Emma Wilks: Applying my degree to the real world at the FCO
Emma Wilks wanted the opportunity to apply what she has learned on her degree to the real world and learn more about how the government policies that affect our lives are made. She secured a placement with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 2016 and found the experience deeply rewarding.
Having a strong passion for travel, Emma knew that learning about economics in just the classroom wasn't going to be enough. Instead, she wanted to find out first-hand how countries all over the world – each with their own political system and culture – work together in the interest of the global economy.
Supporting Emma every step of the way
Vicki Wiles, the Department of Economics' dedicated placement coordinator, was on hand to help Emma find the ideal placement opportunity. She gave Emma specific guidance on her CV and placement applications.
“My role as Placement Coordinator is to provide support to Economics students throughout the placement process. Placements are a great opportunity for students to enhance their employability skills during their degree studies either by doing a one-year or summer placement. I provide advice to students to help them in the competitive process of applying for placements, including advice on applications, tests, interviews and assessment centres. I also stay in contact and visit students during their one-year placements and welcome them back to Reading in their final year. I really enjoy seeing students develop during the placement application process and also throughout their placement.”
Emma was successful in securing her placement with the FCO, but Vicki's support didn't end there. A dedicated placement officer such as Vicki, who isn't your employer, colleague or a family member, can give you honest and impartial advice when you need it. It was especially useful for Emma, as this was her first "proper" job in a professional office environment.
“Vicki is great! She takes an honest, genuine interest in you as a person, taking the time to get to know you so she can help and support in the right way. She takes the time to meet with you before you start, so you can ask those questions that you think are silly - for most of us it's our first office job! ”
Working at the FCO was a fulfilling experience for Emma. She had the opportunity to travel to Mexico to deliver a conference, develop a project to increase prosperity in emerging economies, and even write briefs for the British prime minister.
"Our placement students are a hugely valuable part of the team. Personally, I've been impressed by their enthusiasm, ability to learn quickly and bring a fresh perspective. The roles are challenging, so we expect students to take on responsibility at an early stage – and we provide access to a wide range of development and learning opportunities to support that."
A number of significant events took place in 2016 that had an impact on both her work and the FCO: the UK voting to leave the European Union, Theresa May becoming Prime Minister, and Donald Trump winning the US presidential election. Being able to witness such events from the perspective of a government body has been incredibly valuable.
“You learn skills and personal qualities that you just cannot learn at University, while also being able to add to your CV and have lots of stories to tell so that you stand out from the crowd when applying for graduate roles. I have learnt how to conduct myself professionally, present ideas to seniors, be hugely flexible and adaptable, meet and engage with people all over the world, and learn about potential career opportunities.”
Was it all worth it?
Emma now has a much clearer vision of what she would like to do after graduation. Having high-quality, relevant experiences to add to your CV, so that you stand out from the crowd, is important, and Emma was aware of this. Not only that, but she still wasn't sure what she wanted to do after university, and so a placement was naturally a good starting point.
“It is hard balancing the time needed to make a good application with your studies and then taking tests and attending interviews. Although it is completely worth the effort, the feeling of achievement when you get an offer makes all that work worth it. I would recommend to everyone to do a placement, after all you face the same process for graduates jobs and practice makes perfect! Even better is if you impress on your placement, some offer roles for after graduation.”