I am a… product development specialist
You could be a Product Development Specialist if you would enjoy:
- Sales and marketing
- Working with customers
- Getting involved in crops trials
- Using your in-depth knowledge of agriculture
- Listening and advising
Helen Wilson worked in finance for five years before coming to university. She graduated in 2013 with a BSc (Hons) Agriculture and is now a Product Development Specialist with RAGT Seeds Ltd.
Agriculture graduate Helen, from Suffolk, had just a few days between finishing her final year Agriculture exams and beginning her new job with RAGT Seeds Ltd (part of the RAGT Group, one of Europe’s leading seeds businesses). We caught up with her just three weeks later to find out how she was settling in.
“It’s great and I think I will enjoy the travelling, being outside and meeting lots of people,” says the 28-year-old. “The months of June to September involve lots of travelling to trial sites and open days all over the country – including up to Scotland and over to Ireland. The winter revolves around seed sales, ensuring seed is distributed on time. It’s all about customer relationships, talking to people, listening to what they’re looking for.”
It is communication skills like these that Harper Adams encourages through its industry-informed curriculum, with lots of team work, presentations, research and applied skills included in our teaching. In Helen’s case, it helped to build on the skills she had already developed before starting university as a mature student.
“I worked in finance for five years, in client services. I worked for a small brokerage and then a large custodial bank, both of which provided lots of experience of dealing with all kinds of clients and also the contrasting environments of a small company and a large corporate institution.
“It’s crucial to be good at listening to others, understanding their needs and knowing what product is best for them,” she adds. “I’d advise anyone interested in this sort of career to be confident when giving presentations – never rely on notes to get you through – a clear passion for and understanding of your subject is most important, and in a sales role it is essential to gain the trust and confidence of the potential buyer.”
Helen was able to use her finance skills in a more focussed way whilst on placement with Andersons Northern, a farm business consultancy based just outside Edinburgh, where she worked as a trainee consultant.
“I helped prepare budgets, end of year reports and Single Farm Payment applications. I also learnt a lot about the financial side of running a farm – how to put a realistic budget together, the principles of how to deal with a farm in financial difficulty. Having an understanding of the financial aspect of running a farm is invaluable.”
When Helen visited Harper Adams for the first time she knew it would be her home for the next four years: “I found a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and excellent facilities; I knew straight away that it was the right place for me to study. The best things about my course have been the quality of teaching and breadth of topics; 16 hours contact time a week in the first and second years is brilliant - Harper Adams really puts you through your paces.
“There are more careers in the land-based sector than you might think: anything from farm work to contractor to consultant. Then there’s research and development in arable and livestock, plant and livestock breeding. Or working for organisations such as the NFU, Countryside Alliance, government departments, or working for supermarkets, sourcing British produce. The list goes on.”
Looking back, she feels her time at university has gone really quickly (“It’s been a huge amount of fun - four years of your life that will fly past in an instant – make the most of them!”) but she hopes to return to Harper Adams in the near future, to study one of the short professional BASIS courses we offer.
Building your skills: Listening
One of the key skills Helen uses in her job is listening – one of the most important skills you can have in business and life in general. Becoming a good listener can take a little practice but is well worth the effort.
Mind Tools, an online resource to help you build your skills, says this: “The way to become a better listener is to practice ‘active listening’. This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.
In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully. You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you'll make when the other person stops speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying. All of these contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.