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How being proactive helped me become a graduate project manager at BT

Zara gained skills that will help her career progression by proactively seeking opportunities to take on responsibilities and make changes.
BT wanted to see that I could engage with others effectively and confidently.

After graduating with a degree in biomedical science, I knew I wanted to work in a role that was more customer facing than a lot of science-based roles were. Now I'm on the client service management scheme with BT, I've found a programme that marries my desire to work with customers with my interest in finding out about the way things work. Graduates spend six months in each rotation and I gained my current rotation by talking to people in the department I was interested in and asking about opportunities to work there.

While it is possible to be directed to your next placement by your manager, I'd encourage graduates to be proactive. In my current rotation, I manage a multi-million-pound project working in cloud technology. I spend a lot of time talking with clients on the phone, yet I've also had rigorous training in the products that I sell, so I have learned a lot.

Finding the best employer for me

I started my work with BT not on a graduate programme but in a contact centre, responding to and resolving problems that customers were having with products. I did this while I was figuring out what I wanted to do after graduating, but I soon discovered that BT would be a good company to progress with. Having asked for and been given managerial and mentoring responsibilities in my job, I'd experienced the encouragement given to those employees who show ambition. So, when my trainer in the contact centre recommended the client service graduate scheme to me and I'd done some research into it, I decided to apply.

When I was going through the application and interview process for the graduate scheme, it became clear that BT wanted to see that I could engage with others effectively and confidently, rather than just focusing on my ability to answer questions in the right way or on my grades. This became particularly apparent during the assessment centre; we were told that we'd be assessed individually, so I didn't feel I had to compete. I worked collaboratively during group work – but I made sure I contributed, rather than hiding behind other team members.

Working as a project manager

My job is essentially to direct my team and to take control of a project. The eight-month project I'm working on involves transferring a business' communication technology – such as phone lines, email and call centre manager software – into the cloud.

I'm constantly managing change; this involves dealing with people and risks. I identify risks and decide what measures to take to minimise the chances of it becoming an issue. I also take control of customer relationships; it is really important to build a good rapport with the companies I work with and to manage changes in the customer relationship.

My proactivity before BT

When managing change, the ability to analyse a situation and adapt your approach is important. Even before working for BT, I always looked for ways to make things better – both for me and for my colleagues. While I was a concessions manager at Debenhams, part of my role was to train sales assistants, and I took it upon myself to produce a training document. This experience helped me to look at the 'bigger picture' – at how my training would impact on the experience of the customer. BT likes graduates who can adapt and consider this 'bigger picture'.

As well as working at Debenhams while I was at university, I volunteered at a local hospital. I supported patients and staff, such as by helping blind people to get to their appointments. By balancing other commitments with my studies, I gained time management skills, which now help me when completing my day-to-day tasks while volunteering for additional responsibilities.

Keeping up the proactivity

When I began my time on the client service management scheme, I saw the opportunity to apply to be the UK and Europe global graduates' newsletter editor and decided to put myself forward. Having gained the position, I now speak to senior employees and graduates and share their stories, along with what's happening in BT globally. Working in a team of four people from different countries, I'm finding out more about BT as an international company.

Learning to lead

Looking back, I think I gained many of the skills needed to direct my team while I was working in the contact centre for BT. I was constantly asking my managers if I could take on more responsibility – for instance, by mentoring other employees. They were impressed by my initiative and, when my manager had to take time off and I put myself forward to act as her replacement, they were confident enough in my abilities to let me manage a team of eight or nine people. I was glad that I hadn't settled for just doing my nine-to-five job as I learned a lot about people management.

Now I'm on the graduate scheme, my leadership skills are progressing even further and I'm finding out about myself as a leader. As well as putting on graduate workshops in different locations across the country, BT allows all graduates to spend a week at a workshop in Southampton. I completed challenges with people I'd never met before (from different graduate programmes with BT). Throughout the week, everyone had opportunities to be team leaders and team members. By learning how I lead and engage with others, I'm now more aware of how to get the best out of myself when working.

Zara Rose
Job title: 
Graduate project manager

2014–2015 Worked as a part-time concessions manager with Debenhams.
2014–2017 Studied for, and graduated with, a degree in biomedical sciences from the University of Manchester.
2014–2017 Volunteered at a hospital.
2017 Worked at a BT contact centre.
2018 Joined the BT client service management graduate scheme.

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