How did you secure your work placement?
My university partners with upReach, a social mobility charity that mentors and supports students to secure work experience in professional industries. They offered me support with all aspects of the application process, from CV advice to interview techniques, and this led to my insight day with Finastra. After my day there, I kept in touch with Finastra’s CSR team on LinkedIn and regularly asked if there were any opportunities for a year placement. The opportunity came up, I got an interview and then got offered the placement.
It was important for me to get meaningful involvement with a large company to give my career a headstart. At the insight day, the industry and culture of the company really appealed to me. Finastra were offering this internship in the form of a year’s experience that suited the ‘sandwich’ structure of my course perfectly.
Had you previously considered careers in fintech?
Not at all. I thought the industry was predominantly made up of start-ups only hiring graduates with computer science backgrounds. I also had the misconception that most banking systems were built in house, so it was really insightful to learn this was not the case.
What’s it been like working in an industry which you thought you would never have the chance to access?
We can all access any industry we want, if we’re prepared to work hard enough at it, from upskilling to learning on the job. A work experience programme should be structured to give you an insight into the industry without being overwhelming. If for example, you’re interested in financial services, nobody will ask you to design a money app on day one! Everybody started somewhere, and at Finastra I’m lucky enough to work with a team who support one another. Keep in mind that as young people we are the future. It’s in the interests of industry to make the transition into the world of work no harder than it needs to be. Have confidence.
What does your work placement involve?
I work in the Global Services Portfolio team. My role is to organise and create sales collateral, for example, PowerPoint presentations for the Global Services Sales team. This involves interacting with a wide range of people and specialities from across the business to put together the right sales material for them. The challenge is creating the right presentation for the right purpose and delivering it to a consistently high standard.
What training and support have your received?
This has ranged from online training materials for different software packages, to weekly feedback on my performance, in which targets are set for the week ahead. I also have ongoing support from my line manager who reviews my work across a range of projects. This has enabled me to continuously improve, and it’s pleasing to see how my work has developed overtime.
What skills have you developed?
Primarily, the people skills you need in a working environment: how to be more tactful, yet succinct, and how to be effective in terms of the message you want to get across to co-workers.
What is your team and working environment like?
There’s a good balance between being corporate and informal and I can still be myself. Prior to the Covid-19 lockdown I got a good six months in the office at Finastra, getting to know everybody and the working culture. Since then, I’ve been working from home, dealing with the challenge of remote working that we all are, learning to structure my day and maintain distant relationships. This is something which I anticipate could be useful for future roles, as workplaces become more agile. I didn’t anticipate I’d get to develop remote working skills!
What advice would you give other students on to give on making the most of work experience?
Research the company and the industry before joining and work out what you want to get out of the placement. Is it knowledge, contacts, transferable skills or all three? My one-year placement at Finastra ticks all these boxes and it’s also developed my interpersonal skills, my ability to get on with a diverse team on a deadline, and that’s so important in any industry.
And how about the transition from university to working life?
This transition can seem overwhelming. But millions of people around the world go to work every day. And work doesn’t have to define you. For many, it’s just part of an interesting life experience. If you can’t access an industrial placement or a program like upReach, then contact companies you’re interested in, and ask for work experience. Even a week or two will be invaluable for your CV and it will give you the best possible insight into the industry you’re curious about.
Omar's dos and don’ts for your first week on a work placement
- Take notes. You will be given lots of information in that first week, so keep notes to remember it all.
- Make the most out of the people you will meet: utilise their knowledge and remember their names!
- Ask questions. Everything will be new, so don’t hesitate to ask questions if you don’t understand something.
- Go to bed on time. At university it’s easy to get into a very personal routine where you might sleep in the morning and do your work at night, but it is important to get into the same routine as the rest of the working world.
- Prioritise. You may get several tasks, each one demanding priority. Always ask what the deadline is for each task. Can’t make the deadline? Say so early. Don’t say you can do something, then not deliver it.
- Check your work before you hand it in. Careless mistakes can lead to a poor impression.
- Speed up. Business moves fast.
- Prepare for meetings. Try to second guess what you might be asked. Think ahead.
- Speak up. The company will value your perspective. If you have an idea, share it.
- Assume you know how to do a task just because you’ve done it before at college. Where you’re working will have a particular way of doing things, so you’ll want to stick to protocol.
- Begin a task until you’re clear about what is required. This is particularly the case if you are working with a team. It might be tempting to think everybody understands what needs to be done, but you do have to make sure you’re all on the same page.
- Think work as an extension of university. You can’t mess about. Expectations of behaviour and performance are higher. Deliver work to a high standard on time.
- Assume your manager understands what you’re up to. Be accountable and transparent.
- Waste time. If have no work to do ask for more. Use this opportunity to impress.
- Be late.