The Real Word: Saira Khan, entrepreneur and TV presenter

'It's only now that i've felt confident enough to set up my own business'
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The Independent Online

Saira Khan came runner-up in the first season of BBC2's The Apprentice. Since 2005, she has presented the CBBC programme Beat the Boss, where a team of children are pitted against adults to win a business brief. Last year, Khan launched a range of natural skincare products for children, She has a humanities degree from Brighton Polytechnic and a Masters in environmental planning from Nottingham University.

How useful was your first degree?

It was useful in terms of constructing letters, comprehension, language and broadening my thinking. It was very much a social science and for me now, in business, it's very much about meeting people from different backgrounds and building business relationships, and I feel very confident. These are the kind of skills that arts degrees give you.

How did you find the university experience?

I chose Brighton because I wanted to get away from home. I just remember going there and thinking what a great place to be a student. It had a seaside – I just fell in love with the place, really.

How well did you adjust after graduation?

I moved back to Brighton after graduating from my Masters in Nottingham, got myself a little studio flat and started looking around for jobs in environmental planning. I soon realised that one of the best ways to go was to do some voluntary work. I went to the local planning department to talk to planners and shadow them. I was also learning about systems and processes, which was the biggest adjustment from university. You have to understand how an office works and I think that can take up to six good months, then you can really start feeling confident.

What was your worst job?

Working behind a bar in a pub – I absolutely hated it. It was just too much going on at the same time. I didn't like that.

How did you get into doing what you do now?

I have had ten years' experience working in corporate environments and I have learnt my business. I've moved around and it's only now that I have felt confident to set up my own business. Go out and learn the trade or learn what it's like to work in different departments and then, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you have got the skills.

What advice would you give to new graduates?

People are looking not just at the fact that you got a 2:1 or first at university but what kind of person you are. Most employers are thinking, "This is the culture of our company, can this person fit into our culture? Are you willing to work over the odds to get the job done? What other interests can you bring to our company?". I think people should make a life CV as well as an educational CV. All those things are so important to take to the interview. Also, be prepared to say so if you don't think you have got the right experience. Say, "I will work for you for six months on a low salary so that you can test me out".

I think if you are willing to do that, people will have an enormous respect for you.