Katie Grassick is in her final year of an honour's degree in Human Resource Management at NCI. Recently, she qualified as a finalist in the Miss Dublin competition, which could lead to Miss Ireland, which could lead to Miss World! “To tell the truth,” says Katie, “I’m enjoying each step in the competition as I take it, and already feel like I’ve gained so much from it that, while I’d love to progress, it’s as much about the whole experience as it is about winning.”
From as far back as she remembers, Katie wanted to be a lawyer. Then, in Transition Year, she had an opportunity to do a block week at the Four Courts. “I realised law was NOT for me. It was disorientating to have that one goal I’d always aimed for suddenly not exist anymore, I remember asking my mother: what do I do now?”
Katie attended St. Mary’s in Baldoyle, and is ever grateful to her teachers and her Guidance Counsellor. “There was so much support in the school, my teachers wanted us to do well, they were always encouraging us to look for as many resources as possible to help ourselves, as well as what they could give us.”
“My Guidance Counsellor spoke to me and worked out why I’d always been attracted to law. She identified HR as having a large component of Employment Law and, when she suggested it, it clicked with me as a good idea. I knew then that HR would be my first choice for a college course.”
“Thanks to my teachers, I had signed up to a Leaving Cert English Revision Class at NCI, and – there’s no other way to say it - I just got a really good vibe from the place! I knew NCI offered a BA in HR, so I included the College when I was doing my research into where to go for my degree.
I saw that NCI has a strong reputation in the area of HR, but what particularly attracted me was the opportunity to do a work placement in third year. I put HR at NCI as my number one on my CAO form, and here I am today! If I were to give advice to current Leaving Cert students, it would be to engage as much as possible with different colleges now, so that you get a sense of what they might be like to study in.”
Career support and work experience
Katie cannot speak highly enough of the Careers’ Team at NCI. “They support students in so many ways, including direct contact with the very people you may work for in the future. I attended a ‘round table’ event with employers, and I got to talk to people from all different sectors. I got to ask every question I had prepared and a few more that just crossed my mind when we were chatting. When I was talking to employers like that, I really understood what Careers meant when they said that it wasn’t just about taking the first job or even the best job, but about finding a company where we really fit, where the work would suit us as well as we would suit the work. I got talking to two of the HR team from Brown Thomas, and I felt that ‘fit’ click into place. There was no guarantee they felt the same of course!”
Putting some Careers’ advice to work, Katie connected with them on LinkedIn, in the first place simply thanking them for their time that day. She stayed in contact and that is how she got the application for an internship in the HR Department at Brown Thomas.
“BT only takes one intern every year so I was realistic about my chances, but I put in the best application I could, got my interview, and was over the moon when I was offered the internship.”
Putting theory to practice
“I’m full of advice today,” Katie laughs, “but if I could get in front of HR second years right now, I’d be telling them all they *must* do the year’s work experience. Yes, it means your degree takes four years instead of three, but the benefit of the experience is immensely valuable.
“From a practical point of view, you are given a task or asked a question and, suddenly, the work you did in a particular module pops into your head, and you understand the job you have to do or you can answer the question. I spent a lot of time thinking to myself: so that’s why we had to do that project! The theory you’re learning at College really makes sense when you’re applying it in the workplace.”
“There are other benefits to Work Experience. I had to overcome my nerves to go in there and meet a whole new group of people, hoping we would get on, hoping I could do the job. Each time I face something that makes me feel nervous, my confidence builds a little. BT was great for my confidence! I also got to meet a wide range of people, in different roles, from all over the world – brands like Chanel might borrow our HR meeting room when the business managers were in Dublin, and I got to see different ways of working and communicating – and different ways of dressing! My personal sense of style developed, not in a ‘this is what you must wear at work’ way, but more that I learned how I could express my own taste, but in a work appropriate way. Simply being part of a business, a member of a team, in the real working world, gives you an edge over people who have not had that kind of immersive work experience, I think.
“And, I am still in touch with my manager, still in touch with my colleagues: they have helped me position my CV better, they are sending me job ads they see coming up. I feel like I have another support network for my career, from my work experience.”
On the subject of building a CV, Katie talks about a new line she will be able to add to it, starting just this semester.
“I’ve been volunteering for charities since I was a child, it started in primary school, and just became something I do. Once I started College, that went out the window. But recently, with the boost from working at BT, feeling I had more to offer, I cold-emailed SVP (Society of St. Vincent de Paul) and offered my services. I was surprised and delighted when the Director of HR got back to me: we had started talking when COVID-19 hit, and we put our conversation on hold. Then, when I got my timetable for this year, I realised I have no classes on Mondays. I worked out the time I need for assignments, and I got back in touch with the SVP – and it’s good news! They will let me volunteer in their HR department each Monday. I am so proud that I can bring the latest thinking from College, and the practical experience I got from Brown Thomas, and use them to help a charity that I greatly admire.”
Want to learn more about our BA (Honours) in Human Resource Management and the option for work experience? Check out the course page for full details!
Work From Home – Study From Home
Katie’s time at BT allowed her to work in the areas of Recruitment, Onboarding, Learning and Development, and Employee Wellbeing. It also gave her an unscheduled experience: Working From Home, when her time there ended with her off-site, because of COVID-19 restrictions back in March.
“It was a dramatic end to my work experience! Like a lot of people, I had to communicate with our IT department to get set up at home. I guess it is now part of my CV and shows I can be trusted and know how to Work From Home! But at the time, it just seemed a sad way to end what had been a brilliant time for me.
“It means that I already had MS Teams experience and was ‘properly’ set up when the decision was made for College to continue online instead of on campus. I have another piece of advice! It is *really* important to set up a study space, even if it’s just a desk in your bedroom, like mine. The fact that I’d already had to do this for work definitely gave me an advantage over people coming fresh to ‘online’. It means that when I am there, psychologically I am ready to focus, and when I leave that space, I can turn off for a while. It imposes some structure.”
Lack of structure is the hardest thing about studying online, Katie thinks. On campus, a student is much more likely to use the time between classes to pop into the library or, even if you do go for coffee with friends, you are more likely to talk about upcoming assignments. But there are advantages to online study as well.
“Lecturers always have ‘office hours’ on campus, where you can check in with them about a specific question or whatever and, since we moved online, they are so good at reminding us that this time is available to us – it’s much easier to make and keep an MS Teams appointment, and it’s a powerfully effective way of staying connected with lecturers and up-to-speed with college work.
“One of the things I’ve always loved about NCI is the small classes, where you really get to know your classmates – I met my best friend in First Year! Because I chose to do the year’s work experience and not all my classmates did, it means I was meeting a whole new class of people when I went back to College this year. I was worried about the impact being online would have on me making friends. But again, the lecturers have been fabulous. They have set up random breakout groups in different modules. I have ended up chatting with people I never knew ‘in the real world’, and from the chats in those groups, we have ended up following each other on Instagram, and it’s felt very natural, like the way you get to know people offline. It means that our Class WhatsApp group is a good mix of practical help to each other or reminders of class times or deadlines – and memes and a bit of a laugh. You *can* make friends with your online classmates.”
You can find further tips for studying from home here: 5 Ways to Prepare for Distance Learning When You Start College
Going for it!
So, how did Katie end up a Miss Dublin finalist?
“A girl I know through Instagram had done it last year. I saw what she put into it, and thought: I could do that. I saw what she got out of it, and thought: I’d like that. At the heart of the whole Miss Ireland competition is the message: Beauty with a Purpose, it’s not just all about looking good in a swimsuit. I am not normally one to put myself forward, I never entered a pageant before, it’s never been something I’d thought of, but when she shared the application form, I thought: well, if I don’t apply for it, I’ll definitely get nothing out of it! I had to supply some images, but also a personal statement both of what I could bring to the title Miss Ireland if I won it and what I hoped for from the experience. Of course, with COVID-19, the structure is a little different this year, and it was a Zoom interview that saw me announced as a Dublin finalist.
“My first challenge was to find a sponsor. This was not something I had ever done before! I made a shortlist of businesses and devised a pitch, but that did not stop me feeling nervous about asking anyone for money, especially asking a business in these really difficult times! But I worked up my courage, and am really delighted that I have secured sponsorship from The Blue Rose in Raheny. The Blue Rose is a family-run florists – I love that it’s a family business, and I hope my run for Miss Dublin brings them some return – buy all your flowers and birthday balloons there, please!” Katie laughs.
“Already, being a finalist for Miss Dublin has introduced me to a really lovely group of girls I would not have met any other way, from all over Co. Dublin, and I'm looking forward to training on catwalk and interview techniques, as well as rehearsals with the other competitors. So far, Miss Ireland has been able to complete the different county finals in person, safely and with social distancing. The competition is on a learning curve, like every business in Ireland at the moment, and is responding to HSE advice: while it would be great to proceed in person, I trust them that if it must move online, it will still be a quality experience – and might even draw a larger audience!”
“My motto is ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ – that’s a quote from Susan Jeffers, and it so fits my life. The confidence I have has been built with the help and advice of a lot of people along the way, from my family, to my school, to NCI and Brown Thomas. Each step, I thought: I can’t do this! Then I took a breath, I researched, I talked to people whom I could trust and who have my best interests at heart. And each step, I was able to decide: I will try anyway! That would be my final piece of advice to anyone reading this: feel the fear and do it anyway!”
We wish Katie the best of luck!
Katie Grassick is studying the BA (Honours) in Human Resource Management at National College of Ireland. If you have questions about studying at NCI, get in touch with our Admissions Team and they will be happy to help make your CAO choice a little easier.