American Express

Career profile: my American Express placement became a job

Doing a placement year at American Express allowed Richard Gray to bypass the graduate recruitment process: he was offered a finance analyst graduate job.
If I had one tip, I would say that American Express is really impressed by passion and enthusiasm.

Choosing a degree course was difficult for me, as I didn’t have any firm plans of what I wanted to do in the future. Business appealed to me because it can be applicable to many different career areas. During the early part of my studies, however, I found that I really enjoyed the finance modules of my course. Especially interesting to me were the elements of logical thinking these modules contained and how you could apply this thought process to real-word financial scenarios. Consequently, I made the decision to take as many finance modules as I could for the rest of my time at university.

Picking placements

Although I’d had some work experience prior to university that helped encouraged me towards a career in finance, it was my yearlong internship at American Express that really reinforced my interest. My university put a strong emphasis on work experience placements and internships, so going through a graduate-level recruitment process a couple of years early was something that I had to get familiar with!

American Express originally appealed to me as it is a major local employer in the Brighton area, where I lived. It also stood out as offering a different lifestyle than that of financial service firms or investment banks in the City. I knew I wanted to be a part of what I considered a powerful and respected brand.

Experience and education

When I started work at American Express I was initially surprised that I was able to get involved in a large variety of work straight away and was certainly given the chance to be thrown in at the deep end! There is no shortage of opportunities to present to peers and senior leaders within the company and there is a great culture of being able to get involved in work that you think you will find interesting, even if it is not your direct day job.

Admittedly the sheer quantity of new information was initially overwhelming and certainly you have a few weeks of wondering how you will understand such a big company. However, the design of the internships helps with this. We have frequent social and networking events and getting to know people is very useful given the size and complexity of the business. American Express recruits interns in a number of different departments, not just in finance, so you always know somebody who can answer any questions you have. Weekly speeches from senior leaders in the company were also helpful in this regard and allowed me to understand my work in the context of the wider company.

The company focuses a lot on soft skills, such as situational leadership and presentation techniques, and there are numerous training opportunities available to help develop these. American Express also provides more technical training, for example they are currently supporting me in my studies towards becoming qualified with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).

An express route into employment

My year-long placement was almost like an extended job interview and I returned to university with not only a changed perspective of how to approach work, but a job offer too. American Express’s main pipeline for graduate recruitment is through its internship programme, and if you are successful it really takes off the pressure back at university.

Since I first came to American Express I have worked in three different teams, which has been really helpful in allowing me to learn about different departments and obtain a broader view of the company. It is certainly not a place where you find yourself getting bored after being stuck in one job for too long! In my current role each day can be very different. Some days I spend my time providing business support on new products or creating pricing strategies. Other days, I could be working on what could be considered more traditional finance tasks, such as creating detailed financial forecasts or profitability analyses. Prioritisation is the most important thing I have learned: there is always so much to do that it is a challenge to make the decision of how to spend your time.

Looking forward and back

A highlight in my career so far has been travelling to the global company headquarters in New York. This is somewhere that I am keen to return to in the future as it gave me a greater understanding of how the company operates and the scale of the business. My main ambition for the future is to continue to keep developing and learning in the workplace and, most importantly, to carry on enjoying my job as much as I do now.

In my current role I’m also involved in graduate and intern recruitment and I know first-hand how nerve-racking it can be for candidates. I try to help them to be as relaxed as I can, so they can make the best impressions possible. If I had one tip, I would say that employers like American Express are really impressed by passion and enthusiasm. A sure-fire way to prove this is by doing your research about the company. There’s no set check-list of things you need to know and nobody can be expected to know everything, but being able to speak about an employer’s services, competitors and industry will help you to stand out. I’ve learned first-hand that enthusiasm goes a long way.

Exclusive content for The Guardian UK 300 2017/18. Copyright of all material written by TARGETjobs lies solely with GTI Media.

View The Guardian UK 300.