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  • Role: Strategy Project Manager
  • Degree: Modern History & Languages


“I’m helping to beat cancer” – how about that for a reason to get up on a Monday morning?

The Cancer Research UK graduate scheme offers training, challenging experiences and support, while offering graduates the chance to make a difference to an incredibly worthwhile cause.

I’m now in the second year of the scheme and have loved every minute of it – from the sheer variety of work and challenges on the job, to the stimulating learning and development – and while I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone by, I can’t wait to get to grips with my final placement!

What does Cancer Research UK do?

Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading charity dedicated to saving lives through research, discovering new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

They fund research which investigates all aspects of cancer and they support the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses. They also work to prevent cancer and help people cope with its effects by providing information for cancer patients and their families, health professionals and the general public, as well as campaigning to keep cancer at the top of the health agenda.

On the Cancer Research UK graduate scheme you could be involved with fundraising, supporting their information or campaigning work, helping the charity to run efficiently as part of our Finance, HR or IT departments, or even working on the science side of things.

How did you get your job at Cancer Research UK?

I applied through an online application process. This involved an initial online application with CV and competency questions, online English and Maths tests, then an assessment centre, followed by a final round of interviews.

What was the interview process like?

The application process is very involved and it’s hard work; you are one of around 2,000 applicants, so you need to have really thought about why you are applying. The assessment centre involved an interview, a group exercise and a written test, while the final round required a presentation and another interview. However, they were incredibly supportive throughout the process. You also end up learning more about the charity and what it is like to work there as you go along – which of course makes you want the job even more!

Do you have any advice for the interview process?

Apart from making sure you’re prepared, the best advice I have is that it is so important to let your passion for the charity and its cause show. Everyone really cares about what the charity is trying to achieve and they’re looking for graduates who want to be part of that vision.

What is a typical day like for you?

With four streams based in different areas of the charity, and each graduate undertaking four placements in different departments, there is a huge amount of variety in the roles graduates can do.

I am currently in Research Strategy reviewing the charity’s strategy for two cancer types. As well as the usual range of office-type tasks and meetings, on a typical day I might spend time preparing for and conducting an interview with a leading international expert in a specific cancer. Later I might use strategic tools to draw out themes from the interview, or I could work on some data analysis about research in a particular area.

Often we get time set aside for graduate development, which offers a great opportunity to learn something new and to step back from the day-to-day tasks and reflect on your work.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I absolutely love the amount of variety I’ve experienced on the scheme, and the endless opportunities to learn, both through training and on the job. I also find it hugely rewarding to know that the work I am doing is contributing to the fight against cancer. In my current role, I particularly enjoy being close to the science and seeing first-hand the vital work we are funding.

What are the most stressful parts of the job?

I am really enjoying learning about the science in this role, but as a non-scientist this has involved a very steep learning curve. While I have certainly enjoyed the challenge, it was a little stressful at times having to interview top scientists very early on!

What ‘soft skills’ have you found useful?

Cancer Research UK works in a very collaborative way, so my ability to quickly build effective relationships with people has been invaluable.

As on any graduate scheme, you are often thrown in at the deep end with a new placement so being able to learn quickly on the job is vital, while the ability to communicate and influence effectively comes in very handy when working to deliver a challenging objective.

What would you like to achieve in the future?

As you might have guessed, I love working here so I hope to stay on at the end of the scheme. I’m still deciding on the career I would like to follow, but I’m aspiring for a leadership role at the charity one day in the future – the graduate scheme has certainly been a great first step towards that goal.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the charity sector?

It really helps to get experience working for any charity – this can be through work experience, an internship, part-time volunteering, or even a basic paid role. That said charities really need the same set of skills as many roles in the private sector, so the soft and hard skills you build up in any job will be invaluable.

Most of all, it’s important to apply for charities which support a cause you really care about, and to let that passion show when you apply.

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