Pathways to International Trade Case Study: Q&A with alumni Alejandra Cossio-Martinez

Pathways to International Trade is an award nominated educational programme that sees Business West experts deliver an international trade course to University of Exeter students who then apply their learning into week long internships with South West exporters. We've trained over 100 students and placed them with over 100 companies. For Pathways to International Trade 5th Anniversary, we catch up with alumni to hear about their experience with the programme and how they have been doing since then.

We talk to Alejandra Cossio-Martinez, Commercial Finance Analyst for a contract research organisation in Cambridge and PTIT alumni, as part of our Pathways to International Trade 5th Anniversary Q&A series.

Tell us a bit about what you have been doing since PTIT.

I graduated from Exeter in 2016 with BA in Economics, International Relations and Russian with a year abroad. Shortly after graduating, I started working for an exporting company called Mallory International, which is based near Exeter. This company is an exporter of educational materials and supplies and I worked as an Export Sales Coordinator from September 2016 until December 2018.

I was given a lot of responsibility from the beginning. I was mainly in charge of clients in Spain and Uganda but also of other places like Ukraine and Rwanda. I had to coordinate with suppliers, clients, warehouses and logistics companies to get everything shipped and delivered on time. I was lucky to participate on several business trips to Spain, Uganda and Malawi. I also attended conferences in Spain and London. It was a varied role and a great opportunity to learn and deal with challenging situations.

Currently I work as Commercial Finance Analyst for a contract research organisation in Cambridge. Although this new role involves more numbers and is quite different to my previous role at Mallory, the skills I learnt while working in international trade are transferable and have helped me become a well-rounded professional.

Why did you decide to participate in Pathways to International Trade? What interests you about international trade?

I was interested in working for a global company, somewhere where I could interact with people in different countries and even speak different languages; I also wanted to travel. Therefore, at the time, international trade seemed like a sector that could combine all of those things.

Despite having decided I was interested in working in trade while still a student, I did not have any relevant experience on my CV, so I started looking for opportunities. As soon as I became aware of PTIT, I decided to apply as it sounded very practical and interesting.

How has the PTIT programme benefitted you?

Interacting with experts from the Department to International Trade (back then UKTI) as well as real businesses and understanding the challenges they face when exporting was very insightful. It was an incredibly enriching and interesting opportunity.

In the programme there were many teamwork activities, including our final project that consisted of creating an export strategy for a company. Our final project brief was challenging brief, but our great team had lots of ideas to how we could solve this issue. This experience gave me plenty of examples for competency-based interviews. I loved my degree, but I feel like the PTIT taught me a lot more about real-world business than some of my modules.

It was great to have experts giving us insights into what working with people in countries around the world is like. While working in export, I experienced every single thing they talked about first hand, including restrictions, duties, border delays, cultural differences, payments and language issues. International trade is a complex but very dynamic field.

Do you have any career advice for those interested in pursuing a career in international trade, international marketing and/or international business?

To work in trade, you will need to be adaptable, culturally aware, enjoy variety and change. Regulations, laws political situations everywhere in the world change on a daily basis, so being good with change and challenging situations is key. If you work in international trade, all of this will impact your daily activities.

Attention to detail is essential, a missed date or mistake in documents can cost a lot of money and/or time. Be open minded to new challenges. There are no perfect jobs but there are many great places to grow personally and professionally if you keep an open mind.

What are some of your highlights from the programme?

I loved the entire week, particularly the talks and team project. Even now, almost 3 years later I still think it was an amazing experience.

Feeling that we were having real impact on a real company motivated me (and everyone, I think!). My team was working with Luscombe drinks to help them export into China. I recently saw on LinkedIn that they went to a trade show there, which made me smile.

Also working on my own project was quite fun and unique. Although my brief was quite vague, I was free to decide which direction I wanted the project to take, and this gave me a lot of confidence before starting my first job after university.

The programme was only a week but, it was packed with excellent content. Lots to take in but it was very interesting, full of engaging examples and activities. All the experts that gave the talks and workshops were engaging and clearly passionate about what they do.

  • Pathways to International Trade

    This programme successfully brings together SMEs (Small or Medium sized Enterprise) identified by DIT and Business West with talented student interns who have undertaken the week long course.

  • Pathways to International Trade

    This programme successfully brings together SMEs (Small or Medium sized Enterprise) identified by DIT and Business West with talented student interns who have undertaken the week long course.