Women graduates of the financial crisis: their advice to the current cohort
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Louise Clark, COP 26 senior policy manager, National Grid
Graduated in 2009 with a degree in theology from Durham University
I did not have a specific plan which, looking back, was probably a good thing. I decided to apply for the UK Civil Service Fast Stream graduate programme. When asked for a sector preference, I selected the environment as I had done some work experience in the sector and saw the opportunity for a purpose-led role.
This led to several years working in the government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, which permanently shaped my career. One thing I learnt is to not feel restricted by your degree subject. On the face of it, theology is not useful for anything but you build skills and then you can find a job that enables you to carry on building those skills.
Don’t assume there are no jobs anywhere because of the pandemic. If you’re interested in something, ask about it and go for it. Also, there is a perception that in the energy sector you need to be technical or scientific, but that just isn’t true. There’s strategy, policy, marketing, a whole range of things where generalists can be involved.
Marie Skinner, head of life sciences and talent acquisition, B-Hive Engineering
Graduated in 2008 with a masters in technical translation at the Université de Haute-Alsace Mulhouse-Colmar, and is currently studying for an executive MBA at HEC Paris
The market was hard. I was looking for a job everywhere — the UK, France, Germany. I had one interview and eventually the job was cancelled.
I decided to start a translation business. I had no clue what I was doing, but I managed to develop my network. From the beginning, it was profitable. But, after four or five years, I got bored. I wanted to work with people as it was just me, my computer and my dictionary. I took night classes in HR and found a job as a recruiter at an engineering consultancy. I climbed my way up until I left for a competitor.
To those graduating now: don’t be afraid to pivot. I shifted direction at 26 and did something completely different. It felt like a big thing, but actually it’s OK.
Stephanie Bennett, senior banking adviser, Northern Trust Wealth Management
Graduated in 2009 with an MBA from University of Virginia Darden School of Business
The firm I was working for in the summer of 2008 went under and was taken over by another firm. Offers were being rescinded but my post-MBA job was honoured.
During my MBA, I turned my focus to a job on a trading floor in New York. It was not a job that had a lot of on campus interviewing opportunities so I had to fly to the city at least once a week to meet people at different firms.
I contacted Darden alumni who worked at the companies I was interested in, and asked them to introduce me to additional people.
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It is essential to always be building your network even after you start your job.
However, everyone is strapped for time and resources right now, so be sensitive to how you approach people.
I was not very sensitive when I leaned on my Darden network around the financial crisis and luckily a couple of people gave me some early constructive feedback so I could adjust my approach.
Bethany Watts, new business director, Leo Burnett, advertising agency
Graduated in 2009 with a degree in geography from University of Manchester
After graduating, I fell into advertising. I had been travelling, including three months in Costa Rica and Nicaragua with Raleigh International, a sustainable development charity, I knew a couple of people who worked in advertising agencies, so I decided to do some work experience.
I got on to the graduate scheme at Leo’s and I think it helped that I took a year out. I did not waste too much energy worrying about the things that I couldn’t control.
If you do take a gap year, don’t do something because you think you should; do stuff that makes you happy.
Think about your priorities: what’s important to you, what won’t you compromise on? It is also important to retain a degree of open mindedness. You might find a role at one of your top companies that is not your perfect role, but may be worth considering.
My priority was variation. I have been at Leo’s for 10 years as it has provided me with enough different opportunities. Persevere and be patient. It will take time and effort, so get comfortable with rejection. You only need one “yes”.
Priyanka Sharma, leadership development associate, LexisNexis Risk Solutions Group
Graduated in 2008 with a degree in zoology from Delhi University, India, and completed an MBA at London Business School in 2020
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do but, after two months, I realised I definitely needed a job. I came from a low-income household and didn’t want to be a burden on my parents.
I took the first job that came my way working in a call centre. I then worked as a French teacher, while searching for the right opportunity — which was when I joined Tata Consultancy Services as a business analyst.
If you have financial responsibilities, take anything that comes your way — then you can stay afloat, pay your bills and keep looking for the right role. Don’t randomly apply for roles; when you apply for everything, you dilute your brand. Be stubborn about your goals but flexible with the methods.