At Debut, we like to shine a light on people with unusual career paths and relatable advice. It just so happens that the new CEO of Debut, James Bennett, falls right into these categories.
James joined the company a few months ago and has been sharing his expertise and thoughts with us all along the way. He came following a five month break away from office life, which he considered a huge luxury. Prior to that, he’d had a variety of roles in a number of different sectors – including working on a farm in Spain!
We decided to have a sit down with our new CEO and get to know him a little bit more, and find out the top advice he has for students and graduates out there.
Why did you decide to apply for Debut?
“I’ve got two children; one at university and one about to go to university, and so this is an opportunity to take everything I’ve learned and apply it. I personally had quite a bumpy experience coming out of university and entering the world of work – making lots of applications and getting no responses. So I was surprised to learn how little had changed.
“In terms of expertise, I want to bring in the discipline to focus on a few things. There are so many things that we could do at Debut, but I know that if we did them all, we wouldn’t do them very well. I want to take the painful lessons that I’ve learnt and apply them here.”
Can you tell us a bit more about your professional background?
“Originally I studied for an Accounting and Finance degree at Bristol Polytechnic (now University of the West of England), but I decided that it wasn’t for me. I then decided to do a conversion course in Law for a year at York. After applying to lots of traineeships unsuccessfully, I decided to try and get into Law via being a paralegal.
“I’m really glad that I made that decision, because I hated it. Working for a big law firm made me think about my future, and I realised that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I left, and went on a language and culture exchange programme with my cousin. We went to Spain for four months, and did some work on an organic farm.”
“Once I came back, I jumped about in several different careers. From publishing houses, to big cooperations like UBS and Virgin. In my last role, I ended up joining eFinancialCareers, who at the time were about the same size as Debut.
“My background is extremely random. It totally wasn’t planned. It was more about trying different things until I found something that I liked. I was lucky to be able to step away from a job when I didn’t like it.”
How do you think the landscape has changed since you were a graduate?
“When I was a student and looked at prospectuses and magazines, I felt completely overwhelmed. People didn’t know where to start, or what to look at. I would like to think that given my career, there should be an option to try jobs out before you commit. There should be a bigger focus on work experience.
“There’s a belief at the moment that universities put much more of a focus on education rather than careers, but we should really be thinking about what people will go on to do after they graduate. It’s about providing different career options for students that are relevant for them.”
What advice do you have for young graduates out there?
“Get as much work experience as possible, as you truly don’t know what a job is like until you’re in it. However, even if you do get a job in one area, remember that it’s not set in stone. You’ll always have the opportunity to change your path and try something new.
“I would also recommend taking every opportunity that comes your way. Every challenge will teach you something new that you’ll be able to take forward into your future career, so don’t back down from it. You never know how or when an experience will come in as valuable.”
Tell us three fun facts about yourself
“I was the heaviest baby at Brighton General Hospital for ten years – 11 pounds two. Apparently you lose weight as soon as you’re born, so I have this mental image of someone running down the corridor to the weighing room yelling, ‘we’ve got a big one!’
“I spent the first few years in Tripoli, Libya. I was kind of feral, running around with no shoes on. It’s an amazing part of the world.
“I have three passions; cycling, tennis and cooking. I’m at my happiest when I’m doing one of those three things.”
We like dogs at Debut. Tell us about your dog!
“In our family, we’ve been debating getting a dog for about ten years. When we eventually decided that we would, there was an even more intense debate about the breed. We now have a golden doodle, who is quite hard to keep clean. I think we didn’t realise how much hard work it would be, but he’s gorgeous. He’s called Bertie, and he’s very naughty; completely ruled by his stomach.”