Leading Academics: Dr Adair Richards

Dr Adair Richards

After a brief introduction to this Leading Academics session, Dr Richards challenged the delegates to produce a one-sentence definition of leadership; he described a good leader as ‘people-focused’, decisive, and influential. Dr Richards then talked the delegates through several different leadership theories, including the five-tiered pyramid espoused by Jim Collins in Good to Great. The leaders at the top of this pyramid are ambitious for the organisation, rather than for themselves, and are fanatically driven. Dr Richards also described the Leadership Continuum (which stretches from subordinate-centred leadership to boss-centred leadership), the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership theory, and House’s Path-Goal theory of leadership. The latter theory states that there are four types of leaders: directive, supportive, participative, and finally achievement oriented leaders, who set goals that will stretch their team. The delegates were asked to apply these different theories, in addition to nine leadership tactics, to hypothetical situations, creating a better understanding of what makes an effective leader.

Dr Richards then talked the delegates through ‘ten leadership lessons’ that he has picked up throughout his very successful (and varied) career. He stated that a positive attitude is vital, being potentially more important than experience; employers want people who are willing to learn and who can work with others. Moreover, the delegates were advised to focus on how they personally define success, whether it is reaching the top of the career ladder or having a happy personal life, and were warned to not stay in an unrewarding job and thereby cost themselves potential opportunities. Dr Richards additionally encouraged the delegates to ‘fail often and fail fast’; rejection is a sign that you are being ambitious and taking risks, but, equally, you should know when to quit. Finally, luckiness was defined as an attitude and behaviour; people who have been ‘lucky’ in their careers have created large social networks and sought out opportunities.

The talk concluded with Dr Richards’ own leadership theory, which consists of ‘five building blocks of leadership’: purpose, priorities, passion, people, and perseverance. The overall message conveyed in this engaging and entertaining talk was one of optimism; the delegates were encouraged to seek out opportunities, letting their passion carry them through any failures, focusing on the long-term goals and continually learning.

Jennifer Palmer


Commercial awareness: What is it and how do I use it?

I’d never really heard the words “commercial awareness” until earlier this year, let alone understood what it meant. However, as I’m soon to finish my degree and head out into the big wide world I thought it might be good to figure out what it is and how I use it in an interview situation. After seeing that it was being addressed in one of the Careers Network’s Skills Series  with PwC, I signed up and popped along.

After everyone had taken their place, the speaker started the session with a quick overview and my immediate thought was “Oh no… I’m in way over my head!”  I’m not a Business student and have never heard of some of the phrases she was using.  I began to think commercial awareness wasn’t relevant to me at all, but as she went on everything began to get clearer and I started to understand the concepts and why they’re not only important for students looking to get into business but could be relevant to everyone.


So what is commercial awareness? In the simplest terms, it is the ability to understand the business, what’s going on in the sector and how this affects the employer. This includes trends, knowledge of competitors, hot issues and debates.

How do I develop it? Unfortunately, this bit isn’t quite as simple! This isn’t something that can be developed overnight. However by keeping up to date with news and current events, you should start to develop a broader knowledge of what’s going on in the sector you’re interested in.

So here are some of the top tips I picked up for developing my commercial awareness and showing it off in interview!

1)      Don’t just read The Financial Times before you go in! Interviewers will see right through it and you won’t be able to form a proper opinion. Instead, download a news app or sign up to industry magazines and follow the headlines. If you see something you find interesting, give it a read.

2)      When you find something interesting, dig deeper into it. Research further into all aspects of the topic and form an opinion.

3)      Don’t force yourself to learn about a topic you’re not interested in. If you don’t like it, you won’t be enthusiastic about it and this will come across in your interview.

4)      Try to incorporate commercial awareness throughout your interview so the interviewer doesn’t have to ask a specific question on it at the end. For example, when talking about work you’ve done on a committee, demonstrate how a particular issue affected your club and how you acted on it.

5)      Don’t freak out if the interviewer asks about something you haven’t read about. No one has the time to read everything! If this happens, it’s far better to explain that it isn’t something you’ve looked into and ask if you can discuss an issue you do know. This will mean you don’t fumble through talking about something you have no idea on and gives the interviewer an insight into what interests you and your personality.


It turns out that commercial awareness isn’t that scary after all!

Zoe, 3rd year Psychology

Assessment centres: Turning hell into heaven

When I realised after months of tedious application forms, online tests and telephone interviews I had finally been offered several assessment centre invitations I went through various emotional stages:

1. Relived – yes there is some light at the end of placement search tunnel

2. Happy – hard work pays off and I’m one step closer to securing a placement

3. Contemplative – what, where is Brentford?

4. Pure fear – what will happen on the day?!

Having learnt from experience there are three tips that I think turned my Assessment centres into a feared hell like experience to perhaps not exactly heaven, but pretty close in the context!

Assess blog

1. Be prepared

It really is a cliché but it’s the truest cliché that’s ever existed! Being prepared doesn’t only mean swatting up on the company’s financial report, being prepared ensures confidence in every aspect of your assessment centre timeline.

  •  Logistics: Make sure that you have written down your arrival time, I arrived at my assessment centres about 15 minutes early which felt perfect as I was able to ensure I was there in plenty of time without being there so early you don’t know what to do with yourself!

Insider tips: if you will be travelling by tube buy your tube all day travel card online with your train ticket if you don’t have an Oyster card and see via google maps if there are any coffee shops nearby where you can relax before your assessment centre starts.

  • Company and business knowledge: I really benefited from talking to current interns of the companies that I had assessment centres for, if you have a placement tutor sometimes they can put you in contact with them or try websites like glassdoor.com for great advice on the specific company.  By business knowledge I mean keeping up to date with what is generally going on in the business e.g. corporate sustainability report and seeing anything happening in the news. If the info doesn’t show up on the first page of results of google when you search the companies’ name, then you are sure to have some great facts to differentiate you from other candidates.
  • CV and situational behaviour questions: Knowing your CV off by heart is a winner as in three of the interviews I experienced in assessment centres, the only thing the employer had in front of them was a copy of my CV, also bring a copy of your current CV as things are likely to have changed since you applied for the job.  Also have some examples in the STAR format (situation, task, action, result) and more than one example as I was asked the exact same questions for the same company in two different interviews!
  • Behavioural: by behavioural preparation I mean that it definitely helped me to go to an assessment centre preparation 2 hour session run by the Careers Network. I gained invaluable advice from how to sit correctly, how to do a great handshake and most importantly how to create a good first impression!

2. Be confident

Although this may sound like a command as opposed to advice, confidence really comes with preparation and remembering that you have done a great job to get to the assessment centre so far so you have to believe in yourself.

3. Have fun

Assessment centres can actually be really fun where you can mix with like-minded people and show an employer how great you are. The exercises although challenging can be a real opportunity for you to demonstrate some creativity. I found that after each of my assessment centres I felt a sense of achievement of completing them and definitely took each of them as an overall positive experience.

Finally, even if you feel that the day did not go to plan, assessment centres can be thought of a good  experience for long-term development so don’t be disheartened and get ready for another one!