Sophie's choice leads to degree success

Sophie Johnston left RGS in 2019 having taken A-levels in psychology, history and chemistry and planned to take a gap year in South America until the pandemic intervened. She tells us how she managed to earn a degree-level qualification without going to university

Q: How has your career path progressed since Covid disrupted your plans?

A: Immediately after leaving school I got a part time role in Booths while working as a gymnastics coach, lifeguard & receptionist for Harrogate Borough Council, alongside working I was studying my Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Level 3 at night school (Harrogate College). Once the pandemic started I wasn’t able to go abroad and was contacted by Grantley Hall asking if I wanted an apprenticeship in human resources (HR) I took this option instead of university and studied my business administration Level 3. After coming out with a diploma I moved to work in Glasgow for the Co-op as a HR Assistant in one of their logistics warehouses, I studied and obtained my CIPD level 5 – a degree-level qualification - while working here. My dream was to move into a more corporate environment – I finally got a job at RSM – the sixth largest accounting firm in the world - in 2022 as an early careers coordinator and am now planning to take a diploma in recruitment management.

Q: Can you outline a typical day?

A: A typical day is made up of candidate welcomes at 9am giving me the opportunity to speak to our candidates about their goals & desired career path. I coordinate all the assessment centres looking at our pipelines for risk, consulting and transactions, making sure we recruit enough school leavers, graduates, placement students and internships. I have meetings with stakeholders to go through our strategic recruitment plan and ensure we are working to our targets. I offer or reject all of our candidates, working with them up to the onboarding stage of the process. I also go to careers events at universities and schools to explain the roles we have and the opportunities we can give to young adults.

Q: What have been the highlights of your career to date?

A: The highlight of my career was obtaining a degree level qualification without going to university – I always feared debt and realised that university was not the best option for me. I am now at the same level as my peers from school without the debt that I feared and I am constantly progressing in my career. I now have two years of HR experience and almost a year of specialised recruitment experience.

Q: What’s the best bit about your job?

A: The best bit about my job is giving students their first step in the door, I struggled to get a job in what I wanted to do and can understand the struggle candidates have. Being able to be relatable is a strong attribute to have, but I love giving students the call to tell them they have their dream job.

Q: And the worst?

A: The worst part of my job is rejecting candidates as I understand how hard candidates work to get to the stage they have got to. It is a hard part of the job, but it is something that needs to be done. No job is easy.

Q: What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

A: Moving away from home, as I am a family orientated person. I believed I hadn’t lived without leaving Ripon - however, after seven months away all I wanted to do was come back as city life was not for me. I am glad I moved away to know that I wanted to stay otherwise I would have always questioned myself with what if. I now know Yorkshire is where I want to be, and I can always visit the cities in the UK in my spare time.

Q: What was the most important thing you learnt at RGS?

A: Even if you aren’t the most academic person, it doesn’t mean you can’t achieve.

Q: What extra-curricular activities were you involved in while at RGS and how valuable were they?

A: I was part of a few of the sports teams at RGS however, the most valuable extracurricular activity I was involved in was Young Enterprise – this taught me a lot about how businesses work & allowed me to work as part of a team with my peers. I enjoyed this and it helped during interviews to discuss specific examples of things I had done as I hadn’t yet had any experience in a professional role.

Q: What do you wish you’d known back then?

A: That I was doing well at my own speed and didn’t have to compare myself to others. Looking back, I am proud of what I have achieved but at school I was always comparing my results to others.

Q: What did you want to do after leaving at school?

A: I had no idea what I wanted to do and the careers team led me in the direction I am working in now. If you don’t know what you’re wanting to do I would recommend speaking to the careers team.

Q: What is the one piece of advice you’d give students interested in following a similar career path?

A: If you are interested in HR I would recommend looking into apprenticeships or entry level jobs instead of university. Experience is a necessity in a HR career and you can study alongside work.

Q: Who was your favourite teacher and why?

A: Mr Spiers and Mr Margerison – the most engaging teachers and great fun on school trips. I have to give Dr Grime a shout out though – he pushed me to achieve in my chemistry A-level and was as happy as me with the outcome. I couldn’t have achieved my grade without his help!

Q: What would you say has been your greatest success?

A: My greatest success has been getting my CIPD level 5 – this is the equivalent of a degree and I achieved this while working at the same time. This was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I am glad I completed it.

Q: What are your hopes for the future?

A: To progress in the People team at RSM and get a few more qualifications under my belt!