Ask the Graduate: Organisation Development Advisor

RO Central Team - Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Posted 7 months ago



Day In The Life: Nima Assadi (Organisation Development Advisor


About me: Hello, I'm Nima, I’m 26 and I studied Maths, Physics, and Biology at A Level and completed a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Sheffield. I chose to study an Engineering degree because it allowed me to build on my STEM knowledge and further settled on Mechanical Engineering because it covered the most areas within the discipline.

Current Job: I am an Organisation Development Advisor in the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion team within Human Resources at the University of Sheffield. The University is a large organisation with over 8000 staff and almost 30,000 students from over 150 countries; my role involves ensuring that the University is a place where anyone, regardless of who they are, can fulfil their potential in a respectful and dignified manner. Prior to this role, I worked at the University of Sheffield as a Graduate Intern and then at Sheffield Hallam University as an Insight Analyst.

A Typical Day: My days are built on a foundation of toast, tea, and scrambled eggs. I cycle to work and I’m in the office by 08:30. This gives me 30 minutes before most people are in - vital time that allows me to prepare for the day before I have to attend any meetings. I take the paternoster up to my floor (The paternoster is a pretty big deal at the University of Sheffield, you can see what it is here: and the first thing I do when I’m at my desk is to check my emails. The main form of communication in many organisations is via email and if you don’t stay on top of it, it can pile up quickly. I do a quick scan of my unread emails to see if there are any urgent matters that need my attention. I then quickly plan my day/week, updating my calendar as I go along. The University of Sheffield, like many organisations, uses Google for its mail, calendar, and online storage solutions so knowing how to use them properly is a basic requirement.

The easiest way to describe my role is that I analyse data, read and understand laws, reports, and guidance from experts, and keep up to date with relevant issues to work with colleagues across the University to provide accurate and accessible advice to change procedures and guidelines. Or to put it simply, I provide accurate advice to anyone to contacts me regarding the way the University is run. At any one moment I can be working on anything from responding to Freedom of Information requests from newspapers, writing a report that will be sent to a committee, updating webpages with new information, or manipulating data to highlight key trends. The variety of work means that I need to be multi-skilled and ready to learn new systems and processes quickly. I also line manage two other staff members which means that I’m responsible of delegating work to them, ensuring that their making progress, and that they don’t have any issues.

Unless I have other commitments, lunchtime is at 12:00 for me. My go to place for getting lunch is John’s Van where I have a chicken, chorizo, sausage, bacon sandwich with mustard. There are various University owned places to grab lunch/sit down to eat but since the University of Sheffield is a city campus, local restaurants and shops are just a short walk away. Lunchtime is a great way to take a break from work and catch up with friends and colleagues.

No two days are the same and I have to put on a variety of hats in my role! I can be providing training to staff, meeting with key stakeholders to discuss the progress of various projects, or researching a particular topic. Data is becoming a more and more important part of any organisation and so a degree in Engineering means that I can comfortably work with various types of data in order to draw out key findings and backup suggested actions with evidence. For example, I am currently working on reviewing the recruitment systems and practices at the University, using internal data and external reports to understand challenges and identify best practices. Towards the end of the day, I finish up anything that I’m working on so that I can pick it up later and look ahead to the coming days to see what upcoming items I need to be prepared for.

After work: In my current role, unless it’s urgent, I don’t have to do anything outside of normal working hours but whether it’s a pub quiz, a charity walk in the Peak District, or Falafel Friday, there's plenty to get stuck in with around the University.


Questions and Answers

1. Why did you decide to go into Human Resources having trained as an engineer?

A significant portion of graduates don't go into the area that they studied. Alfred Hitchcock trained as an engineer but ended up being a filmmaker. Studying a degree gives you skills that are transferable to many different sectors. To begin my career, I wanted to work in the University sector. My current role uses my ability to analyse data and see trends. Working in HR allows me to see how a large organisation works, from payroll to policy, committees to budgets, this broad area of work allows me to build a great understanding of how to run an organisation properly.


2. How did you find studying Mechanical Engineering at university? Do you know how it compares to other types of engineering?

For the first year, most modules that you study are shared with other types of engineering so this means that you can switch courses within engineering after the first semester, but do check with the specific university that you are interested in. Mechanical Engineering is very broad, if you know exactly what area you are interested in then you should choose a more specific engineering course. I didn't, so a broad course worked well for me. I had an intense schedule. Some courses at university only have a few contact hours per week, hours that you are expected to be in a lecture or in a lab, but engineering is intense. It means that you build up time management skills and really get value for your time at university. This doesn't mean that you can't get involved with extracurricular activities, I played ice hockey whilst I studied. The only other type of engineering which you should consider is computer engineering, since this is quite different to traditional engineering courses.


3. I really would like to go to university to study Mechanical Engineering and I was wondering if there is anything specific that they look for in their applicants? Or how personal statements should look? Any information on applying would be really helpful and appreciated.

At minimum, personal statements need to tell the reader that you know what the course is about and that you're intelligent enough to complete it. What I mentioned in my UCAS application was that I enjoyed applying mathematical and scientific knowledge to solve real world problems. You should show that you've done your research by mentioning extracurricular activities that you might join at university such as Engineers Without Borders, or Formula Student. Every person has a slightly different reason for wanting to choose a course so illustrate this and sell yourself in a confident and honest way.


4. I would like to study Mechanical Engineering but think I will need a part time job too. Do you think I will have enough time to work alongside my studies?

I also had a part time job whilst I was a student, I worked in Primark on the weekends. I then got a job as a student ambassador and also completed a paid summer internship. My advice would be to find a job that the University or Students' Union offers because these usually pay a little more and are better suited to your schedule. Your timetable is not constant and there will be periods where you will be very busy so it's okay to work less during these times.


5. What is engineering at university like? Does it cover predominantly applied maths and physics?

Yes, Engineering is predominantly applied maths and physics but it can branch out. In your last two years, alongside compulsory modules, you have modules that you can choose. I studied Finance, Law, and Management within an engineering degree. Be sure to check the online prospectus of the courses that you are interested in to see what options there are. You also do a few group projects which apply the knowledge that you have learnt.


6. What advice would you give to a student starting university who wants to work in Human Resources? What experience should I try to get?

Office experience of any kind is good. After that it depends on where in HR you want to work. At an organisation like the University of Sheffield there are many HR areas such as leadership, ED&I or staff services. A little bit of experience within any area will help even if it's just being elected onto the committee of a university society or sports club. If you want to work in HR then you need to have great interpersonal skills - to be able to work with a wide range of individuals in a confident and approachable manner. This is where extra-curricular activities at university really help.