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.
“I came from a school in Stoke where finance wasn’t a thing. No one really knew what it was–my friends didn’t have a clue, and my mam and dad certainly didn’t either.”
It’s a Wednesday afternoon and blurry conversation comes out from my computer screen. I’m talking to Jack Simmonette, a UCL graduate currently working at BNP Paribas within the Debt Capital Markets team. As part of the second instalment of the Freshers’ Series, I’m curious to learn more about his time at university, and how he got to where he is now.
“When I got my offer to study at UCL, I thought that I wanted to go into finance, but I had no idea how to get there or what the best approach was. To be honest, I thought: “I’m just starting, so I don’t have to worry about this for another year or two at least.”
However, once Jack started his BSc in Economics, he noticed the ball was already rolling. “Everyone [at university] was talking about spring weeks. Immediately, I wondered: “What on earth is a spring week? ”
Just as many freshers will be surprised by the world of finance and investment banking opportunities when they get to university this fall, Jack felt he had to get his head in the game. “I was in a scramble to get my act together,” he laughs. “I hadn’t even touched my CV and I’m sure it was terrible”
In the process of applying for spring weeks, he notes his mindset as key to helping him along the way.
“You go from a position where, in high school or sixth form, you might have been the person getting good grades, top of the class, that sort of thing. Then you get to university, and suddenly you’re in a course with 300 people from all over the world. You have to realise that you’re very average.”
“Once you can accept that you’re not going to be the best anymore, you’re going to be mentally in a better place.”
Aside from mindset, he also encourages students to be smart with their applications. “One of the key bits of advice I have–whether you’re applying for spring weeks, or internships, or grad programs–is that it’s a numbers game. Thousands of people apply to these programs, and there are limited spots. By applying to more you increase your odds.”
Eventually, Jack landed two spring weeks related to asset management: one at Fidelity, and the other at Blackrock.
In his second year, Jack got involved with the UCL Investment Society. His journey into the society committee wasn’t easy (he ran for first-year representative, and then for treasurer in second year–neither of which he got), but eventually he became an executive in the Events and Speaker Relations team.
“I clung onto that opportunity,” he reflects. “I worked hard, put the effort in, and was then elected as president for my final year.”
Even now, he looks upon his time in the society as crucial in making his way to BNP Paribas. “I think the society’s exposure to the [investment banking] industry was so beneficial. You immediately get to know HR contacts at different banks because you’re working with them to organise events or host speakers.”
“Just being in a society where you’re running large-scale events was great experience. I mean, the UCL Finance Conference had guests from all over the world, as well as super senior speakers. The kind of work and commitment which goes into [those kinds of events] is on another level.”
With the help of his time in the UCL Investment Society, Jack was accepted as a summer intern with BNP Paribas. However, for those unlucky in spring week or internship applications, he advises: “you’ve got to be proactive. At the end of the day, nothing is going to turn up on your doorstep and present itself to you. A golden graduate job doesn’t appear overnight. If you don’t have a summer internship offer, or a grad offer, what networking events are banks hosting? Is there anyone you can reach out to and speak with?”
In the end, “it’s about who you know and being able to leverage what you have in order to get what you want.”
Additionally, he encourages students to stay level-headed as peers gain multiple offers.
“I was definitely in the boat of hearing about others getting spring weeks from top banks, but what I didn’t realise was that a lot of people have been working towards these goals since an early age, or they’ve done internships at places before they even got to uni, whereas, as someone without the prior experience, I think you have to isolate yourself from everyone around you.”
“Focus on you. Ultimately, that’s the only thing that matters. Just keep trying.”
“Also,” he notes, “having a lot of rejections doesn’t mean that you’re a bad candidate. [Successful applicants] may have a good network at the company, and [company representatives] may not have read your CV or cover letter properly. A lot of it isn’t your fault.”
From Jack’s journey, one thing is clear: the people in positions we now look up to have all gone through turbulent periods. It’s easy to reduce someone to their current achievements, but they are also the result of their trials and rejections. Take university as a chance to learn. If you put in the time and effort, you’ll make your way in the world.