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Arif (Reef) Erdogan

Arif Erdogan

What degree course did you study and when did you graduate?

Politics and International Studies (2020).

What is your current role?

Emerging Technologies Policy, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (UK) / Head of Innovation, British Consulate, Guangzhou, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) [Starting in late 2023).

Tell us about your career story since graduating from Warwick

After graduating from Warwick, I started my Master’s and the following year, I entered the Civil Service as an international trade policy advisor specialising in science and technology. I then changed Departments, focusing more so on Deep Tech and later this year I will be formally taking up an appointment with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to work as the Head of Innovation at the British Consulate in Guangzhou, China. Whilst my career ambition has always been to work in diplomacy and foreign affairs, I figured it would be too competitive to achieve so I am happy for the opportunity. It was not an easy journey, but, by making the most of the opportunities presented to me and those I could find, I was able to get myself in the role I wanted.

How has your time at Warwick helped you during your career?

When I studied at Warwick I enjoyed not one but three opportunities to engage globally. I first spent a year abroad in Canada before going to summer school in China, and, finally, TeamWork during the COVID-19 pandemic. These three opportunities gave me direct exposure of working and living internationally and they helped me to understand the exciting opportunities that exist. They also helped me to develop resilience as I was in environments where I had to adapt quickly.

What ambitions do you have for the future?

I hope to continue serving as a UK diplomat, enjoying opportunities to build positive relationships with overseas partners, bridging together key partnerships on science and technology. I would like to expose myself to challenging situations, remaining flexible and resilient in the face of hardships whilst seeing more of the world.

What advice do you have for Warwick graduates who would like to work in your sector?

The most important skills that you will need for a career in diplomacy are your people skills. Diplomacy is about making relationships with people and organisations. At times making these relationships is challenging, especially when cultural clashes come to light and when you have conflicting goals. It is nevertheless essential that you remain focused on your goals and attempt to find alignment when you only see misalignment. Focus on developing crucial people skills such as active listening, empathy and of course the art of compromise. You want to show others that, yes, you understand their needs and concerns, but you have your own and want to find a way to ensure they can come together for mutual benefit.

I’d also say that you should take advantage of any and every opportunity that presents itself. In 2019 I found a Facebook post from the Indonesian Embassy in London looking for British students who would represent British youth at the 2019 Bali Democracy Forum. It stood out and, after applying and having an interview, I was informed that I had been chosen. It was a lifechanging experience, yet it was also one that could have passed by without me even knowing it had existed. I therefore encourage you to again look for opportunities and make sure you take them if you can. It was in February 2019, when I was studying in Canada, that I saw an email from the Warwick Study Abroad team flagging an overseas opportunity to study at Tsinghua University, China, for two weeks, on an all-expenses scholarship (excluding flights). I applied also on a whim and was lucky enough to get it. I should also add that financial support is available if you come across an opportunity that requires significant costings on your behalf.

What 3 top tips would you give to students looking to find a graduate role in the UK or elsewhere in the world?

  1. Be diligent and find opportunities that don’t come to you. The traditional ‘big graduate schemes’ are great opportunities with household names, however, there are even more hidden opportunities that are out there. You need to be open to these and prepared to find them through research and networking.
  2. Understand the language. Something I have noticed when mentoring students is how despite them having strong grades and relevant experience, they don’t know how to communicate this and how to get themselves across to vacancy managers in a way they understand. Take time to research CV/resume writing and to understand good and bad practice. Also be specific. A vacancy manager for a creative organisation will be looking for something different than a vacancy manager for finance. You need to understand the language used in the sector and to ensure that you are communicating in a language they understand.
  3. Have a destination, but don’t feel you need to stick to the designated path. I believe that students need to be more open to trying things in a different way. Many people will apply for a graduate scheme in the knowledge that, after 3-4 years, it will lead to the role they want. This is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, but, what happens when you don’t get onto the scheme? Do you give up? Of course not. Did you know that in only 1.8% of applicants to the UK’s Civil Service Fast Stream received an offer in 2022? In 2018 only 71 people were offered jobs in the Diplomatic Service out of 12,266 who applied. Seems impossible right? But that isn’t the case as I have shown. Whilst I did receive an offer on the Fast Stream I decided against it and looked for opportunities to achieve my objective, outside of the designated path. I networked, sought out opportunities to work with international stakeholders, focused on language skills and remained alert to opportunities. The same can be said for many people who have had to find their own path. I cannot stress enough that, yes, a traditional graduate scheme will give you the pathway to what you want, however, it’s just as possible for you to do that on your own – making the most of opportunities that you have whilst remaining true to yourself.