Class of 2019: How is customer service experience relevant to graduate jobs?

Many students and recent graduates are fearful that they lack the experience necessary to impress graduate employers, while overlooking their part time work in areas such as customer service.

Charlotte Hamer, an Employability and Progression Assistant at the University of Leeds writes about how her experience in retail has helped her career progression.


Those of you who have worked in customer service will know. You’ll just know. The customer service environment is like no other. Yet it has given me some of the most important professional skills I possess, which I’ve been able to transfer into every workplace I’ve been in since.

Working in retail

I worked for the same high street clothing retail brand from the age of 16 to 19, both in my home town and when I moved to university. Over those three years I worked with all manner of different people, from different places, of different ages and with different career goals. My ability to work in, and communicate effectively with, a highly diverse team developed incredibly quickly. I learnt to adapt my methods of communication based on the individual. This was particularly important when taking on supervisory role, in order to motivate disengaged staff. On top of that there was the diversity of the customers. At the age of 16 I had no idea that my ability to navigate a conversation with a very angry customer, who insisted they should be able to return the £6 pair of shoes they purchased two years ago and had worn every day since, because the sole had started to come away, would translate today into the people skills I use in my everyday work life.

Developing skills

When I first started working in retail I had never known pressure like it. Seeing a queue of customers building up so long that it snaked around the store while having a pile of returns to complete and a rack of clothes to put out on the shop floor could have been enough to send me into a frenzy. It took me some time but I soon learnt to use the pressure to increase my productivity and effectiveness without becoming stressed. Being able to stay calm under pressure is so important in any position that involves conflicting deadlines and with this being a key theme in graduate recruitment you are sure to impress recruiters with this skill.

Commercial awareness is another skill recruiters are eager for their employers to possess. Being able to express sector specific commercial awareness is usually enough to get you the mark. But you can go one step further by demonstrating a time in which you possessed and acted upon commercial awareness to make a business more profitable. It doesn’t have to be anything big. For me it was noticing when an item of clothing closely resembled that of an item of clothing I had seen on reality TV the previous day and placing that item on the most visible displays to increase sales. It is something simple but really effectively demonstrates to application of commercial awareness.

Valuable experience

I share this with you because so many students have worked at some point in customer service. Yet so many don’t see it as a ‘proper job’ that will impress employers – well I am here to tell you this is not the case. I have made connections with recruiters over shared experiences of customer service and made them laugh with the hilarious stories we customer service veterans have all come across at one time or another.

My advice

So be proud of your customer service background. If it was in retail like me, the restaurant business, or any other area, you’ve already developed so many of the skills that make you incredibly attractive to employers. Whether it’s communication skills, the ability to work as part of a team or under pressure, think creatively about how you can translate these skills to the requirements of a graduate role!

Read more about what is available to you as a member of the University of Leeds Class of 2019

And don’t forget you can continue to access the Careers Centre services once you graduate.

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How I got my job: Applications Engineer at DriveWorks

Ian Prossor is an Application’s Engineer at DriveWorks Ltd, a global software company based close to Manchester. He studied Mechanical Engineering at Leeds, graduating in 2017. He completed an 18-month graduate scheme with the company and is now a full-time member of the team.

My Role

There are a variety of aspects to my role as an Application’s Engineer at DriveWorks. First and foremost, my role involves working with our resellers to support our DriveWorks customers around the world. To provide some context, DriveWorks is a Gold Certified Partner product of SOLIDWORKS and is sold and supported through the SOLIDWORKS reseller community globally. This allows DriveWorks to sell software around the world with only ~40 employees. I have regular web meetings with customers in Europe and the USA, as well as occasional meeting with customers in Australia.
Another big part of my role at DriveWorks is to create and update demos and example DriveWorks Projects to be used at trade shows, to show to prospects and to promote DriveWorks functionality. I have personally worked on the Bi-Fold Door, Enclosure, Kiosk, Cupboard, Shower, HVAC and Picture Frame demos which are all available to try out on our DriveWorks Live website

Teaching and travelling

I’ve also been given the opportunity to teach DriveWorks to students, customers and resellers. I’ve been into universities in the UK to teach the DriveWorksXpress Training and Certification Programme alongside my colleagues and I’ve had the opportunity to teach customers and resellers at our annual Technical Event: DriveWorks World. This year the event will be held in Chicago and I’ll be flying out with other members of our team to train DriveWorks users.  Since all DriveWorks software is developed onsite, I work in close partnership with the Development Team to add and test new features and functionality. With 3 software releases a year, this is a very important and rewarding part of my role!
During my Graduate Scheme, I also achieved 4 globally recognised certifications and have since gone on to achieve a 5th and now I’m working towards my 6th!

Securing the role

I first came across DriveWorks at the Leeds University STEM Careers Fair in my final year at Uni. Following a great conversation with the team, I sought some advice from the Leeds Careers Team to write my CV. I was then contacted for an interview and assessment after which I was assigned a task to complete in my own time and present back to the Technical Team Manager. This presentation was conducted through a Skype, so I used one of the bookable rooms in the Careers Centre. I dressed as if attending a face to face interview which really helped me to get in the right mindset. I would fully recommend taking this approach and using the Career’s centre resources!

My timeline: from undergraduate at the STEM Fair in 2016 to representing DriveWorks at the same fair in 2018!

My advice

  • Try to dress smartly when attending the Careers Fair as it’s important to make a good first impression, however, don’t use what you’re wearing as an excuse not to attend at all. (I was actually in shorts and a t-shirt!)
  • At the Career’s Fair, don’t just head for the big names, or the employers you have researched. Do at least one loop and check out all the stands – you never know what opportunities could be out there!
  • Make a list of where your strengths and weaknesses lie within your field and see if any of the employers exhibiting play to these strengths

Most importantly, make the most of all the resources available through the Careers Centre. I made multiple trips to the Careers Centre to get help with my CV and it was definitely worthwhile.

Take Ian’s advice! University of Leeds students and graduates you can get help from the Careers Centre, with your CVs, application forms and interview preparation so get in touch, we’re here to help.


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Class of 2019: Confessions of an Arts Graduate



University of Leeds Arts Management graduate Victoria Williams reflects on the frustrations she initially felt applying for roles in a competitive field, and how broadening her search left her feeling more confident about achieving her goals in the long-run.


Career aspirations

I recently graduated from my Master’s degree in Arts Management and Heritage Studies, at which point I realised that I could’ve done a lot more job preparation over the course of the year! The arts sector is incredibly competitive, and I applied for many jobs in very varied roles, from Administrative Assistant to Exhibition Coordinator – I just simply wanted to get my foot in the door.

Broadening my job search

Whilst the feedback I received from my interviews was very positive, I lost out every time to someone with just “that little bit more” experience, which felt very frustrating. At that point I realised that my degree was not going to be enough, and learned that a lot of people working in the arts had done countless internships and volunteering positions to put them in the front of the queue when organisations were hiring. This was when I broadened my job search even further, applying for entry level roles in unfamiliar areas such as careers which I currently work in, where I’m able to tie my existing experiences and skills into the job.

Securing a job with Careers Centre support

I applied for my current role as Employability and Progression Intern, and also made an appointment with a Careers Consultant at the Careers Centre to check over my application beforehand. This paid off and I got invited to the Assessment Centre, for which I made another appointment just to be on the safe side. The advice I received was definitely beneficial, and I was offered a position as one of nine interns.  My role includes working in a team in addition to independent work, as well as project management which I’m really excited about. I’m hoping that these areas will strengthen my CV with valuable work experience, putting me in a stronger position to apply for more arts roles in the future.

My advice

I would tell anyone who has found themselves in a position of struggling to get a job in their chosen career field (like I had) to not give up, and strongly encourage them to think outside the box. Consider positions which you may never have thought of, but where your existing skills can be transferred. It’s also really important that the job description sounds interesting to you, or that you admire the work that the company does. There’s nothing worse than starting your first job after you graduate, hating it, and ending up back in the job hunt after your first week.

Another thing to reiterate is that the likelihood is you won’t be stuck in your first job forever, so absorb everything you can and take on every opportunity to make your CV amazing for your next role.

Read more about what is available to you as a member of the University of Leeds Class of 2019

And don’t forget you can continue to access the Careers Centre services once you graduate.



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Campus internship: What I’ve learned during my internship at the Cultural Institute 


Steph Bennett is a joint honours History and English student, currently undertaking a year in industry placement at the Cultural Institute. Now halfway through her campus placement year, she reflects on her experience to date.

This role is part of the campus internships- exclusive to University of Leeds students they are a fantastic way for undergraduates to secure paid work experience.  To find out how to register your interest and receive updates visit the Leeds Internship Programme page.

Why I applied

I was initially attracted to a placement year at the Cultural Institute because I wanted more experience in the cultural sector. My personal tutor had frequently recommended taking a year out between second and third year to either do an industrial placement or to go abroad, but at first I dismissed this idea in favour of continuing straight to third year. However, when on a whim I read the job description for the Cultural Institute internship, I was intrigued about the prospect of working with such influential arts organisations in the city like the Thackray Medical Museum, Henry Moore Institute and The Tetley. Financially, the idea was also attractive because I wanted to have a comfortable cushion which I could potentially use to fund a postgraduate course. I thought that gaining some experience would be valuable after graduation as I have grudgingly accepted that graduate roles are often difficult to obtain in the arts sector and are often poorly paid.

The interview

When I was invited to interview, I had to prepare a presentation about the cultural industries, which began to develop my thinking about the wider context of the sector from the start. I hadn’t been sure how relevant my experience as a History and English student would be to the role — I’ve volunteered for English Heritage and the West Yorkshire Archive Service for over a year and had a year-long internship with the School of History, but was unsure if this would be applicable to any role outside of an archive or heritage position. However, my previous experience was seen favourably by the panel because of its relevance to the wider cultural industries. I was delighted when I was offered the role, and began my internship in July 2018.

From nervous beginnings to dream work experience

Unbelievably, I am now six months in, or half way through my placement. At first, a placement year seemed daunting, and I was nervous about what might be expected of me in a professional setting after the flexibility of student life. I anticipated the stereotype of the intern: making cups of tea and photocopies. In reality however, my initial idea of the role has been transformed entirely. My colleagues at the Cultural Institute made it clear that the internship is a development role and really took my ambitions into account so that I had opportunities to flourish professionally. After mentioning my interest in gaining experience in a museum setting, they arranged for me to take a placement with Leeds Museums and Galleries.

Primarily working alongside the curator of Archaeology, Kat Baxter, I’ve developed skills in object-handling and analysis, preservation of materials, cataloguing and accessioning objects, and how also valuable experience of how exhibitions are planned and run. This placement will now continue until the end of my internship in June 2019, and I’m excited to work with Kat on the Egyptology and numismatics collections alongside the medieval objects that I have been focussing on until now. I am hoping to use this experience to delve further into the museum sector and eventually develop a career in a museum setting after graduation.

Understanding the sector

Crucially, through my role at the Cultural Institute I’ve deepened my understanding of the current problems facing the cultural and creative sector, and the strategies being implemented to combat them. For example, by researching news and strategy information and compiling monthly briefing reports for colleagues at the University, I’ve developed a strong understanding of the cultural landscape at the moment. I’ve reported to colleagues throughout the University, and prepared briefing materials for important meetings, supporting the team and ensuring that everyone is updated with the relevant information. However, I still feel there’s more to learn, and I’m looking forward to another six months at the Cultural Institute with new challenges.


As an English student, I have always prided myself on my writing ability, but the placement has so far offered new opportunities for writing for many different purposes and audiences. I’ve learned that clear communication is key to the running of such a small team, and I have a keener appreciation for the value of teamwork. I have learned how to write detailed shorthand notes and compose minutes for meetings in the chosen style of the University, but also adapted to the sense of style, tone and purpose for the Cultural Institute’s social media platforms and understood how to engage an audience through various methods to boost interaction. Building on journalism skills acquired through writing and editing for The Gryphon Arts, I’ve collaborated with DARE to publish blog posts to boost engagement on their site. I conducted a series of professional interviews with academics across the University about some of the programmes such as Leeds Creative Labs. These articles have been published on the DARE website and have helped to increase engagement and communication about the Leeds Creative Labs.

Workplace skills

My placement year has also developed crucial administrative skills, and I’ve enjoyed settling into a professional office environment. I employ these skills to support my team in the booking of venues, catering and managing attendees and guests. I have supported my team in the running a range of events, including Light Night 2018 and the launch of an Arts and Health network in collaboration with Leeds City Council, building my confidence with event management and project development. Training opportunities have boosted the breadth of my experience of finance and travel administration, so that I can confidently support my team with anything that they may require.

A highlight of my time so far is the opportunity to independently coordinate a project between Opera North and Leeds University Libraries’ Special Collections, where I have developed policies which will be used to assess which materials should be included in Opera North’s archive. I enjoyed researching material acquisition in archives and museums. This independent, desk-based research was a good way to become familiar with new topics and concepts, and I hope will be useful in my future studies. This project will eventually yield an archive collections policy for Opera North, creating a resource to enable practitioners to make decisions about Opera North’s history is retained and ultimately creating a lasting legacy that researchers and students can use.

Support from colleagues

Having worked on a range of projects, both long and short-term, I’ve successfully managed to build various skills that will be transferable after graduation and into my chosen career path. My goals for the future are clearer than they were previously, and I now know the wealth of opportunities and resources that are available to help with this endeavour. I didn’t expect to make such close friends with my colleagues at the Institute, but I’m incredibly grateful for their enduring support. Having such lovely co-workers is a comforting thought whenever I am unsure about anything and need to ask for help. It is a fantastic working environment; intelligent, diligent and witty, and I can confidently say that I have never had a more enjoyable role.

The next six months

I am keen to continue my professional development in the final six months of my role at the Cultural Institute, which I’m sure will pass swiftly. In the next few months, as well as continuing my placement at Leeds Museums and Galleries with Kat Baxter, I will be commencing a large joint project with colleagues at Student Services to compile a report on student opportunities in the cultural and creative sector. The data has never before been analysed and shared across the University, but is incredibly important when developing new modules and placements for students in Leeds, so I’m looking forward to leading a project that will have real impact.

My advice

I am really glad that I decided to apply for the role, it’s truly amazing what can happen. I’m eager to improve my skills so that by the time I graduate I can be confident when applying for roles in the cultural sector. To any students that are considering a placement year,  I really couldn’t recommend it highly enough. With passion and enthusiasm, you may just be surprised about how much you can achieve.

There are still campus internships available now- including placement year opportunities- but they are closing soon.  For more information and to apply visit the jobs section on the University of Leeds website

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How I got my job: Women in Business at PwC


Lucy Bonnett is a final year undergraduate student at the University of Leeds studying French and Mathematics.  She participated in the Women in Business Programme, a three day paid work experience programme with PwC.    Lucy was uncertain about her future career plans but took the opportunity to get an insight into professional services.   As a result Lucy has secured a place on their Assurance Graduate Scheme.  Read more about Lucy’s story.

Why I applied

My week at PwC turned out better than I could have imagined. To be completely honest, I applied for the Women In Business placement to find out more about professional services, mainly with a view to ruling it out as an area I didn’t want to work in. I had no idea what I wanted to do after university, so I had decided to do a few placements during my second and third years at uni to see what interested me.

Application experience

The fact that the application process for the placement is identical to that of a graduate scheme was useful – at every stage of the application I thought “Even if I don’t make it to the next stage, I’m gaining valuable experience and application skills”. These skills definitely came in handy when applying to year abroad placements, and my experience allowed me to be relaxed and confident in interview situations.

Gaining an insight into PwC

The week itself was very insightful. We started with a day of training and introductions, easing us into the working atmosphere. I felt at ease in the office straight away – everyone I met went out of their way to make me feel welcome and to explain their roles to me. This itself was interesting, as I hadn’t even heard of some of the jobs and departments that exist in a company as big as PwC, and it showed me that there is plenty of opportunity for growth and change once you’ve joined.


After the first introductory day, I was shadowing a director in the Assurance department, following her from meetings to conferences to phone calls and looking over her shoulder when she was working alone. Karen was brilliant in explaining everything she was doing, and was happy to answer any question, however seemingly obvious. I was also paired up with a recent graduate, who talked to me about the first few years of life at PwC: the training and exams, her day-to-day routines, the atmosphere in the office. I think speaking to women at such different stages in their careers was incredibly helpful, as it helped me to understand both where a graduate would start within the company and where they may end up.

Securing a position

Everyone on the program was offered an interview at the end of the week, either for a summer internship or a place on a graduate scheme depending on how far through your degree you were.  I was successful in my interview and was offered a place on the Assurance graduate scheme. This was so far from my original goal (ruling out professional services as something I didn’t want to go into after university) that I didn’t know what to think at first, and it seemed like a big scary decision to make about my future so early on in my degree. However, after some consideration of the offer and consulting friends/family/university advisors, I decided PwC is a fantastic place to start my career and I have subsequently accepted the offer. And, although I would in no way describe myself as a relaxed care-free fourth year student, I am able to concentrate on my studies and on achieving a classification that I will be proud of, rather than jetting off to assessment days every other week at the same time as striving for a grade that will make me attractive to employers.

My advice

I would recommend the placement to anyone: whether you have no idea what kind of career you would like post-university, or if you are looking to get a head-start on the application process!


Read more about the three day  Women in Business programme they are still advertising opportunities (including in the Leeds office) until remaining places fill.

And don’t forget if you want to discuss a career in the professional services sector or any other, the Careers Centre can help you explore your options  and support you in your applications- learn how here.


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Laidlaw Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship

Ghadir Ghasemi is a Laidlaw Scholar in the final year of his Chemical Engineering degree, find out how he has developed his research and leadership skills through this funded scholarship.

Laidlaw Scholarships are open to first year undergraduates, providing the opportunity to develop leadership and research skills through a range of personal development activities and two six week periods of project work.


How did you secure your scholarship?

I initially found out about this scholarship through an email from the Engineering Employability suite. I took the time to read all the information given about this  and was required to submit an initial application which consisted of four different questions-its main aims were to demonstrate my suitability to the proposed research project and to the scholarship as a whole, with regards to the leadership aspect.

The application process was very straightforward. Once I had sent my initial application, I was shortlisted to take part in an interview with the two project supervisors. The interview was not very long and the supervisors wanted to find out more about my passion for the project as well as the leadership aspect of the scholarship. Within a couple of hours, I received an email from the interviewers saying that I had been selected to receive the scholarship. Prior to sending my application, I attended an informative session which gave me tips and advice on how approach the interview. I also talked to staff at the employability office who helped me to prepare my application and subsequently practise for my interview.

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Student volunteering – making a difference in the Leeds community

Second year University of Leeds Music student Rory Heron discovered the charity People in Action through the University Union’s Volunteering Fair in his first year and now works as a support worker.

Rory Heron (left) with Ruben Martini



Read how his interest in music and community work has led him to setting up a music project with People in Action and support from LUUMIC Leeds University Union Music Impact in the Community 


The charity- People in Action

I found out about People in Action and the support they provide for people with learning disabilities and autism at the University of Leeds volunteering fair. I decided to volunteer for this charity because I was eager to make a difference in the Leeds community during my time studying music at university, and I’ve always been interested in improving the quality of life of people with learning disabilities.

Volunteer to paid support worker

After engaging in voluntary work at various community groups, I was offered a paid role as a one-to-one support worker for an individual with a learning disability who was passionate about music and wanted to start a band. I assisted them in the process of communicating with some of his peers about starting a band, and once we found some people who were interested, we began meeting up and creating music together using the facilities at the university’s School of Music. The band were given opportunities to perform live at events that People in Action were organising, such as the Leeds Young Talent Show. The band received such a positive response from these performances, inspiring others to not let their learning disabilities get in the way of them pursuing their dreams.

Setting up a music project

It then occurred to me that I could set up my own community music project with People in Action that would allow young adults with learning disabilities to collaborate and make music together in a fun and relaxed environment. I realised that I could get volunteers from LUUMIC Leeds University Union Music Impact in the Community to help run the sessions, through my position on the committee. I discussed the details of the project with the People in Action office staff, university staff members and the LUUMIC committee about setting up the project. In September 2018, the project was officially up and running every other Sunday using the School of Music’s ensemble rooms. Since then, I have been recording some of the music created during the sessions and uploading them to YouTube as the Sunday Band Project

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