Currently in year two with Enterprise Ireland’s National Graduate Programme, Stephen McLoughlin describes his experience of working across the Brexit division and Covid-19 response unit.
Coming from a background in political science, I always had an interest in doing something related to government but I didn’t want to be a civil servant. Enterprise Ireland is unique in that you’re engaging with the private sector, so you’re at the cusp of where the public and the private sector meets – and that really appealed to me because you see both sides and you feel like you’re flying the Irish flag for Irish companies and really making an impact.
Applying for the Graduate Programme
I became interested in Enterprise Ireland after talking to some executives at the open day in the Helix while studying for a Masters in DCU in Business Management. The application process is very intense – if you’re in college, you have to set that time aside to apply for graduate programmes because they do take a lot of time to complete. It’s important to do your homework and I’d highly recommend attending the recruitment days so you can meet previous graduates working in the organisations and get an insight into their roles.
The assessment centre part of the application process is tough. It’s worth putting the time into researching what happens in an assessment centre and how it works – there are some valuable insights to learn, such as not being the most dominant person in the room, allowing everyone their chance to speak and using your limited time effectively. The experience does give you an insight into what the role entails and the challenges that it brings.
After the assessment centre, there’s an interview, and a lot of preparation should go into this, especially if you haven’t done much work in competency-based interviews. Look into what skillsets you have that would align with the type of competencies Enterprise Ireland is looking for. All the information is there online so it’s just a matter of putting the time in to research. The interview is intense but it’s a chance to demonstrate what sort of person you are and what you can bring to the role.
About ten of us commenced the programme in August 2019. We were trained with the international grads, and it was a great chance to meet everyone and begin to network – which is central to our roles.
Working on the Brexit response
I was assigned to the Brexit unit – as I had studied political science in my primary degree, this was a dream for me. The Brexit Zone had a dedicated space at International Markets Week in 2019, so I was really thrown into the deep end from the very start – which was a really great experience as I think I met three or four government ministers in my second week and it gave me a huge insight into the advisory piece provided to client companies regarding the challenges posed by Brexit.
“The role gave me the opportunity to develop and enhance my skills as a communicator.” says Stephen McLoughlin
Networking takes a bit of work to master, specifically how to make the most of a conversation and optimise the time you have with a client or a buyer. It’s the professional world and everyone just wants to get the work done as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
We had a lot of Brexit events, so in my first couple of weeks I was able to meet a lot of people all around the country in sectors that might be affected by Brexit. Internal networking is really important too. It’s a really big organisation and you’ll struggle during the first few weeks to meet everyone but they really encourage you to get up from your desk and get involved in projects or events – sports, charity fundraisers and so on.
My role changed dramatically in 2020 when most of the Brexit team became part of the Covid-19 response team. What was really interesting is that our Brexit insights prepared us for this, as a lot of the products and services put into place to help companies during Brexit had parallels with those developed to help clients through the Covid crisis. Advising businesses where to go for support through government agencies has been a big challenge and tough at times but it’s meaningful, practical work that really makes a difference.