#TuesdayThoughts: This is the Week You Get Inspired


The sun is shining, which can only mean one thing – it must be revision time… While the summer weather can make it even harder to get motivated to actually open a book, the good news is that SOAS Careers is running some awesome networking style events this week to get you pumped for whatever the future might hold.

There’s no denying that this can be a full-on time, so treat yourself to a (small!) break and come along to one of our awesome events this week, meet some inspiring alumni from this great Uni & recharge yourself…


  • Academic Careers Networking Event, Tue 8 May, 5pm, SL62: Are you tempted to pursue a career in Academia? Come along to our event with the SOAS Doctoral School & explore everything to do with Academic Careers!
  • School of Arts Careers Networking Event, Wed 9 May, 5pm, SL62: Thinking about next steps after your degree? Curious about how to find job you’ll enjoy? Come hear from SOAS alums working at Africa Salon, Channel 4, the Institute of Contemporary Art, WOMAD Festival + plenty more on this awesome Panel!

No problem if these aren’t the right time for you, or aren’t floating your boat! SOAS Careers is open all week, with a couple of the great Careers team in the Careers Zone in SL62, Paul Webley Wing ready & waiting to help you get inspired with your next steps. Drop by to find out how we can support you!

Alexis Fromageot, Marketing Manager


#MondayMotivation: A Week of Celebrations!

Mon Motivation

This week at SOAS Careers is all about celebrating the awesome achievements of SOAS students – both past and present! It’s no surprise that all of you have been actively changing the world for the better, so take a well-deserved (short!) break from those ever-looming deadlines and exams and get inspired.

Come along to get lifted and celebrate everything that makes SOAS the wonderful place it is…

  • Make a Difference Awards: Wed 2 May, 6pm, Atrium, Paul Webley Wing: Find out all the incredible volunteering and enterprising initiatives SOAS students have been involved in! The first hour will be a networking reception with charities and NGOs close to SOAS’s heart along with academics from across the University.
  • LBGTQ+ in the Workplace: Panel Discussion: Thurs 3 May, 6pm, Atrium, Paul Webley Wing: SOAS Careers is massively excited to host our first ever LGBTQ+ in the Workplace panel event! Come along for an evening of empowerment & a wine reception.

And a final bit of good news – SOAS Careers is also open as usual every day this week, with drop-ins with Careers Consultants available every morning from 10am, application and CV checks from 1pm and bookable guidance sessions from 3pm!

Alexis Fromageot, Marketing Manager

#MondayMotivation: Welcome to Term 3!

Mon Motivation

Things are back in full-swing for Term 3! We’re all hoping the summer sun holds out and that your daily exquisite moment takes you far away from your computer screen and that essay…

It’s no secret this time of year can be intense, and SOAS Careers is keen to offer up a sanctuary to all those deadlines. So treat yourself to a short revision/essay/procrastination break and come along to one of our inspiring events this week – who knows what it’ll lead to…

See you there! Can’t make it? Don’t worry – SOAS Careers is open every day this week: come along between 10am – 5pm to see the awesome space, useful resources and speak to the Careers team for bookable appointments and drop-ins!

Alexis Fromageot, Marketing Manager

Now you’ve got the job, how do you negotiate your salary?

A lot of our career advice here at SOAS tends to be (quite rightly) about how to research and get offered your dream job.
One thing that can throw even experienced professionals is the question of salary and how to get paid what you think you’re worth.
First of all, it’s a good idea to take a reality check. It would be fair to say that nobody really knows what the overall average graduate starting salary in the UK is as there are so many variables, including your subject, where in the world you’re going to be doing the work, your previous experience… to name but a few.
If you believe the High Fliers report, the median graduate starting salary is £30k. However, this is based on salaries in the top 100 graduate recruiters including a lot of the traditionally high payers. A more realistic estimate, borne out by SOAS’s own data, suggests somewhere between £19k and £22k.
If you want a more customised view of what salary you might earn, especially if you are a mid-career professional, then Glassdoor is a useful starting point.
And if you’d like some top tips around how to negotiate your salary, then take some time to read through these useful tips to help you negotiate the questions about salary expectations with ease, especially the question about current salary, which can be really hard if you have moved from one sector to another which has a different pay structure.
Speaking from experience, I fell foul of the ‘What is your current salary?’ issue when I moved sectors a few years back. I had been in retail management and moved to consultancy, and was horrified after a few months to find the other three people recruited to do exactly the same job as me were all paid significantly more than I was. I think if I’d not answered the ‘current salary’ question with a number and instead written ‘I’d prefer to focus on the value I can add to your role’ I might not have had to enter a salary negotiation after I had started the job. (I did get my pay equalised, by the way!).
So, forewarned is forearmed. Here’s some final top tips when you get a job offer:
1. Find out what the role/sector generally offer
2. Find out what you might be able to get with the Know your Worth site
3. Don’t be drawn into stating your own expectations unless you are confident you know what the norm is in the sector.
And good luck!
Philippa Hewett, Head of SOAS Careers

Rejection? Brush Your Shoulders Off


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

How to Own the Easter Break & Sort Your Summer


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.