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Katie - finishing up and moving on
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Name: Katie
PhD discipline: History
Area(s) of work: HR; primary school teaching; full-time mother; freelance writer
Year of graduation: 1999
Date of Interview: 23/06/2008

Now Playing: Katie - finishing up and moving on
Katie recalls applying for corporate graduate jobs as a PhD researcher, her experience on a graduate training scheme in human resources, and her decision to move into primary school teaching.

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Transcript:

At what point in the PhD did you start applying for jobs?

Early, purely because I was worried. I was in my final year, I still didn't know what I wanted to do, I knew I didn't want an academic career, I couldn't see how I could teach because I wanted to teach history but I didn't want to teach in a secondary school and university was out so I felt I just needed to get on the career ladder, and get some experience somewhere and something that counterbalanced the doctorate side of things. So the only way to do that early was to apply for graduate schemes because of course you could start applying for them in about the September/Christmas, the September/December time in order to start for the following September which would tie in with the work, with the time you know I intended to finish the PhD. And so I thought 'I can't apply for actual jobs yet so if I go through the graduate career route first, at least if don't get anywhere with that I've still got time to do the actual jobs, nearer the end of the PhD in the actual summer' so I just went to the careers service and went to the usual graduate career schemes that were out there, and applied for those.

What did you apply for?

I applied for a couple of the big corporates and I applied for any of them that did HR because I decided of all the areas of business that those sort of schemes concentrated on, HR was probably the one that would be most consistent with things I enjoy from the doctorate and where I might go in the future and so that narrowed the field down anyway. So I think I applied to Shell, Barclays, Tesco, I think that was it actually, three or four ones that appealed to me.

Did you get short-listed for many?

Er, Shell had closed their books that year, they weren't taking any more on, and what was the other one? Was that the BT one? whatever one I applied to after, the second one I applied to.

Tesco?

Was it Tesco? Might have been Tesco, but they didn't give an interview until after I'd secured the job with Barclays so they were quite late in replying. But obviously, Barclays came back to me an offered me to go through their graduate recruitment process.

What was the recruitment process like? 

It's quite arduous, there's lots of hoops you have to go through, there's obviously the application form which was very in depth and took quite a lot of careful writing because obviously there's thousands of people applying and you had to make sure yours stood above everybody else's so that was quite difficult to do, then there was a very quick interview, I don't know, half an hour perhaps with two different people, up at the headquarters. Then there was the assessment centre which was a full day; it was a night and a day in a hotel in London, then I had to have a further interview because I was short-listed from that but because of the doctorate, they had question marks and so I had to go back and see the head of graduate recruitment in Barclays that despite the doctorate, I was employable, and wanted this career which I managed to do, and then I got the job.  

Were they that explicit with you about the problem?

Yes – there was about five or six tasks during the assessment day at the assessment centre and apparently I had scored highly on all of them but there was just this one little question mark about my commitment to a corporate career and in the end the people who were assessing couldn't decide so it was left up to the guy in charge so he said that was the only thing that he was still worried about and I had to convince him that this was what I wanted. 

So he called you back for a meeting to discuss it?

Yeah.

And what kind of things did he say? And how did he respond to them?

Gosh it was a while ago, erm let's see, he was very up-front and explicit from the beginning, he couldn't understand why someone who was such a perfectionist, because I was trying to explain why I wanted to do the doctorate and the level of detail and rigor that you need around a doctorate, could operate and function in a corporate environment which is ever changing where actually 90% quickly is better than 100% slowly, who could really deal with people and corporate issues. So I suppose I had to argue about that, you know convince him that I had those abilities and I also had to show that I had done an awful lot of research into Barclays and into the financial markets and in to HR and what HR was about and how I saw myself. Not all of it was what I believe but I knew what I had to do to get the job and I wanted the job so erm.

So you convinced him and you were taken on?

Yes.

Can you talk to me about the environment of HR in Barclays and how you fitted in?

I suppose Barclays and those kind of organisations are so huge, HR has many different functions and characters depending on which part of the business you're actually operating in. So to begin with I was on the graduate scheme and very much being invested in and trained and you were working in lots of different business areas, stay for three months and then for six months in order to get a rounded experience, which in a way I found a bit frustrating because a lot of people there were twenty one, I was however old now twenty-five perhaps, yes twenty-five now and it was a little bit like spoon feeding again, you know, and I found that a little bit frustrating er and of course coming from university where you are very focused and it's very individual, you know coming to an organisation like Barclays which is so vast and trying to get your head around the various different businesses and being moved around was quite er mind-blowing at times, trying to get your head around how it works and then your moved on immediately to some other part of the business. But I actually came off the scheme early, someone offered me a job after I think it was a two year scheme and after about a year I got a job as an HR consultant in something called management development which is about how you develop the top people within the organisation, so if you look at the top 100 and where you want them to be in two or three years time how do we as an organisation support them and get them there. So I did that and I found that much better, I found it much better to be static and be owned by a certain business area and really get to know the people and the way the business was operating and the long-term goals and that kind of thing, but then I moved again after that – I moved to work in IT risk which was a strange area of business which was all about the IT systems and how we protect the IT systems and business continuity and all that kind of thing, and I was their HR support. And that was kind of hard because I'd learnt quite a lot about HR and felt quite confident in that side of things, the business side of things, was something I knew nothing about. You sit in those board rooms and people will be talking about cryptography and things I wouldn't understand. Trying to understand what they needed in order to fulfil their functions when I didn't really understand the business that was quite tricky but that's like anything when you start it new, you don't understand it all you've just got to talk to people and find out.

Do you feel any continuation between the PhD experience or things you've learnt through the PhD experience and the work at Barclays?

(Plates crashing)

Um yes, there were lots of things that I brought over and which they must have recognised in order to employ me in the first place.

(Talks about child: Sorry sand in his eyes)

Analytical skills, being able to think fast and to be able to assess problems and to write, there's a lot of writing, whether it's writing emails or writing reports, there's a lot of written work done in places like that, it's just got to be done quickly and so being able communicate on paper really effectively is almost like lecturing, doing presentations, all that kind of stuff which goes back to the teaching I was doing during the doctorate, that was, you know, quite clearly brought over from that kind of experience. It was just really the understanding of that kind of world that I didn't have. The corporate world, the financial world, understanding what was important, that is so different from university and academic circles. The context was so different. 

How was your PhD regarded by your colleagues and your employers?

I didn't talk about it much. When I'd started, I was just finishing off the doctorate so I remember coming home from working in the city and staying up until two o'clock in the morning, trying to get it printed out, you know, when the pagination never works and the footnotes never work and having all that kind of nightmare and I suppose I was talking about it a bit then but it was always a bit as if it was considered a bit strange that I would have done it, it's a strange world, and I soon found out the higher up you went, it was probably best not to talk too much about it because they thought that you'd come from some sort of ivory tower and you couldn't operate in a real world and you couldn't understand them. And also some people, especially the older people who had been there for many years, they didn't even have degrees and so they often view people with degrees with slight suspicion so to have doctorates and things was a bit odd so I never used my title when I was working there and things.

Did you feel affected by the prestige of the PhD?

Not in a professional capacity, if anything, like I said, I was always haunted a little bit by this person in the careers saying 'it will make you unemployable' and this idea that, though I knew that I had skills because of the PhD that I could bring to the work place, that that wasn't clear for other people, so I played down that side. It was much more prestigious in a personal sense – understanding what I had achieved for myself but not in a career sense. There's training; they did fund you do to your CRPD because to be a professional you did need a professional qualification and as it was the same in whichever department you worked in. If you were in marketing or the finance side and that was like another two year course which you did in your own time which they completely funded and gave you days out for, which helped make that transition from, you know, academic qualifications to ones that would actually be marketable.

What does that stand for?

Sorry the Charted Institute of Professional Development, it's the HR professional qualification.

Coming from an academic environment, did you feel a culture shock in that corporate environment?

Yes yes, it certainly is, it's a completely different world with very different priorities, very different ways of working. I found I really like being part of a team and belonging to something much bigger than myself. That was really lovely after being so isolated and individual but also working as a team wasn't something that I was used to, I wasn't used to relying on so many other people in order for me to do my job and that was really tough and in the end I actually I found that too difficult, because you could spend months on a piece of work and you constantly have so many stake-holders that you have to go and involve and then you find that actually the worlds moved on and actually that's been dumped or that's changed or you know you don't really feel like you're making much progression because you were so dependent, you were just a tiny little cog in  this huge organisation. And I never did fully understand the priorities of something like that, the priority of making money; that just doesn't fit with my value system and I wasn't sure how important that would be because in the HR side, people are there in order to make money and that's what you've got to optimise. The things that appealed to me in HR was about developing people, understanding their potential and that kind of thing. I also just think that I didn't believe in what they were doing enough to make me feel as though I could build a career and develop myself there actually.

So is that ultimately why you left?

Yes, I felt like most of the time I was pretending. We were sitting in these board rooms discussing, you know, doubling economic profit every four years, and it was obviously incredibly important, but to me it wasn't and it was like I was trying to pretend it was important when to me it wasn't. I never believed enough and though I could feel I was going to be a good HR manager, I was never going to be really great, I was never going to be as good as I could be because I didn't believe in what they were doing and why they were doing it and it just didn't fit and I just felt I needed to come out in the end.

So how long were you there from the beginning of the training programme until you left and at what point did you start exploring other career avenues?

I was there for three years. I didn't ultimately give up on it until the last eight months or so because I was still seeing new parts of the bank, working in different parts of HR because being an HR generalist supporting businesses is very different from being in management development when you're only focused on training and development for example or if you're just in recruitment those careers are very different ones in HR. So I wanted to give it a really good go and explore each of those, which I felt I did. So it must have been about eight months before I left before I started to think about what I wanted to do and at the same time I was thinking this isn't for me, I was also realising that teaching was very important to me and that teaching history wasn't so important and that was something that I didn't realise whilst I was doing the doctorate and I think it probably required me being out in the system in order to make that discovery for myself. So the two things co-incided. I realised that the bank wasn't for me and I realised that I wasn't going to pursue an HR career but perhaps teaching was, and the two sort of happened at the same time.

So how did you go about pursuing the career in teaching?

I decided that actually primary school teaching was something that I could quite enjoy doing. It wasn't just about teaching, it was about being on my own again, having complete control of my classroom and know you've got the government and the national curriculum and all these other things, ultimately day to day you are less reliant on other people and I like that. I liked that sense of ownership that that had. So I looked into it, researched on the internet and that kind of thing. I knew that you could do a PGCE but I didn't really want to, probably for financial reasons actually because that would obviously mean going back to university full-time for a year and coming from a very well paid job at Barclays (which it was after three years) to giving it all up and going back to university, I felt that was quite difficult so in the end I pursued the GTP route, which is the graduate teacher programme whereby you find yourself a job in a school, unqualified and you teach whist you train, um it takes a year but the advantage of that is that you're paid.

You would have had to have taken a big cut in salary though.

Yes.

How did that affect your decision?

It made it harder (aeroplane), less because of what it would do to me and my family, I mean luckily I didn't have children, I just had a husband, and his teaching career was quite well advanced by that point so we could financially manage if I did it, but I was very conscious of the responsibility of giving up a good job that other people would really want and that perhaps I was being silly or selfish to give that up for this. But once we'd decided that we could actually financially manage, I knew I just couldn't carry on at Barclays and I needed to do this. And as I say, at least I got paid, I came down to about 12 grand I think when I did the GTP (baby crying), which was better than going back to education full-time for a year so it meant we could actually pay the mortgage still.

And how was your PhD regarded by your colleagues and your employer at the school that you joined?

It was funny, it was a primary school, a little primary school, er only seven members of staff, and somebody else had a doctorate, a doctorate in science, and he was a science teacher, had been a science teacher for many years.

Do you think that made them a little more pre-disposed towards you?

I think so. I think generally it is viewed with less suspicion within education – I know my husband has quite a few doctorates at his secondary school so it's fairly common for there to be one or two around I think, and I think the school thinks it's quite prestigious, it's quite a good selling point for them to think that they've got some doctorates on the staff.

And how did you find it, being in a school?

I loved it, yeah loved it. I like the smaller environment; I think that probably suited me. I loved the fact that I had ownership of my classroom and that within the framework of the national curriculum and the policies of the school and stuff, I could do what I wanted with my kids. The reasons I'd discounted primary school teaching in the first place was because I thought it wouldn't be intellectually challenging enough; I think  I had a wrong kind of idea of what a primary school teacher did and actually I found the intellectual challenge far more than I did in Barclays. It was much more stretching, trying to understand the curriculum, what you've got to teach, and how on earth you get that across with such a diverse group of children. The planning, the organisational skills, the developing of resources, all those kind of things just really appeal and is hard, and that was exciting to do and satisfying to do. And you had immediate feedback as well – in somewhere like a big corporate like Barclays, you just don't, you just do your work and you have no idea whether it makes any difference to the bottom line at all. But within teaching, you put all that effort into developing a range of lessons, you spend ages doing the resources, you go and deliver it and you know immediately whether it's successful or not, and when it is successful it's fantastic.

How long did you stay in that school?

Unfortunately only um just under three years because I had children (laughter) and I decided that I was going to er be a full-time mum, have my children all over and done with and then go back and teach. So I've got two and I hope to have a few more before going back to doing it.

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