Preparing yourself for a career in business
- Bianca Miller-Cole
On being authentic, building relationships, and how corporate jobs can be stepping stones for entrepreneurs, BE Group founder Bianca Miller-Cole shares her career experiences
What does it take to stand out from other employees?
You have to understand the corporate culture and what it stands for but you also have to represent yourself in the right way. So that’s really all about being as authentic as possible. Our mantra in my business is ‘be you, only better’. This means that you need to ask yourself: how are you articulating your personal brand? How do you want people to perceive you? What first impression are you making? What does your communication say about you – that’s your face-to-face communication, online, email and via text. People who thrive are those who understand the core values of the company, but also their own core values as well.
What would you have done differently as a student to better prepare yourself for the business world?
I wish I had undertaken a summer internship or a gap year within the industry. I think that would have given me that little bit extra. I did a lot of part-time jobs and Saturday jobs, which gave me good skills but I think having experience within a corporation would’ve been amazing for me. So I think the point is go for that opportunity, try and be that ambassador, get an internship and get work experience in these organisations who can potentially give you a job at the end of that degree.
If you haven’t had business experience, what is the best way to convey your commercial awareness, say in an interview situation?
It is often underestimated how much commercial awareness you have just by being a customer. I think we are often involved in commercial scenarios but don’t look at them from a business perspective. So take a step back and look at the process – you might have gone to a fast food restaurant for example, but it’s not just someone making a burger. Someone did the marketing, someone thought about the packaging, the logo, then you look at the till, and you look at the training for the person who is serving you the burger and then you pay for the product. All of that has a commercial angle. In addition to real life experience, being well read will enhance commercial awareness.
How do you build good relationships with people?
The start of a good relationship comes from understanding the person – knowing what interests them, what they are passionate about, what they do. Often I think people talk a lot and don’t ask enough. Listening is key to building relationships, as is the follow up. So you’ve met someone today – have you added them on LinkedIn? Have you sent them the email you said you’re going to send? Have you called them? All of that goes back to leaving a good lasting impression. Legacy is an essential part of longer-term business relationships. Have you left a good impression? Have you followed up? Would they use you again… would they want to use you again? And that is what business is about really. My most important quote for business relationships and business success in general is, ‘It is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice’. Do not underestimate how far ‘nice’ (combined with other positive attributes) can get you.
I’m a student who wants to be an entrepreneur. Should I get corporate experience then go into business?
The best thing about my first corporate job was that it helped me understand the different aspects of business: how business works, how such a large corporation really attracts and retains its customers and so on. It was a major consultancy firm and I was a very small cog in a large wheel, but actually it was a great experience because I got to see things that influence every decision and what management wanted and so on. Going into a business, big or small, is great from a learning perspective. You can see what they do well and what they don’t do well and you can implement that in your business.
You can also use your experience to create ideas and viable propositions to solve every day corporate problems. My idea for The Be Group came from being in an organisation, seeing where there was an issue and thinking: there’s a problem and they’ve got money to solve that problem. Other companies must have money for that too. Let me create that solution.
What was the most challenging bit of your journey from university to where you are today?
I think the biggest challenge is when you finish university and have to work out what you want to do for the rest of your life. My first job was at a major consultancy firm. It gave me a really amazing opportunity to reflect on what I was good at, what I enjoyed about that type of organisation, what I could do better and what I didn’t enjoy. Part of that journey is about appreciating every opportunity and not seeing things as obstacles but as opportunities to challenge yourself.
What advice do you have for students who haven’t figured out which industry they want to work in?
I’d say take opportunities where you can. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left university and although I was interested in business from the age of 6, I didn’t know what that meant in reality for me, or what sort of business I wanted to be in. I learnt what I found interesting by having different jobs.
Bianca Miller-Cole is an award-winning entrepreneur, having started The Be Group in 2012 with the belief that everyone should be able to access personal development services. She was in the final of The Apprentice 2014, and in 2016 was awarded a ‘Power Profile’ from LinkedIn. She recently co-authored Self-Made: The Definitive Guide to Startup Business Success.