Competition for finance roles is beyond fierce, and with 71% of UK based international students hoping to stay and work here, how can you become a future UK finance professional? The advice below could make a big impact on your chances of success, but be warned, you may need to exit the comfort zone.
First things first, you must be well organised. Procrastination is a deadly enemy that will kill your chances of success. Be aware of what you need to do, and when. Think about how to evidence the knowledge and skills your course develops to show employers you are a strong candidate. Pre-arrival preparation is crucial, including researching job application deadlines, application methods, work visa options and which clubs and societies provide the best return in terms of skills development, exposure to valuable contacts and UK student networking opportunities.
Kanishka Agarwal, MSc Management 2021, a Prime Brokerage intern at Morgan Stanley in Glasgow shared some useful insights: ‘There were differences in getting a job in the UK compared to the process in India, with more levels of assessment with bigger companies. Make full use of the career resources at your university. Look at the company culture and values statements and try and match these in your cover letter.’
Your English skills must be strong enough to compete with native speakers in assessment centres and interviews. If this makes you nervous that’s a good thing and should motivate you to act. Speak socially as much as possible with native English speakers. Make friends by joining a sports team or interest group, such as the Harry Potter Society, or volunteer in the local community. This seems obvious but it is more natural to associate with those you have most in common with, a phenomenon known as homophily, and this is very evident on university campuses across the UK. To be outstanding you need to stand out, and that will mean seeking out new friends and contacts.
Chunzhi Zhou, BA Accounting and Management 2019, now in the Global Banking and Markets division at HSBC in London, found this was crucial: ‘In the selection process you will meet candidates from many countries, but your English skills must be strong to achieve success.’
Maximise your contacts with university alumni. Be enthusiastic, positive and curious with your messages and you could develop key contacts, offering valuable advice. Pushy or aggressive people are usually ignored. Speaking of networking, also ensure you prepare in advance for employer events so you can make a professional impression by asking apt questions.
Whether you are applying for spring weeks, summer internships or graduate roles, the majority of applicants are rejected at the initial stage. Companies often use automatic tracking systems (ATS) to scan CVs for keywords, so tailor your documents for every role. Detail your own actions highlighting what you did, how you did it, outcomes and what you learned. Quantify your impact and reflect on your achievements to demonstrate a high level of self-awareness, which is crucial for career success.
Kanishka added: ‘Your CV and cover letter need to be robust and unique for each opportunity. It is time consuming but really pays off. I applied for around 70 jobs. Keep applying and learn from your experiences. Apply for work experience. Network – if you can find contact details in a job ad – reach out.’
It is also important to highlight why this employer appeals with specific details. Have you completed a project relating to a particular outcome or shown commitment to a relevant cause that they are engaged with?
Chunzhi’s additional tips include: ‘Keep up to date with market information, well beyond what you learn on your course. For a financial sector role you need to stand out from the competition so your knowledge should demonstrate this. Different sectors have different systems of recruitment so be aware of the process and practice. Prepare thoroughly for interviews, come across confidently showing an ability to learn, as you will be expected to improve constantly.’
Peter Fox is a Careers Adviser at Durham University in the north of England.
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