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Transcript: Future Talk – Ursula Barr, Category Manager at Schneider Electric

Ursula Barr is a Category Manager for Quality Power and Protection Products at Schneider Electric. She joins Future Talk to discuss about the non-technical experience and transferrable she has which proved useful in her current role, why professional rejection shouldn’t be a demotivator, key things to keep in mind when creating connections with businesses, and her insight into how to succeed within the industry.


graduate, company, people, job, role, interview, engineering degree, scheme, engineering, gravitate, team, projects, question, skills, products, careers, bit, schneider, podcast, interesting

Amy Lourenco, Ursula Barr

Amy Lourenco  00:05

Hi everyone, this is UCL careers podcast future talk. My name is Amy Lourenco, Senior Careers Consultant at UCL. On this podcast which is powered by UCL Minds, we will be talking with professionals in different sectors about their career journeys and insights in relation to employability topics. This series is packed with guests who are change makers and innovators in their respective industries, and was created by the engineering careers team to help our students and graduates find out more about various professional experiences. Each episode will have a guest who will share their professional insights and provide valuable information relating to careers. The episodes will be available on Spotify, Apple podcast, and SoundCloud on a weekly basis.

Amy Lourenco  00:48

On today's episode, I'm so pleased to be able to introduce our guest Ursula Barr She is a category manager for quality, power and protection products at Schneider Electric, a global company providing energy and automation digital solutions for efficiency and sustainability. And has worked with them since 2018. She graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2018, with a master's in electronic and electrical engineering. Welcome to the podcast. And, thank you so much for joining us today.

Ursula Barr  01:17

Thank you, Amy. Glad to be here.

Amy Lourenco  01:20

 Great to have you on a sunny day. So could you tell us firstly, what is a category manager?

Ursula Barr  01:26

Yes. So the question I get a lot, it's it's not the most obvious of job titles. So it's essentially a product manager, but looking after an entire group of products and systems that go alongside it. So to kind of go into more detail a product manager is as well as someone who looks after, and products from both the commercial and operational perspective. So you're kind of the middleman for everything to do with a certain range of products. So if someone had a question on its like technical capabilities, or how to bring it to market, what who, what what the actual features are and the messaging behind it. It's, it brings all of that together and basically facilitates a usage and sales and marketing of the products.

Amy Lourenco  02:23

Amazing. So it sounds like it's a bit of a hybrid of a technical and non technical role. Have I got that right?

Ursula Barr  02:29

Yes, definitely. I mean, most people who are in the same roles may tend to have an engineering background. For me it was I did an electrical electronic engineering degree. But off the back of that had a few different roles and things and looked at different job opportunities. But find that I kind of gravitated a bit more towards the commercial side of things as well. But without that technical knowledge, I wouldn't have been able to take on this role. So it's very interesting to have taken an engineering degree, and not done something that's directly engineering related, but still relies on the same knowledge.

Amy Lourenco  03:08

Yeah, that is really interesting. And how did you find out about the job? Was it a job that you knew about before you applied?

Ursula Barr  03:15

No, I had no idea that the job existed when I'm browsing University but what essentially happened was, I started at Schneider Electric on the graduate scheme. So the graduate scheme I did, it was three, four months placements throughout the company throughout the company. So I did a couple of marketing, some kind of in the book, business development, some and tendering as well. And basically, you move around the company, and you get to experience different parts of the business. And at the end of the 12 months sifting through three months, three, four months placements, then the company releases kind of a job list for all the graduates to apply to. So it was one of the ones on the list. And I'll be honest, even whenever the list came out, it wasn't the first one that caught my eye. But it was after kind of taking a bit deeper into what the role actually was. And speaking to the the other managers in the team and other team members or people have a similar role even in different parts of the company, I realized that this actually is very well suited. It's kind of exactly what I wanted to be do. But from the job title, no, it wasn't something that I was immediately drawn to.

Amy Lourenco  04:29

Wow, that's really interesting. So it just shows me how that sort of rotational aspect of the Graduate scheme really helped you to like, inform your kind of decision about where you are today.

Ursula Barr  04:39

Yes, definitely. If someone had asked me at the start of the Graduate scheme, where I'd be at the end of that I would have said, quite a technical role, maybe more on the engineering side of things and when a company like Schneider Electric, that's very possible they end up there. But it just it worked out that this is what's gonna be better and is good to be able to have the experience of working With different teams and just try work that something that I wouldn't want to do now, but it gave me the information to be able to say that, that's something that I thought was for me, is maybe not the best route.

Amy Lourenco  05:17

Fantastic. And so before you join that graduate scheme did you have any sort of non engineering or engineering technical related work experience or, or skills that you think kind of proved valuable and getting you on to that graduate program?

Ursula Barr  05:33

For work experience, wise majority of work experience before, before I started here was in bars and cafes and in different shops and things. But even though they're, they're quite entry level jobs are not something that you need a degree to be able to do, you don't need to be studying to be able to do them. The soft skills that you get from working in the lab, being able to talk to people, manage conversations, manage people's expectations, when it comes to different things. And just the kind of the work ethic that it gives you to be able to, I don't know, just work with your managers understand different people's viewpoints. I'd say any kind of work experience leads very well into an engineering role or grad scheme role.

Amy Lourenco  06:24

That's great. And did you have any sort of projects on your degree as well, that helped you develop any skills?

Ursula Barr  06:30

Oh, definitely. So the what my degree was slightly different. So I did a master's degree, an edge. But it was slightly different in that our dissertation was our third year, we'll earn our support here. And our fourth year was a great project. So I mean, it was, it was interesting, having distribution first and then a group project because it gives you, first of all, your ability to be able to research and find out things, but then have to be able to do that in a team rather than by yourself. And there are quite a mix of personalities within the team. Some people were actually quite reserved and very intelligent and wanting to do the more technical work a lot people were lied and wanting to do all the presentations, but maybe not as strong and technical side. And it was just seen different personalities work together, and being able to kind of get the most out of everyone. And also, of course, everyone's been in group projects are always clashes, there's always disagreeing, but just being able to work with people with those different opinions and kind of get something out at the end that was very successful, I think we, we did, we had a good result from our graduate project. And actually one of the members of the team went on to do a PhD with the same professors that we did dinner with. But again, so from that graduate project, we all went on to very different routes, I went on to grad scheme, the person who was very technically minded went on to a PhD. And then the other two went on to graduate jobs rather than grad schemes because they had a bit of a clearer direction to what they wanted to do.

Amy Lourenco  08:10

So thank you, Ursula. So would you say, those skills that you just mentioned there about kind of working in teams, and dealing with conflicts, etc? Have those proved useful in your current role at Schneider?

Ursula Barr 08:23

Yes, definitely, I think because especially in the role I'm in, because you are that middle person working with so many different people as well. So I've been working with an engineer one day and then working with like a commercial lead the next day, so that it's very different personality types that you are working with, because there are personality types that naturally gravitate towards different jobs. And that's not to say, if you have one personality type, that you're automatically going to do one job and not the other. But we find that do tend to have? Well, it tends to be if you're more outspoken and more of a people person, you're more likely to go into sales, for example, the more analytical maybe more of a technical or research role. So it's, it's just being able to apply what what what I experienced with any university was working in a different type of team, especially an engineering course, to then be working with those different teams, which are kind of more the embodiments of the different people who were on the course with me and doing the projects with me, but actually having to tie teams of them as well. So it is interesting and it's it's definitely transferable skills once you kind of learn how to take a step back and appreciate that maybe someone who isn't speaking up on a call it isn't that they don't have something to contribute. It's that they're not the kind of person who would normally speak out unless they're addressed but once you addressing yourself, then you get the all the information that We're not keeping to themselves, but maybe a bit too shied sure. But then also if you have someone who on a team who's constantly speaking over other people, and making sure that their voice is the loudest, and that it takes having worked on projects and things were the worst people, I thought it, it just it let you know how to be able to manage that and politely say, Oh, thank you I value your opinion, that's been very useful. But can we just get someone else's opinion on this as well? So everyone in the group is sharing their thoughts.

Amy Lourenco  10:39

Absolutely. And apart from those sort of teamwork skills? What other sort of transferable skills do you think are essential to your role at the moment?

Ursula Barr 10:48

Definitely critical thinking. So having  done engineering degree, it's all about being faced with the problem that you don't know the answer to at the minute. But then you have all the tools in your back pocket to be able to identify a way forward with the problem and find the right people to speak to or the right knowledge that you've already got, maybe you've got a database that has a lot of information, how to be able to manipulate that into the information you need. So I'd say definitely problem solving. And also just the fact that an engineering degree I find kind of teaches you how to learn, it teaches you how to be constantly faced with new concepts or new things that you've not come across before. But then to be able to, I don't know, pinpoint different little tiny bits of it that you are familiar with, and work on those and take something where you maybe have a very, very short brief on it, and be able to extend it into something that's usable, and you get to the end product eventually.

Amy Lourenco  12:02

Fantastic. It sounds like your degree really helped you prepare for kind of your current job, which is great.

Ursula Barr  12:08


Amy Lourenco  12:11

So my next question is around sort of rejection, which is something that kind of all jobseekers face eventually. What would you say to students and graduates who might have faced professional rejection? They're not hearing back from employers or having their applications be unsuccessful? How do you think job hunters can deal with rejection in a constructive way?

Ursula Barr  12:33

Um, I think the best way is to think of it as not only Well, not necessarily, it's not necessarily that you want right for the role, it might be that the company is not right for you either. So when I first started looking at for, for graduate roles, there was a company who I had thought for maybe about a year and a half that, that they were the company I wanted to work for, and that I would be great at that organization. But then when it came to it, I got the interview got pass the assessment center, but I just had a bad feeling about it. Not that the company was bad, but I just didn't feel like I was a good fit for it anymore. And then ultimately, I did fairly interview. And it was quite hard, because I'd had my mind set on it for quite a while if that was what I wanted to do. But then, of course, I picked myself up started looking for other jobs and different roles, apply for different things. And I started to have interviews where I felt a lot more comfortable within the company. And of course, I failed some of those as well. There's only so many places, and there are so many good engineering students in the world. But the key thing was that whenever I went in to the Schneider interview, the questions I was asked them the way the assessment center was carried out, I enjoyed it, I actually, I knew that I wanted to work for the company. And the back and forth, I got from the interviewers and the people on the day, it was all very positive. And I could tell that it was a company that I worked for I was right fit for them. But also they were the right fit for me. But at the same time, you could see people on the day who'd lost interest in the assessment center because it wasn't the company for them. Yes, they get to to go and they had the engineering experience. But ultimately, they weren't gonna get the job because Neela was right for each other. So I'd say definitely don't take rejection to heart. there be a reason why, but also just ask, so interviewers will or companies will normally tell you where you went wrong in the interview, or what wasn't right with it. Always take that information because it could be that they say that, oh, we're looking for someone with the skills and find other people who are stronger in it, or could be that. Not to say that we just didn't feel like We would make the most of your skills, or could be a nerve stain as well, or just the way you carried yourself in the interview, but it always gives yourself gives you just some information to be able to work on and improve for the next one

Amy Lourenco  15:15

Interesting. So what you're really saying there is that it's like a two way process. And if you're rejected, it's probably because you know, you weren't the right fit for them. Or they weren't the right fit for you as well.

Ursula Barr  15:28

Yes, definitely.

Amy Lourenco  15:30

Fantastic. And from those companies that you thought when you were in interview, okay, it doesn't feel right. I feel a bit uncomfortable. I don't think this is the company for me. Can you pinpoint what it was about the company and that made you sort of feel like that

Ursula Barr 15:50

It was a few different things. And that's one of the main ones was highly interview was carried out, and the kind of the regimen to it, it was very much. They give you an introduction. And then it's all down to you. There was no back and forth, there was no conversation. So the interviews that went well end up being and they introduce a topic and then you talk about it back and forth. Like I like I quite like that conversational style, I don't really want to go into an interview and expect to have to monologue or there was one as well, where they set you down and it was immediately. Okay, you've just done the door knock right at one RSA. And that just wasn't the kind of company that I wanted to work for. I wanted to work for a company that was open and conversational, but also that ones were the assessment centers were kind of team days for the gave you maybe, there was the Schneider one actually want to give you a database of information, give you a few different criteria, things to look at. And then within the team, kind of make a few posters and not like posters, but like charts, and informational graphs and everything on it, so it was a lot more analytical, rather than just sit down and write for an hour and see what you end up with.

Amy Lourenco  17:19

So it's always like the interviews giving you clues as to what the company culture would be like, whether they're like collaborative, or whether you'd work a lot on your own, or whether you work in teams? How like dynamic it would be?

Ursula Barr  17:32

Yeah, definitely. And also the way they expect you to be able to work as well. It's short, well, short timeframes, it's, it's gonna be the same in every job. But if everything is quick and demanding, you may not get a chance to do as many kind of big picture things as well, which was kind of the impression I got from a company that it didn't work out with.

Amy Lourenco  17:56

Really interesting. Thank you. And see, my next question is about exploring sort of different career opportunities, because I know that you said that you tried a few things, and you got to do your rotations on the graduate scheme. Is there one thing in particular, you would encourage students and graduates to keep in mind when exploring potential career opportunities and creating connections with employers?

Ursula Barr  18:21

Yeah, so I would say definitely try things that you think you're not right for. So if you're, if say, if you've started on a graduate job or graduate scheme, definitely pick a rotation that's outside your comfort zone. So something to wear naturally gravitate towards because even air for four months, you're not the best at the job. You're, you're not like, it's not what you want to be doing. At the end of the day, you'll learn so many skills from that that will be transferable to other things. And also, you may, you may end up in that role and realize I that you never knew that you wanted to do it. But suddenly, it's a good fit for you, because maybe you didn't understand what the job fully entailed, or, or what could be done with it, or what the career progression afterwards would look like. So I know a lot of people who are on the graduate scheme, after the rotations go went into job where, yes, it wasn't their ideal job, but they chose it because they saw the next step up was going to be something that they really wanted to do. So I guess just kind of keep an open mind. But also make sure that you're talking to everyone in the company. So my my experience and definitely within Schneider, I find is people are very accepting of graduates kind of reaching out to them for information and help and to be able to give them more work to do. So if you can reach out to other people who maybe are more senior in the company and just say, Look, I'm not sure what your job is? Could you...to me? Um, do you have any kind of small projects that I can work on, it gives you an idea of what that role is. But it also makes that connection with the more senior person, um, people tend to remember the people who offer them help. So if you go into someone else, like what can I do that makes your life a little bit easier. And I remember that and if it is a team, you want to go into the long run, it will put you in a very good light.

Amy Lourenco  20:29

Fabulous, say, like keep sort of networking, asking for information and an offering to help to sort of put yourself in the best possible light for future opportunities.

Ursula Barr  20:39

Definitely. And even just talk to people at the coffee machine to speak to as many people as you can within the company, and you'll soon find out what's best for you.

Amy Lourenco  20:48

Yeah, and I also really liked what you said there about sort of taking risks and taking something that you bit outside your comfort zone that you you know, wouldn't not necessarily gravitate gravitate towards, but could be a really interesting fit for you.

Ursula Barr  21:01


Amy Lourenco  21:02

Fantastic. Thank you. So my final question is, what would you say are the three skills that are necessary to succeed or industry,

Ursula Barr  21:13

Three skills, I would say, definitely be a problem solver. And learn how to work with other people. Maybe even if you do go into a very engineering role, you'd be dealing with everyone from apprentices who are new on the system, to the most senior engineers who've been there for 40 years. So just the range of personalities, you get in that within that. And then also, the communication skills are very key. So very often engineering seems to be more of an offer kind of dirt yourself job, but you need to be able to communicate within teams and being able to edit know, get your point across and speak to well, often engineer to be the ones on site talking to the customer sometimes as well. So be able to feed that information back and kind of make changes within the organization that go along with that.

Amy Lourenco  22:18

Fabulous a problem solving teamwork and communication.

Ursula Barr  22:22


Amy Lourenco  22:23

Excellent. Oh, thank you so much. So what does the rest of the day hold for you?

Ursula Barr  22:28

Oh, the rest of the day is not too bad. We're actually I'm planning for a webinar that we've got coming up next week. And just a few other meetings and calls. We've got a few spreadsheets to be looking at and a few calls to be on but pretty decent day or not.

Amy Lourenco  22:45

Fantastic. Is that a customer webinar?

Ursula Barr  22:49

Yes. So we're doing a series of webinars actually, which is around kind of our company stories, our company story has pillars off, like efficiency, sustainability, resilience, safety, remote, everything. So we're doing a webinar series around the five of those and putting all the four products and systems within that to kind of show how it all works together to be able to drive at all event values. So customer webinar start next week and then run for until the end of July.

Amy Lourenco  23:23

Fantastic. Well good luck with it. And thank you again so much for coming on the podcast today.

Ursula Barr  23:29

Thank you very much for having me. It's been really fun.