In this episode of Future You, Katherine Brewster from FDM Group explains that you don't necessarily need to be from a technical STEM background to get a graduate job at the forefront of tech and innovation
In order of first appearance:
- Dan Mason - editorial manager, Prospects
- Katherine Brewster - UK university partnerships manager, FDM Group
Dan Mason: Are you looking to launch your career on a graduate programme at the forefront of tech and innovation, but that doesn't require you to have a technical background. Yes, this job really does exist. Find out more in this episode of Future You.
Hello, and welcome to Future You, the podcast from graduate careers experts Prospects, we are here to help you achieve your career goals. My name is Dan Mason and this episode features my interview with Katherine Brewster from FDM Group. As you'll hear FDM recruits around 1,000 graduates every year in the UK into its technology and business consultancy programmes. And Katherine's right at the heart of that, so she really knows what she's talking about, not just about FDM, but also when it comes to application processes, the skills graduate employers are looking for, and how you can impress them. If you want to find out more about any of that this one is for you. A final point before we start - if you're about to turn off because FDM's graduate programmes are in the tech space, and that's not your degree background, I suggest you keep listening as there are some really interesting comments from Katherine on recruiting graduates into tech jobs, who have studied a wide range of different subjects at university, and also tips on how to gain some of those highly prized new technical skills. Okay, here we go.
Katherine Brewster: My name is Katherine Brewster and I work at FDM Group as the UK graduate talent attraction manager. I've been with the business for about seven-and-a-half years, it'll be eight years in September. And I actually joined FDM, as a graduate recruiter, as soon as I graduated, so once I finished university, and since then I've done a lot of work, obviously as a graduate recruiter, and a lot of work on campus at universities around the attraction piece, and then progressed into my current role where I manage and oversee the graduate recruitment team at FDM Group across our UK offices as well.
Dan Mason: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for joining us. Could we just start by perhaps giving us a bit of a background, a bit of an overview of what FDM is, what it does, and then give us a bit of an insight into how the organisation has sort of faced the challenges of the last year in particular?
Katherine Brewster: Yeah, no absolutely. We are the market leaders within recruit, train and deployment of business and technical consultants. So we focus very much within the graduate space. And for all we do have programmes for returners and ex-forces, my particular role focuses on the graduate programme. So as a business, we hire people into our organisation, we tend to hire in the UK about 1,000 graduates a year, all throughout the year, who join FDM. So we hire people, they begin with training initially, through our academies, and then following that initial training period, those individuals are then employed by FDM but will work as consultants out on site with our clients. So our consultants tend to go into either business or technical IT consultancy roles, so quite a broad variety. But we really do focus on people from a broad range of different backgrounds and believe that you don't have to have studied a technical degree to be able to be successful and have a career in technology.
I guess in terms of the last 12, 14 months or so, some of the challenges that we have faced - up until March last year, all of our, a lot of our staff internally worked, you know, in the offices and all of our academy training would actually take place in one of our physical academies in either London, Leeds or Glasgow, all of our assessments would take place in person as well, and we would do generally about 450 events on campus at universities across the UK, as well. So we had a lot of changes and challenges we had to adapt to very quickly. And some of the key things we did was we obviously switched our assessment centres to all take place virtually, which we're still doing now and is working really well and allowing us to kind of reach I think a wider group of people as well. Our academy training has all been running virtually as well, and I think it has really given us an opportunity to really look and consider how that training works and is ran in the future, once we get back to some level of normality as well. And then obviously, all of our staff, it was a big shift for everyone to go from, you know, being in a busy office, a lot of the time, to obviously then be working from home, working remotely, so it took a little bit of time to get everyone set up. But, you know, everyone quite quickly got used to that and the business introduced a lot of touch points so that you can still feel connected to the business even though you're working, you know, remotely at home.
Dan Mason: Yeah, absolutely. And you've touched on it there, at the start of the answer, but could you just go into a bit more detail about the types of opportunities that are available for graduates at FDM?
Katherine Brewster: Yeah, so we have a lot of opportunities available. We did see a slight dip in in terms of recruiting last year, kind of the height of the pandemic, when we actually made a switch to kind of focus on supporting the graduates we already had in our business, but we still kept recruiting and kept our roles open, they were just at a slightly lower rate than we obviously would normally have. But at the moment, and since we, you know, started 2021, the demand from our clients is kind of back up to normal levels, we've got lots of opportunities. And the specific roles we have available, so within our technical pathways, we have opportunities for people to go into software development, opportunities for people to go into software testing, business intelligence, and cloud computing, big data engineering, and technical operations as well. So those are some of our more technical roles in our tech pathways. And they cover quite a broad range and varying different areas and varying levels of kind of technical aptitude, you need to be successful in those roles. But we really do look to welcome people from all backgrounds, all degree backgrounds into those roles, and run quite a number of different events and boot camps for people to help upskill you know, before they choose to join FDM or apply as well. And then we also do have a business pathway, which is focused more around the project management, business analyst and risk regulation and compliance space, which are roles still working within the technology industry but looking more at those sort of overseeing a project less technical roles, but still a clear interest and passion for a career in the tech industry as well.
Dan Mason: So there's really, what I get from that is a lot of variety in the roles. So I mean, this next question might be tricky given that variety, but is are you able to sort of give an impression of what you're looking for from graduates in terms of qualifications, you've mentioned different degree backgrounds, skills, characteristics, what is it that you're looking for?
Katherine Brewster: So in terms of degree backgrounds, we really do want to hire people from a broad range of universities. So we recruit from all different universities, and all different degree backgrounds as well. And so we don't specify that you have to have studied a particular course and actively encourage people to apply from kind of non-traditional tech backgrounds as well. I think what we're looking for is we do have some standards strengths that we assess on. So our assessment process of what we're looking for from graduates is very much focused on potential. So we aren't looking for someone to join our business who, and expecting them to have loads of experience, loads of knowledge in a certain area, what we're looking for is for them to have a real curiosity, you know, an interest in a particular area, but we're not looking for them to kind of start and be the perfect finished, polished product from day one, because we have that training period to help grow and develop people and you know, gain experience with our clients as well. So some of the key things we do look for is, as I said, a curiosity. So a curious learner, you know, that you keep up to date with what's going on in the tech industry, naturally kind of interested in new products that are being released, and just kind of have an interest in learning and developing your skills further in that area. We also do look for people who are quite logical. So we look for people who look to solve problems in quite a logical way, take a methodical approach, which, that can come from, you know, a real variety of different ways that people have, you know, approached problems, as well. And then some of the other key strengths of around you know, being a really driven performer, so actually really driven and motivated to be successful, to keep growing and developing in your field, as well. And those are just a few of the key strengths that we're looking for from individuals, but they can come from your professional experiences, you know, your university time or experiences you've had within your personal life as well. It's all about your potential and the individual, rather than hiring lots of the same people.
Dan Mason: Brilliant, and we'll come onto shortly, the application process and how candidates can demonstrate all those things, all those things to you. But just before we do, talking about skills, one of the things we hear a lot here at Prospects, not I think, students and graduates here a lot sort of in the news is about skills shortages, in particularly technical areas that graduate employers see these skill shortages and, you know, don't see graduates coming through with the right skills, are there any particular skills that you would want to highlight and say to students, or recent graduates, if you focus on these things, you know, we do see a shortage of these, and if you can bring these too us that really gives you, you know, an opportunity to impress you.
Katherine Brewster: Yeah, I think one of the key areas that we do generally see is, you know, around that technical space, in some of, you know, all of the different technical roles we have available, I think there's definitely an assumption still from people that you have to have studied tech, or a STEM-based degree to be able to have a career in technology. And I think what we're starting to see, and I do think that the pandemic has actually helped this in a way in giving people more opportunity and more confidence to kind of take part in boot camps and upskilling sessions. But I think, regardless of what degree you've studied, whether it's technical or non-technical, you know, FDM, and other employers we're running lots of boot camp sessions. So we run some sessions around Excel, where you start at quite basic Excel skills and then you develop to the more kind of technical side of things. And that's just, you know, some virtual sessions, you can log on to develop your skills in that area, we do some around introductory to coding so starting with Python, as well, and looking at SQL and databases, and I think that the thing I would really urge people to do is, don't just think that this is a career for someone from a really technical background, actually, at FDM, you know, we love to chat to people and receive applications from people who maybe have studied a completely, you know, non-technical degree and have actually done a few boot camps or joined some, you know, a few sessions to develop their skills in those areas. And I think, at first, it sounds like a big investment in your time, but actually, you know, joining a boot camp, once a week, for a few weeks, for an hour or so, you know, you can learn a lot in quite a short space of time and I think that's really an area where students and graduates can kind of set themselves apart from others as well.
Dan Mason: So just going back then to the application process, could you just take us through that, the different stages that you have, and maybe it differs for different strands of your graduate programmes, and how candidates can really make a mark in that process.
Katherine Brewster: So our standard process is that we would look for people to make an online application. It focuses on a few sort of requirements, questions, but a lot of it obviously is around your CV. And then with your CV, I think I always say to people, you know, get the basics right, make sure you've got the basics right on their CVs, but also show us you know, why you're interested in a career at FDM and why you're interested in the tech industry, as well. Once an individual has applied online, they will then have a pre-screening telephone interview with one of our recruiters, which is really just to get to know you a little bit more, run through kind of our programme, how it all works, and also really identify, you know, where's the best fit for you as an individual? Obviously, we've got lots of different areas, different pathways, so which one, you know are you most suited to and are most interested in as well. Following that, we will then ask people to do a video interview. So a pre-recorded video interview, just a few strength-based questions that we ask you at that stage as well. Nothing too difficult, nothing too challenging, but obviously assessing you against those strengths I mentioned before. And then if someone is successful through this stage, we would then in the past we would have invited someone straight to an assessment centre. But actually about June time last year, because everything was running virtually we actually changed the process slightly so that people following their video interview will do some of our online tests, which are around you know, verbal and numerical reasoning, and then following those tests will then be invited to the final stage, which is our final stage interview. So, three strengths-based interviews and our business introduction, to give you more information as well. And we really chose to divide up the last few stages, because we found when that was, you know, happening and going, and someone was going through that process all in one day it was a long time to be sat at your screen and you know, it didn't need to all happen at once. So we have divided up those processes.
Dan Mason: Ok, just to add to that quickly, you mentioned earlier on when we were talking about challenges of the last year, and mentioned again there that you've moved assessment centres online. You might not know this yet, but I wonder if you've made any decisions about whether you'll - after lockdown is over, and so on - will you be keeping virtual assessment centres, because you mentioned that they'd worked really well, or do you plan to sort of revert back to everything in person?
Katherine Brewster: I think we were still deciding at the moment, it's still kind of up for discussion. But what I kind of foresee happening is that, I think we definitely will keep some level of virtual offering because, you know, depending on where people are located, you can't always get to one of our offices or our centres, you know, it's not easy to get there for an assessment centre starting in the morning. And so I think we will definitely look to keep to keep the virtual offering. But I think there are some people who would prefer to come into our offices as well. So in the future, what I imagine us doing is that we will continue to run a virtual assessment centre is an offering, or they can obviously come into one of our offices for an assessment center as well. But as I said, it's still to be confirmed and decided, but I think that's the direction we'll be heading.
Dan Mason: Ok, so let's move on now to those candidates who've been successful. They've started their new role. Can you talk a bit about the kind of support that new graduate employees get when they're just starting FDM? You spoke about how the role works in terms of, you become a consultant, you work for FDM as a consultant to clients, it's a bit different to many other graduate employers. So how do you support graduates in that, through that programme?
Katherine Brewster: Yeah, so the initial part of the programme is obviously whilst people are in training, and so there's a lot of support, obviously, available there. So people will join in classroom sizes and they will correctly, as I said, join the training remotely, they will have a specific trainer who will, you know, work with everyone throughout each element of the training and work with that particular group. So they have a lot of support from their trainer in the initial period of time. And that training is very much designed to prepare people for the projects and the roles we'll be going into with our clients. We do also give everyone the opportunity to get a mentor. So we have a large mentoring programme within FDM for both our our programmes, but also our internal staff as well. And everyone who joins the business is given the opportunity to get a mentor, which I always encourage people to do, because I think it's great to have, you know, that support mechanism around you and have that person who you can, you know, speak to, get advice from, who's slightly separate from your day-to-day role, as well. We do also run a number of events around coping and learning activities and I think they have actually increased even more so over the past year or so, where it's been really important that for all everyone's working from home, you actually can bring everyone together as employees within our business. So we have staff networks, which run events, we have lots of wellbeing activities, you know, we have people running yoga classes or meditation sessions as well over the past 12 months. So I think it's important that as a business, you get kind of that support directly linked to your role and your own kind of professional development. But you also still have that social element where you can, you know, engage with the community of other FDM employees and consultants, and have that kind of more focus on your wellbeing in relation to the role as well. And then when people do actually go out on site with our clients, obviously, a lot of our consultants are still working remotely. But we do have a whole team who are dedicated to our consulting experience, and the consulting experience team, and they really focus on how we can support our consultants throughout that period. Whether that's kind of regular reviews and check-ins to see how things are progressing, or whether that's through actually, you know, surveys and two-way communications and understanding, you know, what is it that our employees need from us as a business? And how can we support them further? And how does that change dependent on, you know what's going on in the world or in their lives as well? And then obviously, there's a lot of support around mental health and wellbeing, mental health ambassadors within our business as well, who are always on hand to support anyone in that space, as well. So I guess, lots of different support at different stages, depending on where someone's at. But the key thing is that it's always there and always available.
Dan Mason: So then just finally, sort of looking beyond that initial period, something we know that seems to be increasingly important to students, graduates as they're looking for jobs at the moment is having a sense of the longer term or medium to longer term career development opportunities when they join an organisation, what can you tell us about or give us an insight into that at FDM?
Katherine Brewster: So within FDM, our programme that people would join is a training period, and then a two-year programme where you're going to be working on site with our clients for a minimum of two years. I think a key thing that we do focus on is, is during that two year period, we have a whole focus on professional development, as well. So actually run various learning events and activities to kind of pull people together and share expertise and knowledge as well. And in terms of our programme, a lot of our consultants following the two years, will actually be offered permanent roles with our clients and will transition, you know, to permanent roles with those clients, and obviously progress their career from there as well. And for us, it's really important that they then, you know, still remain part of FDM as part of our alumni network, and we can actually then connect those individuals to our kind of new recruits who are just joining the business as well. Alternatively, everyone or not programme can choose to stay with FDM and become a more senior consultant as well. And because we have our academy training on hand, you know, people can pick up additional training, and, you know, have discussions around where do they want to see their career progressing and growing, and going into as well. So, you know, it depends on the individual and what they make of that two-year period, and where they want to go and develop. But there's lots of different opportunities and avenues for them to explore. I think with our academy and our training, we always have that kind of professional development opportunity on hand for people, as well. But I think for a graduate, the key thing is what I found personally, as well is that, when you first start, you might have a plan of where you want to see your career going. But actually, it also just develops in terms of the experiences you have in your first few years when you graduate. And actually, I think the key is just to make the most of those opportunities, put yourself out there, grow, develop and keep doing so. So that you're always kind of at the forefront of the industry and opportunities will just naturally arise as a result of that.
Dan Mason: Thanks so much to Katherine, some really useful advice in there, particularly around that point that you don't necessarily need a highly technical degree to be successful on this type of graduate programme. It's also worth highlighting what Katherine said there about the future of assessment centers being that hybrid mix of online and in person. That is something we know employers are moving towards in the medium and longer term beyond COVID. So to find out more about that, I recommend listening to our previous episode on virtual assessment centres. Meanwhile, to search and apply for graduate jobs and for lots more advice on career options head to Prospects.ac.uk. You can follow and listen to future you on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or whichever app you choose to get your podcasts from, or you can find it at prospects.ac.uk/podcasts. Please do share this episode with anyone you know who might find it helpful. And finally, you can get in touch with any comments, feedback or suggestions, just email firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll be back with more next time but until then, thanks again for listening, and I'll see you soon.
Note on transcripts
This transcript was produced using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. The audio version is definitive and should be checked before quoting.