First Insights Conference takeaways

First Insights Conference

Written by Samantha Oates-Miller, Careers Insights and Graduate Support Assistant at the Careers Service

The brand new event ‘First Insights Conference’ took place on Wednesday, 24 March and gave over 140 first year undergraduate students the opportunity to meet with employers and graduates from three sectors of their choice. The conference aimed to give students an insight into different sectors, employers, job roles, and the types of skills and experiences they could develop while at University.

Missed it? Don’t worry, we’ve rounded up our top takeaways from each sector session:


  1. Identify what sector of communications you are most interested in.
  2. Use social media and LinkedIn to build a profile and connect with University of Manchester graduates working in communications.
  3. Alongside your academic studies, build experience elsewhere. For example, volunteering in a marketing role within a student society.

Engineering and Energy:

  1. Ask people for help! Don’t be afraid to admit to gaps in your knowledge, and always be honest at an interview.
  2. Seek ways to improve yourself during your time at university. Every graduate has a degree, so find out what more you can offer.
  3. Embrace LinkedIn. Get inspiration for your career, network, and research employers. There are so many ways it can be used to your advantage.


  1. Volunteering is key. Many roles require transferable skills, so even if it’s not your ideal volunteering opportunity, get involved wherever you can!
  2. COVID-19 has increased the demand on many charities. For example, UpReach have grown in the last 6 months and there is a demand for volunteers and paid staff.
  3. When applying, make sure you fully understand the ‘why’ of the charity and make sure you can articulate their mission and comment on how it fits with your own values.

Consultancy and Business Services:

  1. Think broadly about your transferable skills rather than a fixed sector related to your degree subject. A successful employee from ERAC completed a Drama degree and gained customer service skills working in a pub. Be open-minded!
  2. Remember, employers are not looking for the finished product – they seek potential. It’s your experience, transferable skills and enthusiasm that will get you far. You can learn technical knowledge and skills in time.
  3. Employers understand the current climate and its limitations, but think about what you have done. Virtual work experience, online courses, online volunteering, student societies etc. – all count, and it’s important you are still building your skills outside your degree programme.


  1. Don’t feel you have to specialise too early. Graduate programmes are designed to offer you experiences across the organisation.
  2. Employers are understanding of the impact of the pandemic on gaining work experiences. Focus on what you have done, rather than what you have not been able to do – talk about new hobbies/interests or anything new that you have learned. 
  3. Be yourself. There is a perception of what a commercial lawyer ‘looks like’, but that is not the case. Be an individual with your own motivations, qualities and experiences that can contribute to a diverse work environment.


  1. The ‘environment’ pervades all areas of our lives – this means there are opportunities in all sorts of organisations (accountancy firms advise environmental organisations, environmental law etc.).
  2. Get involved with relevant professional bodies, and not just the obvious environmental ones. In the speaker’s experience, people who can demonstrate a genuine passion for the environment are able to communicate it more effectively in the job.
  3. Supermarket jobs are more relevant than you think. You can develop skills in communication and teamwork and also reflect on your observations of how supermarkets deal with issues such as plastic and food waste.


  1. There has been a huge increase in applications this year, due to the perception that teaching is a safe sector where jobs will be available and individuals wanting to make a difference in lower socio-economic areas where many TeachFirst posts are based.
  2. TeachFirst offer online taster sessions each month and their applications focus on candidates meeting their eight key competencies, rather than experience.
  3. Trainees who have completed their first year in the pandemic have received resoundingly positive feedback. Despite uncertainty and change, trainees recognise their contribution and individual impact.

Scientific Work and Research:

  1. Take a chance by applying for things you think are competitive.
  2. Problem solving is a key skill.
  3. Qualify how well you can perform key lab skills will help you stand out.


  1. Volunteering is a great way to gain experience supporting your local community which can evidence why you want to work for a variety of local government services.
  2. Do extra-curricular/volunteering/work you are passionate about, rather than what you think the employer wants to see. Employers look for authenticity and genuine candidates.
  3. Keep the momentum going after sessions. Don’t put your notes in a drawer and forget about them! Connect with speakers on LinkedIn and look at joining societies and voluntary roles.


  1. Telemedicine is a huge area for growth.
  2. There is a variety of roles in the sector needing a broad range of skills.
  3. Consider healthcare if you are interested in equity and improving the lives of others.

IT and Technology:

  1. Prepare for your interview, complete usual research such as analysing job specifications but research your interviewers and prepare questions for them. Connect with recent employees on LinkedIn and look for positive media coverage about the company online and use this in your interview.
  2. If coding is not one of your strengths, look for free online coding courses and practice! There is some based in Manchester such as Code Nation and North Coders. Coding isn’t necessary for all roles; The Hut Group take graduates from non-tech background and train in-house.
  3. Add personal projects or achievements in your application to show your passions. It could be anything tech based or something extra-curricular that demonstrates your transferrable skills.


  1. It may be difficult to get work experience at the moment, so anything such as virtual internships, online volunteering, online courses, student societies, positions of responsibility at university etc. can help applications.
  2. NatWest, was very positive and encouraging of using the Careers Services.
  3. Recognise the importance of networking. Asking questions and connecting with employers on LinkedIn is encouraged.

Check out CareerConnect for more events like this, as well as guidance appointments and experience opportunities. Additionally, visit the Careers Service website for advice, resources and tools.

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