Virginia Stuart-Taylor

What skills or attributes did you gain from your Humanities degree at Exeter?

Through my languages degree at Exeter I gained valuable communication & presentation skills, linguistic skills and a great work ethic. From my Third Year Abroad, during which I studied and taught English in Spain, and worked at Giorgio Armani in Italy, I developed my self-confidence; I gained first-hand experience of problem-solving which greatly strengthened my resilience, and I gained immeasurable intercultural skills. Alongside my degree I was also President of the Hispanic Society, which was my first experience of leadership and managing a team.  

How have those skills been useful to you in your career so far? Can you give an example of this?  

My USP in the workplace is my intercultural competence gained through my Year Abroad, which has helped me immensely: it gave me the maturity, resilience and professional experience on my CV that landed me a place on a graduate scheme. During that graduate scheme working for a large multinational Tech company, I travelled to Headquarters across Europe and completed a 6-month assignment in Madrid – using that intercultural awareness from my Year Abroad to build strong and effective relationships across different cultures and languages. I’ve also been selected for specific opportunities as a direct result of my linguistic skills, which stand me out from the crowd: for example, being headhunted into my first graduate job after Exeter because of my Spanish; subsequently working in Spain; later leading my Ministry’s relationship with teams of local staff in British embassies across the EU. Furthermore, having the courage to complete oral exams and presentations in various languages at Exeter gave me the confidence and interpersonal skills to perform well in job interviews – a very valuable skill for new graduates. 

How did your department encourage you to develop a range of skills or your employability prospects?

The Humanities department at Exeter offered a wide range of modules in our final year to give us a taster of the different career options available: whether that be in translation, business Spanish, TEFL courses to teach English abroad or even modules from other Departments such as the Business School. The small class sizes allowed us to build strong networks with other languages students, the Department organised a great programme of career talks and extracurricular events. Lecturers and tutors also encouraged us to join the language societies, which actually helped me find a summer job abroad (as an au pair in Italy) and build friendships with older students, who could share their wisdom on the Year Abroad and tips for applying for graduate jobs, which hugely helped to demystify those two challenging transition periods.  

What learning tools did you pick up from your course that you have been able to employ in the workplace?

I juggled lots of extracurricular activities alongside my university deadlines and assignments, so adopting a productive work ethic and effective time management was crucial. That ability to manage competing demands and cope with complexity (without succumbing to procrastination!) has definitely helped me succeed in fast-paced, high-pressure workplaces since I graduated from Exeter. Undoubtedly my communication and presentation skills have also transferred into the workplace, as the preparation I dedicated to oral exams in other languages at Exeter has equipped me with the key to public speaking: practice, practice, practice! I started at Exeter in first year really hating public speaking, (like many people), but I now count it among one of the activities I actively enjoy most, thanks to the chances I had at Exeter to hone my skills in a safe environment. In the workplace, public speaking skills help to raise your profile among senior leaders, open doors and accelerate your career progression.  

Do you feel that your degree has prepared you to be adaptable to changing demands in the workplace?  

Any degree with a study abroad component (such as a languages degree) equips you with a growth mindset to navigate the Third Year Abroad and develops your flexibility to succeed in unfamiliar and changing contexts. Adaptability is such an important trait in today’s job market and crucial considering the likelihood of having multiple careers throughout your life. For example, I’ve already had one career in the Tech industry, before I switched 3 years ago to the public sector. Since then I have worked three completely different jobs in just 3 years: from supporting Ministers’ and Ambassadors’ television appearances; to laying secondary legislation on trade sanctions in Parliament; to negotiating a trade deal with the EU. That adaptability to rapidly learn new skills and thrive in new roles throughout our lifetimes will be the most valuable attribute to employers.  

What have been the most important stages of your career so far?

In chronological order: Firstly, an exploratory stage during my first graduate job after Exeter, adapting to working life in London, figuring out a new routine and realising the value of my time, through receiving my first decent salary. Secondly, my 6-month sabbatical from that company, when I took time out to volunteer in Nepal as Team Leader of a sustainable development project, where I learned invaluable leadership skills, while refreshing my perspective and career plans. Thirdly, having the courage to leave the comfort of the private sector to spend a year investing in my personal development and reorienting myself for a new career in the public sector, through studying for a Masters. Fourthly, participating in the Civil Service Fast Stream and rotating around high-profile and challenging roles in different Government departments – finding my niche and learning about my strengths. They’ve all taught me the value of cultivating a growth mindset and being open to new experiences to learn. 

Do you have any tips or advice to pass onto future students?  

My top tip would be to embrace all the opportunities that come your way while at Exeter: take that evening language course at the FLC; apply for that Committee role and work hard at it; seek out summer jobs and internships abroad; pick modules wisely and speak to students in the years above you to learn from their experience; sign up for a mentor; make use of the employability events; try to live and socialise with locals during your Year Abroad; and build a good relationship with your tutor.