive. Don’t compete at times when you’re not supposed to compete. Collaborate and understand each other’s’ strengths. At the end of every training session, it is down to how well your team members connect because everyone is already damn good (e.g. Olympics), the only factor which decides your success is ‘how well you read each other’.

Finally, ask yourself, “What is your 1% game changer?” “What can make you 1% more effective?” Improve by a tiny margin and let your passion be your driving force.

At the end of the lecture, Cath highlighted the useful messages found in the two following quotations:

  1. “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers” – Voltaire
  2. “To collaborate effectively remains a matter of personal choice” – Mark de Rond

Ultimately, the most important question is to remember is this: What does this race/challenge mean to you?

Cath Bishop –  Silver Medalist, at the Olympic Games in Athens, 2004

 

PSC Leadership: Leadership Is A Journey

 

This is a review piece for the lecture, PSC Leadership: Leadership is a Journey, given by Lindsey Paterson, a partner at PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers). PwC is the second largest multi-national professional service network in the world, headquartered in London.

Lindsey Paterson is a politics graduate from the University of Edinburgh, then a qualified chartered accountant, and has worked for PwC for nearly 23-years. She specialises in the delivery of risk assurance services to the public sector and has particular focus upon the higher education sector. Lindsey started the lecture by sharing a little bit about her personal biography. Having advanced from state-school, to a Politics degree at the University of Edinburgh then becoming a chartered accountant, Lindsey has faced numerous challenges in the process to achieving her success today.

Lindsey failed her first chartered exam for accountancy, but attempted a second try and passed. For two years (1992-1994), she was temping and working in local government, but hoped for a more challenging job. In 1994, she applied to PwC which was a perfect fit for her as the position involved the integration of both her interests: politics and accountancy. It started with a small team of four, and grew to approximately 40-people. She was promoted to a Director position in 2003 and had her son, Rory, in 2005. Lindsey spoke about the challenges of balancing life and work, and dealing with unexpected issues. 2013 marked the start of the process to her promotion to partnership, and Lindsey explained how feedback helped her develop during this time. 1 July 2016 marked Lindsey’s first day as a partner at PwC.

Lindsey recommended a book which she holds dear: “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (2013)”, by Sheryl Sandberg. She placed particular emphasis on the following quote:

“Presenting leadership as a list of carefully defined qualities (like strategic, analytical, and performance-oriented) no longer holds. Instead, true leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed…. Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection”

(Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, 2013)

The lecture concluded with a few important take-away messages:

  1. No two leadership journeys are the same
  2. Take conscious decisions
  3. Be open to opportunities as they come
  4. What’s right for you can change over time
  5. Be the best you can be and don’t underplay your achievements
  6. Set backs make you stronger and help you to learn
  7. Don’t be a sole trader (Sharing your problems can help!)
  8. Take personal responsibility

Lindsey concluded the session by taking questions from the audience, including one about the importance of confidence. She said “looking back, I am quite a shy person and had never thought I would be standing in front of an audience talking about my leadership journey. But, my confidence grows either by pushing myself or because I just have to do it as a part of my job. So, confidence will grow but sometimes certain things can knock it down and the important bit is, don’t try solo. If something affects you, speak to someone. Get confidence from people around you and never forget how much you have achieved. Don’t focus solely on your weaknesses but more on your strengths. When you focus on strength, it is a whole different conversation.”

The road to employment according to a PSC Graduate

We caught up with PSC Graduate Mathias Holmen Johnsen, currently an instructor at the Norwegian National Emergency Planning College. Below he tells us about his journey into the job market and how his professional skill set has developed since he took part in our course. 

“I graduated from St Andrews first in 2013. That was at the end of an M.A. in International Relations and Psychology. I then went straight on to take an M.Litt. in Terrorism Studies, graduating from that in 2014. I’m now a civil servant, teaching courses on various topics related to civil and public safety and security. My work consists partially of course preparation (gathering materials, doing research, making presentations, etc.), whilst I also hold these courses (lecturing, advising on group-work, etc.). I believe my academic credentials and oratorical experience (I was an active member in the university’s Model United Nations society) was most important in securing this position.

mathias-psc

This was all offset by my involvement with the Professional Skills Curriculum, which I saw as an opportunity to obtain skills that would be useful for professional life that I would not get explicit training in through my academic activities. The PSC provided a foundation for understanding the context of a professional work-environment. Whilst the PSC is of course limited by its size and time, I felt it provided a very good introduction that was worthwhile to have when I began my career. It is also something I feel I have been able to build upon further in my job.

For example, I have found workplace diplomacy to be crucial to success. It is useful to cultivate the ability to decline requests when you are overworked, voice concerns or raise issues regarding someone else’s project or product, whilst steering clear of general conflict. Doing this and similar things in a polite, positive and productive way is a very important skill that seems to be rather overlooked. My advice to those currently experiencing the job hunt would be this: Your skills can qualify you for unexpected professions, so keep an open mind and do some in-depth research on what sort of jobs are actually available. You might be pleasantly surprised!”

Want to see more interviews from the PSC? Visit PSC Extra: https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/students/careermatters/professionalskills/pscextra/

Find our latest events here: https://www.facebook.com/ProfessionalSkillsCurriculum/

 

Employers’ Tip: The STAR Interview Technique

Interviews are often daunting experiences, but remain instrumental to the application process and generally determine why one candidate is successful over another. To try and grasp exactly what employers are looking for from interviewees, the Professional Skills Curriculum Team quizzed several organizations at one of the university’s recent careers fairs.

Police Scotland particularly emphasized the importance of interview styles and recommended using the STAR technique, formulating answers using the following pattern:

describe a SITUATION  explain your TASK – say what ACTION you took – reveal the RESULT.

star

They believe that the benefit of this method is that it helps you stay focused on giving your interviewer specific examples of your success. Equally, the ‘Result Section’ of your answer allows you to quantify how you personally made a difference to the situation.

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This simple acronym is one to keep in mind for when you next attend an interview, as it gives you a transferable structure which can be applied to any question. It also makes it easier to give organised and logical responses, demonstrating to your prospective employer that you have an ability both to provide relevant examples of your competencies and evaluate how projects you have been involved with have progressed from start to finish.

 

 

To find out how you can get involved with the Professional Skills Curriculum visit https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/students/careermatters/professionalskills/programme/ 

Find our latest events here: https://www.facebook.com/ProfessionalSkillsCurriculum/

Interview with PSC Graduate Guy Brett-Robertson

psc-interviewee

Guy, currently an Actuarial Associate at Punter Southall, tells us about how his involvement with the PSC during his time at university has helped kick-start his career.

When did you graduate from St Andrews and what was your field of study?

In the Summer of 2015, with a MPhys in Astrophysics

Could you describe your current role/typical workday?

Typical hours: 9-6. About 50% working on spreadsheets, programs and documents on my computer. About 50% of my time is spent talking to colleagues, followed by paper work and meetings. The work is very diverse as it’s a consultancy. I’m often doing around 10 different tasks each day which keeps it interesting.

Which qualities proved most useful in securing your current position?

  • My strong mathematical and analytical abilities
  • Programming/IT skills
  • Written and oral communication
  • Ability to communicate difficult concepts at all levels
  • The fact that I am both team-oriented and comfortable working independently
  • Good time management, particularly when there are conflicting deadlines

What prompted you to embark on the PSC curriculum?

Wanting to be more well-rounded.

How well did the professional skills programme prepare you for a corporate environment?

It really helped with interviews, especially improving my answers to competency based questions. Beyond that it was moderately helpful in general.

What advice would you give to final year students who are unsure about their career paths?

Fake it ’til you make it. Chances are you’ll feel as clueless as you do now long after you graduate, but that’s OK, so does everyone else. If you haven’t already, you need to learn to manage those feelings and just play the game for a while. Success will come.

To find out how you can get involved with the Professional Skills Curriculum visit https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/students/careermatters/professionalskills/programme/ 

Find our latest events here: https://www.facebook.com/ProfessionalSkillsCurriculum/

INTERVIEW WITH PSC GRADUATE HAYLEIGH EDSON: TRAINEE ON THE ALDI MANAGEMENT PROGRAMME

When did you graduate from St Andrews?psc-post-hayleigh

In June 2016 with a BSc (Hons) in Management.

Could you describe your current role/typical workday?

Being on the Aldi Graduate Area Manager programme. I am currently doing my ‘store time’ learning the role of store staff for half of my training year, which involves managing teams of staff throughout the day to meet strict productivity targets and customer service levels. Daily tasks include ensuring products are available and prioritising tasks.

Which qualities proved most useful in securing your current position?

The recruitment process for this programme is tough. I believe that my ability to look at situations as part of a bigger picture was instrumental. Ultimately, maintaining composure and confidence despite the various challenges I faced in the interview process was key to securing the position.

What prompted you to embark on the PSC curriculum?

In my second year I became treasurer of the badminton club. The president that year recommended that getting involved with the PSC would be a good way to learn skills that would transfer into running the club, and also be useful for the future. At the end of my second year I was elected president and decided to take his advice so that I could run the club in the best way possible. For this reason I focused on leadership modules, knowing  it would demonstrate a willingness to improve my skills.

How well did the professional skills programme prepare you for a corporate environment?

I believe the PSC programme (alongside the experience I was getting with people management, my part time job and my role in university sport) provided me with real examples of key things asked in situational interviews and also meant that I knew what to expect when I started working for Aldi. Although I am not in a typical ‘corporate environment’ the skills are definitely transferable.

What advice would you give to final year students who are unsure about their career paths?

Keep your options open! Try and get experience through sports/societies/part time work/shadowing that you can transfer into a variety of roles and talk about in interviews. Apply to jobs early because many have deadlines for each year’s intake.