Take the National Student Challenge, reap the rewards

Ava Mahony from University of Limerick (UL) was this year’s winner of gradireland’s National Student Challenge 2014. The first female champion, she qualified for the final with an online test score of 3870 points and went head to head with other finalists to emerge victorious with the National Student Challenge Trophy and a cheque for €1000. She spoke to gradireland of her experience at the Challenge and why it makes sense for students and graduates to take part.  

ava blog image

Ava Mahony, winner of the National Student Challenge 2014. 


So how did you hear about the Challenge, and what made you want to take part?

I heard about the National Student Challenge through my career services centre at UL. Psychometric tests are often not a student favourite; however, I really enjoyed the online challenge and how it was structured.  I never imagined the end result would include a ticket to the final in University College Dublin, an incredible experience and of course winning made it extra special

Tell us about the Final and your experiences on the day?

I was both excited and curious for what was in store for the finalists. The day began with an ‘ice-breaker’ task, giving us the opportunity to get to know our team-mates before tackling the day’s challenges together. All six challenges set up by the employers were entirely different from one another, each aiming to test a particular competency. The variation of the tasks kept my attention, so I managed to stay thoroughly engaged with every challenge we faced.

As a finance student, I expected to enjoy and perhaps excel at the challenges set by PwC and EY. I found EY’s debate and PwC’s presentation orientated tasks to be well suited to me. My experience as a tutor at UL means that I am comfortable taking on a public speaking role, which is an advantage when confronted with these particular situations.

I have to admit I found myself quite outside of my comfort zone when faced with Jameson’s challenge. With my educational background, I am more familiar with structured assessments, so having to harness my creative side to ‘think outside the box’ for their marketing task was definitely the most testing experience of the day for me. However, every task challenged me to some degree; Boston Scientific, Lidl and SAP all arranged innovative and enjoyable challenges that tested my aptitude for creativity and my team work abilities. I found every moment of the day to be enjoyable, stimulating and an invaluable experience.


Ava (centre), working with her team during a challenge.

How did you feel hearing your name being announced as winner?

I was in utter disbelief! Unable to register the winning announcement, I stayed seated awaiting the winner to claim the prize, until my friend shook me, then I realised that it was my name. I thought I preformed relatively well in both tasks set by EY and PwC, and perhaps an individual prize awarded by one of the two firms was not entirely out of reach, but to win the entire Challenge was beyond my imagination. I was absolutely thrilled!

How can students benefit from taking the challenge?

The National Student Challenge gives students the opportunity to challenge themselves and see how they would perform in a workplace environment. In my opinion, the experience will stand to me and all the other participants when confronted with the often daunting process of finding a job and making a successful start to our careers. The Challenge emulates some of today’s most popular methods of recruitment, including psychometric tests and assessment centres. I believe the Challenge boosts your confidence and helps the job seeking process.

The experience also gives students an insight into what recruiters seek in their future employees; each employer was testing for a particular competency through their tasks, revealing the skills they value when recruiting for new graduates.

What advice would you have for future finalists? 

The event closed with a drinks and food reception which we all enjoyed. To be in a relaxed social environment with a room full of employers is an opportunity that does not present itself too often. My advice for all future finalists is to take FULL advantage of this situation; take the opportunity to network and establish contacts. The reception offers a further chance to network and impress a potential employer, and it’s in a comfortable and friendly environment.

Finally, be yourself, trying too hard to impress your team-mates or the assessors may fall flat, let your own natural ability shine when the opportunity arises. Don’t obsess over the tasks, just do your best and get to know your team-mates as well as the other participants, and most importantly enjoy yourself and all the National Student Challenge has to offer.

For further information on the National Student Challenge, visit http://challenge.gradireland.com/. 

A second chance: conversion courses and your career

conversion course blog image

At our recent postgrad fair, we were fortunate enough to have Dave Kilmartin, head of Dublin Institute of Technology’s Careers Development Centre, give an informative and engaging seminar on conversion courses. With the knowledge and advice he offered, it is easy to see why conversion courses are increasingly popular with graduates today. During an undergraduate degree, students, particularly those from non-vocational courses, may often discover new interests and consider changing their career path. A conversion course can represent a second chance to take control and redirect your future career path.

What is a postgraduate conversion course?

A conversion course is a level 8 or 9 programme designed for graduates who wish to transfer to a new discipline. They are usually between 1 and 2 years long, and fees  range from €3,000 up to €15,000. These courses are normally career focused, and link directly to the skills sought out by employers, giving students the best grounding possible to succeed in the employment challenge facing new graduates.

Is a conversion course the right decision for you?

Before making a rash decision, there are a number of key factors to consider before pursuing a conversion course. The importance of outlining your future career aspirations before applying for a conversion course was a key point made by Dave Kilmartin at the seminar. Ask yourself, how will this programme help me achieve my career goals?  If there are few obvious career benefits to completing the course, then perhaps it may not be the best decision for you. Secondly, a conversion course can be time consuming and ultimately is a long-term commitment to a new career. Therefore, before you apply, make sure you are interested and passionate about the chosen subject;  “self motivation is crucial to the success of altering your career path, and without passion your drive is likely to diminish,” he added. To the same effect, be realistic with yourself- do the demands of the course reflect your academic capability? In Dave’s own words, “don’t set yourself up for failure!” The question, “where are the jobs?” was echoed  throughout the seminar. He wants all graduates considering a conversion course to analyse their industry of interest; research where the job gaps are and determine whether a conversion course will equip you with the desired skills that will enhance your chances of employment.

Analysing the options- the different conversion courses available to you:

Conversion courses are available in almost any discipline. The most popular courses are in business, arts and IT, which generally accept graduates with a level 8 degree from any discipline. However, as these courses are popular, there may be a competitive application process. In this case, a minimum requirement of a first class honours or 2:1 qualification in your primary degree is often necessary. Make sure you fit the relevant requirements before applying for a course.

Conversion courses in education, health/medicine or engineering typically have stricter course requirements. A career in post-primary teaching is a popular choice with students looking to convert. In this case, the new two-year Prof. Masters in Education (PME), which has replaced the one-year Hdip, is the course to consider. However, there are a number of restrictions to note; your primary degree must be recognised by the Teaching Council for the purposes of registration as a secondary school teacher. The list of degrees acceptable is listed on the http://www.teachingcouncil.ie/. Similarly, converting into engineering often requires an educational background in either science or health and a career move into the health and therapies sector generally requires a background in science or social science.

Graduate entry into medicine remains as popular as ever and therefore comes with a rigorous application process. After graduating with a 2:1 qualification in your primary degree, preferably science related, you must take the GAMSAT (Graduate Australian Medical Schools Admissions Test). If you successfully receive a relatively high score in the exam, your application will be considered for approval.

If you do not meet the specific course requirements, DON’T GIVE UP! Dave Kilmartin stressed this point and argued that where there is a will there is a way. There are always online courses that can demonstrate your passion for a new career.

What are the benefits of a conversion course?

There are many benefits to pursuing a conversion course. Having the option to alter your original career path undoubtedly relieves a certain amount of pressure felt by final year students and new graduates. They allow you to think beyond previous educational restrictions, such as CAO points, and open the door to a new career path that you really want. The course itself will equip you with the relevant skills desired by employers, while providing you with future employment prospects that may have previously seemed unattainable.

What do employers think of conversion courses?

Conversion courses are highly-valued by employers, because they can often favour candidates with a broad educational background. These courses can give you the opportunity to demonstrate transferable skills, commitment, passion and self-motivation, which are all core personal qualities and skills that are often highly-regarded by recruiters. In his presentation, Dave Kilmartin underlined that a change in career direction can ultimately represent personal strength, and can distinguish you from other graduates when applying for a job.

For further information on conversion courses go to http://postgradireland.com/advice-and-funding/conversion-courses


Raising the profile of language learning in Ireland


 In advance of next week’s GRADchances Language Fair, Tanya Flanagan, of the recently established One Voice for Languages group, writes about the group’s aims –primarily the promotion of the knowledge of other languages as an essential skill in 21st century Ireland. 



The One Voice for Languages (OVFL) Group is a unified voice for various language networks, associations and linguistics experts in Ireland. One of the aims of the group is to highlight the benefits of all aspects of language learning and teaching in a multilingual and multicultural context. OVFL, as an umbrella group, is representative of all levels of the education system and all its partners, including the arts community, foreign embassies and cultural institutes.

The Group was established to foster a greater awareness of the critical importance of language learning not only in terms of increasing employment possibilities and meeting industry needs, but also its broader value in the spheres of education.

One Voice for Languages – highlighting language needs across all sectors of society

Building on ample research evidence regarding the numerous benefits of language learning and as a response to repeated calls from high level industry leaders, employment specialists, advisory bodies and experienced linguists, the OVFL group intends to raise awareness at government level of the deficit in appropriate language skills. We will also aim to reinforce the important role the learning of languages can play in the improvement of literacy levels.

One Voice for Languages – highlighting the exciting potential of language learning for our young people, for Ireland’s economy and for Irish society

The last census indicates that there are over 160 languages spoken by the new citizens of this country, highlighting the tapestry of languages spoken in modern Ireland. Both in the contexts of social cohesion and resource potential, it is imperative that we harness this enormous linguistic wealth and foster awareness of the many benefits of learning languages and of acquiring additional communicative and intercultural skills. We hope to support the Irish Government in capitalising on the significant varied language and cultural backgrounds of the new Irish population and to equip our young people with the language skills they need to fully integrate and assume their role in the global marketplace.

The past number of years has seen an acknowledgement of the need to improve and support the teaching and learning of the science, mathematics and engineering fields. OVFL aim to begin the dialogue to ensure that language learning may now also be accorded the same priority and commitment which we believe to be of fundamental importance to the educational and economic future of this country.

One Voice for Languages – our first steps

The OVFL group was officially launched at a packed event hosted by the Schools of Languages and Education in Trinity College, Dublin on November 14th 2013. A very distinguished panel of speakers including Prof. Sarah Smyth and Dr. Lorna Carson, TCD, Prof. Finbarr Bradley, UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School, Tony Donohoe, Head of Education, Social & Innovation with IBEC and Barbara Nolan, Head of the European Commission in Ireland, warmly welcomed the establishment of the OVFL group. They spoke of the urgent action required to ensure that language learning is accorded the importance it merits in terms of industry, education, social cohesion and culture.

Since its official launch, OVFL has continued to attract media and online attention through its webpage and facebook campaign and it has initiated an action plan exploring a number of key areas including language policy, social media and research in the areas of language teaching and learning and language awareness. The group meets regularly and has met many interested agencies in recent weeks, including representatives from gradireland, AHECS and Quality & Qualifications Ireland, with whom valuable links have been established. Details of this ongoing work are published on the OVFL website – www.onevoiceforlanguages.com – please visit the site and join the Facebook campaign if you would like to add your voice!

Tanya Flanagan is PR Officer with the One Voice For Languages Group. She is a post-primary teacher of French, Italian and English at St Farnan’s post-primary school, Prosperous, Co.Kildare. 

Guest blog: internships in the EU

Jenny Flynn is the Communications and Membership Manager for Dublin-based not-for-profit organisation, European Movement Ireland (EM Ireland).  As part of their work connecting Irish people with  Europe, EM Ireland run the Grad Jobs in Europe campaign, giving Irish students and graduates advice and guidance on finding jobs and internships in the EU.  


Applying for an internship in the EU can seem, at first, to be a hugely daunting prospect. Long application forms, varying eligibility requirements and a huge choice of internship positions can be so intimidating to the uninitiated that they give up at the first hurdle. At European Movement Ireland we know all too well what that is like and every day we chat to students and graduates who are struggling to pick their way through the EU internship maze. We also spend a lot of time talking to those who have done so successfully and who have reaped the professional and personal benefits that followed.

Getting an internship (or traineeship or stage, as they are known) in an EU Institution or Agency offers amazing work experience, networking opportunities, skills development and career prospects. It can open doors, boost your CV, help improve your languages, expose you to a multilingual, multicultural team environment and give you a continental social life!  And in many cases, you’ll even be paid for the privilege! So how do you get one? Here at EM Ireland we tend to divide EU internships into 3 broad categories:

Institutional Internships – internships with an official EU Institution

Most people are aware that the European Commission (EC) and European Parliament (EP) run large traineeship programmes, but the other EU Institutions do too. Places like the Council of the EU, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), and the list goes on (with more acronyms than you could shake a stick at). The internship eligibility requirements vary slightly from institution to institution but generally speaking, you need to be a national of an EU country, with a third-level degree (in any discipline, not just politics or law or international relations which is often the perception people have) and knowledge of at least two EU languages to apply. That last point regarding language requirements is one that really puts people off applying but, again depending on the Institution you apply to, your mother tongue along with a decent Leaving Cert level of French or German (or any other official EU language) will often get you through. Learn more and apply online through the websites of the various institutions.

Agency Internships – Internships with a European Agency

The EU has 40 agencies spread out in cities across Europe. These agencies are separate from the institutions above and were set up to help the Institutions make and implement policies and manage EU programmes. The agencies work in a huge range of fields, from the Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna, to the European Railway Agency in Valenciennes, to the European Medicines Agency in London, to the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions in Loughlinstown in Dublin. Regardless of your degree, you will certainly find an agency that specialises in an area of interest to you. The good news is that these agencies also run internship programmes.  Eligibility requirements vary depending on the agency you apply to but often times the application process is lot less arduous than the institutional positions. The agencies can also offer more flexibility with start and finish dates than the institutions, where there are set intern intakes.

Non-Institutional Internships – Internships outside of EU Institution, Agencies and Bodies

Brussels is chock full of trade groups, lobbyists, law firms, PR firms, NGOs, multi-nationals, private companies, media outlets… there is something for everyone there and so many of these organisations offer internship opportunities. Start searching the net and draw up a list of the ten places in Brussels you would love to work or intern.  Then see if these places offer internships. If not, there may still be no harm in sending in a prospective CV, outlining your availability for work.  Do bear in mind though that you are likely to go unpaid for your work experience in many of these more informal positions.

Three Tips

  • Be determined and diligent! Most of the Institutional internships will have online forms for you to fill in.  These can be long and demanding so make sure to dot all the i’s and cross the t’s. With such large volumes of applicants, intern recruiters are looking for reasons to discard applications, so don’t give them one by being sloppy!
  • Get organised early.  Deadlines for Institutional internships fall well in advance of the internships themselves (for example, the deadline for the October 2014 Commission traineeship was the 31 January 2014) so start looking early.
  • Throw your hat in the ring. Apply for lots of different internships to maximise your chances of being selected. But remember, if you spend longer than six weeks interning in any EU Institution, Delegation or Agency, you are then ineligible to do another EU internship.

Information about the eligibility requirements, application processes and deadlines for all the EU Institutional internship programmes, as well as the majority of the Agencies, are included in the EM Ireland Green Book – a guide for Irish students and graduates looking to intern, work and live in the EU. The Green Book also has a long list of non-institutional internship positions that might inspire your wish list.

Finally, as part of the Grad Jobs in Europe campaign, EM Ireland sends out a weekly update of jobs and internships in the EU. Even if you’re not looking for a position right now, it will give you a good idea of what’s out there, and it’s free to join-just email  info@europeanmomovement.ie with ‘Jobs and Internships in Europe’ as the subject line and we’ll add your name to the list.

Learn more at www.europeanmovement.ie/grad-jobs-in-europe/ or get in touch with Jenny and the team on info@europeanmovement.ie.

“What do Tech companies want from graduates?”

gradireland recently attended a symposium organised by the HEA which addressed this question. Panellists included representatives from Altocloud, Fidelity Investments, the Irish Internet Association and Storm Technology. Here we report back on the findings.

IT Blog

What do recruiters look for?


I can already hear you groan! Employers ALWAYS say this, but WHAT DO THEY MEAN?!

When deciding which graduates to hire, the recruiters perspective is that ‘technical competency’ is demonstrated by your academic achievements and knowledge. Your success at University shows your ability to learn. That is all the employer needs when looking for graduate hires – their approach is that they will teach you what they need you to know for their business anyway, once you have been hired.

There are two sides to knowledge: one is gathering knowledge (learning); the other is applying it. Your application will be enough to show the recruiters your ability to learn; you need to show them that you can continue to learn; and that you can apply this learning. They will find this believable if you show passion. So passion in this context means genuine interest, a curiosity in ‘how things work’. They want you to show that you like taking things apart to find out how they work (and what you learned when you tried to put it back together again or to build an improved version). You need to show how you have applied your knowledge, through work placement, projects, entrepreneurial or charitable ventures, etc; that you are not afraid to get your hands dirty with code, and that you are not afraid to fail in order to learn.

Curiosity and interest

You don’t need to be a massive ‘techy’ to get into Tech companies – showing curiosity and interest can get you through the interview, then company training can provide any technical development required to get you up to speed. A good example is if you have an interest in art. The ability to visualise in the tech sector is really important, so if you are interested in applying your creativity in a practical way and can work in a multi-disciplinary team, you could build your career in tech.


All agreed that this is a must-have. Best way to demonstrate that you have the required skills? Take on a team project, and if possible work in multi-disciplinary teams so that you can prove you can work with non-technical colleagues (see also ‘Connectivity’ below).

Killer CVs and interview tips


The CVs from everyone in your class all look the same, trust me. Recruiters are crying out for you to stand out and make it easy for them to hire YOU. So how do you do it? Keep the boring stuff to a minimum, eg qualifications; you all have pretty similar ones! You have 2 pages (max) so don’t waste this space. Recruiters don’t want to see a long bullet point list of every topic you’ve covered in your undergraduate studies, they want to see the key elements that are relevant to their business and the job you’re applying for; they want to know about your Project (see below); and they want you to pithily demonstrate the passion and interest you have for their business and your career through your experiences.

At Careers Fairs, never just hand in your CV to a recruiter behind a stand and walk away. Talk to them, they are there to meet you! Make an impression, THEN hand them your CV. If you watch carefully at Careers Fairs, you will always see recruiters either marking a CV or putting some into a different pile to others. These are the CVs of individuals who have engaged with and impressed the recruiters, and these are often the ones who get called for interview.


The most important thing you’ll be asked about at interview will be your Project. You need to know your Project inside out, and be able to discuss the learnings you took from it. If you are an undergraduate and still thinking about what your Project could be on, then try to identify a ‘problem’ in industry/business that needs to be solved (eg a mechanical operation that could be made easier through a software application), then research it – this process gives huge value to employers and is gold-dust at interview.


The skills conversation always goes something like this:

Students: “yeah, ok, passion… yep;  personalise my CV…  got all that… but what do you actually want me to know when it comes to hard skills?? Just tell me, pleeeeeaase!”

Employers: “well, we want a mix of hard skills and soft skills, passion, communication…” [students stop listening].

We can report that, in terms of hard skills and knowledge areas for students and graduates seeking a technical role in Tech companies, it’s knowing about:

 Java; Node.js; Python; C++; Design Patterns; MongoDB; RabbitMQ; and Agile (amongst others).

They also want language skills. If you want to work for the likes of Facebook, Realex or Google, languages allied to your academic qualifications are your golden ticket in.

Does that answer your question?!

Trends for the future

Open data

The ability to question data will be key, so get used to using data that is publicly available now. For example check out Dublinked, get in and start playing or hacking with free public access open data.


It’s a global world and you will be working within global teams at some point in your career. Understanding the scale of teams, having an understanding of the different roles within teams and where your role sits, is really important; as is showing that you have the empathy and communication skills to work with non-technical colleagues, eg marketing and sales. Business is always business, and showing awareness of commercial necessities is a real asset in the recruitment process.

Final tips from the top Tech recruiters…

  1. Demonstrate teamwork, show that you can learn and share.
  2. For technical roles, you have to show you can get down and dirty with code.
  3. Talk about where you’ve failed and what you learned. Especially in IT, many of those interviewing you will have learned more from failures and experimentation than from success.
  4. Show stickability. Talk about something you really struggled with, but stuck at and found a way to make it work. This will also demonstrate your passion and determination.
  5. Practice your interview skills. Prepare thoroughly, and know your Project inside out.
  6. Research the company interviewing you as widely as possible, including reading any press about them. Not knowing what your prospective employer is doing and what their goals are is a big no-no and it’s a question you will always be asked at interview.
  7. There are plenty of roles in tech companies for non-technical graduates from all disciplines, be open-minded and curious.

Read our IT sector pages  and download the IT gradireland Careers Sector guide to find out more about what employers are looking for in this ever growing area.

Careers with languages: A world of opportunities


In an increasingly globalised environment, the opportunities for a career with languages continue to grow, as Ireland stands as an attractive location for international companies to locate major headquarters. But it’s not just multi-national firms that have a requirement for graduates and jobseekers with more than one language. Hundreds of indigenous well-established companies and organisations, in addition to exciting start-up firms, are also offering opportunities for those with language fluency. Languages broaden your horizons, as well as you career opportunities, making you a true global citizen, able to work abroad, or work with foreign companies and clients from Ireland. Employers are constantly looking for graduates with the right mix of language fluency, and the upcoming GRADchances Languages Fair aims to address this issue, placing employers and suitable jobseekers face-to-face in an exciting, opportunity-filled event.

Latvian national, and DIT student, Laila Tamosune, speaks six languages and is looking to harness this fluency to work in the business or diplomatic spheres.

My educational background is in Law, having studied it in my native country, Latvia. Currently I am a final year student, studying Tourism management, in DIT.  In school I studied a variety of languages including German, Russian and English. I continued my studies in English and German during my undergraduate degree in Latvia. During my time in DIT, I have undertaken further classes in German. My native language is Latvian, but I also have a spoken knowledge of Lithuanian and can speak some Ukrainian.

Currently I have a part time job with Aspects of Ireland, a destination management company, which I managed to secure following an internship. However, my degree is my priority at this moment. Ideally, I am aiming to work for a multinational company or in the diplomatic service. I am looking for a position where I can contribute with my language skills and also apply my professional qualifications. It is growth and progression within any organisation which is most important to me. I believe language skills are great assets that help to distinguish me in the current challenging labour market.

In today’s globalised society, languages are essential for effective communication.  In terms of employment, in particular in the Tourism and IT sectors, languages can be viewed as a distinct advantage.

Acquiring a language based degree allows the modern workforce to communicate freely with existing and potential clients and customers, which in turn generate trust and appreciation, and returns custom and loyalty. The importance of language skills cannot be underestimated, especially in Ireland, where we have the European HQ of such global companies as Facebook, Google and LinkedIn, to name but few.

Aisling McNiffe of Financial Services Ireland has worked and lived in five different countries, due to her passion for languages and her ability to be able to work in another language.

For the past decade my career has primarily been based around European and public affairs. Having always loved travelling, visiting new countries and acquiring a passion for European affairs, it seems to have been an ideal career path for me.

I studied European Studies, French, Italian, History and Politics in Trinity College Dublin.

Having both French and Italian were useful for working in the European Union. During my first year at college, I worked locally for a MEP during the holidays, using my language skills to analyse an array of French documents.  During Erasmus in Strasbourg, both my French and Italian proved to be valuable while working in an international office there.

Learning languages has opened the world to me. I have lived both in Italy and France for Erasmus. Immersion in a language, by living in the country is so important. It’s the only way you put what you’ve learned into practice. Having studied languages further enabled me to undertake a bilingual Masters in EU affairs and I applied to the College of Europe in Bruges in Belgium.

In 2009 I moved to Brussels and worked in a trade association that represented Engineering Professors across Europe.  A lot of our members and board members were based in Italy- therefore having studied the language proved to be valuable when working with our Italian colleagues. You earn someone’s trust sooner when you can both speak their language and display an interest in their culture.

Studying a language alongside a technical skill is an invaluable combination in my opinion.  If I’d studied languages alone, apart from translation, it’s possible that not as many doors would have been open to me. So I’d advise people to consider doing for example, business and a language.

In 2010, my next career step brought me to Edinburgh, where I worked in the UK Civil Service in the Scottish Government. Working on Common Fisheries Reform, I attended EU working group meetings in Brussels, where we would work in negotiating the future of fishing across Europe. The head of the European Commission delegation was Italian, and again it helped that I spoke the language, for those social conversations where a lot of the real business is done.

In May 2012 I moved back to the Irish civil service to work on the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU. This position allowed me to practice my French while I learned more about public relations and communications.

All of this enabled me to get my current job working for Financial Services Ireland in 2013, who represent Banks, insurers, fund administrators and managers and other financial services providers.  What’s interesting is that I didn’t think there would be much of an international focus to this job. However,I found out a lot of Italian companies base themselves in Ireland as we have a highly educated workforce and therefore an attractive place to do business. Therefore having a background in languages, once again, has proved to be useful for me in my current role.

It’s thanks to languages and an interest in the EU and public policy that I’ve had a wonderful career so far- living in different countries, different continents and working in the public sector, non for profit sector and now private sector!

Register for the gradireland languages fair online at http://gradireland.com/events/234044

Evening courses: The right balance for you?

Part time evening courses can be a great option for anyone looking to upskill and improve their career prospects without having to change too much in their daily lives. 

evening courses

Choose the right course for you

As there’s a large variety of part-time evening courses available it’s important that you track down the one that’s right for you – whether that’s in terms of the accreditation you get, the type of skills covered during the course, or even the timing and location of lectures.

Many people have taken to MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) but these qualifications tend to come unaccredited so that’s something important to look out for when applying for courses. Look at who would be awarding the qualification, is it FETAC or HETAC for example?


Time management is usually a big factor with those who decide to study part-time. Evening courses allow you to manage your time effectively. Depending on your course the timetable may vary but the majority of courses run from 18:30-21:30 one evening a week, allowing you to spend your daytime and evenings as you wish free from lectures.

A part time course could give you that confidence boost needed to either seek a promotion or even alter your career path, now that you have that extra qualification. Your course may require you to participate in group course work, presentations etc all of which will help build your confidence.

Combining work and study

For those of us out in the working world it’s just not often practical to get time to upskill and, as a result, full-time education isn’t an option. Part-time courses represent a more practical alternative, they are also more cost effective too, but it helps if your company might be willing to contribute towards the expense of the course.

Gaining work experience is absolutely vital in improving your employability status. According to an article in gradireland’s Ireland’s 100 Leading Graduate Employers, 41.7 percent of employers perceived work experience to be more important than postgraduate study. An evening course provides a student with the time needed to gain valuable work experience that perhaps a full time student may not have.

Depending on the type of course you choose, some of the assignments are transferable to your work-life. For example in part-time business courses you will often be asked to draft up specific reports or procedures to implement directly into a business that you choose. The documents you draft tend to be aimed for use in real life applications and as a result many businesses tend to adopt practices their employees may have learned while completing their part-time course.

It is a known fact that qualifications certainly give potential employees the edge when it comes to candidate selection for job interviews or indeed for promotions. If you want to increase your chance of securing a job, especially within a particular industry, the more specialised your qualifications are, the more knowledge you are deemed to have regarding that particular field.

The financial burden of university fees can often times hamper your determination to pursue further qualifications. As a full time student, your time is restricted, and therefore maintaining a job can be overwhelming and sometimes near impossible.  A yearlong part-time course will provide you with a qualification without the commitment to years of university fees, while giving you the necessary time to maintain a job. This could help eliminate the financial stress that comes with student life.

Additional qualifications demonstrate aptitude and application, which can stand to your benefit when discussing remuneration

Online learning is increasingly accepted as a method of course delivery.  Digital platforms such as Moodle and Blackboard are being used alongside live classroom conferencing and distance learning part-time options are now available for those who don’t have easy access to a college campus.

Full time education isn’t your only option. A part time course will allow you to gain an internationally recognised qualification at times that are convenient to you while still maintaining a steady income.

For more information on further study visit www.postgradireland.com.

Daniel McMahon is an Education Officer at the Communications & Management Institute in Dublin. CMI provide a wide range of part time Diploma courses including evening or night classes and distance learning courses.

gradireland National Student Challenge 2014: have you got what it takes?

As the competition for the 2014 National Student Challenge hots up, gradireland took some time to talk to last year’s winner, Duncan McGregor from Belfast, who is now working as a Risk Advisory Consultant for global giant EY.


The winner of the gradireland National Student Challenge 2013, Duncan Macgregor (right) receives with gradireland Publisher, Mark Mitchell.

The winner of the gradireland National Student Challenge 2013, Duncan Mcgregor (right) receives with gradireland Publisher, Mark Mitchell.

Duncan McGregor has come a long way in the space of a year. In March this year he was one of 60 finalists who competed in the gradireland National Student Challenge in UCD, and now, ten months later he has worked with EY in three different European countries and in all three EY offices in Ireland, in Belfast, Dublin and Cork. “I joined EY in September in 2013, and am based in the Belfast office, but with EY it’s a global family and you really do feel at home in any of the offices. Be it Dublin, Cork or abroad in London, Paris or Barcelona. It’s a very integrated firm,” he says.

“My current role is as a Risk Advisory Consultant,” Duncan explains. “My role is to advise EY client companies on corporate risk, including financial risk and to date I’ve worked on several internal audit engagements for clients, many of them leading national and international industry leaders, so it’s been a great experience.”

Graduating from University of Ulster in Law, Duncan’s original career plans were oriented towards becoming a barrister, but that changed when he took the gradireland National Student Challenge. “At University we had an employability skills award called the Ulster Edge award, and one of the ways for getting credits for that Award was through doing the online gradireland National Student Challenge. So I thought it would be worth doing, not realising at the time where it would lead of course. When I got a call from gradireland to invite me to UCD in Dublin for the final it was a surprise, but I was obviously delighted. I’m normally quite competitive, but I knew all the other finalists would be very strong candidates and one of the great things about the Challenge is that it is very collaborative and there is a lot of teamwork involved. It also has something for everyone, from those who are strong academically, to those who excel at team work and leadership. The range of challenges is also very good, from the EY debating challenge, which I won, to the gradireland design challenge, which I found exceptionally difficult. So it’s a process that you learn so much from.”

In an era when one of the keywords for any graduate is ‘employability’, taking the Challenge is a worthwhile investment. “By doing the challenge you’re already boosting your employability skills. The online test is very similar to the psychometric testing that so many companies use these days so by just doing the challenge you’re improving yourself, it shows you’re interested in doing well and if you make the final, that shows achievement,” adds Duncan.

When he was announced as the winner of the 2013 challenge, Duncan remembers being thankful the camera wasn’t focused on him. “I was rooted to the spot, I really didn’t expect it. I was happy having won the EY challenge and I knew I hadn’t done badly, but to win was incredible. Then, leaving with a €1,000 novelty cheque and a bottle of Champagne for the bus trip back to Belfast was one of the more memorable parts of the day!”

As a reward for winning the EY challenge, Duncan won a short placement with the firm, in order to get a better sense of it and what opportunities were available. “I met people from all levels and departments and it really felt like this would be the right place in which to start my career. The gradireland National Student Challenge definitely played a part in me being here today with EY and in terms of the benefits that the Challenge offers versus the short amount of time it takes to enter, I would say it’s something definitely worth doing. What have you got to lose?”

Take the challenge today at http://challenge.gradireland.com/

Internships in non-profit organisations: An insider’s view

Alvina Lim, Communications Intern at Habitat for Humanity Ireland, provides an inside look at what an internship at a non-profit organisation can involve and how to make the most of the experience. 

Alvina Lim

Alvina Lim

Why Intern?

I knew it was not going to be easy to find a job once I returned to Dublin after spending a year working abroad, especially in the area of development. With many non-profit organisations feeling the pinch, employment opportunities in the sector were far from abundant and so I decided that the best way to get some hands-on experience, and my foot in the door, was to apply for an internship.

When Habitat for Humanity Ireland offered me a position as Communications Intern, I was thrilled. I was eager to get started and my internship commenced in May this year.

The organisation

Habitat for Humanity Ireland has been working to address the inadequate housing situation in Ireland and abroad for over a decade. Its work is based on the conviction that access to simple, decent housing provides a ‘hand-up’ for families to lift themselves out of poverty and create a brighter future for their children. Habitat Ireland is part of a global family that works in 80 countries around the world and together has served more than 600,000 families.

It is great to be part of a global organisation and to have access to a number of resources and support. The role is well structured and because the organisation has domestic programmes, I have been fortunate to get my hands dirty, volunteering onsite here in Dublin. Internships are steadily gaining popularity here in Ireland, and rightly so. Given a healthy learning environment and supervised role, the skills developed during an internship greatly improves a jobseeker’s CV and future employability.

Importance of Interning

I have been an intern at Habitat for Humanity Ireland for five months, working in the communications department. I have acquired and developed many new skills and have been entrusted with a range of responsibilities. The Irish office is small which means I have been exposed to most operational areas and as a result now have a far better understanding of the inner workings of a development organisation. Furthermore, my experience has not been limited to the office, having had the opportunity to attend seminars and other discussions.

Habitat for Humanity Ireland’s vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. It engages all sections of society in its work, from volunteers and donors to future homeowner families and local communities. Volunteers range from young professionals and school students to those who have retired. These volunteers work onsite here in Dublin, travel overseas to build alongside local communities and donate their time and specific skills to helping in the office. In this regard, I have witnessed the positive impact that voluntary work has on the volunteers themselves, as well as for the Habitat homeowner families.

The benefits

An internship is beneficial for both the host organisation and the intern. My experience at Habitat for Humanity Ireland has so far been challenging and rewarding. In a highly competitive employment market, where good grades do not seem to be quite enough anymore, the hands-on experience, as either an intern or a volunteer, is increasingly appealing for employers. I view this opportunity as a stepping stone on my career path and would highly recommend it to anyone considering this option.

For more information on interning at Habitat Ireland contact info@habitatireland.ie

Volunteer, donate or share by visiting www.habitatireland.ie, like on www.facebook.com/habitatireland or follow on http://www.twitter.com/habtiatireland.

For more information on how to get the most from your internship or work experience programme, click here 

Guest blog: Stepping stones; a new path towards a career in accounting

There are plenty of options available to non-business graduates looking for a career in accounting and it’s never too late to change career paths, writes Emma Butler of Accounting Technicians Ireland.

Many students in their leaving cert year, having sifted through college prospectuses, attended university open days and researched courses, have a very clear vision of their future career path and know exactly what they want to get from their degree. Similarly, many students feel overwhelmed by the wide range of choices before them and pick courses based on CAO points, what their friends are applying for, or what parents or teachers suggest they should do.

Making such significant life decisions so early can put students under substantial pressure to make the “right” choice; however, the years following secondary school play a huge role in shaping people’s skills, likes and talents. By the time of graduation, the choice made by students in leaving cert may not be the right one for them.

Regardless of how certain you may have felt embarking on your first year of college that you had chosen the right course, it is common for graduates to finish their degree feeling lost and wanting to change discipline. Some degree programmes can be quite broad, leaving graduates unsure of what to do with the skills they have learned. On the other hand, some degrees have a very narrow career path, which the graduate may no longer wish to pursue. It is important for graduates who feel this way to know that there are options open to them, and that changing direction does not mean going back to scratch.



Conversion programmes

A conversion programme is usually a one or two year intensive course that provides students with skills in a discipline outside of their primary degree. These courses can often be studied on a part-time basis allowing students to find work, both to support themselves financially throughout the course and gain experience while they study. While conversion courses are not directly related to the degree studies of the student, there will often be transferable skills taken from the primary degree on which the student can build. For example, if a science or engineering graduate converts to a business discipline, their analytical skills will prove valuable. Likewise, a history graduate has a perspective on trends of events and could help a company to see “the big picture” in a business context.

Career options in accountancy

In an uncertain economic environment, accountancy can offer a stable and rewarding career. Often described as “recession proof”, those working in accounting and finance rarely have trouble finding work. Accounting isn’t just all debits and credits either – it can open up a vast range of career paths and provides versatile business skills.

Accounting Technicians Ireland offers a two year professional accounting qualification which can be studied at over 70 different colleges around Ireland. You do not need a business degree to enrol and graduates may even be eligible for exemptions from some of the first year subjects, depending on the modules studied in your degree.

The Accounting Technicians Ireland programme is focused on building practical skills and is highly respected by employers. Qualified accounting technicians work in a vast range of industries and many describe their accounting studies as being the foundation of their career. Having a strong knowledge of financial information can be invaluable in business, even if it is not your primary function. Understanding financial information is crucial in making effective business decisions.

Many qualified accounting technicians move into other functional areas as their careers progress and can be found in senior functions in some of Ireland top companies. In fact the CEO of Microsoft Ireland began her career as an accounting technician. Furthermore, for those with an entrepreneurial spirit, understanding financial issues is highly valuable in setting up and running your own business.

International opportunities

While some areas such as taxation may vary significantly from country to country, most aspects of accountancy travel very well, so if you decide you want to work abroad, an accountancy qualification will help greatly in finding a job.

Having completed the Accounting Technician qualification, graduates may choose to pursue any number of routes, whether in accounting and finance or beyond. Those who wish to become a fully qualified accountant can gain generous exemptions from the examinations of professional accountancy bodies. An accounting qualification offers skills that will transfer to many sectors.

The availability of conversion programmes, such as the accounting technician qualification, means that it is never too late to pursue a new career path.


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