Rejection? Brush Your Shoulders Off

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We’ve all been there: hours of blood, sweat, tears and a fair amount of googling synonyms for ‘passionate’ go in to crafting the most meticulously put-together application that proves beyond all reasonable doubt that it is your destiny to take on this job, only to hear back from a generic HR inbox that they ‘regret to inform you’ that you’re not The One. Or worse yet – a resounding silence.

Yep: rejection sucks, but, dig a little deeper into anyone who’s gone on to do anything genuinely impressive (no, the Yodelling Kid doesn’t count) and you’ll quickly see that failure is a temporary – and important – step towards ultimate success. As Michael Jordan humbly puts it, ‘I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed’.

Never was this truer than when it comes to landing that elusive grad scheme, internship or part-time job for the summer. A lot of the time it’s purely a numbers game – due to the sheer volume of applications you may not luck out first time round and will need to keep trying. Knowing how to deal with this is crucial, and will only help you on your way to future triumphs.

Don’t worry, help is on hand; so sit back and take comfort in this virtual hug from SOAS Careers…

  • Take time out to reflect

Once the initial rage subsides, it’s worth taking 5 minutes to think through why this particular application didn’t work out. Do you need to get more experience under your belt? Could your application have done with being tweaked a little to really showcase to the employer how great you are for that specific role, or have you been going for quantity over quality recently? If you made it through to an interview, could you spend some time nailing your technique to guarantee that you come across as the dream candidate next time round? If you’ve had a few knock-backs, could you start targeting smaller companies rather than just going for household names?

SOAS Careers can support you with all of this and more. Take a look at all the ways we can signpost you to work experience and volunteering opportunities – both great additions to your CV, which will offer you lots more examples to talk about at interview too. CV & Application Advisers are on hand with drop-ins every afternoon between 1-3pm in SL62 to give you feedback, we can run you through a Practice Interview, offer guidance, help with online aptitude tests and lots and lots more

  • Get inspired

Often even those you assumed were born in to success have had to work hard to get to where they are – no matter how effortless it may all seem. Read the autobiography of any great entrepreneur or successful person, and more often than not it is their resilience that has been their Ace card. Identify someone you genuinely admire and dig in to what coping mechanisms they use to bounce-back.

  • Make sure love is all around

As you dive head first into another set of applications, make sure you’ve got friends and family close by, or ready and waiting for your Facetime call. Don’t underestimate the power of their support on your personal well-being, and vice-versa. Make sure you and your close friends are each other’s Number 1 Fans and regularly remind each other how great you are!

  • Don’t be so hard on yourself

There’s no easy way to say it: putting your all into an application and not hearing back would dampen even Mr. Motivator’s spirits. You’ve got every right to be disappointed, so rather than beating yourself up, treat yo’ self (within reason!) and move onwards and upwards.

  • It’s not you, it’s them

As The Beatles forecast, the road may well be long and winding – and it can be all too easy to forget to keep things in perspective. There will always be other opportunities, bigger and better ones that come at the right time for you.

So next time you get that email from what you’d convinced yourself would be your dream company, see the rejection for what it is – a set-back, nothing more, nothing less. Acknowledge it, learn from it and then move on. Don’t let it own you, rather get out there and own it!

Alexis Fromageot, Marketing Manager

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How to Own the Easter Break & Sort Your Summer

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So the Easter break hasn’t been the whirlwind of productivity you’d dreamed of so far? Don’t worry here are some quick-fire ways to get you started with lining up a dream summer…

Lots of you will be reading this far from the bright lights of the JCR, and spending the holiday visiting friends and family. It’s time to tap into those networks! Yep, these people are your ready-made pathway into your dream job – where do they work, who do they know, who are their neighbours, friends, great aunts etc and where do they work? You’d be surprised who knows whom, and who can lead you to that game-changing introduction.

Don’t panic: we’re not suggesting you go straight into a Dragon’s Den-esque hard sell with Janet next door – it’s more about letting people know that you’re actively looking for some experience over the summer. As all good Scouts know, it’s always best to come prepared so spend some time reflecting on the following before:

  • What is it you’re looking to get experience in? Are you tied to a particular industry, or open to any exposure to a set job role?
  • What specific skills or knowledge are you keen to develop?
  • Would you consider volunteering, or a couple of days work shadowing?
  • When can you realistically fit in some experience?

Take some time to revamp your CV as well, making sure that it fits in with these intentions. A sure-way to do so is to make sure it focuses on relevant skills that you can already bring to the table.

As with anything, keeping an open mind is the key to success – don’t be quick to immediately dismiss opportunities that don’t quite meet your ideal. Speak to the organisation to find out more and have a think about what you would get out of it. Remember: real commercial experience of how any business works is great acumen to bring with you into any future applications.

Why not mix it up and do a few different things over the summer?

Employers are all humans too – they understand that spending a summer volunteering or work shadowing isn’t realistic for everyone, and that you need to work to earn some money too! Retail, bar and coffee work over the summer are all valuable experiences and let you build up some cash too.

It’s worth considering fitting in some volunteering or work shadowing for a shorter period or in between shifts if you can. Exposure to as many different skills as you can is a definite win for your future applications!

Ditch Netflix: Get out and About

Know that you’re going to be heading back to where you are now this summer? Use the time you’re there to go out and ask around:

  • Tap in to that network, and ask your friends and family if they’ve seen anywhere advertising for summer jobs. Dust off your CV and get it out there!
  • Go on a job-hunting mission: finally a legitimate way to procrastinate (sorry Netflix!). Head down your local street, ask around at tourist hot-sports, hotels, restaurants, leisure centres. Are there any summer schools or kids clubs that are looking for an extra pair of hands?

Remember to keep your head up throughout: job hunting is a pretty thankless task, but it’ll all be worth it when that first pay cheque comes flying in!

So remember…

  • Whether you’re looking for specific work experience or for a summer job, keep your CV polished and tailored to that opportunity. Make it easy for the employer to realise that you are the best person for the job!
  • Keep an eye on Budiriro and other sites for awesome vacancies at organisations that are keen to hear from SOAS students.

Alexis Fromageot, Marketing Manager

Insight From Your Fellow Student: An Unlikely Entrepreneur

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Olivia B. Zank, MSc Political Economy (2013-4), frankly discusses her experiences at several developmental organisations and how this led to her creating a tech-enabled supply chain finance firm in Rwanda: BeneFactors

Hiking in RwandaOlivia hiking in Rwanda’s beautiful thousand hills, December 2015

After completing a BA in International Development and Economics at UEA, I joined SOAS for a taught post-graduate programme. I was torn between which programme to join though – ultimately, I was interested in financial sector development in especially Sub-Saharan African countries, but I was also very drawn to the political economy analysis and the critical thinking that SOAS is known for. In the end I opted for the MSc Political Economy, but took every finance course that the school of economics offered. This flexibility from the school in terms of curriculum for an MSc allowed me to learn from two of the most renowned thinkers in their fields, Professors Mushtaq Khan and Costas Lapavitsas. I inhaled as much knowledge as I could from these two bright minds and I continue to see the influence on their thinking in my journey since SOAS. Alongside my MSc I was also very fortunate to work as a part-time researcher for Public World, a high-class consultancy specialising in issues of employment around the world. I had come across the Public World while dredging the internet for summer internships between my undergrad and masters and I immediately knew I wanted to work for them. I then proceeded to email the managing director enough times for him to finally agree to give me an interview and subsequently a chance at an internship which turned into part-time work during the year I spent in London. Juggling work, post-graduate studies and social life wasn’t easy but getting work experience while studying turned out to make all the difference for me post-graduation.

There is a well-trodden path from an MSc in Economics at SOAS to the ODI Fellowship programme. I am no exception and applied while still a student. The ODI fellowship is a two-year placement in a developing country government and provides unique insights into especially the capacity constraints in terms of being able to deliver services and effectively enforce regulation. This was the kind of full immersion I was looking for. However, I did not get in to the fellowship when I first applied.

Meanwhile, a friend of mine was just completing the DFID Graduate Placement, and inspired by his experience, I decided to apply and to my surprise, I got in. This (now discontinued) programme was a one-year placement to work with the UK Department for International Development and I was lucky with the team I was placed in – I got to move to Glasgow and work with the Regional Directorate’s Stats and Evaluation Team, i.e. the team of experts that help all DFID’s 32 country offices monitor the extent to which they are effective at alleviating poverty and create opportunities around the world. Having such a bird’s eye view of DFID’s multi-billion-pound country programme portfolio was another wonderful chance for learning – about how the aid sector works and how to know whether what you’re doing even has an impact. I had a wonderful line manager in Glasgow who really helped me improve my skills and become more efficient in my work. Most importantly, I also realised that while the UK civil service was a great place to work, it wasn’t for me – I wanted to be much closer to the action so to speak, and still dreamt of immersing myself in a developing country.

So I reapplied for the ODI Fellowship programme the following year and this time I was better prepared, more qualified and I got in. I was sent to Rwanda to work in the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MINICOM). In many ways, Rwanda’s civil service is one of the most effective civil services in Sub-Saharan Africa. Corruption is low, the leadership is ambitious, and there is a good amount of debate over technical policy decisions, making for a very stimulating environment for a young economist. I worked alongside local civil servants on donor coordination and planning, conducting bi-annual sector reviews on programme implementation and policy developments in the private sector development and employment space. My time in DFID had prepared me for many of the challenges that plague civil servants around the world (endless meetings, unnecessary procedures, inability to fire inefficient workers etc.), and my frustrations in MINICOM were not unlike the frustrations we had in DFID, albeit at a different scale, which was humbling and eye-opening. After about a year, MINICOM was merged with the Ministry of East African Community and the minister, now in charge of a bigger mandate, wanted more advisory support. Since I’d been delivering good work for the past year, it was decided that I would join the Minister’s Office as his policy adviser. The next year therefore saw me working on various senior government policies such as the Special Economic Zone Policy, the flagship ‘Made in Rwanda’ Industrial Policy and the 2018-2024 Private Sector Development Strategy. Rwandan politics are fascinating, and the end of my fellowship coincided with the formulation of the country’s Vision 2050 and the 2017 presidential election, revealing much about the hopes and dreams of the country, as well as its current capacity to implement transformative programmes. I will forever be grateful for the time I spent as an ODI fellow, despite the obvious challenges and frustrations of working in a low-income country’s civil service.

One issue that always ran through the policy analysis and development I did, was that of access to finance. Rwanda remains a low income country, with GDP per capita at just $702 in 2016. National savings are low, and hence access to finance continuously comes up as the number one constraint for businesses. Without a thriving private sector, Rwanda would never achieve its development goals. The only problem was, despite my strong interest in financial development, as a policy advisor in MINICOM, I was not supposed to work on access to finance, which falls under the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and the Central Bank’s mandates. From the sidelines, I could see these institutions focus on making it easier for companies to access loans from banks and micro-finance institutions as well as encouraging people to save. There was some efforts to diversify the range of financial services available especially in working capital, but those efforts was limited, and speaking to my friends in the business community, I couldn’t escape the feeling that introducing different kinds of finance, was actually what was going to matter in the long run.

BeneFactorsOne of BeneFactors’ first clients, Dieudonné (R) speaks to an employee in his chilli oil factory outside Kigali, Rwanda, January 2018

A specific lecture from Professor Lapavitsas’ Financial Systems and Economic Development class at SOAS also kept coming to my mind – modern banking in Europe emerged as people and companies started selling on credit, and thus having claims on each other. Having a claim on someone is not as good as having cash in cash which can be used for further production or consumption. Specialised institutions therefore emerged to buy those claims from the original holders, freeing everyone else up to go about their business. These institutions later on became more sophisticated and started extending credit, offering savings and all the other things that was being promoted in Rwanda as a solution to access to finance gap – in other words they became commercial banks. Yet those products were not how financial intermediation first emerged and banks have kept their first line of business, collecting corporate claims, even as they now offer a more diversified and by now more profitable range of services.

A conversation with a good friend running a logistics company in Rwanda and struggling with cash flow gave me a term to research – factoring. It quickly all came together – factoring, or supply chain finance in general – is exactly the act of buying claims that the first European banks started with. It is strictly working capital products, providing cash flow stability to companies within established supply chains and it is therefore considered as trade finance – and hence within my ministry’s mandate! I could work on it! I spent the next three months going down a deep rabbit hole on supply chain finance, becoming more and more convinced that introducing such financing in the Rwandan economy could have significant impact due to the widespread illiquidity found. I drafted the necessary policy documents and tried to put the issue on the relevant people’s agenda, hoping they would make the necessary minor reforms and regulatory clarifications. The goal, I believed, was to attract an investor who would set up a commercial supply chain finance company and solve the cash flow issues of Rwandan companies.

In the meantime, being very enthusiastic about this amazing opportunity I had come across, I tried it out with a few friends. I knew people in the business community who had cash flow issues and I had some savings I was willing to risk to prove my point. My first trials worked out. I not only got my money back, but also received feedback from these first clients that there would indeed be a huge market for this in Rwanda, across East Africa and beyond. To avoid any issues with the regulators, I registered a company and BeneFactors was born.

BeneFactors TeamThe initial BeneFactors team: Happy (L), Paul and Olivia, December 2017

If someone had told me in 2016 that within a year I would become an entrepreneur, I would have laughed for days. I was always more of the academic type, enjoying research and planning processes, not fast-paced operations and striking deals. Yet somewhere between August and November 2017, I decided to not take another job after the ODI Fellowship and dedicate myself to BeneFactors, to see whether I could make it fly or not. It was perhaps the scariest decision I ever made, and I’m on the steepest learning curve I’ve ever been on, with an unhealthy amount of stress and anxiety. However, with every new client and new issue to solve I’m learning new things – about my client’s specific line of business, finance, operations, HR, accounting, psychology, and about myself and what I am capable of. BeneFactors is still a very young company and it is far from certain that we will succeed. I certainly still have a lot to learn as a first-time entrepreneur and CEO, but it was the best decision I ever made.

BeneFactors is currently recruiting volunteers to start in June 2018 for a duration of 3-6 months. Check out the careers section on their website www.benefactorsltd.com or get in touch with Olivia on olivia@benefactorsltd.com for more information.

Olivia B. Zank

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.

Please also note that SOAS Careers is committed to only advertising paid internships positions, in line with National Minimum Wage regulations. Further information and positions are available here.  

If You Jenifer Knew-This You Could Walk Into Any Job

This week we’re looking at the Black Mother of Hollywood, the one and only Jenifer Lewis. An actress, comedian, singer, activist and an inspirational thinker, below are some nuggets of wisdom that can be applied when it comes to your career.

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“A diva is someone who pretends to know who she is and looks fabulous doing it.”

There’s arguably no bigger diva than Miss Jenifer Lewis. She’s had ups and downs in her life but throughout it all she’s maintained a presence and an energy that’s kept her moving forward. We all feel out our depth or unsure of the direction we’re taking sometimes but projecting a confidence and a sense of purpose can really help in getting you back on track. Life’s trials and tribulations push us to grow and re-evaluate the route we’re on. Ultimately, it’s about remembering we’re all a bit lost most of the time, you just gotta own it!

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“I’m in the moment. I’m always in the moment of life.”

It’s easy to have your eyes fixed on the horizon – it’s even easier to dwell on past mistakes. Being present in the moment is really important. It sounds quite haughty, but really it’s just about identifying what’s needed of you there and then, rather than focusing on future expectations or getting caught up in an error you’ve made before. Intuition and instinct often get overridden by self-doubt or feelings of trepidation. Living in the moment just means going with the flow and not overthinking too much.

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“If you don’t love it, don’t touch it.”

Whilst I’m not sure I totally agree with this one, it’s worth including for those that it applies to. Most of us don’t have the luxury of doing what we love and by necessity end up making the best of our situation. Following your passion often means making a lot of sacrifices, but the satisfaction of getting to do what you love for a living can be well worth it.

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“The elevator to success is broken. Take the stairs.”

There’s no shortcut to success! Whilst it might seem that some people ride the elevator all the way to the top, it’s very rarely the case. The stairs might not be the most fun, but think of this way: all that cardio means you’ll be in fine shape by the time you get to the top. All those part-time jobs you put in as a student to make ends meet might feel like a waste of time but actually the experience will prove invaluable as you progress in your career.

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“But a true diva has dismissed that drama. A true diva’s heart is open, and she’s ready to play by her own rules – rules that are gentle and kind.”

Everybody can get in touch with their inner Diva! It’s about knowing yourself, owning yourself and getting the respect you deserve. Lewis knows however that being a diva is about being kind to yourself and to others, not getting caught up in your own self-importance. Be open to new experiences and perspectives but know what you’re about and how to sell it. Put yourself forward for things you know you’ll excel at and don’t undersell your gifts, whatever they may be.

Need help unleashing your inner Diva? Come visit the Careers Service in SL62, Monday to Friday between 10-5.

James Hallett, Volunteering Advisor

Give your Career a Liza-lift!

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Known best for her role within the iconic Cabaret (penned by Christopher Isherwood, who was ‘over it’ way before Paris Hilton), Liza Minnelli is the fountain of wisdom we’re lapping from today! As well as being an eccentric and eclectic singer and actress, Liza has had a fair few quotable moments in her time that can be used to accelerate you along in your careers journey.

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“Reality is something you rise above.”

Sometimes reality can feel like a real kick in the teeth, the post-graduation job application process in particular. No matter how motivated and driven you feel going into it, after hours and hours filing out online application forms even the best of us feels defeated. The trick is to elevate yourself above it all. Make sure in your down time you’re not stressing over it all. Watch your favourite show, loose yourself in a book, have a drink (or three) – do things that take you out of it all. It can be too easy to feel totally submerged but if you make a conscience effort to take care of your wellbeing you’ll be in a much better headspace for making those applications.

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“You have to work hard for it, but first you have to want it, and then you have to dream on it.”

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Hard work is one thing, but really wanting something is what keeps you driven and moving forward. More than that, really visualising something is so important. We’ve all really wanted something before, only to get it and be disappointed in the end. If there’s a career path you’re contemplating, can you really visualise the day-to-day? Looking at profiles of people doing similar jobs (there are loads floating about online) will help stimulate your imagination.

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“If we had a hard time, my mother would sit me down and we would talk about it, and she kept talking and kept processing until we started to laugh about it.”

Talking things over with somebody is a really important part of any decision-making process. Things often don’t feel real until you’ve articulated them, when you’ve organised your thoughts and put them out there into the world. If you want to have a chat about any aspect of your career journey then pop into SOAS Careers (SL62, Senate House) between the hours of 10am and 5pm and one of our glamorous careers consultants will talk things over with you.

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“I love finding talent. Just to encourage people is a good thing. Every night, the audience encourages me. I’m just passing it on.”

Just like Liza, you gotta find people who will build you up, who will encourage you. We all remember that one teacher who gave us encouragement, or that person at work who took us under their wing. Whilst we don’t all have an audience of adoring fans, if you really think about it there are a number of people in all our lives who encourage us: whether it’s your mum or your professor. The important thing to remember is to pay it forward! Encourage those around you and really want for them to do well, and it’ll make you feel really good. A good, positive headspace is the best way to get the best out of yourself.

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“I’m not a very good singer. I just know how to present a song, and honey, I think I’ve been through enough to do it right.”

This one is a personal favourite of mine. Whether it’s your career or your studies, we’ve all been in that situation where we’re asked to do something we don’t feel 100% confident doing. In those situations the trick is to put your own spin on it. Each and every one us has unique talents, skills, or perspectives – bring these to bear on the things you do and you’ll really shine! Liza might not be the best singer in the world but her performances are legendary for a reason.

And remember! If somebody says you can’t do it, those are some…

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James Hallett, Volunteering Advisor

 

📣 Have your say about SOAS Careers 📢

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This is your chance to tell us exactly what you think! Whether you’re a regular in the Careers Zone, or didn’t even realise we’d moved over to the Paul Webley Wing – we’re massively keen to hear all about your experience of SOAS Careers.

We’d love it if you could capture all your thoughts in this survey – thank you!

Your comments will make a real difference to ensuring that we can support you in the best possible way. We’ll review all your comments, and use this as a base for an action plan for the coming Academic year which we’ll share with you.

Thank you!

Alexis Fromageot

Survival Guide: Assessment Centres

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It’s that assessment time of year again. How can you maximise your chances and ace the
competition at the Assessment Centre stage of the selection process?

First of all, congratulate yourself: you are one of the chosen few. Your invitation to be assessed means you have beaten at least 90% of the original applicants. That’s the feel good factor. The downside is that this is where the going gets even tougher. Here are four essentials for surviving and thriving during the process…

1. You’re liable to be in a group of approx. 6- 8 likely lads and lasses, all of whom will look calm and confident. Don’t be daunted – they will be quaking inside. Remember that the assessors are not evaluating you against the other candidates but as an individual contender. Don’t measure yourself against the other people in your set, just focus on playing to your strengths. Apropos of which, be very sure what those are, so that you can maximise your impact.

2. In a group situation, speak up and make your presence felt in an assertive, not an aggressive, way. Failure to do so is like going to an exam and not writing anything and will lead to nil points from the assessors. How do you get in to the activity especially if one (or more) people are trying to dominate the proceedings? (Btw console yourself with the fact that those overbearing oafs have just scuppered their own chances – assessors heavily penalise such behaviour.) Stake your claim to a role quickly by offering to keep time, take notes or monitor progress as soon as the activity starts. This gives you the chance to leap in appropriate intervals to summarise, review and move the action forward. You’ll also get brownie points for encouraging and involving the quieter group members.

Top tip: sneak a peek here to find out what role you might play in a team.

3. There’ll be individual exercises too, often including a presentation. Key advice? Keep it simple and don’t try to cram everything in. Not only will your audience appreciate both your brevity and clarity, but if you are asked questions after the event, you won’t have exhausted your store of knowledge and hence will be able to answer your interrogators with aplomb.

Top tip: if you get a chance practise your presentation beforehand, ideally recording
yourself. That way you’ll get the timing right to the nearest nanosecond, and you’ll also be able to iron out any weak links in your speech, tone and pace.

4. Terrified of tests? You may get these at assessment centres too and they could comprise any or all of the following – e-tray exercises, case studies, situational judgement questions, psychometric tests. If you’re new to these notions, get in some practice. We can send you some examples – just send us a message on careers@soas.ac.uk! It may not make you perfect, but it will send your scores up a notch or two. You can find a massive range of useful resources on the Careers Pages on MySOAS Student too.

Being prepared means preparing to succeed. Good luck.

Gill Sharp, Senior Careers Consultant