Every year since 2004, recruitment consultancy Odgers Berndston has paired up students with CEOs from big-name organisations as part of their ‘CEO for a day’ scheme.
According to the consultancy, the scheme “aims to create a personal connection between today’s top leaders and talented Millennials about to enter the workforce”.
It is intended to allow CEOs to connect with young talent, whilst giving students an invaluable insight into what happens at the highest level of an organisation – a departure from many work experience placements, which are liable to feature a lot of making coffee and filing.
We spoke to Audrey Barnes, one of 24 students selected to take part this year, about how she secured the placement and her experience shadowing Mike Coupe, CEO at Sainsbury’s.
Photo credit: Ellie Morag
Audrey is studying towards her Master’s in Intercultural Business Communication and hopes to work in PR, Marketing, or Communications management. She tells me she heard about ‘CEO for a day’ via her university careers team and describes the rigorous application process, which includes an online assessment, several essay questions, and a "long, but very interesting" assessment day.
She applied in the hope she would be able to "get a better sense of the workload, strategic thinking, and communication style needed to run such a large organisation".
And, as expected, the day provided Audrey with a lot of insights into the life of a CEO. She was given a full tour and the opportunity to speak to people working across multiple departments in the business.
Spending time discussing strategy with Mike was Audrey's favourite part of her time at Sainsbury's; she says the scheme gives students the opportunity to "gain executive management insights which many don't ever get," and that Mike was "always interested in listening to ideas, engaging in conversations, and offering support".
"He has a great mind for strategy," she comments, "whilst also being very caring and considerate of all of the people who work throughout the organisation, as well as the communities surrounding each of their stores."
It's an experience Audrey says she would "definitely recommend" to other students.
"It may be a challenge to get through the application process and interview, but even that experience is invaluable in preparing for going out into the career world," she says.
Being selected and taking part in the scheme has made Audrey "more confident about what is possible" and widened her aspirations about what she can go on to achieve in her career.
"Before, I was very cautious about applying for opportunities where an organisation described themselves as receiving 'overwhelming amounts' of very high-quality applications," she explains. "I didn't believe in myself enough, and was afraid of that getting worse if I received a rejection. Now, though, I'm more willing to try".
Finally, I ask Audrey what she thinks the CEOs involved in the scheme can learn from the students who take part.
She says those at the highest levels of organisations can learn a lot from Millennials' "ability to connect with others."
"We have grown up in a time where social networks hold a lot of value, which has led to a boom in socially-conscious initiatives, enterprises, and campaigns. If CEOs can authentically get on board with that idea, and integrate it into what they do in business... they'll have young talent and consumers on board."
And the number one lesson she thinks students will take away from the experience? "Take your career one step at a time, and commit yourself to it at each stage. As long as you are always seeking to learn and be better than you were yesterday, the incremental progress will take you far in the long run - maybe even to the level of CEO!"
See yourself being the CEO of a major company one day? Check out these companies who will fast-track your progression to Management-level, and this list of Retail giants - all hiring graduates right now.