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Graduate blogs

The art of using Microsoft Outlook: real office skills and the summer placement

18 February 2013Posted by Michael Greig

With only teaching and sports coaching work experience to my name, the corporate world took some getting used to. Those communication, leadership and organisational skills of which I thought I had a firm grasp actually translated into a specific set of ‘office skills’, the nature of which didn’t become obvious until I sat down at my desk on day one. I’m referring to skills such as managing your stakeholders, organising your Outlook mailbox, writing effective emails and facilitating useful meetings.


These skills may sound menial, but I’ve seen experienced colleagues apply them so effectively that there's almost an art to the way they go about their work. Before my English Literature degree betrays me, let me refer to some specific examples, beginning with the skill of managing your stakeholders. There is an art to engaging those people that have a vested interest in your work. It requires just the right level of communication - not too much, not too little. You should be careful not to set their expectations too high or too low. Know when to speak to someone in person, when to use email and when to pick up the phone. Diary management is another example. How much time should you book in your manager’s diary for a review of your placement objectives? An hour might be too long and half an hour too short. Such meetings need to be carefully crafted, as do emails. When writing an email that will be sent out to hundreds of people in a call centre asking them to fill out a survey about how they use our online resources, you need to find the right wording and level of detail if you want to get lots of responses. Even the frequently mentioned 'work/life balance' needs a touch of artistry to get it right. Leaving work half an hour later than normal one day can have disproportionate knock-on effects.


Making mistakes, however, is an important part in becoming a successful artist. I'm sure Shakespeare wrote a few dud poems and Spielberg screened a few bad movies before they began producing their masterpieces. When you look at the office world in this light, a safe environment in which to practise the 'office craft' without too much fear of the consequences of getting it wrong seems much more valuable. The Centrica summer placement provides exactly this opportunity to throw your first few paint strokes and scrutinise the results. Whilst Centrica have very high expectations of their summer placement students, they realise that someone taking on initial work experience like this will make mistakes. In fact, they will pay special attention to how you respond to such mistakes, as someone's ability to take on board feedback and strive to improve every day is likely a good indicator of how far they will go in the business. I entered the business through the 2011 summer placement and am very glad for it. Having had absolutely no experience of the corporate world prior to my assessment centre day at the Windsor HQ, the summer placement formed an importantly challenging transition period for me. It allowed me to embark on the graduate programme - where the stakes are higher – having already made the basic mistakes and with a more immediate appreciation of the less obvious skills that are important to succeeding in an office environment.


Do you want to work for a big company like Centrica but don’t feel ready to jump straight in at the deep end? The Centrica summer placement programme is the perfect place to test the waters and gain some all-round fantastic work experience as you do. Applications are open until 28/02/13 – why not put in an application today? 


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