Graduate in Focus: Kieran Portman

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Full name: Kieran Portman

Degree title: Law (LLB)

Year of graduation: 2018

Name of the organisation where you work: Rolls-Royce plc

Job title: Commercial Graduate


What does a typical day in your job look like?

As I am on the Rolls-Royce commercial graduate scheme, my answer to this question can vary throughout each of my three rotations.

Whilst I was with Civil Nuclear UK, I was performing the role of a commercial manager and every day was constantly spinning plates across a range of commercial issues – responding to various queries internally and externally, assisting in the preparation of contract reports and negotiating contract changes, for example.

Now in the Defense arena, I am supporting one of the officers in the work for their contracts. Often, I am preparing bids with a variety of internal stakeholders and seeking business approvals for these, before sending them out of the business.

I am also the lead on the Rolls-Royce careers team, which provides me with leadership skills and allows me to get involved with STEM activities across the country.

What has been the highlight of your job so far?

Working in contracts and commercial, it is more difficult than in other functions to pinpoint little wins and highlights. However, the two that stick in my mind were whilst I was with Civil Nuclear UK. Firstly, I helped the company save tens of thousands of pounds when facing a potential supplier claim. Secondly, completing the negotiation of a multi-million pound contract with a customer was a huge win, as the contract was extremely complex and had been being negotiated for years.

What skills have you developed in your role?

I have certainly furthered my customer service skills and continue to develop my negotiation skills.

I remain open and honest about my self-reflections, which has allowed me to identify some areas of weakness that I am trying to change in my day-to-day interactions, during meetings and over e-mails. I have also identified a third rotation on the grad scheme which should allow me to greatly develop my numerical, Excel and rationalisation abilities.

How has your current role shaped your career plans?

Being in a global company such as Rolls-Royce, you see the vast range of opportunities open to you, both from a horizontal and vertical perspective. By that, I mean that there is a clearly visible path to progress up the company, if you have the right drive to gain as broad a skill-set as possible. To unlock that path, you may often need to move horizontally within the company to experience different business sectors or functions – something which is especially easy whilst on the grad scheme, assuming that you can show the value to the business of you having those experiences.

How did you secure your role?

I secured my role through applying to Rolls-Royce and submitting an online application. From there, I underwent a series of online tests, focusing on numerical skills, literacy skills and also psychometric behaviours. Once I had passed these, I was invited to an assessment centre at the Rolls-Royce Learning and Development Centre in Derby, a hub of the aviation arm of the company. It was here that I had an intensive day with several interviews and a group task to assess how best I would be suited to Rolls-Royce. It didn’t take long to find out whether I was suitable enough… I was offered a role within the Rolls-Royce commercial grad scheme the very next day, straight after a lecture!

Careers+Placements had two main involvements in my attempts to secure this role – through reviewing my CV and the Aston Futures portal. When I was applying to organisations for a placement year, I used the team to review my CV and it was massively overhauled. This was a big learning curve at first, as I thought my CV was as good as it could be. However, having a pair of eyes from the Careers+Placements team was really helpful in developing my CV and, ultimately, assisting in gaining a placement. During final year, the opportunities listed on the Aston Futures (which is run by the Careers+Placements team) was a great guide to opening my eyes to the various roles available – whether they be in different locations, or in different business sectors.

Did you do a placement?

I did my placement with GE Aviation, in Cheltenham. Acting as their military contracts intern for the year provided me with a vast amount of commercial experience and knowledge of the defense industry. Across the contracting life cycle, I was exposed to bid work, supporting contract managers with their in-contract management and was also given the chance to lead some contract novations and divestitures.

During the later stages of my time with the company, I was very privileged to join the team out at the GE Aviation headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. Meeting our colleagues and understanding more about the challenges they were facing, from an international point-of-view, was fascinating. With all the cutting-edge technology at the sites around Cincinnati, as well as the opportunity to watch baseball for the first time, it was a hugely exciting trip!

Did you get any other work experience as a student such as a part-time job/volunteering?

I was nominated for a SEOTY (Student Employee of the Year) award whilst working at Bentley House for The Student Housing Company as a resident assistant, primarily working on the wellbeing programme for our fellow residents.

During first year, I worked for Argos, both in my hometown and in Birmingham. The vast difference in size and revenue between these stores was noticeable, and required very different customer service skills. From being dynamic in assisting customers who didn’t speak English, or being sensitive with customer data when processing credit applications, the role was rather more demanding in Birmingham, but equally as exciting in my hometown where I was better able to tailor my customer service in a less-busy environment.

These roles have all been very customer-facing, so I have identified some opportunities whilst at Rolls-Royce to further other soft skills that I will need, to be the best I can possibly be during my career.

How did it feel to win a regional SEOTY award?

It was great to win a regional SEOTY award and also very humbling to be at the national awards ceremony to hear some of the inspiring stories of fellow nominees!

As I had already been offered my grad role when the SEOTY awards came around, the biggest benefit for me came from the career skills guidance session. It was extremely thought-provoking and required a huge amount of honesty from everyone in the room, which was refreshing. It has inspired me when planning some of the ‘High Performance Culture’ events here at Rolls-Royce, which is a programme that provides all employees with a universal tool to reflect on their behaviours and those of others.

What advice would you offer to final year students or other recent graduates looking for a graduate role?

Having solid commercial awareness of the company to which you are applying is essential, as is having an appreciation for the other roles within the organisation. You must remember that, although you might be applying for a role within one function or sector of a business, it is more than likely that you will be interacting with various other functions. To that end, you must have an appreciation for the roles that they do, the limits to which you can expect them to perform their role, and also have the ability to challenge them (for example, if they produce a piece of work that you may have to interpret in order to complete your work).

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