Defence analysts May 5, 2011Posted by Jeff Riley in : Industry Information, Intelligence and security, consulting, skills , 1 comment so far
Visiongain (www.visiongain.com) are business information providers with expertise in the Telecoms, Pharmaceutical, Defence, Energy and Metals industries. They regularly recruit King’s College London graduates particularly in defence analyst roles. I spoke to Sara Peerun Visiongain’s Commercial Director and Daniel Harrison the Head of Visiongain’s Defence Department
How easy is it for defence analysts to transfer to other sectors? We do have an aviation sector so the track across to that would be easier. Even though the research roles are all broadly similar we do encourage specialisation in one sector– even within broad sectors such as defence there are more layers of specialism. It makes a lot of difference to the level of expertise and productivity analysts can bring to their work. Having said that, a good researcher can move across to other sectors and be effective. Incidentally the work can also be a good platform for careers in consultancy.
Is there a career pattern? There is movement. For example our Pharmaceutical analysts often become medical writers. From defence they may move on to work for our competitors (people like Jane’s and Frost & Sullivan) or even work for our clients – people like Lockheed Martin. It’s a good channel into those industries. Typically doing market analysis and providing competitor information. Similar to what we do in fact.
What’s the difference between the reports your analysts write and that produced by a defence strategy consultancy. Our material is more ‘off-the-shelf’, geared to selling as many copies as we can. While consultants would provide more bespoke reports, typically for a single client. Focusing on a single piece of equipment such as helicopters, for example in Western Europe. Whereas we are much more concerned with providing a global overview of a particular technology sector.
On your job advert you specify ‘analytically minded’. How do you assess that? Well that’s a good question. I look for someone who is highly questioning and academic. Someone who won’t take things at face value and will look beyond the obvious. Be able to juggle a lot of different material, data and conflicting information and be able to come up with a plausible, realistic viewpoint. The amount of information available can be bewildering – especially for a new analyst.
You also specify ‘Highly literate with good writing skills’. What’s the distinction between this and academic writing? We provide formal business reports and need to use formal business English. We can’t use a journalistic style or colloquialisms. Graduates quickly pick it up. In addition they can be naturally very good in a qualitative sense – understanding the geo-political context for example. However, our reports have much more of a market focus and need a combination of both good writing and solid mathematical skills. We assess these through aptitude tests but someone with good GCSE or A level mathematics should have no problems.
What about research skills? Students who apply to us generally have good research skills. We use broadly similar sources – secondary sources in the main. We do, however, warn about the inherent bias of the internet – its overwhelmingly written in English and western oriented. Not so great for material on Japan, China and Russia for example and they have to factor that in. Also our reports contain at least two interviews with senior business people who are experts in the sector being researched. These are usually done over the phone as many of our interviewees will be overseas. Incidentally interviewing for primary research purposes is not something students seem to do during their studies. It does take some skill to persuade senior people to grant you an interview on the phone.
Related reports – Read an interview with a King’s College alumni working as a Visiongain defence analyst http://bit.ly/kQqEVI
Strategy consultancy in the defence sector April 29, 2011Posted by Jeff Riley in : Industry Information, Intelligence and security, skills , add a comment
David Hiley is a King’s College alumni. He recently joined Renaissance Strategic Advisors from IHS Jane’s strategy arm to help develop this USA strategy consultancy’s presence in the UK. I met him to talk about his new organisation and the kind of skill set needed for the sector.
Are your clients different than in your previous role? They are slightly different. Previously I was very much concerned with market studies for such things military equipment and military services. Anything from types of ammunition, tanks, light armoured vehicles. Things that attracts budgets from the Ministry of Defence, the US Department of Homeland Security and Department’s of Justice. in this work both at IHS and Renaissance I dealt with Directors, Head of business units, Heads of strategy, people in marketing. However, that area of work is only one pillar of what we do at Renaissance. Overall I’m very much more industry focused now and less government oriented which was a major chunk of my work previously.
The second pillar of Renaissance’s work is strategy support. This involves working with more senior levels in our clients. Typically CEOs, Boards of Directors – the kind of people the ‘market studies’ clients would report to. We advise on business direction – things such as acquisition, divestment, product development and support – all in the military arena. For example we recently advised a client in the defence electronics sector that had developed a range of products and needed advice on which of these they should focus on because they weren’t able to fund all of them. Which ones were most viable and how competitive is the market for these different products? Typical strategy consulting in fact. This is distinct from but founded on that marketplace knowledge I mentioned earlier. The Renaissance team has a number of consultants from a strong strategy consultancy background – firms like Booz and co, Charles River Associates and others whereas IHS Jane’s tended to recruit into consulting from its defence and market knowledge oriented staff – certainly at the junior levels.
The third leg of our work is Mergers and Acquisitions. Firms might be looking to divest part of their organisation or be considering several potential acquisitions to complete their portfolio and want advice on which would be the most marketable. Or clients might be equity firms looking to invest.
Why is Renaissance focusing on the UK currently? Well USA defence spending represents 50 per cent of the world’s total. We are pretty strong in the US and have strong relationships with all the major US defence firms but have much less work outside the USA. So we are now looking to expand the relatively untapped UK and European market. The other reason is to provide some European and ‘rest of the world’ perspective into work in the US. Having a base here will also help us work with clients looking to get into the US market.
The defence sector in the UK has traditionally been less amenable to working with consultancies – the take up of work has been far below what is typical in the USA but it’s a market that is going to continue to grow. We have a USP of defence industry expertise. There are competitors – PWC, McKinsey, Detica, KPMG. IHS to some extent on some of the market study work. Though we don’t have any direct peer competitors.
Given the differences you have outlined between IHS and RSA will it make a difference to the type of people you recruit from King’s? Yes and no. I continue to look for what I call ‘tank geeks’. People with an abiding interest in military equipment – the kind that build Airfix models or have Spitfire posters on their walls. That kind of expertise underpins everything Renaissance does in the UK at this stage. (The USA team have a more horizontal skill set – we all have the defence interest but they are also expected to be ‘spreadsheet warriors’, as well. Many have MBAs, for example.) So in the UK I still seek a similar profile in many ways but people with that profile aren’t always that easy to find. Typically students from King’s can be found on a continuum between a general interest in international relations at one end and a specialised interest in defence equipment at the other. Asking students whether they are more interested in the conduct of a war or the policy context of the war gives you a good idea of where they are on that continuum.
Our current concern is with the corporate world which means we need people who are more to the specialised end. At IHS it wasn’t so problematic because they also have involvement with government work, meaning analysts didn’t need to be so engaged with the nuts and bolts of defence technology. At Renaissance the international relations context element is important, but very much secondary to that. Not so much knowledge of technology, because that can be gained, but definitely an interest is essential. This is the foundation for all our work. As our presence develops in the UK we will need this to be increasingly balanced with business acumen. Bringing business in, for example, needs good people and networking skills. Understanding what a company might want or helping them choose between different options also needs additional skills. People won’t need to come in with them but they need to be developed over time to progress beyond the first one or two grades. The difference between a researcher and an analyst is the capacity to deal with the question ‘so what’. Research skills are a given for people at Masters level but, as an analyst, once you have your data set you have to be able to divorce yourself from the academic process and notions of ‘balance’ and ‘objectivity’ . Students who want to step into the consultancy industry need to be able to make that shift. To empathise with businesses, their market position, identify with their concerns and articulate what that data set means for that specific customer. This is likely to be different from any other clients – even if they are in a very similar line of work
Preparing for interviews January 18, 2011Posted by Jeff Riley in : skills , add a comment
The core of many job interviews involves an analysis of whether applicants have the right skills to succeed in the role. Recruiters can explore this in many different ways. In preparation for interviews you might find the following exercise useful.
- Generate a list of skills that the role needs. These can be taken from the job specification, the advert or through talking to people with experience in the role. Typically they include skills such as teamwork, leadership and problem-solving. Even if the employer isn’t clear about what skills the role needs you still need to be.
- Then consider the list of skills from a number of different angles. This exercise recommends you use at least three for each skill. These are
- ‘How do you define it? This ensures you have your own ideas about the skill and don’t just parrot back any definition the employer may provide (though obviously you will make yourself familiar with any employer perspectives). Other useful variations on this angle include ‘What does it mean to you?’ or ‘what makes someone a great teamworker?’
- ‘Why is it important?’ This ensures you understand why the role requires any specific skill. It obliges you to understand the context in which the skill is being used.
- ‘What’s the evidence you have it?’ Many application forms require you to provide examples of when you have demonstrated particular skills. In the interview be prepared to talk in more detail about them – and possibly have another example to talk about.
- Here’s an example covering analytical skills to give you an idea of how you might start generating material
|“How do you define analytical skills?” The ability to sift through a range of data to detect correlations (or lack of)“Why is it important?”As a consultant I will be expected to solve problems the client can’t fix themselves. To do this I expect to be able to look at material ranging from spreadsheets to memos“What’s the evidence you have it?” On my Human Resource consultancy internship last summer I conducted an analysis of why an IT firm had a high staff turnover. This involved collating material as varied as salary levels, bonuses, office layout, emails and notes from exit interviews. Our analysis surprised the employer.|
Working as a Parliamentary Researcher September 3, 2010Posted by Jeff Riley in : Government, internships, skills , add a comment
Grainne Magee completed a Masters in the War Studies Department at King’s College London in 2008. She now works as a Parliamentary Researcher for Philip Davies the Conservative MP for Shipley. We talked to her about her career.
What is your academic and work background? As well as the War Studies Masters I have a 2.1 degree in History from Queen Mary College. During my A levels and degree I worked part-time as a retail assistant for Marks and Spencers. Towards the end of my degree I worked on a ‘Camp America’ type programme in the USA and in the following year and during my Masters I worked for them in the UK as an ‘area rep’ helping to market the programme and recruit students for the USA scheme. After my Masters I got a six month post as a research assistant with the King’s Centre for Military Health Research. Some of my modules related to war and the mental health of soldiers so this was a natural fit. After this I took a few months out for a round-the-world trip. When I came back I managed to get an interview for the Henry Jackson Society but in the feedback after I wasn’t appointed I was advised to get some more experience. In fact they offered to forward my CV to Philip Davies who had been an MP since 2005. I did a 3 month internship with him and then a 3 month internship with the Royal British Legion. After all that the paid position with Philip Davies came up and I’ve now been in that position for 6 months.
Tell me about your initial interview with Philip Davies. It was with him and the person who was his researcher at the time. It was quite an informal interview. They were interested in my personality traits, my policy interests and whether I had the skills they needed in communication and dealing with the public. I was really surprised when Philip said that the thing that most impressed him was my retail experience with Marks and Spencers. In retrospect I can see that he knew the researcher would have to be dealing a lot with his network and not least his constituents – the people who vote for him.
In terms of my policy interests I came in with more of an international relations focus but in terms of Philip’s interests in criminal justice there was some common ground because many ex-soldiers end up in the British Prison system.
What was the internship like? I was offered a choice of working on two different projects. The ‘Better Off Out’ campaign which argues for a UK withdrawal from the EU project and a critique of Harriet Harman’s equalities bill. I opted to work on the latter though this meant I spent a long time going through a 500 page Bill seeing where Philip had opportunities to make interventions in the form of amendments or questions.
This raises a question for me of how aligned a researcher has to be with his employer’s politics? Well you don’t have to be a party member (although you do if you want to attend the Party conference).Nor do you have to agree with every position they take but I would say you do need to be broadly aligned. I think at the very least it would make you a better researcher. Also Westminster is a bubble and once you are identified with one political camp it can make it hard to cross over. It works differently in think tanks where they may appreciate people with conflicting opinions. Philip has a small team and it works better if we have that broad consensus politically.
What does the job of Parliamentary Researcher involve? Well it can be different depending on who the MP is and how they are designing the team. It is one of the thing prospective researchers and interns might find out because MPs may expect people to do a combination of constituency work and diary secretarial work. My job has a number of different elements.
Firstly, research, of course is a big element. Right now I’m working on one of Philip’s significant national interests – criminal justice. The theme is ‘Prison does work, but there are ways of improving the system’. As a result, I have been to visit 6 prisons – Belmarsh, Feltham, Latchmere House, Wormwood Scrubs (all London), Wakefield and Leeds (West Yorks). This is a really interesting part of the job. Other issues I have had to look at relate to Philip’s work on the Culture, Media and Sports Committee. For example providing a background briefing for the discussion on the Channel 4 annual report. These briefings aren’t necessarily political but are designed to ensure the committee and Philip can ask the right questions to ensure things are scrutinised properly. The briefings aren’t academic papers – typically they would be two pages of A4 with bullet points flagging up relevant topics and containing pertinent facts.
Media monitoring. One of things I do even on the way to work on the train but also when I get to Parliament is to read the newspapers and flag up stories that may involve the range of issues Philip is concerned with. Things such as criminal justice, the EU, the Lisbon Treaty. As well as newspapers I look at a whole range of sources, political blogs, media monitoring services, resources such as Dods. This might result in an intervention such as the tabling of a question in the House. Philip can make his own decisions about what and how he intervenes but he does like to have an informed second opinion and that’s also part of my role.
Social media. Philip is very busy and had to be persuaded to engage with things like Facebook and Twitter. So I look after this for him and make sure he keeps his profile there. Preferably in a way that gets the debate around the issues going.
Adminstration. As with any job there’s always an element of admin to do. This could involve things like booking tickets, making travel arrangements. It also involves giving the occasional tour of Parliament – which is a fab thing to be able to do.
Are you enjoying the job? It’s been great. I’ve been taken out of my comfort zone focus on international affairs and had to learn about other contemporary issues. I’ve been introduced to the Prime Minister and Vince Cable – David Cameron made a very early speech in Philip’s constituency. Also Philip’s role on the Culture, Media and Sports Committee means I get invited along with him to lots of interesting events.
I get a sense of you to some extent helping to manage Philip’s career but how do you manage your own? I am aware that most researchers do the job maybe for two years or so before moving on. Although some would stay longer if the MPs career develops and they find their role developing at the same time. In the medium term I am considering a career in public affairs and Parliament is a great launchpad for that. There are some great networks here and I make it my business to get involved. Besides who could resist and after-work rounders game or a get together for researchers in the local pub?
What tips do you have for current students?
- Intern early. I left it until after my Masters and this slowed things down
- Be proactive – when you are interning make sure you maximise the opportunity. As an unpaid intern you may not be obliged to attend certain things like staff meetings but I would recommend that you do.
- Work hard and smart. You can build a reputation by being ‘on it’.
- Get involved – take advantage of any extra curricular opportunities when you are interning. There are networking opportunities that might pay off in the medium if not the short term
- Be patient – you may not get a job straight away after your internship but if you have done a good job people will remember you.
Would you recommend using the Careers Service? Oh, yes, OK. In fact I did and came along for help with my application for an internship and for a practice interview
Working for the UN May 6, 2010Posted by Jeff Riley in : Government, Intelligence and security, UN, Uncategorized, emergency relief, international development, internships, skills , 2comments
http://careers.un.org/ A new web site finally starts to make sense of the complex of organisations that makes up the United Nations. Clear sections cover Why Work at UN? including a list of the family of organisations such as UNESCO that comprise it. A map under ‘Where we are’ lists the main offices and sub offices but this doesn’t include the subsidiary organisations. So, for example the fact that The World Food Programme and the UNHCR have offices on the Strand is not obvious
A section on What can I do at the UN? includes a comprehensive list of the core competencies they look for together with some detailed examples of how they might be evidenced. A job networks section groups together all the different jobs under broad umbrellas such as economic and social development, safety and security or political, peace and security. Some inspiring career paths showcase one woman for example who started out as a clerical assistant in Antigua who is now heading up the HR section in Beirut – and it only took her 35 years! Lots of case studies here to demonstrate the ways people have developed their careers together with associated vacancies in those categories and the site also explains the various categories so you can see whether you are eligible. For example some jobs are designated P2 level which means you have to have at least two years practical, relevant experience to apply. However you can now also see that without this experience you may be able to take part in the National Competitive Recruitment Examination and a link takes you directly to the relevant site. As I read all this I was thinking – at last I won’t have to try and understand it ever again!
The site also explains about the UN volunteer programme – which is for experienced personnel and the internship programme which is more appropriate for Masters and Phd level students. One good test for the site is that the internship section does point you towards the UNICEF internship programme as well as the HQ internships in New York and Geneva for example. Following the UNICEF links quickly got me to the UNICEF internship programme in India which I knew existed. So full marks for the site so far.
What is leadership? September 25, 2009Posted by Jeff Riley in : skills , 1 comment so far
Leadership – not at first sight an attribute that tops recruiter’s wish lists in development and more usually associated with graduate training schemes in finance or fast moving consumer goods for example. Lots of people in the sector have taken leadership on. Not necessarily in a technical ‘project management’ sense but in the way they have taken a personal stand to change the way things work. A lot of applications whether to graduate schemes or development are weak not because people don’t have the right qualifications or work experience but because they don’t demonstrate a nuanced understanding of what they mean by specific skills. One of the most popular posts on this blog is a piece on team working http://thecareersgroupgid.wordpress.com/2008/04/29/what-are-analytical-skills/ but I have recently come across an interesting piece on leadership http://www.thecoaches.com/resources/multimedia/why-lead.html
Business and Human Rights January 26, 2009Posted by Jeff Riley in : Human Rights, internships, skills , add a comment
The most popular blog on this site is a piece I wrote about analytical skills. I talked about how an understanding of what employers means by certain skills and why they are asking for them will make applicants much better candidates. A current research volunteer advert from the Business and Human Rights Centre (BHRRC) reminded me of another case study I wrote last year which talks more about what employers means by this and other skills
I spoke to Joe Westby from BHRRC about why they were asking for certain things and what they meant by things such as research skills and ‘self initiative’.
‘Research and analytical skills’ have very particular meanings for BHRRC in terms of the opportunity on offer. By ‘research’ they are looking for those who are aware of the different sources of information concerning business and human rights. By analytical skills they mean the ability to understand which articles and reports from the range of material available and make good judgments about what category to tag the information with.
Data input capacity – while this is a fairly straightforward skill and the job specification tells you most of what you need to know it became clear from talking to BHRRC that those who could be enthusiastic about data input (because it involve reading a lot about topics of interest for example) would be stronger candidates.
Initiative – typically this means that it’s a small organisation and they won’t have a sophisticated support mechanism. In this case, however, it also refers to the fact that the connections between business and human rights are not wholly understood. It is a developing area of research and initiative is required because there aren’t many widely accepted templates to work from.
Team Skills – It is possible to bring a too sophisticated understanding of the relevance of something like team skills to an application or interview. It is true that many employers may want you to demonstrate a subtle interpretation of what you feel team work is about. In this case though it just means that they are looking for people who will get stuck in and help out with whatever needs doing.
Impartiality and Balance – this is an unusual criterion in a job specification but it does point up an important feature of job adverts. Even when you understand clearly the skill they are looking for it can really help your case if you can demonstrate an understanding of why they are looking for it. The job spec explains clearly that you need to be able to present information objectively. Most candidates who have written academic essays would be able to claim an impartiality in their approach what is really important about this criterion for the employer is that they aren’t just looking for someone who wants to collect bad stories about nasty old employers abusing human rights. It is key to understanding that they are trying to establish a reputation on objectivity. Someone who understands and articulates that, and the other skills discussed, will be a brilliant candidate.
You can find our more about the vacancy by visiting the JobOnline vacancy service (deadline 5th February). Read the case study in full at careers.lon.ac.uk> employers > a-z > Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Working in Charities (including NGOs) July 2, 2008Posted by Jeff Riley in : skills , add a comment
To get to the moon the Apollo astronauts had, at certain points, to head in what seemed to be the wrong direction. They never doubted, however, that they were always absolutely on target. Consider this when you read the suggestion about ‘working in charities’. One correspondent recently wondered whether fundraising in charities was going to take her away from what she wanted to do – work in international development. However, an applicant who has developed professional skills outside the sector can seem a stronger candidate when they choose to deploy those skills within the sector from a position of knowledge and experience.
On a slightly separate point. A recent study by Fiona Christie, a Careers Consultant at the University of Manchester, on careers in the charity sector includes NGOs within its scope and there are lots of case studies from people making their way in international development. It is available as a download from http://www.studentnet.manchester.ac.uk/careers/downloads/publications/pathwaysvoluntarycommunity/
What are analytical skills? April 29, 2008Posted by Jeff Riley in : skills , add a comment
I wrote recently about understanding what employer’s really mean when they ask for particular skills. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a recruiter from a management consultancy about ‘analytical skills’. While this doesn’t relate much to international development – who don’t tend to ask for this skill it does illustrate the point about needing to get a nuanced understanding of what is meant by particular skills and why the employers is asking for them.
In this instance I asked a consultant from Diamond Management & Technology what was meant by ‘analytical skills’ and how were they used. What he told me was an interesting illustration of my point.
In a recent project Diamond had to help a company establish why they had such a high staff turnover. The company was very profitable and bonuses were being paid but at certain layers in the firm there was dissatisfaction which was leading to high staff turnover
In the final presentation to the client Diamond demonstrated that the root of the dissatisfaction lay in the fact that bonuses were being distributed unfairly. Less on performance and in fact more on how physically close people’s offices were to the offices of those who were making the bonus decisions.
Initial interviews with various staff members across all levels uncovered the initial suspicions or hypothesis. But care was required with such a sensitive issue, if you give certain people a platform to “whinge” then they do just that regardless how well justified their complaint is. Without significant analytical skills this issue could not have been uncovered with a sufficient degree of confidence to confront the IT Director and CEO of the multi-national. The consultancy team had to read and analyse a significant amount of official and quasi official documentation.- “sometimes it might be one email out of the stack that provides the key to understanding the problem”. Lots of financial salary and personal performance evaluations had to be analysed. They segmented the analysis by level as different results per segment would help to explain why the team leaders (managers) were happy but the staff were generally demotivated. With all the data, they started looking for correlation and trend analysis between data sets. For example, in a meritocracy we would normally expect a strong positive correlation between between bonus and performance, i.e the better you perform the more you are rewarded. Whilst the manager segment demonstrated a positive, but weak, correlation. The gradient dropped by level until reaching the support department – which had a negative correlation. This meant statistically speaking the better you performed in your job the less likely you were to get a good bonus.
Understanding Vacancies April 23, 2008Posted by Jeff Riley in : Human Rights, skills, vacancies , 2comments
This post has now been updated since it was first published. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre monitors the impact the business sector has on human rights – positive and negative. They don’t have any internships available at the moment but the post has a more general point to make about applications and in any case you might be interested in the work of this international monitoring organisations. Here’s the updated post.
The words employers use on vacancies are superficially straightforward. We all know what team work means don’t we? Don’t we? A powerful application though will be based on a more nuanced understanding of what employers really mean when they use certain words to describe skills and qualities and why they are specifically asking for them. A finance organisation may use the word ‘analytical’ to describe the ability of someone to interpret what is going on in a column of figures while a consultancy may use it to describe the ability to uncover an underlying business issue through looking at reports, interviewing customers and staff as well as numbers. I recently came across an interesting internship with the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre in London on our JobOnline service. I went along to find out more about what they do (collate information on the impact companies have on Human Rights around the world) but also to get some more information on why they ask for certain skills. For example ‘initiative’ Joe Westby and his colleagues explained to me wasn’t creating lots of new areas of scrutiny but more about being able to manage yourself. It’s a small team there and they don’t have a human resources department to design a sophisticated training programme. Also the whole focus of their work, the interface between human rights and business, is still developing and initiative may be needed to help shape the way the increasing mass of information available is categorised, ‘tagged’ and accessed. Similarly with ‘team work’. In this case it wasn’t so much about resolving disputes but more about being willing to pitch in. You can read more about understanding vacancies by looking at the resources on the applications page of our site. Use Careers Tagged to find more organisations involved with human rights and you can find more ‘human rights’ opportunities on JobOnline by doing a keyword search using the phrase ‘human rights’