On this lovely Friday, we had the pleasure to interview Andrew Williams, who manages the Mentoring team at the University of Westminster. To make sure you’re up to date with the previous posts of the Employability Diary, click here!
o To begin with, how would you describe yourself in three words?
I would say competitive through my sporting commitments, ambitious- in where I want to go and my career – and organised. This is something that I have learnt from university and it now helps me in my career life.
o How would you describe your student experience? What did you study?
My student experience was probably different from other students, I started my first year studying Sports Management at the University of Southampton. I was informed that the course was going to be cut off due to not being research intensive enough. I had the choice of staying through the course, or leaving, which is what I chose. So I studied Business Studies and Sports Science at Brunel University in my second year. I had the transition of meeting new people and making new friends. It was a really good move for me going to Brunel, because I got to meet people quite quickly, the course was strong enough for me in terms of having the business modules and then the sports science aspect. This gave me a whole general overview of what direction I wanted to go into. I liked that Brunel was a campus based university, and similar to Westminster there the student body had people from different backgrounds and cultures.
o How did you always stay on top of your work? Any tips?
I managed to keep up with my assignments and dissertation, meaning that I could relax and enjoy my final year. I finished with a First Class Honours which I was very pleased with. I had two major ways of coping.
💡 As I lived off campus with family in my final year, similar to a lot of UoW students, I would treat University like a 9-5 job, my days were allocated to my lectures and independent study and evenings relaxing with my friends.
The other way I coped was that I would record all my lectures on a Dictaphone and this may sound a bit geeky, but because I had an hours drive into university I would listen to it back when I was in the car. By the time it came to exams, I could hear the lecturers talking to me during the exams because I had listened so frequently.
o What would you say is a highlight of your student experience?
The friendships that I made from going to university, I still keep in contact with some of those people now. I would say I’m quite a people person, so having good friendships is important to me. An element of trusting people, having people to support you and supporting people too. If I could choose a fourth word to describe it would be around the element of supporting people as that is something that is very important to me. I think as well it has given me an opportunity to demonstrate to myself that I can achieve things that I want to achieve.
o What would you say was your best attribute in University?
I think being organized and having the confidence to talk to an academic about assignments and other questions you may have about the course. This will also help to form relations and be recognized by your lecturers. An example of this, was when I would go see my supervisor frequently for my dissertation. I could see he would much rather have me come in for frequent short visits from the beginning, rather than someone come to see him right at the end who is more unprepared. So definitely having the confidence to speak to academics and also your peers is very important.
I think when you get into their office, the academics do genuinely want to help you as long as you are mindful that they may have other appointments, so make sure to see them during office hours or schedule an appointment with them. Your lecturers can be an amazing source of support.
o How does your career now fit in or differ with your career plans when you were in University?
I think people who work in higher education (HE), often fall into working in HE. At university, I always felt that I wanted to work in the sports sector or the business sector. That never really materialized, which was through my own choice. Outside of work I’m a football referee already, so I already have a lot going on in terms of sport, so I wanted to keep the balance.
After university I worked in recruitment, then I heard about the Ambitious Futures Graduate Programme for University Leadership, fifteen universities participated in this and to apply you had to of graduated from one of the universities involved. The overall aim of the training programme was to lead and deliver a project within the departments that you were in as well as getting support from other graduates that you were in groups with, action learning sets, you’re also attending conferences. I also attended a residential training week in our first week. This set me up for a leadership/management role in higher education. The last department I was in was called ‘Commercial Services’ , they kept me on for a bit longer before I joined the Academic Skills Team at Brunel. I managed a project called Peer Assisted learning for three years and it was really good for building up my skills and developing a project from start to finish. It is still ongoing successful and increasing in size currently. So yes definitely my career is difference to what I expected when I was at University.
I was really interested in making a move to a new institution and managing a new project, so the move to Westminster was very exciting for me.
o Could you tell us a bit about your role now?
I currently manage the Mentoring team, there are four of us, the mentoring administrator, coordinator, alumni relations officer who works in the alumni relations team but also supports the mentoring team and then myself the mentoring manager.
There are different strands of the mentoring team: Careers and Employability Service (CES) Mentoring Scheme, National Mentoring Consortium (NMC) Mentoring Scheme as well as the International Postgraduate Mentoring Scheme. The CES mentoring scheme is our main face to face scheme where students and recent graduates are matched with professionals in the industry, to gain skills. At the start of the year we get all the students to apply for the scheme, and once they are matched with their mentor, they are meant to have a minimum of five sessions. We recommend for these to take place face to face, so that students can get the most out of these sessions. Once they are complete each session, they are meant to log each session on Engage and once they have finished the sessions at the end of the year they will attend the Westminster Employability Award.
My role in the mentoring team is to manage the team and make sure everything is operating okay and if there are any issues I can be there to help support the team. Part of my role is to ensure that the program keeps expanding and increasing in size so that we can keep trying to support students with their employability and their transition.
o What would you say are the perks of working for the University of Westminster?
I really enjoy coming into London each day and being able to go explore at lunchtime, I often go on an hours walk at lunchtime and go in different directions each day. It is really nice to be able to explore London, there is always something to see in London.
Continually, the strong sense of community and support is prominent within the workplace. Especially with the ‘Well Being’ event last week for staff, you can tell the Vice Chancellor really cares about the staff, this is also shown through 35 days annual leave and the choice to be flexible with the times you start. For example, I’m an early riser and I get into the office at 7.45, so being able to start the day early and leave early works really well for me. Those small perks work really well for me. I just think being a part of the Careers Team has been quite enjoyable so far and getting to know people.
o How do you have that balance between these are my social activities / time off and this is my work time? For example, you mentioned football, so you can perhaps add to or expand on that.
I am a football referee and assistant referee on the EFL Leagues 1 and 2, which in itself is another job because it will take up my whole Saturday – I leave early in the morning to arrive on time for the game and get back late. And being a referee requires to be professional throughout the day, to be switched on and focused, especially when the crowds at the game can be in their thousands.
Friday is my chillout time really, but equally I use it to prepare for the games on Saturday; and Sundays are for relaxing and regathering before work on Monday.
o Nice, so it sounds like you are a really busy person, but you manage to balance everything out! If you’re a fan of books, what book are you reading at the moment?
I am not a big book fan, but it is something that I want to do more of. I just find it a lot more difficult to settle down with a book than other people do.
I do quite enjoy watching series though. For instance, I quite like Luther lately and there are some other good tv series like Killing Eve; I really enjoy those type of TV Series.
o That’s absolutely fine, thank you for sharing! Looking back on your career progression, what would be the key points?
In my last role particularly, I attended lots of conferences to kind of share best practice with other institutions; and I’ve taken opportunities to present at those conferences. So, for instance, I went to Sweden and shared best practice on how to manage a project that’s growing in size. It’s been really great to be able to go out to conferences, meet people across the sector and share best practice. And I think that’s really important and it’s something that I’d really like to do in this role for the Mentoring Team. Expanding on that, I took the opportunity to head up the Southeast Regional Group for Academic Peer-Learning, so took responsibility of organising and hosting meetings, as well as facilitating the learning of the group; and I got to expand my network.
Back in my previous role at Brunel, I also did a Development programme called ‘Aspire Leadership Programme’, which helped me develop as a leader and got me to work with staff across different departments to develop a project. We worked on it throughout a number of months and then had to present back to senior management about what we found, as well as make recommendations. The project I was involved with was about better internationalisation of the university and I think it really helped me develop for many reasons (e.g. we had to attend networking events and training sessions).
o That is excellent! It sounds like you’ve learned quite a lot by networking with the right people and exchanging the right ideas. Where do you see yourself in ten years career wise?
I always see this as a bit of a funny question because if you asked me 10 years ago where I would see myself, things would be different.
I would like to say that I see myself managing the department. I am ambitious to go on and do something like that. I try and pick out people, who I think are good at it; I reflect on what I like about their skills and the way that they do something. I also look at different teams and think if I’d want to manage that certain area. Because something that’s different about me is that I don’t just stay in one area of university; I’ve worked across Student Services & Wellbeing, Library Services, Commercial Services, the Academic Skills Team and now the Employability Service.
I like to get that overall experience of working in different departments. For me, it is important to work out what you do like about your job and use that to decide how and where you want to go forward in the future.
o Any last tips or words for advice for University of Westminster students?
The main thing really is to enjoy it. I think the 3 years whilst you are at university can go so quickly and you don’t realise how good it is. I know that a lot of people get quite stressed during their university time. I completely understand that because there are a lot of different pressures for people at university. But if you take a moment just to step back and realise what you’ve got around you, realise that you are at a good university in London and start making those plans about where you want to go and what you want to do with your degree; you know, just enjoy what you are doing and meeting the people on your course, and utilising all the support services available to you. Oh, and maybe join the Mentoring programme as well, I hear that’s pretty good!
If you would like to know more about the Mentoring Team and the other services that the CES provide, check our website and do not hesitate to get in touch! We are here for you!
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