Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Applying for a job for the sake of it.

Our intern Hollie, shares her experience of why applying for a job in an industry you are actually interested in is essential 

When my final year at Glasgow Uni was drawing to a close it suddenly hit me that in a few weeks I would suddenly be a real person: a tax-paying, student-loan-free real-life person. When friends and family asked me what I was doing when I graduated I could no longer brush them aside with ‘but that’s aaaages away’ because it wasn’t – it was very, very soon. I panicked. I’d always found the prospect of applying for a graduate job quite intimidating, but suddenly when I found an e-mail circulated around my course advertising a scheme at HSBC my adrenaline kicked in.

My first mistake was the time at which I applied. My dissertation was due in two weeks and I had a maths report to do even before that - but I rationalised it by saying to myself that ‘I was at university so that I could get a job, and so job applications were just as important as my uni work’. Wrong. I spent an afternoon writing a covering letter, filling in the application questions and sprucing up my CV. Then, I spent another long session practising for the psychometric test they asked me to do. When I passed that I then had to spend an entire day learning about banking for the phone interview I was due to have - because that was my second mistake: I’d put no thought into what I wanted to apply to and realised that not only did I have no knowledge whatsoever about the finance industry, I also had absolutely no interest in it. It took me a full 12 hours and copious cups of coffee to force myself to read through tedious statistics, news stories and lengthy press releases about banking and the economy.

When it came to the day of my phone interview I felt so sick with nerves I kept forgetting to breathe, and when my phone rang I almost threw it under the bed. It all went downhill from there. The first question the woman asked me was merely to re-iterate the name of the exact graduate programme I’d applied for – I was so wound up I couldn’t remember. I had to fumble with the paperwork on my desk frantically until I found a copy of the application form. The second thing she asked me was to select a recent news story that involved HSBC and talk her through it - I’d only briefly scanned a few. I had to fish in my brain for the one I remembered best and find a creative way to expand what was effectively one sentence’s worth of information into an intelligent, knowledgeable-sounding answer. This prompted the first of many instances when I was left with nothing much to say after about 20 seconds. Question after question I was forced to tail off into silence and wait until the interviewer realised that no, the phone hadn’t cut out; I just genuinely had nothing to say.

The interview was supposed to be 40 minutes long, and it’s safe to say mine only lasted 20. Amongst the plethora of awkward, grimace-inducing silences I’d been faced with many questions that I didn’t know how to answer and many more questions that I really didn’t care about knowing how to answer. In short, I realised I wouldn’t have wanted the job even if i’d (miraculously) gotten it.

So, if blogs were the Aesop’s fables of the modern world, the moral of this story would be this: make sure you know what you want to do, before you do it. Sounds simple enough right?  If you can’t bear a 40 minute conversation about the subject matter, then you certainly won’t want to be immersed in it every single weekday for the foreseeable future. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to start thinking about what I wanted to do while I was still in my second or third year instead of leaving it until the last minute (mine was a four-year course). I would have saved myself all that post-interview hyperventilating if I’d just given some consideration to what I actually wanted to use my degree for. I assumed that with maths I’d probably end up working with numbers; what I didn’t realise was that I could also go into IT, marketing, law – in fact I know now that there are bucket loads of graduate schemes on offer that don’t require a specific degree discipline. Also, a lot of graduate schemes have application deadlines earlier in the year and if I knew I could have applied at a much more convenient time.

When I finally did do an interview for a job that I actually wanted, well, it wasn’t intimidating at all – I really quite enjoyed it! So, readers, go forth and research what’s out there - otherwise you’ll end up knowing far more than you’d ever care to about equity capital markets…