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This summer I helped out on a programme in a which a few sixth form students (aged 17/18) came down to our offices to partake in some work experience. A few of the students went on to add me on LinkedIn afterwards and as some are quite active in their posting, I feel like through the wonderful world of social media, I’m able to keep up with how they’ve all been doing in the aftermath from the comfort of my own home.
Being able to see what some of them are up to has been a daily reminder to me of how early people are getting started when it comes to the job market. One thing I can tell you for sure is that I definitely was not the same at age 17/18, my main concern was getting into a good uni and getting good grades. I probably didn’t know what a LinkedIn even was at the time and I hated thinking about what I would one day want to do with my career as the thought of it just terrified me. I very much lived in the “now” – I felt that getting As and A*s was in my control – but thinking about why I was getting the As and A*s? That drew the line at too much thinking.
Eventually, once I started university, I faced the reality of jobs that I had never previously wanted to face. I applied for some internships and a few years down the line – here I am in my current job, working in Investment Banking and starting to feel… old. However, as we push through the start of the year, and apps season kicks of (or, to be honest, is well underway), I wanted to share a few tips for university students about how you can bridge the university-work gap, and make the transition as smooth as possible. I had the offer for my current job already at the start of my 3rd year of university which made the year a lot less stressful and meant that I could focus more on getting the actual grades than learning about M&A deals.
1. Start early
I remember after I had picked up my A Level results I received a message inviting me to a networking event for BME students about to enter university and it was all about careers. I declined because I thought – why would I be thinking about my career already? I haven’t even stepped foot into university yet, can’t they leave me alone?
But the truth is, these sorts of events are continuously being moved further back when it comes to age. Some firms start scouting for future employees to add to their roster list at early as 17/18. For example, my younger brother interned at an investment bank in Year 13 – age 18. My boyfriend received a scholarship (plus some internships) from an investment bank that he applied for in Year 13 – age 18. If you’re starting to make moves towards your career once you graduate – age 21 – whew, it’s not too late, but you certainly are late to the party.
I officially started applying for internships in my first year of university. I found that after I had applied and actually gotten something to put on my CV, just the name on my CV made it easier for me to get other opportunities as other firms would pick up on it and invite me in to interview. Whilst “internships” at age 17/18 are usually pretty flimsy in terms of what you’re actually learning and doing, they do do wonders for your CV; also you gain good contacts from being in these firms and surrounded by all these people, which makes it easier down the line. If you’re lucky, some firms will keep you on if they’re happy with how you performed during your internship, which could also lead to a full time role down the line.
2. Willingness to go unpaid
Now that I’ve been working for a few years, I know the general vibe/feel when a CV is picked up and 5 great firms are on that CV already. There’s a huge advantage no doubt compared to a CV with no practical experience. If you now also consider that some of the people you are competing with have already completed a 2-week internship at a top firm by the time they’ve even taken a step onto that uni campus (point #1), you quickly start to really recognise just how important experience is. It can be frustrating at times trying to get experience, that requires experience – and you think, how can you possibly get experience if nobody even gives me the chance to get experience?
The topic of an unpaid internship is a tricky one, especially because automatically there are certain groups of people that simply can’t afford to do this. That said, I think there should be some willingness to go unpaid in particular if the internship is short term, and within an hour or so of where you live. If it’s going to be longer than a few weeks, and some internships even expect you to travel internationally with no sort of allowance or pay… then you may have to rethink. The more (thoughtful) names you have on your CV – the better. So take the chance when you can (but make sure also that the firm is not just taking liberties).
3. Getting your foot in the door: beggars can’t be choosers
I will take the world of banking as an example, just because that is my industry. I remember when I started off my applications, I shortlisted the firms I wanted to work at, maybe I picked 3 or 4 out of many, many global investment banks. My first interview, I didn’t get. However, I did get my second. I was very lucky. But, as soon as I didn’t get that first interview is when I realised I can’t be so picky to have such a small collection of firms I wanted to apply to when I literally had no proper banking experience. I needed to just stick my foot in the door, to literally hold it open at it’s hinges, and once I got into the party – maybe then I could start swirling my finger around and picking my favourite flavour.
I think when it comes to applications in your second year or third year, you just need to pick the industry that you’re the most interested in and apply everywhere. If I take the banking industry – then I’m talking the US banks, the European banks, bulge bracket, non bulge bracket, French banks and heck, even throw in a couple Canadian banks and Asian banks in there too! Depending on what offers you get, you can then start to make your pick. If you limit your options to only those at the very top, and you get none, and then application season moves on – then that’s really it for another year. During that year, your peers may not be working at #1, but maybe some got #15. You might have wanted #1 and ended up with 0. But I can guarantee you that getting to #1 one day and starting in 15th place is much easier than starting… not even in the competition!
4. Giving up periods of time
You’ve got to really put all of yourself into it, especially as things continue to get more competitive and firms continue to expand their age pool of poaching. When I did my penultimate year internship, I really treated it like a 10 week interview, because that’s what it was. I would work so hard during the week and it was so mentally taxing always being on edge that I would be too exhausted on the weekend to even make any weekend plans.
I think in the lead up to getting a job, and doing the aforementioned task of “getting your foot in the door”, you’re going to need to make major sacrifices when it comes to time. Whether that be giving up periods of your summer holidays to study for interviews, missing out on a night out because you have an interview the next day or even spending your entire summer completely and utterly devoted to the internship you’re undertaking. My dad always says, if you do the right thing when you need to, it makes life simpler in the future. If you take the time to do what you need to achieve things now, it just makes things simpler down the line.
5. Focus on your own journey
One big piece of advice I’ve got is to always focus on your own journey. The university I went to was really super focused on internships, jobs and certain industries. It could be such that if you didn’t get that 10-weeker during the summer or if you didn’t already have a job offer at the start of your third year, you could feel super inadequate. But in my opinion, it’s always important to focus on the long term goal. For example, maybe you did an internship is banking in your second year but decided you wanted to be a lawyer at the end of it. That would tag on a few more years vs. your friends that had their offer to start the next year – you may have to do one or two more internships post graduation, do a GDL conversion course and then finally start working. But in my opinion, that’s the longer and better term view. We have a lot of years on this earth (IJN, anyway), so best not to spend that trying to keep up with everyone around you.
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