Nina Ma, International Employer Liaison Assistant (Hong Kong and Singapore)As a first year psychology student, I found it extremely hard for me to find an internship, left alone a degree-related one, since there is so few out there. When I was desperately searching, I came across Birmingham Undergraduate Internship Programme (BUIP) on the Careers Network work experience website. I was surprised but excited by the fact that it was campus-based, paid, and most importantly, open to first year students. Coming from China, I didn’t really know much about the British higher education system, so I thought, why not gave it a try? With slim hope but huge curiosity, I applied for four of the eleven positions and eventually got the chance to work for Careers Network as an International Employer Liaison Assistant (Hong Kong and Singapore).
In contrary to what I assumed, I was actually given my own independent project to manage instead of dealing with random trivia that no one else cares enough to do. My major responsibility is to source internships and graduate opportunities based in Hong Kong and Singapore and the main purpose of the internship is to lay a foundation for the permanent post which is going takeover once I finished.
My internship began with a massive amount of market research for background information including popular courses studied by students from Hong Kong and Singapore, subject rankings of the university in various national and international league tables, top industries and corresponding employers in both regions etc. The other part of the research I conducted is competitor analysis. I identified the position of the university among our 8 key competitors including other members of the Russell Group such as University of Warwick and University of Manchester. I suggested potential improvements including linking languages courses to suitable oversea opportunities and establishing bursaries for postgraduate students.
The next stage of my work is department liaison which includes connecting with teams within Careers Network as well as external ones, for example, I worked closely with the Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO), which leads to my work on alumni liaison. I produced a questionnaire on SurveyMonkey which will be sent out to targeted alumni in both Hong Kong and Singapore and appear on alumni newsletters and social media platforms, such as alumni LinkedIn groups. I learned to conduct survey and deal with data using social science research methods. I am also able to identify the gap within a service and provide reasonable suggestions.
The most important part of my internship, which you can guess from the job title, is employer liaison. I started from employers who we have already had relationships with in the past, and then by utilising the results of the market research, I chose to focus on the legal industry. Communication skills, both spoken and written, were required extensively. I had meetings with staff members across the campus and contacted employers around the globe by both emails and phone calls which made me more comfortable and confident conversing with a diverse population. I also developed the novel skill of liaising with external stakeholders which I never got the chance to acquire from any of my previous experiences.
In summary, I have sent 192 initial emails to 128 employers in which 24 replied and 3 requested follow-up phone calls. Eventually, I sourced 23 opportunities from 5 employers. As you can see, despite the huge effort I have put into this task, the turn-out was not particularly positive and the struggle was real. Most employers never replied while some did at first, but then just disappeared half way through the conversation. I was very frustrated at first but after consulting with the internship officers, I realised that it takes time and patience to build relationships with employers. My problem-solving skills improved immensely during the process. Last but not least, I have started two canvas courses which are dedicated to Hong Kong and Singapore students returning home and those planning to move there after graduation.
The biggest challenge I faced during my internship is definitely the absence of my line manager, Ellen, due to an emergency operation she had to undergo. She was not on call for four weeks and two days, which was more than half of my eight-week internship. I overcame this challenge by working independently using initiative and be self-motivating. I set my own goals and plan my own schedules to work towards the target. When there are problems that I am not familiar with, I try to come up solutions myself but also seek for help from other colleagues. I learned to manage my time efficiently and produce the best outcome. The UK has got a seven-hour time difference to Hong Kong and six to Singapore which results in a two-hour overlap between the regular working times. Since most of my contacts were based over Asia, I needed to adjust my timetable accordingly to make the most of limited time window. I always use the first two hours of my day to reply to emails from employers and make phone calls while leaving the other tasks to the rest of the day. My flexible approach towards working was deemed to be substantial and effective.
Over the past eight weeks, I can see a gradual change in my impression of the higher education system and my prospect on working within a higher education institute. My expectation had always been overwhelming academic-oriented, which I believe is similar to the idea possessed by the general public, but now I see that there is so much more behind the scene. It is an extraordinarily systematic complex built up by the academia circle and numerous supporting services that are not only important, but essential, for the operation of a successful institute. I believe every student and graduate should consider higher education as a potential career pathway. It was a great experience for me and I truly learned a lot during the process. I love the dynamics of the Careers Network team and I am thankful for everyone who has helped and supported me towards my work and throughout my internship. I feel so lucky that I was given the chance to be a BUIP intern and it is my greatest honour to undertake my first internship at Careers Network.
At the end, I just want to say that it is never too early to think about employability. It is hard to find suitable internships for first years but not impossible. The university offers some unique schemes with precious opportunities, not only BUIP, but also Global Challenge internships and Social Enterprise internships etc. So why not start ahead and make the most of your summer holiday?