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Making future career choices during a masters degree

One of the primary reasons for deciding to study a masters degree is increasing your job options and career opportunities. Our Scholarship winner Marjana explains the steps towards making future career choices during a masters degree.

What is the application cycle?

After finishing my undergraduate course in June, I took a break in July and started to think about honing my CV and personal statement around August. In the UK, for most graduate roles and internship opportunities applications typically occur during the 'Milkround' period - from early September until December.

When did you start applying for roles?

As I was aware that I wanted to go into Consumer Goods/FMCG after my masters degree, I already knew about the types of companies that I wanted to apply for. I created an Excel spreadsheet to track my progress before starting my postgraduate course in September.

Did you prepare before your masters degree?

The Imperial Business School also has mandatory pre-work before starting the course, including a Careers Primer. This walks you through the structure of these documents (CV and personal statement) and gives specific advice for my industry, which was very helpful.

This meant that as soon as my course started in September, I hit the ground running and started to work with a Careers Consultant on crafting my cover letters for online applications and networking via LinkedIn and Imperial events with alumni in these companies.

Having later gotten feedback from recruiters in these companies, they said that my applications and cover letters really stood out to them because it showed that I had interacted with people from the company and department I was interested in - I actually wanted to work there!

When did you focus on applying for jobs?

During the Milkround period, I attended so many career events by Imperial and externally that I found it hard to keep up every week! I found practice assessment centre tasks, mock interviews and networking sessions for the Social Impact and Responsible Business Club especially helpful to practice my presentation, communication and teamwork skills.

I also joined external events run by the companies that I was interested in to make connections (e.g. P&G Brand Masterclasses, Kraft Heinz virtual booths, LOréal Meet the Team events) and get a feel for the work life/cultural diversity as this was one area of importance for me while job-hunting.

The bulk of my applications (the initial stages) were done in September/early October, which meant that this was an extremely busy time and difficult to balance career stuff with my studies – as any graduate will tell you!

I then had nearly all of my assessment centres around October/November time, where I was rejected from many companies in my chosen sector at the final round. Getting rejected was hard to accept but I keep pushing on.

However, having passed my initial psychometric testing rounds for P&G, I was invited to an online interview with two Sales Directors and then attended their Commercial Careers Academy (CCA) in mid-December. They made me an offer on the day before Christmas!

After my offer from P&G, in quick succession I also received offers from Marks and Spencer for their Retail Management Graduate Scheme and at Reckitt for their Commercial Graduate Role but I accepted the P&G offer as I felt like it was the right place and role for me.

What factors helped you succeed in your job search?

A lot of people that I speak to now are very impressed with my trajectory, and how seamlessly my experience and interests have led to the role that I'm starting in September.

However, I always point out that in order to get here I actually had to spend quite a bit of time soul-searching and experimenting to find the type of role and company that would suit me best.

During my undergraduate degree at King's, I didn't know what I wanted to do and so grappled with the ideas of becoming an IP/patent lawyer in the life sciences, going into research, becoming a teacher, media-communications and even publishing.

Ultimately, having the experience as a Duty Manager at a WHSmith High Street Store was very formative in helping me understand what I was interested in.

I wanted to understand the whole backstory behind product design: how do they get to the shelf, what influenced consumer purchasing behaviour and why were business decisions made in that way, which influenced my decision to do a MSc in Management.

I wanted to study a degree which would give me a broad introduction into all of these areas and to think about CPG/FMCG as an industry.

What ways have you widened your masters experience through networking and electives?

More recently, I have opted to take electives on my course with MBA students, which is very daunting initially (as they all seem to be Directors or VPs), however this has also helped me to create connections in different industries and helped boost my confidence in speaking to senior people in the career ladder as more of an equal.

Aside from Imperial and the FMCG brands themselves, I also like to branch out and spread my network in other areas. For example, I am an alumni both for King's and my secondary school EGA, so presenting at sessions to students and answering their questions helped to build my own confidence and give back to my local communities in a meaningful way.

I also recently attended the 93% Club's Social Mobility Factory, where I could interact with other students from a similar socioeconomic background, discuss our imposter syndrome and aspirations and make connections in different sectors, which has ultimately helped to broaden my commercial awareness.

How has studying a different degree subject at undergraduate level helped you in your Masters and getting that grad job?

Although I initially thought that having studied the hard sciences would be a disadvantage when starting a business-related masters, actually it has been quite the opposite! My ability to look at problems in a logical way, think about pathways and feedback effects, and rigorous analysis of data have all been useful in critical analysis in a business context.

It also means that in my incoming role as Key Account Manager at P&G, I am able to explain complex situations in a simplified way, make data-driven recommendations and (crucially) understand the science behind the innovative products that I am selling to the retailers.

What are your top tips for making future career choices during a masters degree

  • Be yourself

My top tip is to be authentic in every step of the process - from writing your CV, personal statements, online testing, interviews and assessment centres.

At the end of the day, the employer wants to hire people who would fit into the company and they would actually want to work with and you don't want to be hired and pretend to be someone you're not.

  • Organise your job search

Remember to screenshot the online ads of all the roles you apply for since they tend to get taken down once the deadline passes (how are you going to know the core job competencies a month later?), and update an Excel doc to help you remember deadlines for each stage of your applications.

  • Prepare for testing and assessment

Remember to practice psychometric games in advance of the applications for your 'top companies' - I used free apps on my phone like Peak, and keep in mind that for some companies you can only apply to one role per cycle so you may have to choose between an internship or job role application.

For assessment centres, make sure that you contribute and don't feel the need to always have a 'role' - it can feel like everyone wants to be the 'timekeeper', but actually I have found that being the 'facilitator' and including others makes you more memorable for assessors.

  • Be bold

One thing that keeps coming up in my discussions in academia, industry and personally is how impressed people are when you have the courage and drive to switch fields and succeed, which I hope are relieving and motivating words to anyone thinking about entering a new field at postgraduate level. Take it from me - you can do it!