Success Stories

Success Stories

Returner Profile – Anna McBurney

At AAI, we recently reached out to our intern alumni to find anyone who had used one of our placements to get back to work or start a new professional journey, after a career break, and who could be considered a ‘Returner’.

Here’s Anna’s story.

Background – In 2011 I graduated from Heriot-Watt with a degree in Economics and Management.

After an initial false start, studying for a year at the University of Edinburgh and then taking a two year break to work full-time and re-evaluate what my next steps should be, I knew the best thing I should do was to get a degree under my belt. In my haste to get back to university, I chose to study a degree subject which I didn’t feel passionate about.

Without this passion, I really struggled my way through university and come my final year, alarm bells started ringing. I wasn’t achieving good grades and I knew that even for graduates with first class degrees, the job market was grim. This was one of the main motivations for moving to Norway after I graduated. I thought if my only prospect in Scotland after university was going to be unemployment, then why not leave and try somewhere new.

Job Hunting Experience – It quickly became apartment how naïve I’d been at how quick I’d find a job in a country where I didn’t have any contacts and didn’t even speak the language. As a Heriot-Watt alumnus, I got involved with the Watt Club in Oslo and gained access to high-value networking events. The connections I made led to some employment opportunities, but as I began to approach the end of my second year in Norway, I still felt as though I had to make my first real step onto the career ladder.

I moved back to live with my parents on the east coast of Scotland, and while it felt reassuring to be back on home turf, the job hunt didn’t get any easier. Every day I would sit at the computer, trawling through the latest vacancies from Aberdeen to Edinburgh, and every day it would be the same situation – I was either under-qualified or over-qualified. There was nothing for a graduate. 

My experience with employment agencies wasn’t any better. Numerous times I’d be told that there was an ideal job that had just been made available and I’d be the ideal candidate for it. Did they ever return my calls when I followed-up with them? My job hunting experience was emotionally exhausting and wreaked havoc with my anxiety. 

It was now over two years since I’d graduated, with little to show for it, and I knew the longer the search went on, the harder it would be to find a job. I relented and accepted a menial data inputting job. I had never felt so low.

Your Returnternship – My search continued to find something that would be befitting of my skills, experience and attributes. My jaw hit the ground when I came across an internship opportunity through AAI; with gusto I started writing my application straight away. Ahead of being interviewed for this internship with the Scottish Government, I attended an AAI workshop which definitely helped boost my confidence and prepared me a lot more for the interview experience.


What appealed to me most when I applied was the variety of tasks I’d be involved with and the chance to engage with many different people. However, when I started working with the Scottish Government’s Entrepreneurship Team, I didn’t count on being given so much responsibility so early on. I was writing Ministerial briefs, speeches and supporting Ministers at events. It was such a dynamic policy area to be working in and I loved embracing all the challenges of it. 

It had been a very long time since I’d felt such passion and motivation for what I was doing; this internship gave the sense of purpose I had been longing for. I gained and developed valuable and transferable skills that truly launched me into my career.

After your Returnship – After my 6-month internship ended with the Scottish Government, I had made such progress that I had my contract extended to two years. By the end of my contract, I had grown a diverse network of contacts, and it was through one of these that I was able to secure my next job.

Remaining in the field of entrepreneurship and enterprise, I went to help start-up a pioneering organisation that aimed to encourage and support mission-driven organisations to become more entrepreneurial and sustainable. I was able to transfer many of the skills I had developed through my internship and apply them to this entirely new context of being in a start-up environment. 

The benefit of working for a start-up and being in a team with just two other people, meant that I had many opportunities to get hands-on experience with areas of work that were new to me. I saw the organisation through to the end of its first operational year and then moved to an organisation that I’d highly regarded since the early days of starting my internship with the Scottish Government – Entrepreneurial Scotland.

The mission of this member network and leadership development organisation is to inspire, develop and connect Scotland’s current and future leaders to build the most entrepreneurial society in the world. Here, I am the Programme Executive for the Saltire Scholars Internship Programme.

I love working for this programme which matches high-potential penultimate year students from Scottish universities with leading and innovative organisations all over the world. As someone who recognises the value of a meaningful internship, I get great satisfaction of making these opportunities possible for the next generation of leaders in Scotland.

How did Adopt an Intern help you?- ‘Validation’ is the best word to describe how I felt when I found out I’d been accepted for an internship with the Scottish Government. As a returner to the jobs market, the offer of this internship was the lifeline I needed.

I knew all I needed was a foot in the door of somewhere that could recognise my potential in spite of my age, qualification and gap in my employment history. AAI opened that door for me. Even though I was unemployed, I had so much passion to succeed and finally, with this internship, I was able to allow that passion to flourish.

I will forever be indebted to AAI for my transformative internship and for being the reason why I gained so much valuable experience and got to know so many visionary individuals.


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