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How understanding characters in English inspired me to support people at work.

Alumni Association

 

Alumni Blog by Louise Stewart, Team Development Director, Tank

Hello,

In some ways University feels like it was a lifetime ago and in others, like it was only yesterday. To anyone else considering whether to go, or what to study, I’d offer the same advice as I give to my daughter. Try and do something you love, and always try to be true to yourself about where you really want to be. Then you can give your heart and soul to it, and know you are working towards something you are passionate about.

This is the path I have followed during my career, which has allowed me to try a few different routes over the years rather than sticking to one specific discipline.

I’ve loved taking everything I learned as an English Studies student through to journalism, then all the way to becoming Team Development Director at Tank, a renowned PR Week 150 digital PR agency.

My name is Louise, and I am an alumna of Northumbria University, having graduated in English Studies in 1998.  

Starting out

I really enjoyed my time at University. Of course, I loved my studies, but I also learned so much about myself. Living away from home gave me lots of newfound confidence and really taught me how to stand on my own two feet. I wrote for the music section of the student newspaper and made loads of good friends that I'm still close to now. I can safely say that my time at Northumbria University has made me the person I am today.

English Studies was the perfect course for me. I love reading and really enjoyed discussing literature within a small group. I was able to develop skills such as analysing different characters and texts, and I learned how to read beyond what was on the page. This included exploring meanings behind what authors were saying, and reflecting on the time they were written and how that could affect the content. I was particularly interested in feminism in literature.

I loved hearing everyone’s thoughts and having meaningful debates. I enjoyed listening to other people’s opinions, and essentially knowing there was always more than one side to a story. It was this that really got me excited about my chosen career path.

Taking a step onto the career ladder

I always wanted to be a journalist and decided English Studies was a good thing to have under my belt, and then I could direct my skills with an NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) course once I’d completed my degree.

Initially, my goal was to be a show business reporter in Los Angeles and rub shoulders with the stars. 

Although not impossible, I eventually realised that that my heart was here in the UK with my family and friends – so I cut my teeth at the local newspaper and I loved it. I knew being a journalist was never going to be the best paid job at first (I was earning half the amount of money my mates on grad schemes were) but it was what I really wanted to do and it was a great first step into the world of work.

Being a young reporter in a small, supportive team was a really good learning curve. I covered everything from giant marrow competitions to album reviews. I also wrote the weekly court reports, where I practiced my shorthand skills. It was also a great way to start making good contacts - crucial for a successful career.

One of these contacts invited me to join the news team at a new local radio station, helping me to make the move from print to broadcast journalism. I worked on the breakfast show, which was really exciting but tiring, after doing 5.30am starts for a number of years! Some of the stories I covered were heart breaking and included the events of 9-11. Reporting for radio was very different to print.

Moving on from journalism

Although I loved working in radio, I was ready for a new challenge. I moved on to become Communications and Marketing Manager at the National Ice Centre and Nottingham Arena. My extensive list of contacts and love for music journalism meant that I was able to slot in right away. It was a varied role, and I was able to move around within the organisation taking on different duties such as arranging for journalists to review shows at the venue to helping promote the elite ice skaters training at the centre.

While working here I was introduced to Tank and instantly, I knew that I wanted to join the team. I had been looking to move into PR specifically and, with a bit of persistent chasing, Tank offered me the opportunity to try something different. Joining as an account manager, I was able to bring my own skills to help the agency grow. From a team of four, it now employs almost 30 members of staff.

From PR to people

After working at Tank for almost a decade, I realised I wanted to focus on the people and culture element of the organisation, something I’d been interested in since my days of journalism. Tank recognised the importance in investing and supporting its team, and offered me the opportunity to move from being a PR account director to team development director. 

I brought the skills I learnt at University, such as listening, debating and a real interest in people, to this new role, which really helped it to become a success. It’s been almost two years since I moved into this new role and I am enjoying building on my existing knowledge with some specific training.  I became a ‘mental health first aid champion’, thanks to specialist Mental Health First Aid Training. I also attended a ‘Women in Leadership’ course at Nottingham Trent University, which helped me to enhance my skills further.

This, coupled with the industry experience, has been invaluable. It’s equipped me to mentor staff as well as help to shape policies and procedures to support them in the workplace. Although it’s not a linear path, it’s feels like a logical progression.

PR attracts many young people and I really wanted to help them to not only grow in their career using the knowledge I have gained over the years, but also to make sure that their wellbeing was looked after. I wanted to provide a safe space for them to talk - something that is even more important currently due to Covid-19 and the rise of remote working.

The growth of ‘people’ people

I really do think that Covid-19 has opened the eyes of companies big and small to the importance of taking care of your employees. Now, even large organisations have jobs such as ‘head of people’. Focussing on the team and offering things such as coaching and mentoring are not only helpful, but are also what people now expect when looking for jobs.

When applying for any role, it’s a good idea to look at the culture of the company and make sure it fits with you. Everyone wants something different so, as much as you’re being interviewed when applying for a job, think about what you can ask them to ensure you know your values will be a good match with theirs. That way you’ll feel much more supported in your role. Take care of yourself and give yourself time to take a step back and make sure it’s the right place - I have done this from the day I knew Northumbria University was right for me, to now - and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Louise 

 

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