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Insight placements: an easy win for any business

Beth Addison (BSc 2019) took part in a Cardiff University Insight with Microsoft, and after just one week discovered a desire to work in the field of tech. She was guided through the organisation by Microsoft’s Higher Education Lead and Cardiff University alumnus, Elliot Howells (BSc 2016), and she’s now two years into her role as an Azure Solutions Specialist for Retail, Hospitality and Travel with Microsoft. 

Cardiff University Insights are short placements that allow collaboration between employers and students. Students gain insight into an industry and employers talent-spot and build their recruitment pipeline. During her studies, Beth applied for an Insight with Microsoft, and Elliot was happy to show her the ropes.  

What made you apply for the Insight with Microsoft?  

Beth: Whilst studying at Cardiff University, I attended all the career-related workshops I could get my hands on. I knew that a traditional career in chemistry (my undergraduate degree) was not for me and wanted to ensure that I could market myself as an attractive candidate across other industries. I saw the listing to shadow Elliot and jumped at the chance to have exposure to the technology industry. I hadn’t considered a career in tech and presumed that I wouldn’t have the appropriate background for it.  

What encouraged you to host an Insight for a Cardiff University student?  
 
Elliot: I know just how crucial real-life experience was for me, giving me visibility into the running of an organisation and helping me determine my career path. I felt very fortunate that I had the flexibility in my role to be able to offer someone that experience and it felt like the right and natural thing to do! I thoroughly enjoyed having Beth in the team for a week and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. 

How was the recruitment process?  
 
Elliot: Seamless, the team did all the heavy lifting and provided me with a set of well-prepared candidates that I was able to meet virtually and understand what they could offer and what they’d be getting out of the experience. I was incredibly impressed with Beth and the team at Cardiff ensured everything was in place for her to start with us during the Easter break.  

Can you tell us a little bit about what your Insight involved? 

Beth: Microsoft is a vast organisation and Elliot set up introductions to people from different business areas spanning various roles to give me a flavour of this scale.  

I had the opportunity to work on a commercial document to support Elliot and it was great to see the end-to-end processes involved in a role to give me the understanding of whether this would be something I’d want to do in the future.  

A highlight for me was seeing Elliot present to a Higher Education institution on the ‘art of the possible’ with Microsoft Dynamics Customer Experience. His impressive storytelling ability used to demonstrate the features of the Microsoft products made me think this is something I want to be able to do.  

What were the key things you learned during your Insight and how has it helped you in your career?  

Beth: The most significant learning for me was that a job existed which combined building rapport with new people, understanding the latest releases within technology and being able to share this with IT professionals who are keen to hear about it. Prior to the Insight, I didn’t know that this could be a potential career, let alone that I would have the experience to pursue it.  

How did hosting a work experience student benefit your team?  
 
Elliot: Beth wasn’t afraid to get stuck in with tasks immediately and so it was like having an extra pair of hands for a week. Beth joined me at customer meetings, supported me in building a commercial proposal and took some of the more process-driven tasks off my to-do list. There are also benefits to spending time with someone earlier in their career, articulating to them what your role entails and why you love it! 

Do you think doing an Insight was critical in getting employment with Microsoft? 

Beth: Whilst I could read about Microsoft’s culture and watch videos about the products, nothing would compare to meeting employees and seeing them at work. The Insight was critical in connecting me to Elliot, someone who would go on to support me in my application and calm my pre-interview nerves. Elliot and I discussed how I’d tackle interview questions and gave me a confidence that I otherwise wouldn’t have had.  

How has having support from Elliot impacted your professional journey?  

Beth: Elliot has been immensely supportive of my career to date, I feel so lucky to have such a great mentor and friend. Entering a large organisation straight out of university can be intimidating and as all professionals are reminded, your network is so important.  

Since Beth joined Microsoft as a fulltime employee you have become a mentor for her – why do you think mentoring and building connections are important for professional development? 

Elliot: We talk about having a “Growth Mindset” at Microsoft, being a learn-it-all and not a know-it-all and while that risks sounding like corporate jargon, you can feel the benefits of that culture every day. I believe firmly that one of the best ways of learning is by understanding the perspectives of others and learning from how they do things, where things have worked well for them, what they’d do differently in the future and seeing things from their perspective. It’s for all these reasons I am both a mentor and a mentee – supporting others with their own development but also learning myself.  

Would you recommend an Insight to other students? 

Beth: Absolutely, without a doubt my Insight at Microsoft with Elliot changed the course of my career. Even if you were unsure if the industry is right for you, an Insight gives you an opportunity to immerse yourself in an organisation, meet employees and find out if this is an area you’d like to pursue.  

What would you say to a Cardiff University alum who was thinking of offering an Insight placement to a student? 

Beth: I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can open someone’s eyes to a career that they hadn’t ever considered and the student can provide a fresh perspective on what you’re working on, too.   

Elliot: I can’t recommend it enough. I have yet to meet a single graduate from Cardiff that doesn’t rave about the incredible experience they had while at the University and attribute their success to the experiences they had. I feel like it is the right thing to do to give back to current students and provide opportunities for them to thrive. Being involved in the recruitment process also means you can choose a candidate that will enhance your team and so there are plenty of benefits too! 

If you’d like to connect with Beth or Elliot and get some advice or request mentoring, you can reach out to them on our Cardiff Connected platform for alumni. Find out how you can support Cardiff students gain valuable, real-life work experience through Internships by offering a placement, or making a gift.