Name – Mollie Cunningham
Company – Food NI
Role – Admin and Events Assistant
Degree – Ulster University’s BSc Hons Consumer Management and Food Innovation
Talk us through your typical work day?
I arrive into the office at 9.30am and the first thing I do is check my emails. In the run up to events, it can take some time to get through these as I will get lots of emails from event participants and exhibitors with booking forms and queries.
My daily responsibilities include handling the booking of the Food NI mobile kitchens that we hire out for events, as well as coordinating transport and other logistics. I also look after the processing of invoices to ensure payment for the kitchen hire is made promptly, aiding cash flow within Food NI.
I am responsible for organising the Food Heartland and food circle meetings within each of the different councils in Northern Ireland. These conferences focus on developing innovation and entrepreneurship in the local food and drink sector through thought-leadership forums, competitions and awards. My role involves the event management of these conferences including sourcing venues and guest speakers, managing the RSVP process and minute writing.
What has surprised you the most?
I have been surprised at how much Food NI has empowered me to take ownership of my work. In the second week of my Ulster University placement I was given an event to manage all on my own. You are treated like a member of the team and not a student, which is both exciting and challenging. I have learnt so much on the job such as personal skills, organisational skills, decision making and time keeping. It was a shock to the system when I started my placement as I work from 9.30am to 5.30pm, five days a week. Now and again there are events held at the weekends that I am responsible for, so sometimes I have to work long hours but I love the sense of accomplishment after a successful event.
What has been your biggest challenge and achievement?
One of the biggest challenges I have come across is making sure events run smoothly when things entirely out of my control don’t go according to plan, for example electrical problems or a chef running late for the cookery demonstrations. At food events I am working with suppliers, exhibitors and the public and sometimes I have to think on my feet and make quick decisions to ensure the events are a success for everyone involved. An example of this was when a chef phoned an hour before his demonstration to say he wouldn’t be able to make it. I then had to think of a quick solution which was to ask one of the other chefs to do a second demonstration. I then had to talk to all the local food producers selling their products at the event to donate produce for the chef to cook with as he had no additional ingredients with him.
One of my biggest achievements from my Ulster University placement year so far would be organising cookery demonstrations in one of Food NI’s trailers for a showcase at the City Hall. At this event I had to make a range of dishes in front of an audience. This required a large amount of preparation but the event was really well received and I was very proud of my contribution in promoting Food NI’s messages to the public.
What skills and qualities have you developed through your role?
One of the main skills I have developed is the ability to multitask. At food events we are expected to carry out a wide range of activities such as managing the demonstration kitchen, organising producers, overseeing maintenance workers and handing out flyers. However, I have now attended eight main food events and I feel like I can juggle all the different elements a lot better. I have learnt it is important to work as a team and that communication is key if an event is to run smoothly.
My confidence has improved hugely as a result of my Ulster University placement. I am a lot more confident in dealing with people at all levels within the organisation and external to the organisation including suppliers and producers.
What first attracted you to the role?
I went to a conference in January 2015 and heard Michelle Sherlow, CEO of Food NI, talk about the plans for Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink, which is taking place throughout 2016. I was really inspired and when I saw there was a placement opportunity with Food NI, I knew it was the one for me. This is one of the best years to be part of Food NI with so many high profile events and campaigns taking place to showcase the best of food and drink in the region. I absolutely love being a part of this celebration.
How do you think this will help your future career?
My Ulster University placement year has taught me how to work alongside a wide range of people, who at times may have competing priorities. I am having to communicate with colleagues, board members of Food NI and Food NI members. Having to work with a diverse mix of people can be challenging, however though my placement year I have learnt how to do this more successfully to ensure everyone is happy with the end result. I have also made a wide range of contacts ranging from food producers, food tour guides to owners of large PLC food companies. This will benefit me in the future when it comes to both job opportunities and advice.
Top Tips for applying for a placement role.
-Do your background research! In an interview the employer will want to see you have gone the extra mile to learn about their business. This will show you are enthusiastic and are interested!
-Get as much experience in your chosen industry as possible. I had worked in a range of food company’s which allowed me to talk confidently about food trends and the food industry in Northern Ireland.
– Present yourself well and ensure you have a question to ask at the end of the interview. Do some research on the company and ask a relevant question when the interview comes to an end.