Working abroad can change your life (+placement opportunity!)

Ana Carrasco, a former Aston Student and Head of Customer Services at Seville’s new business centre, ‘iSspaces’ talks us through the following:

  • An opportunity for you to undertake a 4-6 month placement at iSspaces
  • The benefits of working abroad
  • How the Spanish city of Seville could be the perfect destination for your placement.

An opportunity for you

iSspaces is a beautiful new business centre based out of Seville which, aside from renting office space to growing businesses and entrepreneurs, has created and fostered a community of like-minded business people through its events and hospitality.

The obvious benefit for these business owners, aside from a state-of-the-art office space, is that they have endless opportunities to network, all of them working in and sharing the same building.

iSspaces regularly hold events and functions for some of the most famous brands across Seville and Spain; a case in point being a Google for Education event only weeks ago, which brought together teachers from across Andalusia for talks with Google employees about advancing classroom technology.

Students are invited to apply for the placement position of Customer Service Assistant Manager at iSspaces. If you’re a multi-talented individual who understands good design, can negotiate with providers, enjoys events, has an excellent eye for detail, and can deal with people in both English and Spanish, this could be the opportunity for you.

Full details of this placement role are on Aston Futures, REF 762X or you can view it here. You can also contact Ana Indi Amona from the International Placements Team at a.indi-amona@aston.ac.uk

Find out more about iSspaces here.

 

 The benefits of working abroad

Choosing to work in a different country gives you the opportunity to improve your language skills.

My arrival at Aston University was both exciting and worrisome. I remember I had to communicate using hand gestures, and it was difficult to follow conversations.

Luckily, I was at the most open-minded, internationally-friendly university ever, and I quickly found that people were willing to spend plenty of time and effort helping me to improve, both academically and personally.

I have to thank Aston University for helping me reach my goal of being bilingual, for professional advancement, and for being aware that a multicultural environment is the key to success.

It goes without saying that learning English has had an amazing impact on my life. It opened up many new opportunities for interaction with people I wouldn’t have otherwise spoken to.

The people I met at Aston have stayed with me throughout my life, both personally and professionally. I was lucky enough to meet my partner at Aston and we now have a bilingual son, and I have also done business with those contacts I made back in Birmingham.

My life has been enriched by my stay abroad, in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined before the experience.

Seville as a placement destination

Seville is home to some of the most beautiful architecture in the world, significantly influenced by three North-African dynasties from the 8th to the 13th centuries. It’s a city rich in culture, with lots of fantastic events throughout the year.

It’s not hard to remember to enjoy yourself in Seville, we expect to work hard and play hard. Los Sevillanos here in the south are fiercely proud of their city and their reputation as the social elite of Spain.

The gastronomy and entertainment is second to none, with a booming nightlife and social scene be it indoors or out, as you can make the most of the late daylight hours and warm nights.

Couple this with the fact that the south is significantly cheaper than the north, and Spain cheaper than other European destinations, you’ll quickly find that your Erasmus grants stretch a long way.

How I started a business during my placement year

Ashleigh Plummer, who is an Aston graduate, started a business in his placement year with the support of BSEEN. Ashleigh shares his story below. 

What did you do for your placement year?

For my placement year I started a company called Deusoft Web Development and Creative Studio. This is basically a creative web company that aimed to help small-to-medium-sized businesses showcase their brands in the best possible light. As we worked with multiple clients, the specifications were always different. Our job was to listen to our clients’ needs, break it down and then use an agile process to produce something that our clients were proud of.

How did BSEEN support you?

BSEEN helped by providing an office space at the innovation campus in Birmingham which gave us the professional outlook we needed, especially when meeting with clients. BSEEN also provided a grant which enabled me to purchase business equipment and software. They also provided a mentor who was able to clear some of my thoughts about the direction I was taking the business.

Tell us a bit about the process for applying to the BSEEN programme and the support offered during the year.

The process is very simple. At the end of the day, BSEEN are there to help you start and run a successful business. The process consists of filling in an application form and a panel interview to which you provide a presentation on your business idea.

Once you are accepted onto the programme, you have to attend a business boot camp which provides you with essential foundation knowledge of running a business i.e. Finance, Marketing, Sales, etc.

Over the year, BSEEN organise and advise you on a ton of different events that would be beneficial for your business. These events are great for meeting potential clients and creating new acquaintances.

Can you tell us a bit more about the business you ran?

The company was a web and mobile development studio based in Birmingham, which also offered additional services such as branding, social media marketing and SEO.

Main services included:
• Web development (HTML, PHP, JavaScript and CSS)
• Mobile App development (Android/Java, iOS)
• Branding (logo design, business cards and social media branding)
• Digital Marketing (SEO and social media marketing)

Deusoft was set up in the aim of bringing web solutions to small businesses and start-ups within the West Midlands.

Would you recommend the BSEEN programme to current 2nd year students?

I would, however, it is not your traditional placement scheme. You must have a lot of self-discipline and be a pro-active thinker. No one is going to tell you what to do: you must decide it all by yourself. So if you have a business idea that you are passionate about and you have a long term vision for it, then the programme is for you.

 

What was the highlight of your placement? Receiving my first payment for my creative skills.

What advice would you give those considering starting up their own business?

You need to know how to communicate what your business is as simply as possible. If your customers don’t understand what you’re selling, then they won’t buy from you. The way people see, hear and recognise your business is crucial. Know your audience, know your business.

Did Ashleigh’s story inspire you to start your own business during your placement year? Why not come and speak to BSEEN about the support they can offer you at our upcoming #FindYourPlacement event, which is taking place on 11th June? Spaces are limited, so book your place now!

My placement year at Shoosmiths

Aadil Qureshi is currently a final year student studying LL.B. Law. He completed his placement year at Shoosmiths last year as an Administration Assistant. Aadil shares his placement experience below. 

Sum up your placement experience in 3 words:

Insightful, fun, life-changing.

How did you secure your placement?

I managed to secure my placement by making sure, before everything, that I had a CV worth a second look. In the current market it’s imperative to have so much more than just academic achievements on your CV and my advice to those in years below me has always been to get stuck in with every opportunity that comes your way: you never know which may be the one that helps you stand out. In terms of this placement specifically, I had to complete a short phone interview and then a face-to-face interview which lasted about an hour.

What was your typical day?

My typical day would involve getting into work for 9am, and then commencing work on my to-do list for the day. As a case handler, my usual duties involved contacting customers of our clients who were in debt to the client and request payment of that debt. Should a customer refuse to pay or was unable to pay, it was my job to issue legal proceedings against them. This could involve anything from requesting a County Court Judgment against them to placing a Charging Order on their house or requesting a bailiff visit. Other than this, I also liaised with Courts and Counsel. As the Complaint Specialist, I also dealt with complaints made against us pursuant to FCA regulations.

What skills did you develop during your placement?

I developed various skills during my placement, predominantly case and time management. Effective case and time management was an integral part of my role and this has allowed me to obtain and develop skills which will, in turn, assist me in a career in a fast-paced environment. I also developed an advanced level of communication skills because I would be communicating with people of different levels of intelligence on a daily basis. This means I had to adapt how I communicated depending on whom I was speaking to.

What was your favourite placement moment?

I think my favourite placement moment was the Christmas Party at Shoosmiths. This was full-fledged, no-expense-spared extravaganza. It had the whole Great Gatsby grand party vibes about it. The party took place at the Northampton county cricket stadium and had a guest list of approx. 500 employees. The theme of the night was Bollywood and it was amazing to see everyone have such a great time, even certain managing partners who you see on a daily basis in a professional environment just forget everything and have a good time. The party went on into the early hours of the morning!

What would you say to students considering a placement?

I’d say do it! Whether you love it or not you will not regret it. The placement will either show you if the career you have picked for yourself or the type of work you will be doing is exactly right for you in which case, great. Or, it will show you that you don’t actually want that career or type of job in which case great too, because it is better to know before you have invested years and money into it just to find it isn’t for you. And apart from this, the generic skills you will obtain and develop will help you in all walks of life.

How has your placement affected your final year and future career plans?

It has definitely helped me have a more mature mindset in my final year. This in turn I think has helped me significantly with my modules and just in general understanding of the content. I think the maturity I have gained is also evident to my lecturers and I hope this will also be apparent to any prospective employers. With regards to career plans, for me, my placement showed me a legal career is exactly what I want and has motivated me to push further and ensure I reach the professional milestones I have set for myself.

Reflecting on my placement year…

The time has flown so fast, especially since we hit 2018! If I had a choice to repeat this year then I would do! I have come so far in my personal development due to my placement and fulfilling my hobbies. No doubt I still criticise myself about not completing all the goals I have on my list or having lazy weeks but I try and remind myself to be proud of how far I’ve come.

My placement year

I was actually trying to think about how much I have grown professionally because of my placement and it was really hard to think. Why? Because the skills you develop become second nature to you that you actually forget that you didn’t have these skills before you started! But I know I have come so far in my professional development and that is all thanks to my placement and the team I am part of. I would love to meet the Harjap from May 2017 so I could actually see how far I’ve come! But trust me I have come far! Goodbye to placements and hello to applying for graduate roles. Bring it on!

My placement has given me exposure to the different types of marketing there are and I now have a better idea of the sorts of things I love and want to pursue. I am glad I didn’t give up on applying for a placement because now I have an insight into work life and a better idea of where I would like to take my career. I didn’t secure my placement until early June so don’t worry – you still have time to secure yours if you haven’t already, but make sure you put the hard work into finding one!

Photography

I was re-reading my blog post from January where I had just started my photography page on Instagram and taking pictures. It’s May and I’ve come far! I remember worrying about my editing skills and wondering when I would be able to get the Adobe apps. I bought the apps spontaneously last month. I thought to myself I can’t wait ten million years for this, I need to do it now! It’s been 5 months since I started my page and I feel like I have come so far in terms of editing and taking pictures. I still have a long way to go, but I’m blessed.

Where have I been taking pictures?

In February, I took a day trip to Liverpool where I took many pictures. Here’s one:

RETRO 🕺🏾

A post shared by JAPPY (@jappy_visions) on

In April, I went to Cannock Chase Forest and two local nature reserves.

Follow the path 👁 – – – – – – – #divine_forest

A post shared by JAPPY (@jappy_visions) on

I am now planning to try and go to local places near me every week or fortnightly. I want to capture beauty that is close to home. People really doubt and put their local areas down, but there is so much beauty in the world, we should capture our local areas before capturing different countries. I’ve been surprised myself to be honest of how many cool and beautiful places there just 30 minutes away from me!

On an end note

Placement year has been one of the best years of my life. I would say it’s in my top two haha.

If you have the opportunity to take a placement then you should do it! Every opportunity brings something.

Now it’s time for me to start prepping to go back to final year! Bye!

Splitting my placement year between Sweden and Tanzania

Jennifer Akussah is currently studying Economics and Management here at Aston. Last year, she did a split placement between Stockholm University, Sweden and International School Moshi, Tanzania. Read on to find out more about her placement experience…

What did the work on your placement involve?

I was an exchange student in Sweden and I also volunteered for six months in Tanzania at International School Moshi where I was the Activities Coordinator for the primary school boarders. My responsibilities were to ensure that the children had weekend activities that were fun, creative and educational. I also assisted them with their homework and was active in the primary department during school hours where I helped during lessons.

What skills did you develop during your placement?

I developed so many skills from doing a split placement: I became more confident and a risk taker, I got to learn two different languages – Swahili and the Swedish language – and I definitely developed my communication and leadership skills.

What was the highlight of your placement?

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania which had been on my bucket list for years. Also meeting and networking with so many exchange students at Stockholm University – I got to travel with them and learnt so much from getting to know different cultures.

How did you secure your placement? 

I was religiously on Aston Futures looking for opportunities abroad. I also received a lot of help from the placements team with my CV and applications and I am so grateful to them for the support before and during both placements.

Has doing an overseas placement helped or changed your plans?

It definitely has. My career goals have changed immensely because I got to study some specific modules at Stockholm University which I would not have explored if I had not taken a placement year. Also volunteering in Tanzania made me realise how much of an impact I can have on society and vice versa.

What advice would you give to other students thinking about doing a placement abroad?

Go for it. It looks good on your CV and gives lots to talk about during interviews. You also get to travel and meet so many incredible people and build long-lasting friendships.

What tips would you give to other students to help them make the most out of their placement?

Enjoy it. Live in the moment. It’s one year that you get to explore. Culture shock is totally normal. And if you ever need help with anything, Aston has got your back. You’ve got your placement tutor and the placement team to assist you during an adventure of a lifetime.

Placements are yours for the taking. So seize the opportunity.

Has Jennifer’s experience inspired you to undertake a placement abroad? Find out more about international placements, visit Aston Futures to search available opportunities or chat to us about your options. 

‘What are you going to do for placement next year?’ ‘ummmmm…’

How you choose to spend a placement year can give rise to weeks of deliberation. Do you work or study? Do you stay in the UK or go abroad? If you work then what company do you work in? What aspect of business do you focus on?

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As a professional in indecisiveness, I remember this struggle well, and as I enter the last quarter of my internship I thought it may be useful to share the three main reasons why I believe if you are considering a year in industry then you should go for it.

 

Basic work experience is crucial

For many of us, we start University with no previous work experience within a business. I had always wondered what people do when they spend 8 hours a day looking at computer screens. What are they doing for that long? What actually happens within a business?

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The basic understanding of office functions is extremely valuable, and it has been really interesting and insightful to have a taste of the 9-5 office life.
This experience is just as crucial to employers as it is to the interns. Workplace experience can help graduates stand out from the crowd, as not all students can graduate with a years’ experience of working under their belt. In fact, last year, 59% of graduate hires for the Top Undergraduate Employers comprised of previous placement students and interns.

Clearer idea of your potential career

Work placements are a good way of ensuring you will not end up on a graduate scheme doing something you don’t like.
You will either enjoy your role or realise it is not the role for you. Either way, you learn what you do and don’t enjoy, which is important as you never really know what area you want to specialise in if you haven’t tried it out.

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I went into my placement at IBM with the idea of gaining a marketing role as I thought that was what I wanted to specialise in after University. However, I have learned over these months that design and innovation is what really motivates and interests me, so I can now tailor my graduate job searching with this in mind. Without taking a year in industry I may never have known how much I really am inspired by innovation.

Embarking on a year in industry provides you with an opportunity to explore other aspects of the business, aside from your role, to see what areas are your strengths and weaknesses. I have taken part in a variety of intern competitions and shadowing at IBM to try out as many aspects of corporation as possible, and the experience and insights I have gained will massively impact my career choice.

Fun!

I was worried when selecting a work placement over a study abroad placement that it wouldn’t be as much fun because I would be missing the ‘Uni lifestyle’. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

 

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For most internships, you move to a new city and often flat share with fellow interns so there is still the opportunity to live with people of your age or make new friends in the area.

Aside from this, you are learning every day in a corporate environment that is new to you. It is hard to not have fun in an environment where you are learning new things each day and still have the opportunity to spend your evenings how you choose – exploring a city, spending time with your friends, meeting new people. I currently live with three IBM interns and the balance of a professional environment on weekdays and exploring London together on weekends is really fulfilling. It is also reassuring to know that in this life scenario, you are surrounded by people, particularly the interns, who are in the same boat as you, with the same academic and career interests, so no matter how different you think you may be, you will always find things in common.

 

I would never have gained the friends, knowledge and experience this year had I not have taken a work placement. All in all, it’s been a great experience and one which I know will benefit me throughout my career. My advice? Go for it!

 

On placement at YouthSight

Studying Psychology here at Aston, Sophie Derham is currently on placement as a Research Assistant at YouthSight in Shoreditch, London. Find out more about what she’s been getting up to…

What skills have you developed during your placement?

I have developed project management skills mainly, as I have created and adhered to timelines for lots of different projects, which also means that my time management skills have improved. I have also gained communication skills as a key part of my job is to talk with a range of different people: fellow colleagues, clients and participants in research.

What has been the highlight of your placement so far?

So far, I have been on placement for seven months. The highlight for me has been sitting on a panel at an event and speaking about what it is like to be a young person. Other highlights include attending conferences and speaking to potential clients. I enjoy this side of the job the most.

How did you secure your placement? 

I found the position on Aston Futures. I applied by sending my CV and a short cover letter to the Managing Director of the company, Ben Marks. He then invited me for an interview, and I was offered the job a couple of weeks later! The Careers+Placements team helped me with practice interview questions and sent me some tips on how to structure my answers and make me stand out from other candidates.

Has doing a placement helped or changed your plans for the future?

Being on a placement year is a great experience and has really helped me think about what I want to do in the future. Prior to starting my placement, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do as a career. I was not looking for a placement in any particular sector as I wanted to keep my options open and hopefully find something that really appealed to me.

I do think I would like to stay in the market research sector as I believe I’m quite talented at my job! I want to develop my skills and hopefully I can become a successful market researcher after graduating.

What advice would you give to other students thinking about doing a placement?

If you are planning on doing a placement, I would advise you to start applying as early as you can – at the beginning of second year or even earlier! Placements and internships are a great way to gain experience that will be vital for applying for graduate jobs. A placement is also great as it can help you decide what you would like to do (or definitely not do) after you graduate!

What tips would you give to other students to help them make the most out of their placement?

When on placement, it is important to enjoy yourself and make sure that you take every opportunity that you see. If there are opportunities for extra training, or even just to learn a new skill by completing a task, do it.

Has Sophie’s experience inspired you to undertake a placement? Find out more about placements, visit Aston Futures to search available opportunities or chat to us about your options. 

3 ways to effectively manage your time during placement

Being on placement doesn’t mean that you will be given interesting projects all the time. There is an element of mandate stuff that you will have to do as part of your job scope. Over time, this can get boring and sometimes you will fall into the zone of time wasting activities or even spending too much time reacting to last minute stuff. Here is my secret to how I manage my time as a placement student to be always on the ball and keep things interesting.

Identify what are activities, results or achievements

There is an infinite number of tasks waiting to be done, but what makes a difference in your placement would be how you categorise these kinds of tasks. I have learnt this on a course I attended during my placement which I thought was very useful and I am currently still doing it.

  1. Activities: These are stuff that is like second nature to you. The outcomes are usually within our control. (eg. Sending regular email updates)
  2. Results: These are stuff that doesn’t have an outcome you can control. Success is never guaranteed in these tasks. (eg. Presenting a new system which has been approved by the senior management)
  3. Achievements:  These are the stuff that you want people to remember you for. It is the legacy that you would be leaving in the company and in the minds of your colleagues.

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Managing the inner chimp

Have you ever told yourself that you would start a gym regime but didn’t got around to do it? Or have you ever told yourself that you would focus on getting the assignment done but didn’t get past the introduction?

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 These are signs of your inner chimp at work. All of us has the inner chimp and in order to be productive in our daily life, we have to be able to manage and tame it. The inner chimp is the emotional voice inside of you always telling you to talk the easiest way out or just stay within your comfort zone.

One way that I found useful to manage my inner chimp, is to break my task into smaller 30-minute chunks. By doing so, I find myself being able to focus during those 30 minutes slots without the urge to digress to other task or even feel the need to procrastinate. I usually find myself feeling achieved at the end of the day as I managed to complete my task. Here is an example of how I break down my task.

  • Market Research (1/4): 9am -9.30am
  • Detailed Analysis (2/4): 11am-11:30am
  • Report Compiling (3/4): 2pm – 2.30pm
  • Format Checking (4/4): 4pm – 4.30pm

If you interested in inner chimp concept, you should read The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters! Great book!

Self-Empowerment

For those who have never held a proper full-time job in their lives would be shocked at how much energy is drained from them at the end of the working day. This can take a while to adapt however over time it may become boring and demoralising at times. Hence, it is crucial to be able to self-motivate and empower yourself to keep your energy going!

What I found useful to have is a task checklist. Firstly, give yourself 3 task that you would like to achieve by the end of the week. Each of these tasks should be easily completed within an hour. Next, you should also have a daily task checklist which compromises of 3 tasks that require less than 30 minutes of work each. These should be easily complete before lunch or by the end of the working day! Here is an example of my weekly and daily task list.

  • Weekly Task List (30 minutes – 1 hour)
  1. Calling up supplier X to discuss a potential partnership.
  2. Compiling Excel Spreadsheet to calculate revenue trend.
  3. Researching on potential new features.
  • Daily Task List (less than 30 minutes)
  1. Clearing my emails from yesterday.
  2. Checking if the product X content is up to date.
  3. Printing outstanding contract to be filed.

As small as it may sound, these daily and weekly tasks are my motivation drivers that replenish my work energy and keeps me on task.

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My placement year at SAP

Stephanie Ponton is currently a final year student studying LL.B. Law. She completed her placement year at SAP UK last year as an In-house legal intern.  Stephanie shares her placement experience below. 

Sum up your placement experience in 3 words:

Incredible, inspiring, challenging.

How did you secure your placement?

I secured my placement by applying through the SAP application process. This involved an online application, a telephone interview and an assessment centre.

What was your typical day?

I would usually start my day around 9am, by checking my emails and prioritising the tasks that I would need to complete that day. I would then begin working through these tasks, starting with those which were most urgent.

My typical day would involve drafting and negotiating non-disclosure agreements, this would often involve conversing with customers via email or over the phone. Moreover, I would review services contracts which involved liaising with different colleagues across the business both face to face and over the phone. I would also review procurement contracts, often working with marketing and procurement teams based in different locations across the world.

Most days would often involve attending team meetings as well as meetings in relation to various projects that I would be working on.

Lunch would be spent with the team in the canteen giving everybody a chance to relax and providing the opportunity to catch up with the other interns.

My day would finish at different times each day, depending on my work load. At the end of the quarter, I would be involved in many important deals which meant I would be staying late at the office to support my team and sales colleagues. However, team morale would always be high creating a pleasant environment!

What skills did you develop from your placement?

My confidence increased significantly during my placement year which also developed my communication skills. Moreover, I learnt how to work under pressure and the importance of prioritisation and how to effectively manage my time.

My placement year also helped to develop my social skills which were important for building a rapport with my team and colleagues across the business.

What was your favourite placement moment?

My favourite placement moment was when I realised how much I had learnt and how far I had come since the beginning of my placement. I remember being sat at my desk working through my tasks and being confident in the work that I was producing. It was then that I realised how much I had learnt and how valuable my placement had been.

What would you say to students considering a placement?

Placement year is an extremely valuable experience. No matter where you secure your placement, the skills that you learn will be transferable to most roles. Having placement experience makes you stand out when applying for graduate schemes and provides a great opportunity to experience the working world and work out what path you want to take in the future.

How has this affected your final year and future career plans?

Coming back to final year after my placement has completely changed my attitude to work. I am a lot more motivated and disciplined and I am finding it easier to start my days earlier and feel productive throughout the day.

During my placement year, I also managed to secure a training contract. Although not at the place I completed my placement year, I am certain the skills and experience that I gained from SAP contributed to me securing my training contract.

My placement year greatly affirmed my ambition and motivation to become a lawyer and has increased my desire to be successful.

 

From placement student at Nestlé to graduate at Capgemini

Sandy Nijjar graduated from Aston in 2015 with a BSc Computing for Business degree. She completed her placement year at Nestlé and now works as a Business Transformation Consultant at Capgemini.

What were your key highlights/projects/achievements on placement?

My key achievement was being given the sole responsibility to manage the field sales solution for six months and supporting over 700 field sales users and the field sales capture tool Visicom. I had worked closely with the market contact within Germany, Nestlé retail operations team and other international support teams.

How did you go about finding your placement?

I used Aston Futures and looked on company websites for placement roles.

How has Aston University helped you prepare for graduate employment?

The Careers+Placements team at Aston University held a number of sessions with companies that equipped me with skills that I could use for my graduate employment.

How did you secure your graduate role?

I applied to a number of different graduate schemes earlier in my final year and juggled my coursework deadlines and exam prep.

My best careers advice to another student would be…

Make the most of all the opportunities available at Aston University. Attend career sessions and network with employers during these events. I would also recommend to apply to graduate roles early in your final year.

We’re here to help you navigate your next adventure – for up to three years after you graduate! Visit us in the Careers+Placements Centre today to discover how we can support your career search.