Moray House School of Education and Sport

Francesca (2018) - Executive Assistant, Livingston James

'Through my course, I gained more confidence, enhanced my written and interpersonal skills, and became great at time management. University was one of the best times of my life and definitely helped me develop as an adult in terms of enhancing my social skills and emotional intelligence.'

Francesca Christophersen
Francesca Christophersen

What path has your career taken since graduation?

During my last year of university, I worked for Assembly Theatre a couple of times a week as front of house/bar staff to earn some extra pocket money and I continued to work with them after graduating. In September, I took up the role of Head Coach for the club swim team at EUSWPC. I coached a mix of swimmers from performance athletes to water polo players and students swimming recreationally. Despite taking on this role, I wasn’t convinced I wanted to pursue a career in sport. Through school and university, my life had revolved around swimming and sports and I decided I wanted sport to remain a hobby and a way to get my mind off everything else going on. My work experience to date had been very customer service related, so I knew I wanted a people-focused career. After applying for a few administration jobs and recruitment graduate schemes, and going to a few interviews/assessment centres, I was given an introduction to the Founder of a recruitment company (Livingston James) through a friend of my father. I met him for some general career advice as I had left university without a clear idea of where I wanted to end up and to see whether there would be an opportunity for shadowing within his business. After a few meetings, my head was set on joining this company, even though I hadn’t been given an offer - I even ended up turning down another job offer and another interview! I loved their passion, their vision, ethos and culture. The business was only nine years old at the time, and I knew that the opportunity to learn all about the business world from experts in the field is something I wouldn’t get exposure to in a large corporate or established company. After a few weeks of waiting and beginning to apply for some Christmas temp sales jobs, I was offered a 6-month contract as a Research Associate within the Executive Search part of the business to cover a researcher who was going travelling.  I absolutely loved it!

My main role was to map the market of senior executives for the roles we were recruiting for our clients. My duties ranged from helping to write our proposals and tenders to win assignments over other recruitment firms, market mapping, lots of proofreading documents and presentations for client pitches, CV screening and doing screening calls with candidates, MI/update creation for clients, and helping with administration all the way through to placement of candidates. The role was so varied as we worked in all sectors recruiting at Board/Senior Director level. I had a chance to meet many senior executives in Scotland and further afield which helped me build wider commercial awareness. Although I was jumping in at the deep end with no prior experience in recruitment, I quickly picked up the role and after two months I was made permanent in the company!  My duties grew to helping recruit some more junior positions on my own and I was given total autonomy with my day-to-day responsibilities.

After the first month at Livingston James, I stopped working at Assembly but continued coaching the swim team five times a week including 5 am morning sessions and late-night sessions on top of my full-time job for a year. I absolutely loved coaching and swimming will always be my passion, but I realised that I needed to focus on my career and start taking some time to relax after work or I was going to burn myself out.

After just a year and a half in the business, I was approached by our Chief Executive to see whether I wanted to be his Executive Assistant. It was a brand-new role in the company, and he had really been in need of an assistant for the last few years, so I knew I would be kept busy! Although I loved my research role and the variety it offered, I was delighted to accept this opportunity.

What is your current role and what does your work involve?

My current role is Executive Assistant to the CEO. I’m about one month into the role and as it’s a new role in the business, we are shaping it as we go. I am involved in all Group-wide operational aspects of the business, helping to increase efficiencies, and have a particular focus on assisting the CEO with administrative duties (diary and inbox management, scheduling meetings and researching/gathering relevant information); and anything else that he requires assistance with. Part of my role is also to challenge decisions and act as a sounding board for the CEO.  I’m required to keep many aspects of my job confidential as I now have knowledge of everything that’s happening internally and externally with the business and any changes as they occur. I am one of the youngest people in the company, so feel privileged to have the opportunity to make a real impact on the business and be able to influence at senior stakeholder level. I have always enjoyed helping, coaching and supporting others, so find this role extremely rewarding.  I can apply all my key skills whilst also helping to make other people’s jobs easier and more enjoyable.

What experiences do you feel helped you get to your current position?

I would say having a mixture of extra-curricular activities and interests, and voluntary/work experience on top of a degree was vital for enhancing my skills and helping me identify what I enjoyed most in a work environment. Having a rounded background gave me lots to talk about in job interviews as I had a variety of challenges, experiences and skills to discuss. I have been able to apply all these skills to my job, particularly leadership, organisational skills and communication skills.

Since school, I have learnt to be organised and to manage my time efficiently to get involved in as much as I could whilst also ensuring I performed well at school and in my sports. I continued this at university spending two years as a performance swimmer and playing water polo for the following two years whilst also continuing to swim at university competitions.

I did a month’s work experience at Aberdeen Asset Management in their HR department during one of my summer holidays at university and really enjoyed the office environment. I also worked at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for 3 summers which was great for developing my interpersonal skills and getting used to working in a fast-paced environment.  

I have always enjoyed volunteering in sports. At school, I coached my local swim team; and I have also worked at the Commonwealth Games in 2014, the IPC Swimming World Championships in 2015 and at the European Aquatics Championships as an Anti-doping advisor in 2018. At university, I coached a local swim team and was part of the EUSWPC committee as Swim Captain, Swimming Convener and then Vice President in my final year.

Through a combination of training, volunteering and working whilst completing my degree and maintaining a social life; I became efficient at using any spare time I had. This time management in addition to working hard, being determined and being willing to learn have all been vital for my career progression.

How have you used the skills and/or knowledge developed during your degree in your career?

My degree has been crucial to developing my skills and experience. My course was very research-focused and so many aspects of it became vital in my day-to-day work as a researcher; writing documents using formal and informal writing, creating innovative powerpoints, handling data in excel, knowing how to research efficiently online etc. A key aspect of both my roles at LJ has been attention to detail and this definitely became a core skill for me through my course, particularly in my Biomechanics dissertation and throughout any written work. I am also lucky that I love proofreading and spent a lot of time at university helping to read over friends’ essays and this became so useful within my research role!

Through my course, I gained more confidence, enhanced my written and interpersonal skills, and became great at time management. University was one of the best times of my life and definitely helped me develop as an adult in terms of enhancing my social skills and emotional intelligence.

What do you think was the most valuable aspect of your time at Edinburgh in preparation for your career?

As well as all the soft skills I developed in my degree, the opportunity to build relationships with people from all over the world and of all ages has been so important in my career. This was especially helped by getting involved in the swimming and water polo club and I’d say that was the best decision I made at university. It gave me the chance to continue competing, meet new people and gave me a group to socialise with outside of my university course mates. By joining the committee, I was able to improve my management skills and it gave me a chance to give back to the club. I would urge others to join a club or society as it really does add a whole other dimension to your university experience. It’s so important that students don’t get hung up on their studies - there is so much more to university than learning your course content!

What advice would you give to students who are interested in your area of work?

I was lucky to get a foot in the door with my company but I would say it’s really important to do your research and know what your best skills are and what jobs would allow you to put them to use. Then when the right opportunity comes up, you know you’re ready and truly believe you will be the best candidate for the role. Recruitment certainly isn’t for everyone as it is a really tough industry. However, if you’re good at what you do and you work hard, you really will reap the benefits. There are loads of great graduate schemes to train you up as a recruitment consultant and if you are confident and have a sales mentality, that could work really well for you. My executive search research role was different to the traditional quick sales recruitment that you find in other companies and that really suited me. If you get the opportunity to start out in a research role (particularly within executive search), it really helps you understand the process from start to finish at the top level and you get a chance to learn about a wide range of industries and sectors. I had the opportunity to do admin, data analysis, research, marketing, sales and operations in my first role, so I would highlight that recruitment is a highly rewarding and varied industry to work in.