First of all a BIG thanks to the team behind Graduateland for letting me share my thoughts and experiences on being a newly hatched graduate, and how reality actually compares to those idealistic dreams and expectations that propel us through years and years of studying. Why this forum? It’s simple – I have followed Graduateland from the early days as a concept in the heads of the two co-founders to where it is today; a thriving platform allowing thousands of students to connect with employers from all over the world. From my outside perspective the success of the platform has lots to do with the concepts of change and flexibility, and so this will be the underlying theme of my short post.
My story is not spectacular in any way. It is by all means slightly boring – and has become more so during the last two years. Correct – this does coincide with moving from a full-time occupation as a student to being a full-time employee at a financial firm. Not that I miss life as a student with all its peculiarities too much, but what I do miss is the feeling that tomorrow is in flux. Let me explain…
The pre-uni prep
My first stab at university was short and unsuccessful - I was not admitted! On top, I for some unexplained reason had not opted for any second-course priorities, so facing the prospect of a full year in the slow lane I boarded a plane from Copenhagen to Sydney.
Starting out as a high street vendor of woman’s hair products I eventually ended my Aussie adventure as an intern at the Danish Trade Commission
In the course of the following nine months, I maneuvered six different part-time jobs. Starting out as a high street vendor of woman’s hair products (I never actually managed a single sale and was ‘let go’ after a measly five days), I eventually ended my Aussie adventure as an intern at the Danish Trade Commission – a job that, after returning back home, paved the way to my bachelor studies in International Business.
Hands down, being a lousy street vendor taught me at least as much (if not more) as attending trade fairs and eating canapés at the commission. If you are not afraid to stray a bit of course, you will eventually find the right path (your path) and my experiences in the realms of direct sales, as a waiter or even as a lousy mango picking farm hand, made it clear that returning back home for business studies was my path to follow.
BSc. International Business
Starting in 2005, my Bachelor's in International Business covered just about everything worth covering in the business curriculum. Yes, it was probably too general – especially given my current position – but I enjoyed it! On the sidelines, I secured a part-time job as a junior analyst at a local asset manager and being able to counterweight academic theory with real-world practice proved valuable.
Remember this was a time when most of my fellow bachelor students could flash an offer from a respected institution even before being remotely near to graduation. And back then, the financial industry had a slightly better reputation than today.
Investment banking was my dream and I got admitted for a ten-week stint at Deutsche Bank in London in-between my second and third year of studies. Today I look back at those ten weeks as some of the most important for my professional self. Not because I was particularly happy at all. Tasks were too repetitive and outside human interaction was kept to an absolute minimum given the hours on end at the office. In fact, forcing myself to admit that my banking dream was crumbling wasn’t easy at all. One level deep I was indeed very disappointed. However, two levels deep I was somehow immensely relieved.
In fact, forcing myself to admit that my banking dream was crumbling wasn’t easy at all.
To change direction is not easy at all. But if you have even a sliver of honest disbelief in your chosen direction, the least you can do is set out to test it. My internship was indeed an incredible learning experience on a professional but also on a personal level. In hindsight, I am truly thankful that I had had the chance to get a 10-week trial of a lifestyle that was not to be.
MSc. Applied Economics and Finance and exchange
As the title implies, my master thesis didn’t drop me into a completely different world. I wanted to stick with the financial curriculum but with a clear ambition of getting additional (and different) inputs from exchange studies abroad. Up until this point, my biggest regret was not going on exchange during my Bachelors, and in the late summer of 2010, I, therefore, headed to Kellogg School of Management in Chicago. With a course load spanning Urban Economics and Planning, Decision Theory, Entrepreneurship, and Marketing I did all to push the boundaries of what could be considered relevant (and acceptable from an ECTS angle) for my finance focused masters. An exchange is in my view a great chance to familiarize yourself with unfamiliar subjects. It is a great chance to meet fellow students outside of your, at times, myopic local networks and therefor simply a great chance to reflect on your future options.
Returning from my exchange studies I quit my part time job. Besides wildly varying degrees of focus on my thesis, I started crawling the internet and career fairs for post uni possibilities. Economics and finance was still my modus operandi, but with a few not so simple requirements: human interaction, a slight feel of independence and no hair products.
The opening eventually came via a career fair. To be honest, I did not know the company at the time of introduction and it is somewhat striking how this avenue of contact proved successful after a full five years of attending networking events, forging connections via my part time job, and writing numerous unsolicited applications. I guess it shows that even the source of opportunity is in constant flux. Use it!
2 years in – Partners Group AG
Partners Group is a global private equity house with 650 employees spread across 15 offices worldwide. We manage approximately EUR 30bn across most alternative asset classes including private equity, private debt, infrastructure and real estate. I spent my first year rotating through three of these departments. Something I was not forced to do, but something I can really really recommend if you ever get the chance. Internal onboarding programs are becoming more and more common and together with internships they offer tremendous value for any out-of-university joiner. Don’t be afraid that your speedy climb up the corporate ladder is put on hold while you’re doing such rotations. To the contrary, I can almost guarantee that the stuff you pick up and the networks you forge along the way will more than make up for the time spent being a department newbie.
I can almost guarantee that the stuff you pick up and the networks you forge along the way will more than make up for the time spent being a department newbie.
In my current (and final) position, I manage client relationships and transaction sourcing in the Nordic region. We are a highly dynamic team of three - a Fin, a Swede, and a Dane – based not far from Zurich. I’m about a year into this position and it feels as if the dust from the first year of dizzying rotations has settled. And that’s also the point: to be settled in is generally a good thing. To be too comfortably settled in is, in my opinion, generally not, and lately I have started to realize that I might be a bit too much of the last. As one's understanding of the business grows, assignments that used to be new and challenging not necessarily offer the same interesting ride as it used to. This is when the sleepiness of routine kicks in and this is when you have to do something to keep moving upwards…
The post-uni brief
Look back at your years before university, look back at your years at university and the most of us will probably agree that the leapfrog moves in our attitude, perception and professional sense of direction all came from very different sources. What kept us moving ahead was that uncertain sense of what the future might bring, and the actual feeling that the outcome could be influenced by our own actions. To me, that has been one of the biggest realizations moving into a full-time position in the corporate world. Not that I am particularly safe in my position (who is in the financial industry these days?) but even so I have had to face the fact that I increasingly behave as if. And yet, exactly one of the things that can set us new joiners apart from the old brigade is not our lack of understanding of company culture and “how things are done around here…”, but rather our ability to cope with change. We are used to it. We have dealt with it throughout our pre-university prep years, part time jobs, exchange programs and course curriculum. And it is in this semi- transformative state, where we are not afraid of doing old things in a new way, where I bet many of us feel the best. I for one have experienced that applying this mindset and attitude is when I bring the most value to my department.
If you are unsure about a certain industry or job profile, test it through an internship; if you are unsure about living abroad test it through a semester of exchange.
So what can we do to become the masters of flux? My personal experience may only serve as a vague example but I urge everyone to put the familiar and safe aside while at university… if you are unsure about a certain industry or job profile, test it through an internship; if you are unsure about living abroad, test it through a semester of exchange; and never ever fall into the trap of conformity when you finally reach the corporate halls. Today it is truer than ever; people are searching for opportunities across borders and industries and if we keep the ability to adjust and look upon change as a positive, I am convinced platforms like Graduateland could be a first step along the career path of your dreams.
And to finish off, I would like the share a bit of anecdotal evidence. Being on the other side of the table in interview sessions, I can tell that we still focus very much on the person behind the grades. In many cases, the candidate chosen for a particular position has not been the one with the most streamlined profile, but a person with a diverse set of experiences. Grades and bulge-bracket experience certainly help; but who is to judge what a relevant experience really is!?!
Written by David Planvig