Monday, 24 July 2017

Natalie Lamb and the 5 Employment Tips

5 Quick Tips for Employment: What do you know?

1. Do you know when all the application deadlines are?

2. Do you know what the recruiters want? 
Try to search their website and the job description for key terms such as: communication, teamwork, motivation, problem solving, organisational skills, leadership potential. Make sure you have an example lined up for times you have demonstrated each one of those skills.

3. Do you know the industry/company?
What is their most interesting or biggest project? Who are their competitors? 

4. Do you know what a good application form looks like?
Make sure you tailor the application form to the company and that specific application. Demonstrate their key competencies in your answers. Make sure you follow the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) format.
One thing I always do us save the information from my application forms. If you get through to the interview stage, it will be important to remember what you said or you may have to redo all of your research.

5. Prove you know what it takes to make an employee at interview
You have done your homework so do your best to make the most of it. Think, even if you do not get the position, it might be just the interview practice you needed to land your dream job in future. 

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Natalie Lamb and the Tackling of Poster Competitions

My Experience with Poster Competitions

I have now attended three poster competitions, one of which I won a prize for. The first competition that I attended was STEM for Britain 2017. I delivered my work to MPs. I was so excited but also incredibly nervous. I sent my poster to my supervisor for re-draft after re-draft and got everyone I could to look at the poster, until they were sick of the site of it! It was an excellent competition and a great experience
but I did feel very much out of comfort zone. I felt quite proud of myself by the time it was over- as though I had done well and really achieved something.

The second was The RSB East Midlands Postgraduate Poster Competition 2017. There was a lot of waiting at this one, it was not as strict for time as STEM for Britain has been. But I really enjoyed the waiting time, just to talk to the other presenters and find out they were actually as nervous as I was. It was a lot easier to network with presenters, rather than people who had come to the event to view the posters. I felt more confident going into it and even more so by the end, when I realised that all of the postgrads were in the same boat.

My most recent poster competition was at The University of Sheffield Engineering Researcher Symposium 2017. I felt very comfortable in this sort of environment now and saw it as an opportunity to talk to people, rather than feeling as though I was being examined, interviewed, almost. I won second prize and felt very proud that I had gone from a complete beginner to feeling comfortable enough to talk about how to produce a poster and how to tackle the competition itself, in just a few months.

How to Produce an Academic Poster

  1. Firstly, read the competition guidelines. Do you have to submit it in a template? In a certain format? With a particular logo?
  2. Open PowerPoint and set it up in the right format/ size /orientation required by the competition poster e.g. A1, A2. Make sure that this is right because it is a nightmare to change it afterwards.
  3. Add Guidelines in View---Show---Guidelines, if you think they might help you line everything up better.
  4. Add some boxes which will form the basic structure of your poster.  
  5. Not using PowerPoint but using a plain peace of paper, decide what you need to include in your poster. Think of it as a summary of your work to date for people who do not know what you are researching. It could cover: why you are doing the research, what research you are doing, how you are completing the research, what results you have found so far and what you plan to do in future. To properly know what you needs to be included, make sure you know who your audience will be. Make sure you know what you want to say and then fill out your piece of paper with what you wish to cover in each section.
  6. Write all your information that needs to be included onto the poster. Then try to replace each paragraph or set of bullet points that you have used, with images. So, for example, I did the below.
  7. When all of your information is in place, print out your poster to see how it looks and then improve it e.g. make sure there is plenty of white space, the font is big enough to read, it uses a specific colour scheme, no images have poor resolution, add effects to titles to make them stand out. 
  8. Make sure your contact details stand out. Add your name, university, supervisors (if you wish to), email address and then less common contact details e..g. a QR code to your website or your Twitter name (assuming it is a professional Twitter account).
  9. Get it printed! I have used paper and cloth recently. I preferred the cloth because it was a lot easier to store in my home after the competition (also you can use it as a cape if you win or a comforting blanket if not).
  10. Prepare for the day by ensuring you have smaller copies of your poster with additional information on the back and business cards. It may also be useful to being something with you to attach these extra items to your poster board. I saw this great example of additional poster material presentation at a poster competition at the IWA Young Water Professionals Conference 2017. 

Attendance at the Poster Competition

A few final tips:
  • Firstly, congratulate yourself, you have finally made it!
  • Try to not spend too much time away from your poster because you might be unlucky and miss a judge
  • Look presentable and try to look welcoming
  • Talk to your neighboring poster entrants. You may think they might be competition but it is an excellent networking opportunity
  • Don't be afraid to give people your business cards and handouts. That might be the reason why they are there
  • Have an elevator pitch prepared. Think of yourself as selling your work in a few minutes. Try not to talk in a monotone. Just be honest and explain why you are interested in your work
  • My final tip is that if you win any prize money, use it to celebrate, otherwise it will just get lost in your normal money. Treat yourself, even if it is something small and think to yourself that you earned it by spending the day at that competition.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Natalie Lamb and the Future Female Engineers 2017

I received an email yesterday, the TARGETjobs Events Summer Newsletter, which gave me a bit of an insight into how some people have progressed since attending the same event as me earlier in the year. So, I thought I should talk about my experience at the Future Female Engineers Event 2017.

The Application Process
I thought the written application for this event was pretty standard. I kept my answers truthful and to the point. For example, I wanted to attend the event because, although I am a postgraduate student and this event is designed for undergraduates, I am new to the world of engineering and wanted to meet some people in the same sort of situation as me. One piece of advise I would give is to keep your answers to the questions so you have them ready prepared for the next stage of the application process.

Part of the application process was a telephone interview, which I was surprised at because I had never had an interview to attend an event before. But, actually, I found it to be really good telephone interview practice because I have not done one in a long time, so I was quite nervous. Also, the interview really forced me to properly research the companies that were going to be present on the day. I researched all of the companies and found out how they contribute to improving water quality, my area of interest. My first choice of company was Laing O’Rourke because they designed and constructed Australia's first potable water recycling plant and I was very interested in that (although I did practice saying the name a lot so I would not get it wrong on the phone!).

The telephone interview lasted 10-15 minutes. I knew it was going to be this short but I was surprised when it actually was. I had mine on 22nd February so it is normal to have it just a few weeks before the event.

The questions centered around:
  • Your motivations to work in engineering
  • Your work experience and achievements, related to your engineering motivations
  • Which companies you want to meet
  • Your reasons for wanting to attend this event

As well as your answers to the questions, they were also paying close attention to how you answered the phone (e.g. Good morning, this is Natalie Lamb speaking),  evidence of your interpersonal and communication skills, the questions you asked them, that you know which companies are attending and that you have an awareness about the sector in general.

When you find out if you are successful, you are encouraged to email questions for the panel so they have time to prepare answers before the event. The panel at my event included 6 female technologists from: ARUP, BP, Laing O'Rourke, Mace, Skanska and Wates. Topics such as: work life balance, ambition, strengths and weaknesses, things they wish they'd known as an undergraduate, top tips for people in your position, funny moments from their careers etc.

The Event

Pre 11:30 Waiting in reception
Before the event began was a good opportunity to meet some of the other students that were also at ARUP headquarters in London, for the day. There were 65 in total so that's a lot of people to meet!

11:30 Welcome
A welcome by TARGETjobs Events explaining the format of the day

11:45 Guest speaker: Patricia Johnstone, ARUP
This talk was very much about Patricia's career pathway. She said that one of the most important skills that she uses is project management skills. It is vital that the whole team knows the goals of that team and that they are encouraged to speak up if they have better ideas. One piece of advice that Patricia said was that you can't do it all. I thought that was really encouraging because I am often doing some serious multitasking! It's better to do one thing well than many things halfheartedly.

12:15 Lunch and networking
A more formal networking opportunity with the other attendees, although I found it difficult to eat, drink and maintain conversation!

1:15 Team challenge: Work alongside fellow attendees in a session designed to showcase teamwork, decision making and communication skills
This part of the event was very much like a group assessment at a job interview. We were put into groups and given a task but really the potential employers were interested in, not our performance, but our ability to work well as part of a team. This was the time that you could really make an impression on the potential employers.

2:20 How to get hired skills session: A chance to speak directly with recruiters about the application process and the skills required to succeed in the engineering sector
This section was very specific to your two chosen companies. For example, Lang O'Rourke said the following:

  • Go over and introduce yourself at the start
  • They get ~5000 CVs a year! So do not use your CV to state the obvious e.g. I am hardworking or to add your address
  • The CVs get viewed by the area applied to, not just a general HR department
  • In the cover letter, say who you are and what you are doing (do not just repeat the CV, expand on it)
  • In the online test, questions get harder as time increases so try not to panic if you find yourself getting stuck
  • Do some practice psychometric tests, such as cut-e , SHL or TalentCube
  • If you get extra time in university exams, make sure to get it in application tests too
  • In the group assessment, show evidence of time keeping, inviting others to join discussions, verifying instructions, ask others for their thoughts
  • Follow up after the interview with a thank you email

3:35 Insider insights: Meet graduate-entry representatives and find out first-hand what their day-to-day roles entail and how you could follow in their footsteps

4:15 Panel discussion: Ask senior female representatives questions about what life is like at the top of the ladder and how they achieved their success
The representatives were:

  • Wendy Tipper, Associate Programme Manager, ARUP
  • Polina Zabelina, Project Engineer, BP
  • Rachel Morris, Project Engineer, Lang O'Rourke
  • Grace Ayre, Programme Manager, Mace
  • Linda Colman, Head of Design Management, Skanska
  • Helen Bunch, Managing Director, Wates
The panel were not recruiters and so were not able to answer questions about applications or what makes a good candidate or which skills they look for. Instead, they spoke about their careers and lives. The questions asked were mostly those selected from the pre-event emailed questions. Your lanyard had your question on and you had to stand up and ask it.

Some of the challenges the representatives faced in their careers were: keeping people connected outside of technology, legislation and increasingly demanding health and safety. But the piece of advice that resonated most with me was to notice the little, daily successes and don't feel stuck in a particular place, explore different industries. 

5:00 Event wrap up: A summary of the day from TARGETjobs Events, including a chance to complete feedback and travel expenses
You had to bring your expenses with you to complete on the day.

5:15 Networking drinks: The final opportunity to network with all sponsors
I would definitely attend this part of the event again, if I was to redo my day at this event. The time went really quickly. Even though I did not have time to talk to all the employers I had wanted to (the time went very quickly), there were still plenty of attendees that I had not even met yet throughout the day.

6:00 Event end

Reflection and Future Events

Overall, what did I think of the event? I thought it was excellent and I would definitely be interested in going to a similar event again. I learnt an awful lot about interviews/application forms/assessment/interviews, about what engineering jobs on a day-to-day basis are like and how experienced people got to their positions. In particular, the latter was of interest because it feels very embarrassing to ask those sorts of questions to someone who you know. I really enjoyed meeting the other attendees. I was worried that I would really stick out, as one of the only postgraduates there, but actually I felt really welcomed. I felt as though I was able to teach the others a lot (e.g. what academia is like) and they were able to teach me a lot (e.g. what being an engineer is like, the sort of projects they do etc.).

I think it would have been more helpful in my final year but it was a massive confidence boost to feel a bit ahead of the game! If I am lucky enough to attend again, I would really like to try better to exchange details with other attendees to better follow up with them after the process. Although getting my catch up email yesterday was a really nice catch up.

If you are interested in attending future events, pre-register for them on the TARGETjob website and follow their social media. I recommend it!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Natalie Lamb and Creating a High Impact CV

The Event

I attended an event "International Women’s Day Conference 2017", developed through a partnership between The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University on 08/03/17. I went to a workshop on creating a high impact CV, delivered by Lucy Owens, Professor Aki Tsuchiya and Dr Frances Deey. The workshop inspired me to write a bit about what I think is important on my CV, while also incorporating the information and advise they gave me.

How to  Create a High Impact CV

Before you start writing your CV you should really consider why are you doing it. What do you want your CV to do? What is your CV for? Is it to get you an interview? Because, if so, it might actually do a lot more beside just giving you a chance. Completing a good CV can help to increase your confidence, create the right mind-set to get you into a job search and to give you pride in what you have achieved to date. 6/10 people do not know how to write a CV so just by reading this post you are well on your way to being part of the minority who do.

Three Tips to Create an Impact

Tip 1
Get into the head of the employer- if I was the recruiter, what would I want this person to be able to do?
List everything they would want from you and make sure you hit all the items

Tip 2
Make your profile special
Sell yourself- thoroughly cover your unique selling products

Tip 3
Add wow factor
Add proof of your claims using links e.g. a portfolio of your work, your blog, Linkedin article, video of you talking at an event

CV Headline

First of all, the most important bits. Over 70% of CVs are missing vital information and so are discarded by the potential employer. Make sure you cover the basics i.e. how they can contact you.

Add some bullet points describing you in a nutshell. Those bullet points may be all an employer is going to read so construct them carefully. What are your unique selling points, specific skills, experience, interests, qualifications, passions? This can be things a bit out of the box e.g. you may not think it, but developing social media campaign numbers from 100-1000 is impressive enough to brag about. Try and avoid buzz words and exaggeration of the truth. 20% of the 1000 workers surveyed by the BBC said they had exaggerated their CV details to stand out from the crowds. But this isn't The Apprentice! Buzz words can fall flat with employers and lies often get found out at the interview.


Every bit of blank space is important on a CV because they should be a maximum of two pages long. So this means trying to make the education section take up as little space as possible, without making it look squashed. For GCSEs, you should put your English, Maths and Science qualifications down, as these are normally the ones employers are focused on.

Professional Experience

Start with your most recent work and work down. You may have done a lot of jobs, so try to keep only the most relevant or the most recent ones. This section on my CV is the longest because I consider the breadth of my past experience in science to be important.

Don't forget to write about the position. Highlight the outcomes of your involvement, the impact you had, your achievements and not the responsibilities of the job itself. My CV example was for my PhD application so it mostly focuses on the skills that I have gained from my various positions, which I then could apply to the PhD. Keep it brief and not too wordy but also try to retain the quality of information.

Be honest and explain any gaps in your employment history because it is something that is likely to come up in interview if you don't.

Other Important Information

This is everything you had to cut from your CV headline. It can also include the information from your CV headline again, just to highlight it. It can include things such as: IT skills, specific requirements for the job being applied for, events attended or presented at, relevant competitions won, other qualifications, first aid courses, other positions and anything else you might consider important.

Final Thoughts

One thing to bear in mind is that one size does not fit all. I have a whole folder of CVs. I like to have a template CV with everything on and then copy and paste bits from it, as well as adding info straight from the job specification to create a specific CV for the role that I am applying for. Your CV has less than 30 seconds to impress a potential employer. You have to make sure those keywords are covered.

Don't forget to check the basics. Make sure there are no spelling mistakes. The writing style should be consistent. Sharing your CV with a friend or family member should really help with making sure the final details are right. There is nothing more off-putting than saying you have good attention for detail and misspelling it!

I hope this post has been helpful. Below is the full CV.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Natalie Lamb and Some Networking Questions

I attended an excellent event yesterday, "Working in the Water Industry and Environment", which was organised by The University of Sheffield's Careers Department. It involved professionals from different companies within the industry, who were at different stages in their careers. The professionals spoke about themselves, their current careers and the pathways they took to get into their current roles. But afterwards was the cherry on the cake. There was the opportunity to speak on a one-to-one basis with these people but I really wish that I had made the most of this opportunity a bit more. During the presentation, I jotted down some questions to ask specific professionals but I wish I would have sat down and done a bit of Googling beforehand. Since the event, I have done a bit of research and compiled the questions that I would have liked to have asked and intend to ask at the next networking opportunity I have. Perhaps they will be of use for someone else in a similar position?

Get advice
How did you get to where you are now? What has your career path been like to date? Is it representative of most people in this kind of position?
If you could give your past self one piece of career advice, what would it be?
What do you feel was the most useful thing you did to get to your position today?
If you had to re-do your career, is there anything you would have changed or done differently? What career mistake has given you the biggest lesson?
How did you set yourself apart from others who wanted the same job?
How did you decide to do what you do?
Are there any courses/workshops worth taking to learn more?

Learn more about the company/industry
What is a typical day like in your role? What did you do last week?
How do you see your field changing in coming years?
What do you enjoy most about your role/ most challenging?
What are the key skills you need to do your job?
How much training do you/did you receive as part of your job?
How does your company define success?
What made you participate in this event today?

Friday, 14 October 2016

Natalie Lamb and the Uncovering of Maths Anxiety

Did you know maths anxiety is an actual thing? I had no idea. 85% of students are likely to have maths anxiety and I had no idea it even existed (Perry, 2004).

I was just going through potential maths and statistics courses on my University's website, trying to decide which one to attend (and thinking of many different excuses to not sign up), when I came across a one hour course on 'Maths and Statistics Anxiety'. I had never heard of this before so I read a bit more on the module description and it sounded interesting.

Spicer (2004) described the condition as "an emotion that blocks a person's reasoning abilities when confronted with a mathematical situation". And that is exactly what it is, and studies with fMRI can prove it (Young et al., 2012). The more anxious you are, the worse your working memory is working, meaning the maths is more difficult. It's very much a vicious circle situation.

I don't actually consider myself an anxious person in any way, nor does the idea of maths and stats make me outright worry at all, but something encouraged me to sign up to the course. 43% of University of Sheffield students surveyed said that they have chosen their A levels, degree, modules or job to avoid maths. I have not done any maths or stats in a number of years now. But thinking back on my years of education, I have definitely made quite a few anti-maths choices in my time. I was genuinely shocked. Perhaps I have got a touch of this maths anxiety too? It does manifests itself in different ways. There can be negative emotions or feelings (e.g. anxiety, panic, paranoia, passive behaviour and reduced confidence) but anxiety can also manifest itself in physical ways (e.g. dizziness, restlessness, stomachs ache, shaking and many more). I don't experience any of these things but, when asked, I do always say that I am rubbish at maths. 

As I'm doing a PhD in Civil Engineering and Microbiology, I thought this was something I should work on. But how can you actually overcome this vicious cycle?Well, learning about it definitely helps. Like me, with the university course, or maybe just a good google will help you out. Admitting that you have this problem or realising you're not the only one with it, helps an awful not. When you've realised it's something that you can help get better, you really need to tackle it head on and deal with it, like actually going to the dentist when you've had toothache for the past three months. It might not be something you particularly want to do, but it really could help you in future. So don't avoid the maths lessons, pick up those practise exams and start with something you find easy, then work up to the things which would have previously boggled your brain. Try writing about the anxiety, just for five minutes, before an exam, just to get your mind focused on something else. It's all about being confident in your abilities.

My next step is going to be actually enrolling on some Statistics courses, rather than procrastinating about it. I also intend to be a lot more watchful of my choices, to make sure I'm not just choosing a specific training course because of a lack of maths. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is one thing, completely avoiding a topic is quite another. Who knows? I might have a secret talent for it!

If you are interested in hearing more, I thoroughly recommend reading the University of Sheffield's Maths Anxiety presentation here. Thank you very much to Ellen Marshall and Victoria Mann for delivering the presentation. More references can be found below:

Perry, A.B. (2004), Decreasing Math Anxiety in College Students, College Student
Journal, 38 (2), 321-324.
Spicer, J. (2004), Resources to Combat Math Anxiety. Eisenhower National
Clearinghouse Focus, 12(12). 
Young, C. B., Wu, S. S., & Menon, V. (2012), The Neurodevelopmental Basis of Math
Anxiety. Psychological Science, 0956797611429134.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Natalie Lamb and the Importance of Learning

“I’m too old to go back to uni”, my friend moaned to me last week. A 23 year old saying they are too old to learn really saddened me. I tried words of encouragement and explained different options but the potential £9500/year fees loomed ahead, making every one of my words be ignored.

I have seen grandmas in university classes doing their undergraduates, their postgraduates, their doctorates! I think learning is not about age, it is about priorities. Yes, you may think that your family is more important, your friends are more important but why not have both? You can all learn together. You can learn for enjoyment. Who does not like to go travelling? Why not learn a new language, learn to scuba dive, learn the cultures of other people.

I think learning is how to improve. The saying “try, try, try again” is about learning from your mistakes, not repeating them. If you have a bad experience in life, you learn from it and work as hard as you can to not be in the same position again.

In my life, my learning has consisted of a good mixture of academic learning and more experience-based learning. My undergraduate degree was BSc (hons) Biology at the University of South Wales.  My course was taught but we had a lot of practicals, from dissecting formaldehyde-stuffed pigeons on a dreary Welsh day to conservational scuba diving on the coral reefs of Borneo. I really enjoyed the opportunities that my course gave me to do more hands on learning.  

Since my BSc, all of my work has been hands on learning experiences. My MSc was by research and my PhD most definitely is. I realised the other day that I have not sat an exam in two whole years! But I have still learnt so much and it really has helped me understand and explore the world around me a lot more, not just in terms of the knowledge I have gained, but also the confidence that went with it.

So, you may feel that university is too expensive for you right now but, please, say that if that is what you mean. You are never too old to go out there, learn, get some experience and just improve yourself as a person.
How do you feel about learning? Is it important to you? Has it made an impact on your life? If there are any hard-working students out there who are interested in this topic, it is worth checking this website.