Career Talk - Episode 2 transcript: Eliana Bellano

Transcript of podcast episode with alumni guest speaker, Eliana Bellano.

Podcast length: 32:43

Cate: Welcome everyone to this episode of Career Talk. I am very excited to be here with our good friend from Careers Network, Eliana Bellano. Welcome Eliana, thank you for joining us. 
Eliana: Hi, thanks so much for having me. 
Cate: So, anyone who's listening won’t necessarily know this, but Eliana is a good friend of Careers Network and we'll get into that a little bit later in the podcast, but she is well known to our department and it's really nice to have you back with us. Thank you so much for doing this and thank you for joining us. 
Eliana: No absolutely thanks so much for reaching out, I’m always happy to help whenever I can. 
Cate: Great! I just wanted to get started initially and talk to you a little bit. If you want to introduce yourself, a little bit about yourself and what you did at university of Birmingham, and what you're currently doing now, that would be great. 
Eliana: I’m Eliana, I was born in Italy. I lived in Italy my entire life until I moved to the UK to study for my Bachelor's. And I did Russian Studies and International Relations, obviously at the University of Birmingham. It was a four-year course, that included a year abroad in Russia which was super interesting and yeah, then I did a Master's in International Business, always studying at the University of Birmingham. 
Right after graduation I got a job in London, I’m currently working for Alphasites, which is a knowledge on-demand platform company. We provide services to our clients in different ways, mostly research services. So that's what I’ve been doing since leaving university and I’ve been at the company almost two years and a half, something like that. 
Cate: Great well, thank you very much. Broadly speaking, I know that your role is associate and not everyone will know exactly what that means, because I think the term associate is really similar to the term consultant, where it can just cover such a wide range of things. What does your role involve on a day-to-day aspect? 
Eliana: Yeah, so associate can mean different things in different companies but, for example, in the company I work for, I work directly with clients understanding their knowledge needs, any research services that they might need and what I end up doing is researching the topic, looking for external insights that we can show to the client, basically, provide this service.  
In terms of day-to-day, we collaborate extensively internally within the team, in the research process, looking for experts who can help us the fill the knowledge gaps of our clients. We engage a lot with the clients, we speak a lot with them, because obviously it's a very iterative process as the topics are usually very complex. Then we would deliver these external insights and then the client would decide what to go ahead with. So, it's basically a bit of a research and then a sales role, it's all a bit combined all together, but at the end of the day, it's always a matter of finding a solution that works for all parties, really. 
Cate: That's great, it sounds really varied. I's nice because it sounds like, from a day-to-day, there are a lot of different aspects, you're not just wearing one hat and you're not just working on one thing. In terms of your client base, it must be really varied as well, but also in terms of just what you're doing, like you say, you're doing a bit of sales, you're doing a little bit of solutions, there's a lot of research into it so I'd imagine that there's no time to get bored in a job like that. 
Eliana: Absolutely not, every day is different, and the great thing is that you don't only get, let's say, the ‘hard job’ stuff to do, but you also get to work with colleagues. For someone leaving university it is very different to work with colleagues, rather than the course mates or friends and also you get to train people, you also get to lead presentations, to teach others. It's a very big transition from the university life really. 
Cate: Oh, I bet. And so, you've been there about two years, which means that you would have started around the same time as everything kicked off with COVID, is that right?  
Eliana: I did six months in the office and then one day we were in a room and our VP was like “we're going to start working from home from tomorrow”, and so we grabbed our things and started the next day. So, it was a bit hectic as it was for everyone, I guess. 
Cate: So, how was that transition, obviously being relatively new to the role and being used to being in the office - and I think a lot of times, especially with graduate roles, you learn so much just being in the office, being near people, and picking things up - how did you find it when you were just all of a sudden thrust into working from home? 
Eliana: I was very lucky that my team is very communicative and also, just due to the nature of the job. But I think that there were things I didn't pick up that maybe would have picked up if I was in the office. So, obviously it was a bit challenging at first, just because of the context generally it was a bit strange, but I think that somehow I managed, just because I also was very vocal for when I needed help. I think it's just very important to let everyone know because no one can really help if they don't know what's wrong. I would be very vocal on some days; I would just call my manager and just ask her to support me. It was generally quite tough, some people stayed alone in their flat so imagine that must have been even worse.  
So, it was a big transition. Now we're doing three days in the office and two days at home, so we get a bit more balance. But yeah, obviously transitioning from the office to home, there was a bit of a challenge there. 
Cate: When we first started working from home, I found it really tricky. Well, you've seen the setup and Careers Network, it's a big open plan office and at any point there could have been 50 plus people in the office. So, then all of a sudden, to be working from home, I found really strange because you miss out on those little gems of information that you find when you just chat to someone in the kitchen as you're making a cup of tea or you overhear a conversation about something and think ‘oh that's actually really relevant to me, can I get in on that?’ So, I think that transition to working from home is often really, really tricky.  
It's really important to have a supportive work environment and also to know that you can ask for help and to ask those questions and to make sure that you're getting out of work, what you need to get out of it. I think it is a two way street, in order to be able to effectively do your role, you also need that support and so that communication is really essential.  
Talk me through your decision to apply and join Alphasites, was it something had you known much about the company before? Were you interested in that type of role from the get-go? What did you want to do, while you were in university? I realise I’ve just asked about three questions at once, but just, broadly speaking. 
Eliana: I mean what I wanted to do university changed a bit over time. University allowed me to be exposed to different opportunities that made me realize what I maybe wanted and maybe what I didn't want to do. When I was in university, I always wanted to work in international environment, and I was thinking, maybe diplomacy, or something related to politics. But then yeah thanks to the university, I’ve being able to do certain experience and I realized that maybe that's not the right field for me. 
I just realized, I really wanted to work in a client facing role. Or at least in a role where I would be able to not create, but structure something and then deliver it to someone. This can be service or a product, you just make it and then you communicate to others. That's what I wanted to do, I didn't know how exactly this was called or yeah how I could do it.  
So during my Master's, I was looking for job openings and I was looking at the things that the university was suggesting, what I could find online. It was a bit difficult looking for what I wanted to do so, and I started looking for Italian speaking jobs, just because I would have known it would have been an international environment, then I would have seen what the job would have been.  
I found Alphasites and obviously I didn't end up doing an Italian speaking role, but I realized that’s something I could really do well that's fast paced and, communicating with clients, delivering for clients and I thought, oh that sounds interesting, and so I applied and went through the application process. 
Cate: I know that companies like Alphasites engage with us at the university, they come to our career fairs, historically they've done presentations and other things. Did you see them on campus at all after you had initially found them or was it just you found them independently and hadn't had any experience with them, while they were on campus? 
Eliana: I didn't have any experience with them while I was at university, so I just found them online on a job posting site, I don't remember which one, but I had looked through so many.  
Cate: It's such a big decision isn't it and I think the world is changing now, but so many people have this ingrained in their minds that what you do when you leave university will be your career forever or will be the thing that you do forever, so I feel like there's a lot of pressure on students to make the right decision and sometimes I think there are so many choices out there that it's not so much what you want to do, but it's whittling down the things that you don't want to do, and a lot of it is just to trial and error and looking into these companies as well and finding them. 
It's quite daunting because actually there's just so many variances and you don't necessarily need, with the exception of certain fields, you don't necessarily need degrees and certain things to go into that field, and so I think that, whilst it's great, it broadens it up a lot, it then adds to the mix of confusion on what am I going to do. 
Eliana: Absolutely, I was trying to understand what I could do with the skills I had. Job descriptions were a bit difficult to understand, how do they translate into the actual job, and it’s a bit of a thing that you have to throw yourself out there and see what works and then, from that you keep on learning. 
Cate: Exactly. Did you engage with Careers Network at all, while you were at university in terms of going as a participant and going to the fairs and going to employ presentations or booking one to ones or any of those things that Careers Network put on? 
Eliana: I was attending careers events. For me, as I was not from the UK, it was very important to understand what was actually happening in the market because I didn't really understand it. And so I would go to careers fairs and I would do a lot of one to ones, and CV appointments because I had never done a CV. I didn't really know why someone from the UK would want to see on my CV and how to highlight my skills. So yeah, I definitely attended quite a few of the services. 
Cate: I think it's really difficult isn't it. I mean when I was a student, I was also an international student and I think it's hard enough for any student to make sure that they are appropriately marketing themselves to potential employers. But on top of that, when you have an international element to it and the job application process is different in your home country, or what's expected on a CV is different as well, it adds a whole other element to it.  
Obviously, you are completely fluent in English, but there are language barriers for a lot of students as well, I think, and it's getting your skills across and then getting them to translate in the way that you mean them to. And the soft skills and things in terms of what do employers want from students at interview, and what are they looking for and what is the job market like. It's a minefield, it's really tricky.  
Can you tell me a little bit more about what you did at university in terms of work experience to try and understand the job market? 
Eliana: I did quite a few things, while I was a university. I started off as an ambassador for the modern languages department, and that was a great way to meet a lot of people, to heavily practice my English because I would to speak with parents, which is something I had never done, I would always speak with students or my lectures and so, speaking with parents gave me a lot of exposure to this so I enjoyed that quite a lot.  
I did an internship with Careers Network, which has been actually crucial in getting me the job I have now. I remember this clearly, for my last round of interview that the VP that was interviewing me, actually highlighted and this work experience so that was really good. So, because I did this three-month internship with Careers Network which helped me understand I really wanted to manage projects independently, that I was able to do it. And, so that was definitely helpful and then I continued with some summer job opportunities, always in the process of organizing and organizing activities. So, in terms of work experience I tried to get as much as possible from it, and I really like that I could do a lot of it on campus which was definitely really helpful. 
Cate: Definitely and it's really nice to hear as well, because I think I’m sometimes students will come to university, and obviously studies are so important, and it's the main purpose why you come to university. But also when you're talking about what you want to do after university, you need to have, we call it ‘career readiness’, and the more experience you can get whether that's through engaging with the careers service and the activities that you do, but also through tangible work experience and internships and things, and societies and sports are also a really good way to get internships. Were you involved in any extracurricular societies? 
Eliana: Yeah, I was very involved in the salsa society at university, I sort of still am, as a fan. I was the president during my second year of university, so I and the rest of the team organized a very big salsa event on campus with whole days of classes. They help you develop transferable skills, they help you create a network, knowing how to maintain a network. It's also a very enjoyable way to develop skills that are then valued by employers, so I would highly recommend of anyone to get really involved in a society, to get into committee position it, because that will put you in a spot that you've probably never been before. 
Cate: That's great. When you were studying, did you plan on returning to Italy after your studies, did you plan on going elsewhere, did that you wanted to stay in the UK or were you just open to the right opportunity taking you wherever you needed to be? 
Eliana: I don't think I wanted to go back to Italy. I wanted to live outside of Italy for quite some time and I didn't have a clear idea of where exactly I wanted to be. But I was hoping anywhere in Europe could have been a good option. Towards the end of my Master's, I was a bit more willing to stay in the UK, also because the longer you stay, the harder it is to leave. I chose to stay in the UK and I got this position in London and, at the end of the day, it was meant to be, so I’m actually really glad I stayed but I was never really planning on going back to Italy. 
Cate: Great and can you tell me a little bit more about the application process for your job? What does it entail, what were the stages, from start to finish, of getting the job itself? 
Eliana: So obviously this has changed a lot over the time, but the application process consists of three rounds after a quick call from the recruitment team. And, basically, I think the company was trying to assess how my skills would have been helpful within the role and if the role was the right thing for me. So, the first one was a very quick conversation about just my experience so far, and the second one was a bit more of sort of a case study. So, a bit of a case study of a possible project with an interview afterwards, and then there was the final conversation, a final interview with two VPS. It is very stressful. I mean, getting a job is definitely not easy. But I think if you practice a lot, if you use all the methods that they tell you need to use, then you feel more comfortable and then the interview will go how it's supposed to go. At times it is not a good fit for both sides so it's a difficult process. Yeah, it only takes one yes so. 
Cate: Well, exactly. It is a really stressful process, but I think it's really important for everyone to remember that it is as much about you interviewing potential employers as employers interviewing you for a good fit.  
What we don't want is for everyone to just go for anything that they can get. I know that's sometimes easier said than done, if it's a particularly competitive market, but students and graduates need to know that they need to be going into something that's the right fit for them as well and like you say it does only take one yes. I think if the fit is right, and if you're interested in what the company has to say and you like their business model and you like the job role, and they can tell that that you would excel for that role, that's all that really matters. I think it's not that it's an easy process, but when it's right, would you agree that it's when it's right, it's easier, as in everyone it makes it happen a bit easier? 
Eliana: Yeah, when you eventually get on a desk it all makes sense. You don't feel like you're a fish out of water just try and survive. I didn't know that when I was applying, when I was doing interviews that I should actually check myself for myself, is this something I wanted to do. Because I didn't know, my goal was to get a job and I see a bit more of the options, but yeah I wasn't actively aware you should really look, if this is something you want to do, if that fits your path. I think it's really important to have that mindset, also because you want to be happy and what you do.  
Cate: Would you say that your role is what you expected it to be? 
Eliana: I would say and not 100% because it's a very specific role and the skills that you develop are very specific, especially the very beginning. But as you progress you incorporate so many more elements that give you the full picture of the role. So at the beginning, I can say honestly was a bit difficult for me, but then the whole role took place as well as I was getting more responsibilities and really made a lot of sense and I just really embraced it full on. 
Cate: It just clicks. Once all the parts are moving cohesively it just clicks doesn't it. 
Eliana: Yeah, you understand why you do a certain thing and then why the other comes next yeah. It just makes a lot of sense all of a sudden, you’re like oh my God yes that's right, I want to keep on doing this. 
Cate: That's such a rewarding feeling as well, to know that you've really landed on your feet. Whilst you might not have been able to envisage what exactly it was going to be from a day to day, you knew that you wanted to be able to see a project through from start to finish, and you want it to be involved in both the client sales side of it, but also the creation and then the delivery of it. I think you've really landed in a role that's perfect for your skill set so it's really exciting and we're really excited for you at Careers Network.  
How did you find that transition from university to a full-time job? Did you struggle with it, or because you had had quite a lot of work experience whilst at university you knew what to expect or what did you find most challenging when you were starting in the world of work after your studies? 
Eliana: Well, I think one of the things I was maybe not really used to is receiving a lot of feedback, because when I saw the new position, you receive insane amount of feedback. At times, I felt it was getting too much, but now I understand why that was the case. Obviously, they want you to do well and so there's always a reason for everything you say. But it was a bit different for me, I had never been given that amount of feedback and and then staying in the office for so many hours every day, and it's not just an internship. At university I would have one or two hours, a couple of hours in another building, I would walk a lot, and maybe that's not the same routine you have when you're in the office. So that was also, physically was a bit difficult to manage, I just couldn't stand still on my chair at times. It might sound a bit silly but some days, I was just like I need to get up and walk, it takes a bit of habit. 
Cate: I think there's a lot to be said for going for a lunchtime walk or just quickly going and grabbing a coffee or something. If you get really into a task that you're doing, you can be sitting down all day, and you have to remember, I need to go stretch my legs. Like you say, whilst you're at university, if you're having lectures or seminars you're constantly walking from place to place, if you're holding a job during that you're then going in and working for a few hours and then going back to something else. So I think that's a really interesting point, I never really thought about that. I think once you're in it for a while you just get used to the fact that you're just sitting for a very long time in certain roles. But yeah it is a tricky adjustment.  
Do you have any advice for current students who are looking to do something similar to what you're doing? 
Eliana: I would say, is to get involved as much as possible. I understand maybe international students can feel that maybe it's too much. But I think any opportunity that there is, being this work experience, societies, just go and then see if that works. I would have started even earlier in first year looking for internships and things. I think it would have been way more helpful.  
I think another thing that I would maybe recommend is to prepare a lot and send a lot of CVs. The more interviews, you have the more confidence you feel, and that will lead you to the right direction. 
Cate: Definitely, I can't agree with that more. Throughout my work history I’ve tried to have the mindset that, even if it's not an opportunity that I get, it's still good experience just going through the process and having that interview experience. If you get out of habit of doing it, it can be so daunting to get back into it, and then, when you go for a job that is really important to you, you've got all those nerves on top of the fact that it's really important to you. I couldn't agree with that more, that the more you do the, the more you get out of it.  
I don't want to keep you too much longer, because I realized we've been chatting for a while and it's been so lovely to catch up with you, but I just wanted to end on one final question. What recommendations do you have for current students who are from outside of the UK for them to make the most of their time on the in the UK? I know you've touched on it already in terms of internships and societies but is there anything that's specifically relevant to international students and what they can do to make themselves more employable or to really make the most of their time at Birmingham? 
Eliana: I mean, obviously, to make most of your time at Birmingham. Enjoying as much as you have on campus but always try to go outside campus, just visit around. There are so many great places to see. In terms of employability, I know there's always a bit of bias inside your head that they might want someone from the UK or that that person would be preferred to me, but that's not necessarily the case so just go for it. You might get it, you might not, but at least you try and that's the most important thing. 
Cate: Definitely, you don't know unless you try.  
Well Eliana, thank you so much for joining us for this episode of Career Talk with Careers Network at the University of Birmingham. It's been so lovely to catch up with you and to hear about your role and we're really appreciative of you joining us today, so thank you so much. 
Eliana: No worries, thanks so much. 


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