The Recent & Virtual Graduate Life by Eileen Quinn

“A recent graduate.” That was the qualifying criteria to apply for my current position. Recent meaning it’s been five years or less since my graduation date. I graduated from Ulster University in Marketing in 2016. Fast-forward three years on to 2019: I applied for Invest Northern Ireland’s Graduate to Export programme for recent graduates and successfully secured the position of International Marketing Executive in Boston.
 
But first let’s rewind to the in-between stage, after starting university but before starting a new role and joining the workforce as a professional, which is a lot different from your weekend retail job on the Tesco night shift and studying four years of textbook theories.
 
The minute you enrol at your institution is when you are actually starting out on your career path. You are instantly exposed to academic lecturers who are your first point of professional contact. I highly suggest connecting and start to build relationships to help you build your network for your chosen industry. Believe me, down the line you will be sure to cross paths again, especially in little Northern Ireland!
 
I was fortunate enough to complete a Marketing internship year at Ulster University Business School (UUBS), where I met my first mentor and got my first taste of marketing and event planning experience, while also attending major networking events with Northern Ireland’s most highly profiled business leaders. I was involved in helping UUBS mark its 40th anniversary through a series of events, including one where got a photo op with James Nesbit!
 
In 2016 I was offered a part-time digital marketing role before I had even graduated. Thrilled! But I soon moved to becoming lost and confused. The role was not for me, and my strongest piece of advice would be that you should be strategic when applying for roles. This is the best lesson I have learned, and as I come the end of my current position that is exactly what I will be doing, being selective in type of company I want to work for based on my prior experiences, what I enjoyed and what I didn’t. (Alert, employers! In May 2021 I’m coming on the job market. Let’s chat.)
 
In 2017 I soon fell in love. Again. With marketing that is. I had a closer look at the job market, swiping right and left until I found the perfect match at Colloide. Round two went better than round one, and there I met my soon-to-be second mentor. (Female bosses rock, by the way.). Mentors are an incredible resource, and all graduates should have one. They speak from experience and drop truth bombs, but have your best interests at heart so you can be happy and prosper to the best of your ability.
 
I can’t wait to be one myself one day so I can give somebody the same opportunities I had (that’s my real goal in life).
 
This was my real chance to put my marketing knowledge into practice and become a striving member of the workforce. Another lesson I’d give you is that new workforce you’re about to join will become your second family. You will spend more time with them than your own family. As a new member to the organisation it is scary and overwhelming, especially if you’re not a social butterfly. This is my top tip for survival: make efforts to incorporate yourself into the team and your working day will be more pleasurable. Fortunately, I am a social butterfly who thrives on becoming a part of a team and being a contributor to achieve the company’s goals.
 
I was a contributor to Colloide’s success during my time by focusing on the company’s sales pipeline. I completed bids and tenders, created social media campaigns, managed all social media accounts, drove forward website engagement and generated leads. To do this, I had to learn and research about the water and wastewater industry, and the renewable energy industry. Research soon became my second love and, I discovered, is my strength. Research is often an overlooked element of marketing, but is critical for company growth, especially when entering new markets and exporting.
 
An international career was always on my agenda. It just took me a bit longer to arrive there than my fellow peer grads. I had a view I needed to “build up my experience,” and I choose to do that at home in NI. Valuable lesson no one tells you: time moves at high speed as you enter the other side of your mid-20s. You can build up your experience anywhere globally, it doesn’t necessarily need to be at your final destination.
 
Sometimes the right opportunity comes when the time is right for you. My time was in 2019 when I secured the position of International Marketing Executive at Invest NI, located in Boston. (Hat trick: here I gained an additional mentor, who is extraordinary.)
 
This was a position not up for grabs for anyone else but me. That was my mentality. It was seven years in the making, with two failed attempts at previously trying to find my way to the U.S. We are made of stern stuff, us Co. Tyrone women.
 

Alongside my new role, I would also complete a post-graduate diploma at UUBS. Back again at UUBS, reunited with some of those former colleagues (remember, I said you would be sure to cross paths). I would spend six months at Invest Northern Ireland HQ in Belfast on Bedford Street, and move to Boston in April 2020. A whole new experience! This time I got to experience virtual on-boarding with my new Boston team in the U.S. in 2019 (I was ahead of the remote-working game). In the initial six months, I really got to learn all things trade and exporting. I supported our U.S. trade team on World Ag and ConExpo trade shows, connecting clients to buyers, prospecting and booking meetings.

In April 2020, international travel plans were put on hold for the foreseeable future. At least I had a six-month head start of virtual on-boarding, unlike the rest of the world (always the optimist!).
Virtual on-boarding is a new approach for everyone to learn. Not everyone has years of professional experience to dip into on how to handle such a situation. Newer graduates are vulnerable in adapting to such an introduction due to lack of professional life experience, and my survival advice is that communication will be your best tool. Communicate often, and use your time wisely when interacting with your new team. Show some character, open up and allow your team to get to know your personality.
 
Importantly, employers taking on board recent graduates should recognise this is a vulnerable experience for grads. Show patience and provide support for them.
 
Despite current circumstances, I have continued to support and work with our U.S. trade team and support Northern Ireland businesses, and I’ve developed a track record of achieving success. One of my main achievements to highlight during this role has been the execution of a multi-million dollar deal for an Agri-tech client.
 
I am nearing the end of my programme, with an expected completion date of April 2021. I have high aspirations to relocate to the U.S. when it’s feasible, and I’m open for discussion on upcoming opportunities for an experienced Irish grad. In true Tyrone fashion, if you don’t ask, you don’t get, so now I’m now asking. If anyone is looking for an experienced #marketing or #businessdevelopment associate, I’m all ears.
 
To connect with Eileen on LinkedIn, click here.
 
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