Getting ahead of the curve with a graduate programme

Grads Corner
26 July 2017 | Grads Corner | Guest Author


Finding a career that suits what you want to do after graduating can be daunting, especially if you enjoy new and exciting experiences and don’t want a run of the mill job.

During my time studying a Masters in International Business and Spanish at the University of Strathclyde, I had already started to broaden my horizons by securing opportunities overseas. First, I studied in Spain for a year at the University of Salamanca, before heading to New York to undertake an internship in Brand Activation for a premium spirits brand.

Upon finishing my degree, I wanted to continue to gain experience in an international market but was also eager to explore other opportunities in brand activation, particularly in the drinks industry. I felt the best way to progress in a professional career, would be to join a graduate programme that would give me exposure to multiple business areas and allow me to strengthen my skills. However, I knew I had high expectations, and thought I would have to put at least one of these ambitions on hold.

That’s when I discovered the Chivas Brothers International Graduate Programme. The programme put me on the path to an international career as a Graduate Brand Ambassador for Beefeater Gin, with the chance to return to Spain to help promote the brand to both consumers and the trade. I was given the challenging role of representing a major gin brand, in one of the biggest gin markets, and at a time when the category was booming. I spent the majority of my time travelling all over Spain, hosting events and educating people about gin through tasting and mentoring sessions. It was such a rewarding experience to see people become really passionate about the brand and its heritage.

Looking back, the graduate programme helped me to develop key skills that I’ve been able to adapt and apply to my next role as Global Associate Assistant Brand Manager with Beefeater.

For me, the best thing about the graduate scheme is how much it challenges you. As soon as I arrived in Madrid, I was thrust into launching and managing Beefeater’s global bartending competition, MIXLDN, in the Spanish market, where I was responsible for building a network from scratch, recruiting bartenders from all over the country and organising the regional and national finals.

Although it was really challenging, it gave me the confidence to become more proactive, outgoing and organised. These skills have become an integral part of my role on the global gins team in the UK. We work with different countries around the world to help them execute the global brand campaigns, and it's been really useful to have had first-hand experience liaising with bartenders and customers on the ground.

For anyone considering a graduate role, I recommend looking for a programme that arms you with the skills and knowledge to succeed. The initial five week training programme delivered as part of the Chivas Brothers scheme is great at arming ambassadors with expert knowledge of the Scotch whisky and gin industries. It allows you to learn first-hand from industry legends such as Master Blenders, Distillers and Global Brand Ambassadors at our distilleries, and to take on cocktail training in some of the world’s finest bars. It was during this time that I first started to develop my networking skills. Having the ability to build strong relationships with those around me has been extremely useful, not only during my time as an ambassador, but also on the Global Brand Team. Being able to tap into the insights of bartenders, colleagues around the world and marketing agencies is invaluable.

Although I was already fluent in Spanish, the international experience allowed me to adapt this to a business environment and perfect my skills. Working abroad allowed me to develop a much deeper cultural understanding compared to when I was studying in Spain, and allowed me to completely immerse myself in the country, travelling to new cities and learning about the regional differences.

There's no doubt my experience of the graduate programme has helped my career. It gave me a really good grounding in the spirits industry and challenged me to use my own initiative, be creative and step out of my comfort zone. I felt confident moving into a marketing role in the global gins team as I knew I would be able to add value. Of course, I still have a lot to learn but being part of the graduate programme meant I already had a feel for the business and the fast paced lifestyle of working in the drinks industry.

Furthermore, the diversity of the graduate programme has meant that I’m able to explore a wide variety of roles within the drinks industry. My next career move has taken me to Pernod Ricard UK where I’m working as a Business Development Executive in Scotland. Here I’m responsible for maximising availability and visibility of Pernod Ricard’s drinks portfolio to the on-trade (licensed drinks premises) which is something I’ve already gained experience in during the graduate programme.

It’s important to remember that not all graduate programmes offer the same experience and with so much choice out there it's important to find the one that’s right for you. My main advice would be to choose an industry you’re really passionate about and opt for a scheme that gives you real responsibility from the very beginning. That way, you’ll get a real life feel for the industry and learn skills that will help you with your career development in the long term. Good Luck!

Claire McEvinney, Business Development Executive with Pernod Ricard UK reflects on her time as a Graduate Brand Ambassador for Beefeater and discusses how it prepared her for a career in the drinks industry

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