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An Open Interview with Katie Garland

  August 9, 2017   

What is it like to work for a global company like BP? Graduate subsea engineer, Katie Garland, tells us what she enjoys most about her job and how her dyslexia has enabled her to develop the skills to excel.

Firstly, how do you describe yourself?

I would describe myself as smiley and approachable, and a bit reserved. I’m happy to speak to people but I’m never the loudest person in the room.

What are your hobbies?

I have ridden horses pretty much since I was born and it’s still a big passion of mine. I actually have three horses of my own! Because I’m in London now, I don’t get to ride every weekend, but I take as many opportunities as I can to go home and ride.

What are you passionate about?

One of my big passions is encouraging females to study and work in STEM.

Promoting women in STEM is particularly important to me because when I was younger, I had a teacher who was influential in encouraging me to think about working in the sector. I’d like to inspire others like she inspired me.

I have been part of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) since university where I sat on the Loughborough University WES committee for two years. In addition to this, I went into schools, did talks and mentored students.

At BP, I work with the graduate recruitment team visiting universities and speaking at recruitment events. I also recently attended a Women in Engineering Day for female university students, where we discussed what it’s like to work in STEM and showcased the career options available to women in the sector.

I’m also a member of the Sunbury group of BP’s Women’s International Network (BP WIN). They run networking opportunities for women in the industry to connect with one another.

Tell us about a personal strength or a valuable plus which you have developed, as a result of your disability. How has it helped you in your career?

Being dyslexic, I have had to really develop my time management skills.

I know that things like reading or writing a report will take me a bit longer than other people, so I know I have to be really careful with my time. I can’t leave things to the last minute, because they will take me that bit longer, so I plan ahead and am good at visualising the path ahead.

As a result, my managers always comment on how organised I am.

BP was hugely supportive. As soon as I noted my disability in my application, I received a phone call from the recruitment team, and was assigned a dedicated point of contact who I could speak to at any point. They were able to reassure me that I would have the time and support I needed.

Most other companies just give you a generic email address, or you are passed between lots of different people, but having one person always on the end of the phone was great.

During the application process, I was given additional time for the online tests and assessment centre, which really helped. There’s a lot of reading in the testing process, which takes me a bit longer.

What do you wish you knew when you were at university?

In retrospect, one thing would be to tell my first year self not to worry too much.

I focused incredibly hard on my studies, which stood me in good stead academically for later in my course, but it made my first year quite stressful.

I would encourage myself to take some more time for non-academic activities, and to be more chilled!

I got quite stressed about exam scores – but now I’m more relaxed about things and my ability to get the job done!

How many applications did you submit for a graduate job? How many interviews did you attend?

Although I went through the formal application process for my internship, I didn’t actually submit a formal application for the graduate scheme.

At the end of my internship, we were asked to give a presentation to our line manager and an independent assessor on the work that we had done during our time at the business. After I had left BP a few weeks later, we were told whether we had been offered a role, which happily I was.

However, to get my spot on the internship programme, there was a full recruitment process which involved an online application, three online tests (verbal and numerical reasoning, and situational judgment), followed by a general telephone interview, a technical face to face interview with an assessor in the area of expertise I had applied to work in, and then an assessment centre.

Because of my disability, I was given extra time for preparation ahead of any tasks that required reading. For example, where others had 15 minutes to review a task, I had a percentage of additional time to ensure I was prepped fully.

One of the best things about the process was the in-depth feedback I received at the end of the assessment day, which was really useful.

What was the most difficult interview question you have been asked and how did you answer?

One thing I always struggle to answer, is when I’m asked to talk about my weakness.

You put so much pressure on yourself to answer it in a positive way to make a good impression on an interviewer, but you want to be honest.

That was definitely a question I was worried about, but then because I had prepared it well, I had a good answer ready when I was asked. My answer at the time was that I used to put a lot of pressure on myself that all the work I submitted at university had to be perfect. Sometimes you have to accept that it can’t always be. So I have learned to determine when it is relevant or not.

Current job title and area of responsibility?

I joined BP full time as a graduate in September 2016 as a subsea engineer.

I assist the engineering and construction teams, and am assigned work by both teams.

At the moment I am helping with the vessel readiness review. Before a construction vessel can join the project, there are a number of checks they have to do. I help to ensure that each vessel is ready to perform its work scope from a marine assurance, procedure, permit and HSSE perspective

I also run the log of who is on each vessel at any time, so we always know who is offshore. This also includes people who plan to go offshore to ensure there are enough beds for everyone.

On the engineering side, I am assisting with the closure of some lessons learnt from a project we undertook with Christmas trees, which are an assembly of valves, indicators, and fittings used for the subsea gas well. Also, as technical issues occur offshore, I assist in their closure to minimise schedule and cost implications, whilst maintaining safe operations.

What has been your proudest achievement since starting work?

The thing I’m most proud of was completing the first phase of the West Nile Delta project. Egypt is in desperate need of gas, and being able to deliver the project early to people in need was amazing. By delivering in time for the summer, where people in Egypt rely on air conditioning, was something I was proud of. I’m really passionate about helping others in the work I do.

What aspect of the job have you found most difficult to manage? Is this affected by your disability?

The biggest challenge was starting a role where I had very little knowledge of the topic area. I hadn’t studied subsea systems, or done any work on them during my work experience, and I was joining a team where some people had worked on this specific project for the last ten years, so it was a bit daunting.

It was important for me to get up to speed very quickly, so I took on a lot of information in a short period, to make sure I had all the knowledge I needed to get stuck into the project.

I would say that my disability has helped in a way because I have such strong organisational skills. It has helped me prioritise and manage my workload.

My line manager knows about my disability, and I’m very open about it with other staff, which makes my life easier because everyone is very supportive.

For example, when others are explaining things, I sometimes struggle to translate what they have said into written notes, but people are really helpful by sending information via email.

Have there been any unusual scenarios or projects that you have worked on?

BP are very good at throwing you in at the deep end. I thought when I joined that I would be in training for a while, but I was immediately doing real work and speaking directly to contractors. It was a bit of a curve-ball being asked to go and write a full paper about an offshore problem that would be shared widely. This has helped me in the long run, and my organisational skills really came into play! It’s fine to ask questions – no-one ever thinks you’re stupid, they help if they can or point you in the right direction.

What work has been the most exciting/surprising/ground-breaking piece of work you have carried out at BP?

During the project, we came across an issue that needed solving. We formed a task force, that was quite high profile, but it was so exciting when we worked through the issue, and got back on schedule.

There were people offshore in Egypt, people in Houston, and people in Sutton, so coordinating everyone was a bit of a challenge.

However, it was great to see how all the teams work and to see the different business arms pull together as one to solve a problem.

Why did you choose to join BP?

When I was in my third year, because I was involved in the women’s engineering society, I was invited to attend a high tea event with BP in London.

Finding out that recruiting women is one of BP’s business priorities made a big impression on me.

It was the first time I’d really seen BP as a company, but after meeting so many people who were so enthusiastic about the business, it really made me want to find out more.

I also really relate to BP’s values. They’re always present – we talk about them in meetings and we’re encouraged to show how we demonstrate them every day. They were also part of the recruitment process.

If you asked any BP staff member, they would be able to name all five values. This wasn’t the case at my previous employers. The values ‘one team’ and ‘safety’ are particularly important for the project I work on.

What about your job/BP surprised you when you first started?

As part of the graduate committee I’m a member of, I’ve just organised the Challenge Business Leadership forum which was attended by our CEO and chief economist. I was quite surprised that they took the time to speak to us. I worry that senior staff are too busy to bother, but they encouraged us to get in contact and ask questions.

That’s something I see across the board - everyone is happy to put aside time to speak to you whether you’re a graduate or higher up.

That’s what makes it such an unusual company.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I love that my job changes on a daily basis.

During an offshore campaign, I’ll wake up in the morning and check my phone for the vessel reports. You can usually tell at that point how busy you will be, and what’s going to come up.

But no day is the same, something will always come up. I really like to be busy and don’t say no to a challenge. In this role you are constantly challenged!

How do you manage your disability at work?

My manager and my team are aware of my disability and are very supportive. They know that if they give me a task it may take a bit longer than it might take others.

What is BP’s approach to disability; how have they helped you to do well?

Support is available via BUPA, our private medical insurance, but I haven’t used that. I am mainly supported by my line manager, because I am working at the contractor’s office, so he’s the first port of call while I’m here. There are wider support communities available in the Sunbury offices, and lots of support is there if you ask for it.

What advice would you give a student with a similar disability, who wants to pursue a career in the field you work in?

Don’t see your disability as a limitation, because it is what makes you individual. It makes you see and think about things differently, which can actually give you an advantage over others. I am more organised, because I have had to adapt due to my disability.

As long as you’re organised and efficient, you can help make others’ lives easier – people who will then in turn help you out.

See your disability as an advantage. You can’t change yourself, so you should embrace that and know you will be stronger in other areas.

Katie is a graduate subsea engineer at BP. To find out more about the culture and people at BP, read our Open Interview with chief IT architect, Mark Brunton.

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