Emily graduated from the BA (Hons) International Business and MA Personnel & Development courses from Plymouth University in 2005 and 2008 respectively and has since successfully progressed in the world of Human Resources.
Here, in her own words, she tells us about her time at University and how it influenced her career path.
Why did you choose Plymouth University?
Choosing Plymouth University to complete an undergraduate degree was a relatively easy decision for me. It was an interesting sounding degree course and Plymouth is an expanding university (not only in size but integrity) and is located in a ‘laid-back’ city, in one of the most beautiful parts of the country.
When I chose to study at a postgraduate level, Plymouth University was my first choice as I had remained in the city after graduating, now working only a short walk away from campus. I was able to undertake the required course part-time, which provided the opportunity to gain a Masters qualification and also the eligibility to gain the Chartered accreditation required for the HR profession (MCIPD).
Why did you choose this particular course at the University? What did you expect to gain from it?
I chose to study BA (Hons) International Business because my interest in how business shapes and influences the world could be deepened and broadened into an international context. My love of travel and curiosity about other countries and cultures could also be expanded. I wasn’t sure which area of business I wanted to work in, and the International Business degree provided me with the ability to study across numerous different disciplines before choosing one to specialise in.
After completing my undergraduate degree the MA Personnel and Development course provided exactly what I was looking for. The course enabled me to gain the recognised Chartered status in my profession, allowed me to achieve an MA qualification, expanded my knowledge base and provided the opportunity to meet and network with other HR professionals in the region, many of whom I am still in contact with today.
What was your entry route to the course? Did you come straight from college/sixth form? If not, tell us about what you were doing before coming to University.
Having completed my GCSEs and A-Levels at an earlier age than expected, I felt I had to take advantage of this and travelled extensively around the world over 2 years including Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, USA, Morocco and Europe, working multiple jobs in order to fund this and gaining memories I still cherish today.
After I had completed my undergraduate course I was working full time and was looking for career progression opportunities and had made the conscious decision to pursue Human Resources and Organisational Development as my chosen profession.
What was your experience of the course? Did it meet your expectations? Tell us about the good and bad bits, and how you overcame anything negative.
My undergraduate degree was well structured and I always felt the requirements of the course and the lecturer’s expectations of students were clear. Achieving deadlines was difficult at times and there were instances when I was underprepared and spent the night ‘cramming’. However I view these stressful experiences as an integral part of my university life and most importantly have learned from my mistakes! I now know that careful planning and scheduling of time is essential in employment, especially in project management roles.
The MA was a fabulous course led by some really interesting and inspiring individuals. As I was working full-time, self-funding the course and fitting in time to study and revise, it certainly wasn’t easy to juggle everything. However most of the course content was really captivating which helped with motivation and by regularly meeting up with class colleagues, we helped keep each other focused and made studying part of our already busy routines.
Did you take part in
any extracurricular activities during your time here? How did these
activities contribute to your student experience?
(e.g. participation in sports, societies, volunteering)
I joined the snowboarding society in my first year on my undergraduate course (we did some snowboarding but mainly for the wine and cheese nights in the pub!) but also to meet people with shared interests and for the opportunity to go on a snowboarding trip to Tignes, in the French Alps.
Did the course change your career goals at all?
The undergraduate course was a great way for me to develop an overall understanding of business functions without narrowing my focus. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I decided I wanted to specialise in HR, which was when I took the decision to study Personnel and Development at Masters level.
The MA course was excellent for aiding understanding of the hugely wide impact the HR function has on a business. Whilst studying, I realised that operational and generalist work was not the only career pathway available to me, there were many other opportunities i.e. project management roles, organisation design, business process reengineering, etc. all of which I have taken advantage of exploring.
What advice would you give to anyone else considering the same course here?
The BA (Hons) International Business course was fantastic for expanding my knowledge base around multiple business aspects and keeping me intrigued and informed whilst not being overly specific and specialised, something which suited, as I was still deciding what career course I wanted to pursue.
For anybody who wants to develop their career in HR, choose the MA Personnel & Development course! Make sure you definitely do want to pursue this profession first though – don’t enter into it lightly and don’t underestimate the associated workload. It particularly suited me due to the fact I was working alongside studying, thereby enriching theory with real-life examples, I found it a really valuable way to learn.
Your Career – where are you now?
you go straight into work after completing your course? If not, please
tell us what you were doing. (e.g. further study, travelling,
During my time as an undergraduate I was really eager to start on my career path, even before graduating and I realised gaining some work experience was key if I wanted a chance of gaining employment in my chosen field in the future. Therefore even before I started my final year, I went for a job in the HR Department at Plymouth City Council in an HR administrative role.
This meant that upon graduating I was already employed, the department had restructured and I had gained a promotion and moved teams. The work experience was invaluable as from this I was able to learn more about working in Local Government and had built further knowledge and experience about the HR function, which then led me to make the decision to study the MA Personnel & Development.
During my time studying my postgraduate course I worked full-time combined with my studies.
If you are currently in employment, please tell us about your career path.
(e.g. previous and current job title, organisation, your role and responsibilities)
Although having worked in the HR Department at Plymouth City Council for a number of years, throughout this time I have been continually progressing in my career and rarely staying in the same position for more than 12 months. I have gained roles in many different areas, resisted specialising too much in order to gain new experiences, rise to new challenges and to continually broaden my knowledge base.
During my undergraduate degree, I started working as an HR Clerk (admin and finance support) and had moved into an HR Support role (payroll and recruitment mainly) by the time I graduated from my undergrad degree.
I expressed my interest in learning more about the HR Advisory role to my manager, who arranged for me to shadow some of the HR Advisory team, this enabled me to assist and support them with operational work where possible. This was when I made the decision to undertake the MA Personnel and Development course.
Shortly after enrolling on the MA Personnel and Development course I gained an Assistant HR Adviser role in the Policy team (writing, reviewing policy, keeping abreast of legislative developments etc) and continued to build lots of experience here. I then made a sideways move into the Advisory team (managing performance, sickness, grievances, restructures etc.) to gain broader experience and after this, was seconded to Pay & Grading team in order to be involved in a large corporate project.
After successfully completing the MA, I applied for Chartered status with the CIPD and was thrilled when the acknowledgement came through. I then gained an HR Adviser position in the Recruitment team, where I have been able to make significant improvements and efficiencies to procedures and processes which are organisation and city-wide.
More recently, I successfully gained a place on Plymouth Council’s Enterprise Leadership Programme which seeks to equip selected employees to recognise their existing leadership strengths, aid understanding of themselves and to enhance and refine a variety of skills conducive for positive leadership.
How has your Plymouth University qualification enhanced your career opportunities and employability? Did it equip you with the right knowledge and skills?
The International Business degree certainly enhanced my career opportunities not least because obtaining it enabled me to progress on to my chosen MA course. It’s fundamental that HR professionals understand business in order to contribute effectively to achieving the organisation’s goals. Understanding of business terminology, prioritisation, organisation and the IT skills gained during my degree have been of particular use to me.
Unquestionably, undertaking the MA Personnel & Development course and gaining the Chartered MCIPD status has assisted me with my career progression. The course covered the importance of HR professionals being able to demonstrate the value they can add to an organisation, something I feel is crucial in the ‘real world’.
What would you list as your greatest career achievement? Do you have any goals for the future?
I am particularly proud that my written submission for a project I was responsible for implementing, has been selected as a finalist in the ‘Most innovative use of technology’ category for a prestigious national HR award, having competed against private sector, public sector and internationally recognised organisations.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?
Don’t underestimate the resilience required by HR professionals, you won’t always be popular and you won’t always been liked.
Most importantly, if you can’t think of a better reason to pursue a career in HR other than “I’m a people person”, don’t do it!