Welcome to the “Freshers’ Series”: An insight into how inspiring individuals got to where they are after university, and what it was like for them to be a “fresher” in their new work environments. Every month, Watch.Listen.Read Weekly will profile an individual whose career may interest you. If you have any suggestions or questions for a future “fresher”, feel free to reach out to us through our contact page.
For this installment of the “Freshers’ Series,” we’re interviewing Usama Yusuf. Usama is currently an Investment Banking Analyst at Citi, but prior to this, he was a History, Politics, and Economics (HPE) student at UCL. Heavily involved with life at university, he served as co-founder of the UCL Guild and participated in a plethora of societies, including both rowing and football. Fun fact: he once had conversations with Sadiq Khan and Nigel Farage all in one night! Considering his track record, it wouldn’t be surprising if Usama himself winds up in similar ranks of success and prestige one day.
When prompted with the question: “When did you start considering Investment Banking as a potential career?”, he smiles.
“For me, I was quite interested in finance when I was younger. I just wanted to get exposure.” With this, he took action: “I did my first internship at CITI when I was sixteen, firstly in Treasury and Trade Solutions. Even though it wasn’t a front office role it gave me exposure to the financial world.” Later on, Usama continued pursuing opportunities in investment banking, eventually landing two internships and a scholarship to UCL from Credit Suisse.
In getting these positions, there was no “secret ingredient.” Instead, he notes a few key attributes as reasons for his success.
“Life’s all about being eager. If you’re an eager person, you get wherever you want in life.”Usama Yusuf
“Life’s all about being eager. If you’re an eager person, you get wherever you want in life.”
However, Usama is quick to highlight that acting on eagerness is not an individual pursuit: “Mentorship is really important–you need to surround yourself with people who want to help you.” But, Usama encourages students not to fix on just one mentor. Instead, it’s important to have different mentors in your life who are at different stages of their careers. With different mentors, you gain different opportunities that will allow you to improve and grow. For example, “if you’re a professional footballer, you’ve got your manager, your first team coach, your nutritionist, your physiotherapist, your conditioning coach, a data analyst and many others who all help a player improve different parts of their game. It’s the same with having different mentors.”
Aside from passion and mentorship, Usama highlights a set of transferable skills which prepared him for his career. Firstly, he highlights communication. “[Banking] is a people business. Every industry is a people industry… the better you are at communicating, the more likely you are to succeed.” Secondly, he emphasizes teamwork. “I’ve played team sports all my life… if you don’t pull your weight, everybody notices. That’s how it is in the real world–it’s a team effort.” Finally, Usama stresses discipline and sacrifice. “People can always tell when you have a natural hunger… If you want to get anywhere, you sacrifice. Sometimes you lose your social life, sometimes you lose time with family and sometimes you lose sleep. You can’t have it all.”
With his resume and skills built up over time, I ask him how he feels having finally landed at Citi. Upon reflection, he cites relief and excitement. “This isn’t something that’s come overnight for me, this is something I’ve been doing since I was sixteen,” he says, “but soon after, there’s excitement. There’s a wealth of learning opportunities–some of the smartest minds in the world work at these institutions…. When you’re new, you want to be a sponge. You just want to absorb as much as you can.”
Don’t let the environment intimidate you. Nervousness is natural, he notes–you’re not expected to know everything. On a closing note, he provides a few tips for those considering investment banking: “Start as early as you can, and make sure you network. People always say your network is your net worth, and I fully believe that.” But, just as your network is the extent of your net worth, your career is the extent of your skills. Just as you should expand your network as much as possible, consider expanding your skill set through non-finance opportunities, whether this involves getting a part-time job in a restaurant or working in retail.