Tuesday, May 7, 2013

2013 Arts & Humanities Undergraduate of the Year Award

My name is Daisy Reid, I study French and Italian and UCL, and I was a finalist for the 2013 TARGETjobs Arts & Humanities Undergraduate of the Year Award. Here's the (slightly unusual) story of how I got there, and what I've gained from the experience.

Travelling on the Paris Metro last November, I was surprised to receive a phone call from an unknown number. Even more surprised when I found out that it was actually a call on behalf of Barclays Wealth, encouraging me to finish my application for the Arts & Humanities Undergraduate of the Year Award.

Let's rewind a few weeks. I was a month into the first semester of my year abroad in France, researching summer internship schemes and ways to boost my CV for when I graduate next year (I had decided that although two summers spent working as a barmaid was probably acceptable, during the third I should really do something to improve my employability outside the hospitality sphere). 

I initially found out about the award through the TARGETjobs newsletter. Seeing that it was sponsored by Barclays Wealth was the real game-changer for me; I have always hoped that my language degree would not restrict me to translation and teaching, but instead open up opportunities for me in larger global corporations, preferably in the financial sector. In fact, wealth management was an area I had been leaning towards, but with no idea how to get my "foot in the door", so to speak. Surely they want economics and business students, not someone specialising in French and Italian! So an international wealth management company deliberately reaching out to arts and humanities students seemed tailor-made for my situation. However, half way through the application I got cold feet, looking at the multi-talented previous winners and deciding that I was way out of my depth.

Then came the phone call. I was told that my unfinished application showed real potential, and encouraged to complete it and send it off. It was at that point that I decided to stop putting myself down; they had personally made the effort to get in touch with me, so returning the favour was the least I could do.

A few months after submitting my completed application, I was asked to complete a number of aptitude tests. Technically they weren't that difficult (although A Level maths probably helped), but the time pressure made them very challenging. For anyone considering applying next year, I would strongly recommend completing practise tests beforehand. When I didn't hear back for a few weeks, I assumed that I simply hadn't been successful.

However, literally days into the second half of my year abroad (which I spent in Italy), I received an invitation to a phone interview. This forced me to realise that I actually had a real chance at this, and I began to prepare meticulously. Having literally just arrived in Italy, this was far from easy. In between enrolling at the university, finding a place to live (I was staying in a youth hostel for the first week or so) and finding my way around a new country, I was scouring WikiJobs, the Economist, the Financial Times and gathering any scrap of information on Barclays I could find. Somehow I made it through, and after turfing everybody out of my youth hostel dorm and attaching threatening notes to the door in a number of languages banning anyone from disturbing me, I submitted myself to an intense half-hour interrogation by a member of Barclays HR. I can honestly say that preparation for these things is everything, and mine paid off; I was invited to an assessment centre at the Barclays building in Canary Wharf.

So a mere ten days after arriving in Bologna with five months' worth of luggage in tow, I was on a plane back to London wearing a suit and reading a newspaper. It was slightly surreal. The assessment day was one of the most challenging processes I have ever been through. Along with the nine other finalists, I was to complete a role play, case study, group exercise, presentation, another aptitude test and go through a number of rigorous interviews. The day lasted around five hours in total, and although it was unbelievably stressful, I got to meet a number of inspirational people (including the other candidates!) and get a real idea of what it's like to work for Barclays. In addition, this was the recruitment process that all candidates must undergo for internships and graduate schemes, so having already done it once can only help me in the future!

As one of the ten finalists, I was automatically invited to the final awards ceremony, hosted by none other than Sir Trevor McDonald. That was certainly an experience in itself. A champagne reception, string quartet, three-course meal (with wine), endless networking opportunities and the chance to meet the finalists from all the other awards (including engineering, first year, business and many more); it was an incredible day and I felt unbelievably lucky to have been a part of it. Marie absolutely deserved to win and I know that she will be an amazing addition to the Barclays team. As for me, I have come out of this with more than I could ever have imagined. I now have experience at every level of the wealth management recruitment process, a number of valuable contacts, a new talking point to put on my CV and the confidence that my degree can actually take me wherever I want it to. A number of people have already got in contact with me offering new opportunities, and I wasn't even the winner!

If you are wavering between applying for next year's awards or not, I have the answer for you right here. Do it. You quite literally have nothing to lose, and you never know: you could find out a thing or two about yourself.

I would like to thank TARGETjobs and Barclays Wealth for offering me this amazing opportunity, and wish all future candidates the best of luck.

If you would like to get in touch with me about any of my experiences, I would be happy to answer any questions. Just leave a comment below!