Category Archives: Employers’ interviews

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.


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!”

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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.


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.


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 

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Interview with an Employer: Tom Freeman, MD at Sanctuary Graduates









Please introduce yourself.

Tom Freeman. MD of Sanctuary Graduates.

Do many graduates go into recruitment?

More than you would think. There are dozens of firms who actively take on graduates as their main source of staff.

How is working in recruitment as a graduate different from other industries?

The rewards are greater and more immediate. The work is quite repetitive, and the hours long.

What professional skills are necessary to secure a job in recruitment?

Confidence, communication, interpersonal skills. Desire and hunger to succeed. Resilience.

Through what experience on campus can students develop these skills?

Any experiences which involve relationships and influence. Eg. Sports, Society Committee, SU involvement, entrepreneurial ventures.

Do you think Professional Skills Curriculum is a good idea? Why yes/no?

It can only be. Anything that gets students thinking about and honing skills that might be relevant to their preferred career paths.

PSC graduate, Jennifer Peake

J Peake - PSC

Jennifer Peake completed the PSC in academic year 2011/12. She reflects back on how her PSC experience helped her subsequently, during her year’s placement in industry.

Why did you take part?

I saw an entry in Wednesday memos for undergraduates one week and when I read about the content of the course it sounded really interesting, so I thought I would go along one week and give it a try! After meeting Cat and learning more about how it worked, I knew I had made the right decision.

How did the PSC sessions help you?

The content covered in the sessions filled some of the blanks that I had with regards to the workplace, such as what is it like in a meeting? As a chemistry student, I was able to do a 12 month placement as part of my degree and I think the PSC helped me to prepare for that. There were moments when it might have been a bit daunting but I really think the PSC gave me the confidence I needed.

What advice would you give to people considering taking part in the PSC?

Go for it! There really isn’t a huge time demand to do this course and the knowledge you can gain from it is fantastic. There are lots of things doing a degree can prepare you for, but day to day life in the workplace is very different to student life – surely any advice you can have to maximise your opportunities and smooth the transition is worthwhile?

Interview with our guest speaker, Pawel Urbanski



Meet Pawel Urbanski, who will be speaking at PSC Leadership: Getting Started and Getting done workshop on the 29th of April. PSC approached him with a few questions in anticipation of his lecture.

What does it mean to you to be a leader?

Before we start talking about leadership we need to set the stage. The stage is our current reality, together with the past and possible future ahead of us. The past is our background, previous experience or significant life events. Presence is our current place in life with all its constraints and potential consequences of our activities and decisions for the future. And last, but not least, the future is everything we plan, work to achieve or experience. Any of those examples can be spread on the scale from very negative, across neutral, up to very positive and rewarding.

We don’t live in the vacume and interact with other people who have their own objectives and understanding of the world. Therefore, we must be ready to listen, educate, convince, give up power or accept that leadership brings as much opportunities as responsibility.

Being a leader, in my opinion and understanding, means to be able to take decisions that will bring positive outcomes, bring other people on board, make them do something with energy and commitment. Being a leader may also mean becoming very unpopular when we stand up for a cause or course of action that may hurt someone’s interest. We must also remember that every leader is also a follower or at least equal to the other people in the university society or business organization.

Leaders bring about change, energy or give a push to launch avalanches or earthquakes.

Why is it important to start developing leadership skills while still at university?

When you are at the university, you are very much in the learning mode. You expect to gain skills, knowledge with all the ups and downs. University environment gives lots of opportunities to have a test drive with different professional areas, you consider for the future. There are many student societies with very much wanted hands to do something. Your classmates come from different walks of life.

All of the above lets you practice in a safe lab without major consequences. If you realized that you don’t feel your best when public speaking in front of a small audience, you simply go on with working on a newsletter or doing the event logistics. If managing people is not your thing, there will be some research going on and you may help a fellow student or professors with collecting feedback. And if it sounds boring you may run for the student body.

All of those experiences and skills are more or less present in the same shapes and variations in our mature / professional lives. The only difference is that accountability and impact are usually greater. When you test your swimming abilities, and improve them at the university, it is easier to jump into deep waters later on.

What do you think students will learn from your workshop?

How to get started with their projects and ideas. Finding their drive and sense behind the things they want to start doing or want to join as a participant. And finally, how to cross the finish line by keeping engagement and energy level high enough after the initial fascination and energy outburst fades a little for whatever reason.

I managed to do it when climbing the Seven Summits, starting and failing a few ventures, doing my Ph.D. in computer science or last, but not least – learning to play golf.


Are you intrigued? Come to the event itself! April 29th, Lecture Room 4 in The Gateway. Further details on the event Facebook page.

Interview with ScotGrad Programme Manager Kelly Barbour

Kelly LinkedIn


Please introduce yourself and say a little about your role.

Hello! My name is Kelly Barbour and I work as a Programme Manager at ScotGrad.

ScotGrad offers paid graduate placements, which last 3 -12 months, within small to medium sized companies across Scotland. We also have a summer placement programme for students returning to their studies after the break: these placements are 8 – 12 weeks long, also paid, and are based in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland.

I joined the ScotGrad team in June 2013, working on our social media presence and marketing activities. After being with the team for 18 months, I was delighted to move into a management role in January 2015. My day to day job involves of a number of different tasks, which means no two days are the same! I’m also out of the office regularly, attending careers fairs and hosting presentations, spreading the word about ScotGrad. The best part about my job is speaking to loads of fascinating people, and helping others get involved with new and exciting projects through our programme.

What do you think of Professional Skills Curriculum?

I think the Professional Skills Curriculum is a fantastic initiative. The fact that it’s open to all years at St Andrews means that there will be a great range of students attending these workshops, all gaining valuable experience and seeing things from a different perspective. Having this sort of programme on your CV – before you even graduate – is an excellent way to showcase your motivation to employers, and will give you a better understanding of the skills needed to succeed in your future career.

What professional skills you think are essential for students applying for internships and graduate jobs?

When applying for graduate placements through ScotGrad, our employers are looking beyond your degree discipline to find out more about your ‘softer’ skills. For example, our employers look for evidence of self-management, team working, excellent communication skills, and someone with a motivated and enthusiastic approach. What we tend to see is most students aren’t aware that they have these skills already. You don’t necessarily need to have months of work experience under your belt – these skills are being developed throughout your time at university. The trick is to look beyond the daily tasks and projects you are doing, and be more reflective – analyse which skills you are using, learn how to explain them to employers, and ‘sell’ your experience!

What professional skills do graduates often lack?

I believe some graduates lack the understanding of how to articulate their experience to employers, and, therefore, how to submit a winning application. When applying for roles, it is vital that you are tailoring your application and CV to each job specification and company. Companies want evidence that you are engaged and proactive, and if they see a generic CV or application, they won’t be impressed… and you won’t stand out. I would strongly encourage all students and graduates to speak to their careers service for advice, then take the extra time and send in a few excellent, tailored applications. I promise you will see the results!