What skills and personal qualities do you need to successfully apply for the British Council's Future Leaders Scheme? Chris Neil, who is completing his second year in the role of Maghreb Education Innovation Project Manager, explains.
Why did you apply for the scheme?
I had recently finished my studies (degrees in Arabic and German) and was looking for opportunities to use my cultural and linguistic knowledge with an international organisation in the Middle East. I saw the British Council scheme and decided to apply.
The idea of working in cultural relations was very appealing, especially in a region like the Middle East, where building trust and opportunities is vital. Before I applied, the only thing I knew about the British Council was that it taught English. But it also does a lot of other inspiring work in education, societal projects, and the arts.
What have you learned in your present role so far?
Where to begin? The scheme introduced me to a lot of new areas and skills.
I got to work on higher education projects with Libyan officials, became responsible for the country website of the local office, learned how to write project proposals, and organised an international conference on e-learning.
Beside this, I joined others on the scheme in training sessions on team work and finance. These took place in London and were spread over 18 months.
We were also encouraged to explore areas important to us, develop our skills and build a network of contacts within the organisation. I became involved in the organisation’s equality, diversity and inclusion work, which is an incredibly important aspect of the British Council.
The scheme gives you the opportunity to have a mentor – someone senior in the organisation. They will be able to offer you valuable advice and development opportunities. This has proved to be invaluable to my own development.
What skills and personal qualities are essential for the role?
Working for a cultural relations organisation like the British Council, you need to bring more than just business skills like managing projects and finance. The organisation is looking for people who are culturally aware, who value people and relationships and are passionate about developing a career in international cultural relations. You will find yourself contributing to the design of in-country projects, so a good dose of entrepreneurialism is crucial.
On the ground, I have found that you must take the initiative and ownership of your own development. It's important to network with colleagues and get involved in a wide range of projects. The scheme provides flexibility and support for learning opportunities.
You need to be globally mobile and able to adapt to other countries. This is important, as staff usually move to a new post every two years. Some of our best work is done in challenging settings such as post-conflict societies. You definitely need a level of resilience to cope with working in those contexts.
What have been the biggest challenges? How have you dealt with them?
The biggest challenge for me was coping with the security environments in Libya. One way to stay balanced is by taking regular ‘breather’ trips. It's important of be aware of your own well-being. Having said that, working in a challenging place often brings the greatest rewards when you see how much of a difference your work can make.
As part of our development, all of us on the scheme worked on a team project over the course of a year. It helped us develop the skills to overcome the challenges of working in different time zones, particularly in situations where technology cannot provide all the solutions.
What is your advice for people thinking about applying for the scheme?
I would say do your research; try to understand the reasons for the British Council’s work and its mission. This means reading the corporate plan and understanding the organisation's relationship with the British government and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
If you are passionate about international cultural relations and an overseas career, then have a go at applying.
Remember that you may not always have the choice about which countries you’ll work in, even if you have a background in a specific region or language. You will need be flexible and have a truly global perspective.
If you don’t have a lot of business experience, explain your approaches to solving problems. When it comes to the interviews, come with examples of how you have demonstrated the kinds of behaviours required and have a list of scenario-based responses for how you would react in a given situation.
Applications for our 2015 Future Leaders Scheme are open until 30 April 2015. You need to be a UK passport holder to apply.