How Essex helped me unlock a successful career in finance and entrepreneurship

I was a student at the University of Essex over a decade ago, but it is as if it were yesterday when I arrived and saw the North Towers where I would live for the next 12 months…

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It was September 2006 and I had just enrolled in the MSc course in Financial Economics and Econometrics at the University’s Department of Economics. The University of Essex had been recommended to me by my high school economics teacher back in Spain who had also been an Essex student back in the 1960’s – ‘if you are considering studying in the UK, you’ve got to go to Essex’ he had told me.

Over the following 12 months, not only did I have the time of my life being part of the University’s community and getting to meet great people that would go on to become wonderful friends and mentors, but I also gained an MSc degree and incredible knowledge and experience that would help me unlock a successful career in finance and entrepreneurship.

Fast forward 12 years and as I sit typing these words, I can’t help but feel nostalgic about those wonderful days at the University of Essex. So, here I just wanted to share a few top-tips for all you who will soon leave the comfort and familiarity of student life and step into a new exciting phase of your lives, work life, that comes with its challenges but also with incredible opportunities…

Top-tip number 1: You want something? Ask for it! If you don’t ask, you don’t get. It’s ok for people to say no to you, but if you don’t ask, you don’t even have a chance. Since leaving university, I spent nearly a decade as a commodities strategist in the trading floors of Morgan Stanley bank and Barclays bank before leaving the City for an entrepreneurial career, and I know that particularly as women, we are often too embarrassed or too worried or too shy to ask for things such as a promotion, more money or a better work-life balance. We think, ‘I should feel lucky I have this job’, ‘I don’t want my boss to hate me’, ‘I worry that I’m putting them in a difficult situation’, ‘I feel so guilty’, ‘I am more worried about maintaining that relationship than asking for a pay raise’ and ‘maybe I’m asking for something that I think will be hard for them to give to me’.

Often, we see negotiation as a chore, so we either don’t negotiate or do so in ways that can hurt the outcome. But you need to always remember that no one will come knocking at your door and ask you whether you want to get promoted or whether you want a salary increase or whether you want to work from home on Fridays. If this is what you want, then ask for it!

Of course, it will be uncomfortable, and you will feel totally out of your comfort zone when asking for such things, but if you want something, you need to ask for it.

Top-tip number 2: Do what you’re passionate about. Building your career is not going to be easy, there will be challenges, difficulties, exhaustion, but at the end of the day if what you do is purpose-driven, you’ll still enjoy it despite the tough times. And always remember that there is not such a thing as ‘one way to do things’. Instead, take the time to experiment, try and find your own way. Right after leaving university, I got a job in consulting. It was good but it was not really what I wanted to do – my dream was banking. However, head hunters kept telling me that getting into banking without having done internships at the banks was difficult, that I stood no chance because there were loads of candidates with internships. So, instead of giving up on my dream of a banking job, I gave up on the head hunters and instead started contacting the managing directors at every single bank I knew with my CV and a cover letter explaining why they should hire me. Eventually, I landed my dream job at Barclays and the manager who hired me told me that when I contacted them they had no vacancy that suited my profile but that I had managed to convince them and they create a job that suited my profile. That taught me a big lesson that I have always since carried on with me in my career and in my life: Sometimes people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Top-tip number 3: Don’t ever let anyone tell you ‘you can’t’. Early in my career, I was told I shouldn’t try to work in an investment bank, that I should consider academia or research instead. It was a sad narrative that was given to me and it came from a society that despite all the progress still considered that women should have family-friendly jobs and that ‘trading was too male-dominated’. To think that a woman could work on a bank trading floor was like ‘no, there’s no way. The hours are too long. It’s a very aggressive environment’. You have to really look at yourself and say, ‘you know what? I’m going to do it on my own, and I’m not going to let anyone tell me yes or no’. And guess what? Not only I succeeded and led my team at Barclays to win the ‘Commodities House of the Year’ award in 2011, I also did it my own way.

These are, my lovely fellow Essex students, my top-tips to you all. Plan your career, approach life playfully, laugh and enjoy, keep your standards high and your level of self-confidence higher, but above everything else, remember to always, always, leave room for magic because as someone once said ‘believe in your heart that you’re meant to live a life full of passion, purpose and magic’.

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