Alice Tapfield (Politics with European Study, 2004)

Exeter alumna talks about her time at Exeter and career path that followed

Exeter alumna, Alice Tapfield (Politics with European Study, 2004), talks about her time at Exeter and career path since she graduated.

I have many wonderful memories too numerous to recount! My course was Politics with European Study, so I spent two great years on campus (firstly at the now non-existent Birks Hall) before moving to Aix en Provence in the South of France for my Erasmus year. One of the best years of my life, and definitely a more preferable way to learning French than in the classroom.

I made many great friends in my first two years at Exeter who had moved on by the time I returned from France, but the fourth year brought new experiences & friendships and was just as enjoyable. I realised that my main academic interest lay in International Relations, and perhaps I would like to work in that field. Aside from the course itself, highlights included the beautiful campus and historic town itself; cycling in the countryside or along the quay; regular student nights at the local clubs, writing for Exeposé, and appearing in the famous bikini section of the Rag Fashion Show!

Going to France was the first time I’d really travelled by myself, so mainly it helped become much more independent and confident as a person. For example by having to get by in a foreign language, meeting new people from all over the world, setting up my own bank account, sorting living arrangements and dealing with general French bureaucracy –  a feat not to be underestimated! All these were valuable life skills that certainly equipped me for future roles; for example, a few years having the confidence to move to Dubai alone for two years.

Of course, learning to speak French itself fluently was also highly beneficial. Upon leaving university I got a short-term job at LVMH working as a guide at Mercier champagne house in Epernay, which I wouldn’t have obtained without the French. My language skills haven’t been directly relevant to my roles, but they’ve proved useful in social settings and given me the ability to travel confidently to many Francophone countries around the world.

After leaving University, I was interested in working in politics; I wasn’t sure exactly what, but I thought the role of MP required at least a few years’ experience in life! So I left party politics to my free time and joined the communications team of a non-profit mediation firm (CEDR), as I felt learning some negotiation skills would prove useful in any future roles.

I enjoyed communications and subsequently joined a PR firm in Dubai, which specialised in promoting Middle Eastern organisations and destinations to Europe and vice versa, as a way to build bridges between the regions. This appealed to my interest in current affairs and diplomacy, and was an excellent way to start gaining an appreciation of Middle Eastern culture, which is so often misunderstood. Eventually I moved back to London to be closer to my friends and family.

Upon returning to London I continued working in marketing and more specifically business development in the luxury sector. I was introduced to a chartered psychologist, Rachel MacLynn, who had recently set up her own matchmaking firm, The Vida Consultancy. Rachel had just started the business and was looking to expand her network of eligible single people; I’ve always enjoyed meeting people and seeing where ‘matches’ (professional or otherwise) could be made so it was a natural fit for me to become a freelance consultant, which I continued for the next six years.

In 2013 I met my future husband (via a mutual friend); he lived in New York so we embarked on a transatlantic relationship, resulting in marriage and me moving to NYC permanently in 2016. Happily, this coincided with Vida being ready to expand abroad so I helped set up Vida’s New York office and we are now rapidly growing here.

Matchmaking certainly wasn’t a career I had considered (or even heard of) while at Exeter, but many of the skills involved are relevant to my initial interest in diplomacy, i.e. a deep understanding of people, and an ability to help them get past any issues blocking their ability to create harmonious relationships. I focus on the new business side but have learnt a lot about the psychology involved, which is a fascinating subject.

For those unsure of their future career, I’d actually start well before graduation by seeking mentors among people successful in their fields, whatever those may be. The most important thing is that they can explain how they achieved success generally and they are willing to help to define your strengths and what you may enjoy doing long-term. A little like a matchmaker in fact, but for a job rather than a spouse!

I’d recommend continuing this process throughout life in fact, so you can regularly assess your current situation and plan for the future. But specifically for final year students/recent grads who have an idea of what they’d like to do, I’d seek out people you have some connection with such as alumni/friends of older siblings etc who may be working in your field of interest. Interview them about their roles and companies and see if any of those would interest you. Ask them to connect you, or for tips on getting into the company. The maxim ‘it’s not what but whom you know’ often holds true, so don’t be afraid to ask for advice; most people are flattered, and happy to help.

Then do your research so that when you approach the person/company you are prepared, clear in what you are aiming for, and appear professional. Finally, it might sound basic but reliability is key. So remember what Woody Allen said - Ninety percent of success is just showing up.

Date: 14 November 2017

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