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NEWS > Careers > Maisie Ainsworth PGS 2009-2016

Maisie Ainsworth PGS 2009-2016

Maisie always loved Geography and has successfully transferred the skills and experiences learned from her Geography degree to her work as a member of the Marks & Spencer Enterprise Graduate Scheme.
11 Apr 2023
Written by Maisie Ainsworth

After leaving Pate’s in the summer of 2016, I started my Geography degree at the University of Birmingham. I really enjoyed studying Geography throughout all of school, particularly the topics on development and world cultures. I knew that my passion lay in human (as opposed to physical) Geography so when I was looking around universities, I looked for courses where you could specialise in this area more.

There were so many things I loved about the University of Birmingham aside from the course; the campus was beautiful and like being on a film set, I could pursue my dance hobby through the uni society and audition to be part of their award-winning competition team, and the city itself was great fun!

As part of my course, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad and was lucky enough to go to the University of Western Ontario which is situated near Toronto in Canada. Packing up a bag (that was bigger than me!) I said goodbye at the airport and started my adventure that would turn out to be the best year of my life so far. With my new friends who I’d met through the university, we went ski ing in Ontario, sledding in Quebec and canoeing through a National Park, plus other once-in-a-lifetime experiences - I just about squeezed in time for university lectures and exams!

I then returned to the University of Birmingham to complete my final year of uni. One of the biggest parts of the course in final year is the dissertation: a 20,000 word written paper on any Geography-related topic of our choice. Over the last few years, I’d learnt a lot about fast fashion and the impact it has on our planet. I’d read articles and tried to consciously make my own clothing consumption more sustainable so I saw this as a great opportunity to learn more about the topic and bring my own research to the field. As part of the dissertation, I carried out interviews with people about their attitudes and behaviour towards sustainable fashion and I carried out a survey to gain a wider response. This was my first taste of conducting my own research and I really enjoyed the whole research process from scoping the research methods, to running the interviews/survey, and analysing the results (more on this later!).

Alongside my final year of studies, I began applying to graduate schemes. A Geography degree is a great springboard into a lot of different industries and job roles as you learn so many valuable skills like data analysis, report writing and turning concepts or data into relevant insights. I was looking to graduate schemes as they offer a way of applying, and building on, skills like these in a fairly structured setting within one particular business, while also giving you the flexibility to rotate around a few different areas/roles to explore what you enjoy most.

Initially, I wanted to do a marketing graduate scheme as I’d enjoyed my time as a part-time social media manager in my second year of university and loved the marketing course I undertook while studying in Canada. I’d also taken on the role of Chair of the University of Birmingham Marketing Society in my final year to help me gain a better understanding of the industry and build up my network. I looked at a range of companies, mainly in the FMCG sector. One of the ones I looked at was Marks & Spencer but as they weren’t running their marketing scheme that year, I decided to apply for their Enterprise graduate scheme. This was more of a ‘generalist’ scheme so you weren’t limited to only working in marketing, you could also work across other departments as well.

After a tough application process including a video interview, online test and a full day assessment centre, I received the call to say I had been selected to join the programme! Life was a bit of a rollercoaster between finding out I’d got the job and actually starting the following September: COVID hit, I finished my degree during lockdown and had a virtual graduation ceremony, and moved down to London to start the next chapter of my life.

The Enterprise programme I was on was created to give graduates the opportunity to work in lots of different roles across M&S so that we could learn a variety of skills and gain a holistic view of the business. It also meant that you could end up finding a role you love in an area you never even considered when you first started the scheme - like me!

So through the scheme, I have worked as an Assistant Marketing Manager in our Foods business, a Sustainability Assistant in Clothing & Home, a Project Manager in the International team, and I’m now an Assistant Insights Manager in M&S Connect (our Loyalty and Bank & Services team). By moving around the business in this way, I’ve had the freedom to explore my passions, like working in sustainability, and experience brand new opportunities - I travelled to Croatia for my work as a project manager last year!

Starting out my career in this way has given me the space to try out a few different roles before finding my niche. Now, I know that I want to pursue a career in market research and customer insights and I can bring the unique skills of someone who has experience in other areas too, which gives me a different perspective to most!

My advice for someone who isn’t sure what they want to do is to embrace ‘squiggly careers’ (give it a quick Google!). Being open to moving frequently between roles and/or industries is so valuable for finding what you do (and don’t!) enjoy. It has also helped me to build my network, my confidence, and my ability to adapt to new situations. I’m excited to keep saying yes to new opportunities and learning more and more.

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