The Amos Bursary gave me the opportunity to learn about the intricacies of ‘the game’. In mainstream education, no one is really teaching you about how to think on your feet when presented with opportunities, so when AB took the time to set up Saturday sessions and Ambitions events where I could learn the art of networking and following up, public speaking, creating an elevator pitch and more, it only made sense to learn, as an opportunity could present itself at any time.
This is exactly what happened when I was on the train going back to university for exam season of my 2nd year in 2018. It was around 3pm. I had 3 suitcases, and for comfortability I was wearing a full tracksuit and had a durag tied (very well) on my head. I noticed a man, Mr X, sitting at a table across the aisle, and he was reading through some sort of report of an investment bank, Bank Y. Shortly afterwards, he started packing up as the train was reaching his destination, but I knew that if I did not seize the moment there and then, I’d regret it. So, with the training from AB in mind, I willed myself to approach him, asking him if I was right in assuming that he worked at Bank Y. He replied with “Yes, I do”, before asking me what exactly it is, I do. I explained that the logo caught my eye, before telling him my name, what I studied and where, and where I was currently going. Recognising that there was more than what meets the eye, he handed me his business card and said I should “shoot him an email”, before shaking my hand and getting off the train. As soon as I reached my university accommodation I did just that, scheduling the email to be sent at 8am the next morning so that it would be at the top of his inbox. Following some further introductions and general conversation, he invited me to an exclusive insight day at the bank that summer, where typical attendees are family members or close friends of their employees.
Some may see this story and think that nothing really came of it – but they would be wrong, and here are 3 things that will show you why;
- Having that conversation on the train where I was able to hold myself professionally spoke directly against the stereotypes of young black men often portrayed in the media. Did Mr X and our fellow commuters believe those stereotypes? I had no idea, but being able to show them contradiction to these portrayals is a win in my eyes
- A few weeks later, a friend of mine was looking for an insight into finance and banking. As I had built a positive reputation for myself on the insight day, I leveraged this and was able to connect my friend with Mr X, who offered my friend the same exclusive opportunity that I was given. Similar to the conversation on the train, I knew that my actions were not just for myself, and so the reputation I built allowed me to open doors for more than just myself.
- Finally, during that insight day I had lunch with Mr X, who gave me a few tips around making the most of the remainder of the insight day. I used these same tips to apply for and successfully secure a summer internship at Bank Y to take place the summer before my final year at university. I built on these tips and this resulted in me receiving a full-time offer for a graduate scheme at Bank Y. Seizing that one moment on the train led to having an offer for full-time employment before I’d even finished my degree.
With everything that’s been said, the advice that I’d like to offer to young people would be to be yourself. Remember that on the train during that first conversation I had with Mr X, I was not in a suit and tie, and I didn’t start polishing my Air Max 95’s when I saw that Mr X worked at an investment bank. I didn’t know a crazy amount about finance and banking, and I didn’t try and change the way I speak or use words that I didn’t know the meaning of in an attempt to impress him. I simply took the opportunity to try and initiate meaningful conversation where I could learn something and potentially offer my perspective. During the insight day and the internship this was the same. Yes, I had to dress professionally, but this did not change my personality or anything else about me – all I did was bring my best self to work daily, and it paid off. My best self did not know everything, but it brought a willingness to learn as much as possible from a type of environment that many of my friends unfortunately believe they can’t access. If you think you know it all, you’re wrong, no matter how much time you’ve spent reading or how many courses you’ve gone on, and the best in the game know that very well. You don’t need to have it all figured out; you just need to be you – but make sure that you are willing to learn.