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Opportunities for International Students at Aston University

As an international student, it can be hard to know what your options are after completing your course. The questions around visas and permits are many, and knowing where to look for roles that suit your needs can be tough. That’s why we’ve put together a guide on how to get the most out of the opportunities available to you as an international student at Aston. So let’s get started…

Visas & permits and rights to work.

The Hub at Aston University is the first place you should go to for support and advice on a number of issues, including visas and your right to work in the UK. You can speak to an International Student Adviser or take a look at the wide variety of resources they have on their webpages:

Visa advice

Working in the UK during your studies

EU students working in the UK

Doing a placement year as part of your course

Working after your course has finished

A current visa in an expired passport

Tips and support

Once you have decided which country you’d like to study or work in, it’s helpful to know what support is available to you. Here’s a list of resources that can help:

Guide to job hunting for international students (TARGETJobs)

Resources for international students

Postgraduate advice for international students (TARGETPostGrad)

UK Council for International Student Affairs

When applying for an opportunity, whether international or in the UK, it’s important to have a good CV (curriculum vitae) that sells your skills to potential employers. We’ve put together a few tips for creating the best CV possible:

CV, application and interview tips

Where to look for opportunities

There are 100’s of places you can look to find opportunities for international students. But to save you time looking for the best of them, we’ve put together a list of great job hunting tools and websites. Take a look!

  • GradConnection has one of the largest pools of graduate jobs for international students. Employers using the system are looking to hire returning students for both full time jobs and internships.
  • GoinGlobal is an amazing resource for international opportunities. It is an online internship and jobs database that we have subscribed to so that you access to the latest vacancies worldwide.
  • Aston Futures is an exclusive platform for Aston University students and hosts a number of international graduate opportunities.
  • Student Circus hosts exclusive jobs and internships from employers willing to sponsor the UK Tier 2 visa.
  • Gradlink is useful if you are an international student or graduate who has studied or is studying in the UK. It features job opportunities in China, ASEAN, Gulf, Canada, Africa, India and Bangladesh.
  • Midlands International Group consists of representatives from careers services at 16 universities across the Midlands, all with a specific focus on working with international students. There are a number of useful blog posts on the site, as well as events to help you launch your global career.
  • IHipo helps students and graduates to find internships, jobs and graduate programs abroad. As well as vacancies, it offers advice on applying for international posts and finding summer internships, internship programs and internships abroad.
  • LockIn China gives Aston students and graduates access to an online jobs portal which contains opportunities from thousands of Chinese employers looking to provide career help to Chinese overseas students as well as other international students and alumni who are willing to seek opportunities in China.

Working or studying in another country

Leaving home to work or study overseas can be a daunting prospect. There are so many new things to learn, not only about your new job or course, but about language and culture too. TARGETJobs have put together a fantastic series of tips and advice for working overseas:

Prospects have also published a series of country profiles on their website, where you can find out more about visas, language requirements and the typical working life of the country you are interested in working in. Make sure to take a look at them too!

Want to find out more? 

You can book an appointment to speak with our friendly and professional advisers. Just log in to Aston Futures. Alternatively, you can drop-in to the Careers+Placements Centre between 9.00am and 4.30pm, Monday to Friday, all year round.

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.

‘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!

 

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.

 

4 tips to a fruitful placement experience

Hello everyone, my name is James Chew. I am a third year International Business and Management student, currently undertaking a year-long placement as the Products and Affiliate Assistant at British Tourism Authority in London. Getting a placement is tough, ensuring that you learn and develop skills during your placement is tougher! Here are some tips to ensure that you get the most out of your placement year!

1.Management Style

Take the time and effort to understand the management style of your line manager. This is crucial as different managers have different ways of leadership. My manager loves to give us the ideal outcome and ask us to suggest solutions to achieve that. This gives us a lot of freedom and creativity space to find the ideal solutions. In addition, you should also learn how your manager processes information. My manager loves to view information in the most visually appealing way. Hence, I would usually do mock-up designs or add lots of diagrams and colours in my spreadsheets when I’m presenting to her. Happy Boss = Happy Me!

2.Office Culture

Every team, department and company has a different vibe. You should try to immerse yourself in this office vibe as much as possible. By immersing yourself in the office vibe, you will learn to better communicate with your colleagues even if you are not on the same team or department. Being able to communicate with people is an important skill to learn and it takes constant practice to perfect the art.

If you are an introvert like me, then you can always start with attending social events and just starting with “How’s your day been?”. Being friendly with your colleagues from other teams and departments don’t just create a vibrant office environment, it always makes collaboration easier.

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3.Time Management

Most people usually work for 8-9 hours a day with an hour of lunch in between. That may seem like a lot of hours for those who have never held a full-time job, but trust me it is never enough to get all the work done. Especially when you are an intern, there will be times when you are assigned multiple tasks from various colleagues or even managers. Here is a tip, always ask for the deadlines for every task or assignment that lands on your desk. This would allow you to manage your tasks better.

If you realised that you have too much on your plate, don’t be shy to voice out and ask for help. Learning to put your pride down and ask for help doesn’t make you weak, instead, it makes you stronger as an individual! As the saying goes, “Time is Precious”. Do not waste time on inefficient ways of doing things.

 

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4. Results & Achievement

Results and achievement may seem quite straightforward to most students. However, it is almost impossible to constantly deliver results and achievements in the work environment as the definition of it changes over time. Take note of your company’s management directions, this will guide you on what the management deems important which would then be classified as results and achievement.

Here is an example, the management has decided to focus on increasing revenue for the next 6 months but you were more focus on developing a new function which is not crucial to increasing revenue. Even if you had succeeded in getting the new function to work, it would not have been an achievement as it was not the management’s focus.

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As I reach the conclusion of this blog entry, I would like to tell students on internships/placements to not be afraid of failing, getting reprimanded or even shun away by your colleagues. We are all in this to learn and gain professional experiences which would contribute to our future career paths. How much you want to gain from your internship/placements is not in the hands of your company but in yours!

DREAM BIG, REACH HIGH and NEVER GIVE UP!

My placement experience at Stanley Black & Decker

Hi guys, my name is Ryan Ball. I am now 7 months into my 13-month placement at Stanley Black & Decker and so far, it has been a valuable experience.

The first month was a crossover month; the old and the new intern undertake a transition period. I was taught by another Aston student from the previous year, this was useful to learn the tasks I would be undertaking throughout the year and made the start of the placement much less daunting. This was also a great month outside of work as there was a large group of us that could get together after work and on weekends to go and check out the neighbouring cities and see what Idstein (where I am living) had to offer. After this month, I felt well prepared to be able to handle the role on my own and I was less anxious speaking German to my colleagues. My team understood that I would struggle at certain points and let me sneak in the odd English word if I couldn’t articulate what I wanted to in German which was helpful to begin with! 

I’m the intern for the ‘Brand and Communication’ team, which means I get to complete tasks involving all brands under the Stanley Black & Decker conglomerate including Black+Decker, Bostitch, DEWALT, Facom, Irwin, Lenox and Stanley. My team are responsible for the development and distribution of POS materials, catalogues for each brand, managing merchandise/giveaways and conceptualising and organising company events. My line manager is responsible for events, so some of my work includes helping her to prepare for them. For example, I create preparatory documents for each event known as ‘Dispos’ that include information about our stand, a personnel plan, addresses for the event venue and the hotel as well as any other necessary information. I also organise the delivery of different items for the event, such as displays, catalogues and any products that will be shown on the stand. I got to visit Eurobaustoff in Cologne last year and I will also be helping to run a competition at Holzhandwerk at the end of March which will be a great opportunity to practice my spoken German.

More recently, I have been involved in the development of new catalogues. My tasks include checking that corrections have been made by the external media agent, sourcing any product pictures that our needed from our media library and checking that the correct product prices are being used. Once these catalogues go into print, I break down bulk orders and send them on to our sales representatives who pass them on to customers. My other main task regarding catalogues is to maintain an overview of the stock levels of catalogues for each brand. To do this I use SAP to check the current stock in our warehouse in Belgium. The report is then sent on to colleagues in different departments of the business so they can see how many of each catalogue are available and how to go about making any orders that they require.

Other tasks can range from translating E-Mails for my team from German to English, to creating ‘Etiketten’ (stickers with the barcodes and prices of our products) using Excel. My role often includes lots of short-term tasks to complete, therefore it is important to manage priorities and be aware of any deadlines that are upcoming and distributing time between tasks accordingly. Sometimes the role can become repetitive, but having the support of my team, the other interns (and a solid music playlist) makes these periods manageable! Overall, the placement is enjoyable and has helped me develop a lot of skills, especially my German competence. The crossover period and length of the placement makes it possible to learn as much as possible and gives me the maximum time to try and absorb as much German as I can before I head into final year.

The office is in Idstein, a small town, so it is slightly different to a lot of people I know who are in placement in large cities such as Munich and Nuremberg. It is quite quiet but there’s everything you need, plenty of supermarkets, restaurants and most importantly ‘Lokale’ (pubs) to enjoy. The nearest big city is Frankfurt which is about a 30-minute train journey away. It’s great to have such a big city nearby that you can go to for shopping, a night out or to visit the English shop so you can pick up some home comforts. Another one of the great things about the Stanley Black & Decker internship is that there’s a group of interns, this year there are 5 of us in Marketing and 1 in the Engineering department. This means that we can organise things to do together and helps to make the most out of the year abroad experience. For example, we’ve adopted Mainz as our German football team and we often go to games, most recently against Bayern (Mainz lost, but 15 Euros to watch Bayern play is a bargain!). Some of us also went down to Munich for Oktoberfest for a few days, which I would recommend. We are planning to visit Amsterdam as well as plenty of other German cities such as Berlin, Bonn and Hamburg so there’s plenty to still look forward to for the rest of this year!

What’s the big deal with SMEs?

It can sometimes feel difficult trying to find the right placement or graduate role for you. Large companies can offer attractive graduate schemes or placement programmes, but competition for them is often fierce. But don’t despair, there are plenty of opportunities out there – you just need to look in the right places. Don’t make a big mistake and ignore the opportunities offered at small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – just because they aren’t household names, it doesn’t mean they can’t offer you exciting prospects.

What is an SME?

An SME is defined as a company that employs fewer than 250 people. In 2017, 5.7 million SMEs were recorded in the UK, which means there are a lot of options out there! New and upcoming businesses tend to be SMEs and they cover almost all business sectors, so whatever you are interested in, there should be something for you.

Why should I consider an SME?

There are lots of benefits of working at an SME. Here are just a few that you might find rewarding.

Embrace the culture
The culture of SMEs is one of the biggest differences between smaller and larger companies – you will be in a smaller work environment and, therefore, a smaller team. This means you should be able to integrate well into the team and get to grips with the staff and departments more quickly. Not only will this interconnection between the departments make communication more effective, but you will be able to get a better understanding of your role and feel more comfortable in it much more quickly.

Make an impact
Linking to the close-knit community at SMEs, working within a smaller company means you are more likely to get your hard work noticed. It will also be easier to have your voice heard – you could potentially be working with more senior members of staff in smaller companies which is a great opportunity to share your ideas and make a difference! This will give you job satisfaction – watching your ideas being implemented and being able to oversee projects through from start to finish will help you feel like you are making a real contribution to the business.

Broaden your skill-set
Due to the smaller team size, you are less likely to be restricted to a single role – you will probably have varied responsibilities, maybe even across different departments. For example, if you worked in a marketing role, you could find yourself carrying out work in digital, print, advertising, sales or event workstreams. Not only does this mean you get to pick up transferable skills, but being exposed to different workstreams will help you gain a better understanding of how the company works and which area you may want to specialise in.

Where could I be working?

There are SMEs in all types of sectors, but here are some of the most common areas that you may consider when looking for opportunities:

  • Arts and culture
  • Marketing, media and publishing
  • Manufacturing
  • Financial services
  • Legal services
  • Consultancies
  • Technology/software companies
  • Construction
  • Charities

How do I find opportunities at SMEs?

Finding opportunities at SMEs can sometimes be a bit trickier than finding them at larger companies, as they aren’t often marketed in the same way. Here are some tips to remember during your search.

  • SMEs often rely on recruitment agencies to fill their roles, so it may be worth looking at this route.
  • When searching for roles online, don’t focus on brand identity. This means, instead of searching for companies you know about, focus on searching for specific roles or industries e.g. search for ‘auditing roles in Birmingham’ rather than ‘Deloitte vacancies’. The trick is to use buzzwords – such as sectors and role types – rather than company names.
  • Larger companies often recruit far in advance for their graduate schemes and placement programmes. SMEs don’t – they usually recruit as and when they need to. They often advertise for roles in the Spring, which is ideal if you missed out on some of the early deadlines before Christmas!
  • Don’t dismiss internships – if you are looking for a graduate role, you may only be interested in securing a full-time, permanent position. However, some SMEs may offer internships with the potential for you to be kept on as a permanent member of staff if you impress as an intern. Make sure to read all the details when you see internship opportunities advertised or contact the employer to see if there is a possibility of you being considered for a permanent role at the end of the internship.
  • It’s also a good idea to apply speculatively to SMEs if they aren’t currently advertising specific roles, as they may invite you in for a chat or keep your CV on file for when a role does come up. However, it’s important that you outline your expectations in these speculative applications – say you are looking for paid placement opportunities for example. Don’t say you are willing to work for free, as some companies may exploit that.

Things to remember when searching for opportunities

While we do want you to take SMEs into consideration when searching for opportunities, make sure you take some time to think properly about whether an SME is the right company for you.

  • Think about whether you are happy having a varied role in a small team, or if you would prefer to have a more defined role within a larger team. It can be hard work having to juggle a variety of responsibilities, so think about what kind of work you would be happy with. 
  • How much training do you want? A graduate role at an SME for example won’t be structured in the same way as a larger graduate scheme – it will usually be an entry level role. Additionally, SMEs often focus on on-the-job learning as they often have fewer resources for training compared to larger companies.
  • Do background research about the company before applying – find out what type of work they do, what the work culture is like, what their values are etc. to see if it’s a company you would feel happy working for.
  • There is sometimes the option to negotiate your start date at an SME which you might not be able to do for larger companies. Therefore, if there is a role being advertised with a starting date that is before the end of your exams/you graduate, you may be able to speak to the employer to see if there is any flexibility with the start date.

If you want to find out more about the big opportunities an SME could offer you, we are here to help! Visit our dedicated webpage: www.aston.ac.uk/sme, join in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #AstonSMEs or come and speak to us in the Careers+Placements Centre. Don’t forget, you can also explore a range of placement and graduate opportunities at SMEs on Aston Futures.

Why you should consider working at a start-up

Stuart Harrison graduated from Aston University in 2014 with a degree in International Business with Modern Languages (French). He is now Co-Founder of a start-up called Remedy Roots (who are nourishing better health through a range of signature loose leaf tea blends) based in Birmingham. Here he tells us about his career journey, what it’s like working in a start-up and how his placement year helped him to get where he is today.

Tell us a bit about your career journey. How have you moved from being an Aston student to where you are now?

After graduating, I moved down to Reading to work for a B2B marketing agency. I started off in their client services team – helping clients and managing projects for them. I then worked my way over to the planning department, where we would plan marketing strategies and campaigns for our primarily tech-focused clients. During that time, I studied for a Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Marketing with the IDM.

After two years, I decided to move back to Birmingham to live with my girlfriend (a fellow Aston student I met on placement year!). I was briefly the head of marketing for a small tech company, which sadly went bust after four months due to some lingering issues from before I joined.

That left me with a choice – to get another job, or work for myself. I decided to start working as a freelance marketing consultant. Soon after, my cousin approached me with an idea for her own range of health-beneficial herbal teas.

You are Co-Founder of Remedy Roots – how did that come about? Did your degree support you with the work that involved?

My cousin originally asked me for a marketing plan for her new business. After looking at what she wanted to achieve, and the values she would have along the way, I fell in love with the idea. I asked her if she would consider a 50/50 business partner, and she said yes!

My degree formed a solid base of knowledge that I could use to guide us in taking the first steps to creating a business.

What does your work involve? Do you have any highlights you’d like to share?

As a start-up founder, there is no task or job that you can consider as ‘not for you’; you very much become a jack of all trades. As a digital marketer, it’s been really interesting to learn how to sell at events and fairs, which has taught me a lot about the thinking process people actually go through when buying. We’re quite proud of ourselves that we’ve gone through all the steps needed to start getting our products stocked in shops and cafes, which has been a steep learning curve.

Before you graduated from Aston, what was your opinion of working at an SME or start-up? Has this changed?

I’ve always wanted my own business – the degree I chose and the jobs I took after were deliberate, to try and prepare myself for when the right idea came along. The all-consuming nature of a start-up is definitely much clearer to me now, but I’m still really happy to be working for myself!

What do you think are the greatest benefits of working at an SME/start-up?

If you’re working for a start-up, you’ve got a voice that will be heard. There’s no getting lost in the mix and if you’ve got an idea, you can test it out without having to go through three months of getting the right department members on-board. On top of that, if you’re with the right company then there will always be room for progression, because you’re helping the business to expand into bigger and better things.

What advice would you give to other students looking for job at an SME/start-up or considering starting up their own business?

Find something that you love. Whether it’s your idea or someone else’s, if you’re getting involved at a small business level, there’s no room for coasters – you need to really believe in what you’re promoting. At the same time, make sure you’re going into business with someone that’s interested in seeing you profit as well as themselves.

Did you do a placement whilst you were at Aston? If so, where was it and what did it involve? Did it help shape your career path in any way?

Yes! The placement year sealed the deal when I was looking at University courses. I did six months in Nice, France working for a boat rental company, then six months in Paris for Orange Business Services. A placement is invaluable. I found that at all my subsequent job interviews, I spent more time talking about my experiences on the placement year than anything else. It completely broadens your thinking and helps you to appreciate what the working world looks like beyond the part-time jobs that are available to a student.

You can find out more about Remedy Roots here: remedyroots.com

If Stuart’s story has inspired you to find out how small companies can offer you big opportunities, we are here to help! Visit our dedicated webpage: www.aston.ac.uk/sme, join in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #AstonSMEs or come and speak to us in the Careers+Placements Centre. Don’t forget, you can also explore a range of placement and graduate opportunities at SMEs on Aston Futures.

 

Christmas in Toulouse

Christmas is still a not-so-distant memory, so now is as an appropriate time as any to share with you my favourite time of year in such a gorgeous city.

Firstly, a short disclaimer is necessary on my part – I unashamedly love Christmas; for me Christmas begins the day after Halloween. I am that person. This year, my local Tesco began stocking Christmas goodies in September and I for one was delighted.

I did significantly lower my expectations when I moved to Toulouse though – especially following their somewhat (in my opinion) half-hearted attempt at Halloween. I was however pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastically the city embraced the Christmas festivities. I cannot recommend Toulouse enough to anyone who will be looking for a cheap weekend away over the next festive period, with (at the time of writing) return flights from most London airports for under £30 (some as cheap as £10), and attractions as stunning as some of the following:

Marché de Noël

On the 24th November 2017, 117 white wooden huts clad with lights and festive decorations popped up in in Place du Capitole. The long-awaited (by me, at least) Marché de Noël had arrived. Every year the stalls sell artisanal products from the local area, Christmas gifts and handmade goods in addition to the plethora of fresh festive food and drinks.

I did develop somewhat of a crêpe addiction over the course of the festive period – several friends back home in the UK had words with me about how bored they were of seeing pictures of crêpes on my Snapchat story in excess of three times a week. I wish I was kidding. In addition to the wealth of churros, vin chaud and gauffres (waffles), another culinary highlight of the Christmas market was Aligot – commonly known among students as cheesy mash. Aligot however has a continental twist in the form of extra ingredients: Raclette, butter, cream and garlic and is very commonly found in the region of Occitanie. If this video doesn’t qualify as food porn, nothing does.

Pictures cannot do justice to the quintessentially festive atmosphere – the smells, sounds, lights and cold air epitomise Christmas for me, although this video of the toulousain Marché de Noël in 2015 gives a pretty good idea.

Galleries Lafayette

Much to my delight, Toulouse is home to a six-floor baby of the iconic Parisian department store. One thing it does succeed at is festive décor – although I imagine on nowhere near the same scale as its parent in Paris. Both inside out, every inch of the store was decked with festivity and was completely packed throughout the whole month of December.

The opening of its new rooftop restaurant and bar Ma Biche sur le Toit, from which the views over Toulouse are said to be spectacular, also coincided with the festive season, so, of course, a visit was necessary. Unfortunately this visit was not a success, as bookings are imperative and the wearing of trainers is forbidden, so this trip is still on the agenda for the next few weeks. Watch this space.

Lights in Centre-Ville

Much to my despair I missed the evening of the switch on of the Christmas lights, although France doesn’t seem to be as big on ‘switch-on ceremonies’ as the events we are used to in the UK which generally feature a Z-list celebrity pressing an oversized button on a rainy November evening.

The lights themselves were gorgeous, with each different area of the centre following a different theme. Some of my favourites are pictured below, although I could have taken thousands of photos of this photogenic city and its stunning lights.

 

Captioleum and Square Charles de Gaulle

Behind the Capitole building is the Square Charles de Gaulle, the new home to a small village of inflated igloos for the festive season. These igloo pods contained different themed versions of Santa’s grotto and were a delight for young children. In my excitement I forgot to take pictures, although you can see them peeping into the back of this photo:

Above these igloos, a ten minute Christmas film for children was projected directly onto the back of the Capitole building, which really made it all feel very magical.

As city centre Christmas trees go, I’d say Toulouse does pretty well with this enormous ride-on tree which took up residence in Square Charles de Gaulle:

Christmas at Air France

Having already expressed my feelings towards Christmas, I’m sure it’s not hard to imagine my reaction to returning to a ten-foot Christmas tree in the foyer of the office after a weekend back home in England. This was in fact destined to be decorated by the whole building in order to compete with those in the other four buildings on the site. The theme of ‘origami and paperwork’ was elected and soon the tree was covered in makeshift sticky note adornments and an assortment of origami. Sadly our building did not win, but it was one tinsel-clad rung on the festive ladder to feeling ~Christmassy~.

The festivities continued, with a pull de moche (Christmas jumper) competition and a Christmas dinner taking place that same week. Of course, a large part of running conversation classes is to discuss topics which are current and culturally informative, so naturally I led a class about Christmas adverts in the UK. The John-Lewis style Christmas ads we have come to love are basically unheard of in France, so many of my students found this really interesting.

Santa et Cie

One of the more linguistically challenging things I had resolved to do during my time here was to watch a French film at the cinema – obviously sans subtitles. The first week in December I saw posters advertising a family film by the name of Santa et Cie (Santa and co.), and, given the lack of Christmas films available on Netflix in France, two of us went to see it in the hope of feeling yet more festive.

What followed is the strangest, yet most original Christmas film I have ever seen. The plot is as follows: with only three days to go until Christmas, Santa’s entire workforce of elves become ill, leaving Monsieur Claus and his reindeer to travel to Paris to source the only cure: 92,000 doses of vitamin C tablets. Naturally he encounters a whole gamut of difficulties, and enlists the help of a young family with whom he learns the ins and outs of life outside the North Pole. The narrative features the usual morals of not doubting yourself, and the importance of family, especially at Christmas.

I can only hope this film is released with English subtitles in time for next Christmas, so that I can watch it again and understand the 70% of the speech which completely went over my head.

Watch the trailer for Santa et Cie here:

With so much festivity and the added excitement of having to actually travel in order to get home for Christmas, I can say this was the year I truly felt the most festive in the lead up to les vacances. I left work for the airport on the 21st of December with visions of the airport scene of Love Actually in mind.

Watch out for my upcoming post about some of the non-Christmas highlights of Toulouse!

A la prochaine!

Beat the January blues  

It can be tough being on placement sometimes – you’re in a new environment, doing something new and surrounded by new people. It can be even more of a struggle returning to your placement after the excitement and magic of Christmas and New Year, especially if you’re having to say goodbye to loved ones again and deal with the realities of homesickness. This is where we are here to help – take a read through these top tips for beating the January blues on placement.

via GIPHY

First of all, it’s important to remember that whatever you are feeling, you are not alone. Whether it’s on placement or in full-time employment, no one wants to go back to work after Christmas! The last few weeks have been full of fun, food and family, so having to get back into a routine is going to be a big shock to the system for all of us. After a few days though, it will feel like you’ve never been away!

Stay busy and plan some fun activities to look forward to. Whether it’s going to lunch with a friend/family, exploring your local area, picking up a new hobby or a trip to the cinema, having lots of activities planned will keep you busy and give you something to take your mind off things.

Treasure your happy memories. Putting together a scrapbook or memory box will let you look back on the good times when you’re feeling a bit down. Take lots of photos, collect gig tickets, keep train tickets, save receipts from meals out, get some souvenirs from places you’ve visited etc. – you’ll be able to look back at these and reminisce for years to come.

If you’ve moved away to do your placement, take some home comforts back with you to remind you of home. Why not pack your favourite snacks, some DVDs, some framed photos, your comfiest blanket or a cuddly toy with you? Making your new place feel familiar and inviting will help you feel happy and comfortable there.Get active. Yes, we know almost everyone makes New Year’s resolutions which they probably won’t keep to do more exercise. But getting active is a great way to feel better both physically and mentally. Exercising can help relieve stress and releases chemicals that make you feel happier. Why not hit the gym or look for some sports clubs to join – it’s also a great way to meet new people!

Look after yourself. The Christmas break can often be a period of excess – which seems like a great idea at the time – but can leave your body feeling out of sorts. Make sure you have a healthy, varied diet, get enough sleep and regularly give yourself some ‘me time’ to recharge. Keep in touch! Make time for regular video calls with you friends and family, and stick to the times you’ve arranged. Not only will these calls help you feel a bit closer to home, but they will also give you something to look forward to. However, while it’s good to stay in touch with people back home or on other placements, don’t get hung up on wishing you were there with them. You may not always think so, but your placement is a great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t waste it. Whatever you do, don’t just sit around wishing you were somewhere else – you will regret it.

Talk to people. Whatever you’re feeling, don’t keep it bottled up. If you are struggling with your workload or having issues on the placement itself, talk to a manager you can trust about it. If management aren’t aware of your issues, they cannot put anything in place to support or resolve the issues. If you’re struggling with your personal life, tell those who are close to you. It may also help to chat to other students on placement as they will be in the same position as you and might have their own advice to give – you will probably also find you aren’t alone in the way you feel! However, if you feel you need a bit of extra support,  you can talk to the placement team or a professional at The Hub – just because you’re on placement, it doesn’t mean you can’t still access Aston’s support services.