Tell us about your role; what's your day-to-day like?
I am currently working for HSBC on their Executive Management Graduate Programme which runs for two years and has four placements lasting six months each in various departments of the UK bank. It has been four months since I joined and I am based in a retail branch in Oxford until April.
Each day is very different as we get a variety of business that walks in through the door each and every day of the week. My role, as part of the management team, is to ensure the branch hits its weekly targets while maintaining top quality customer service. I also supervise the sales floor on some days which can be very challenging, especially during the busy lunch hours. Personal development is a key motivation and I am always reflecting on this to make sure I get the most out of each experience. I am constantly being stretched and given quite a lot of responsibility!
Give us some insight into the application process; what did you have to do?
The application process for all our UK graduate programmes consists of first completing the application form and attaching your CV. You are then tested using a candidate questionnaire and numerical reasoning tests (practice makes perfect with these, I found). If successful, you are then invited for a telephone interview and subsequently to an assessment centre. My favourite part of it was the final stage, as it was quite relaxed and gave me an opportunity to really show my passions and skills that I developed at university - it consisted of a face-to-face interview, a case study and a role play exercise.
Why do you think you were successful?
To be successful at assessment centres I think it is very important to just be yourself. Stay relaxed, be comfortable and take it easy – that way you will not go 'blank' and it will make you think carefully about what you say. Secondly, do your research. I made sure I knew exactly what the bank valued and how it operates, and I tried to match these values to the experiences that I had. This showed the company that I would fit well within their organisation and that I had developed a passion to work for them. I also had various experiences that matched part of the job description that I was applying for, that I gained at university, which definitely were essential and added to my employability.
Any tips for others going through the process?
Here are my top tips for anyone still at university:
- Believe in yourself. It will give you that drive and confidence you need not only for interviews but also for your career. You can always push yourself – remember that successful people are successful because they are always thinking about success and ways to achieve their dreams.
- Network. It's not who you know but who knows you. When you meet someone, build trust with them and develop common ground. Follow up with email and updates. Try and add value to them – be open to any opportunities. Don't ask for a job, the offer will come once you have proven yourself.
- Get involved. Don't just go to uni and come out with a degree on its own. Go in and come out with a degree followed by experiences, awards and skills. Volunteer, work in the community, get onto student council, become an ambassador for your university, get on to the executive committee for societies and the list goes on. It will all be worth it.
How did you decide what jobs to go for after graduation? Have you always had a career path in mind?
Yes, when I was in year 10 at high school I did some work experience in a mortgage broker firm. Since then I had always wanted to go into banking and finance. I had some interaction with HSBC through university and some of the extra-curricular activities I was involved with which helped me to network and find out more about the company.
It is a global firm with many opportunities. Development and progression was something that I was looking for when looking for a job and HSBC really stood out for me in this.
Before graduation you were involved in the SIFE programme. Has that had any impact on your career choices, goals, and, ultimately, getting the job at HSBC?
Oh yes, most definitely. Without SIFE, I'm not sure I would be working here at all. It taught me so many skills such as leadership, negotiation, communication and presenting to name a few. It gave me amazing team leader and team work experiences which I was able to talk about during my interview with HSBC. It also enabled me to network with various business executives to understand their companies better and get a fairer idea of my future. SIFE really helped me stand out of the crowd and bring something to the bank I work for now.
What work experience have you done?
In the past I worked for a mortgage broker firm, and did some work experience at another bank. But most importantly, it was the experiences that I had at university that really helped me grow and demonstrate my skills.
What degree did you do, and does it relate to your job?
I did BSc Economics and then MSc Financial Economics. I am currently doing BSc Banking Practice and Management with the bank. There is a strong link with my academic background and my current job but I don't think it is essential as most companies train you for the job and it's more about your personality and thinking.
How many jobs did you apply for before getting this one?
I didn't apply for any other graduate programmes because I had already done an internship with HSBC which subsequently got me an offer for the job – I was quite lucky! I recommend internships to everyone and think it's a good stepping stone.
What insider advice have you picked up about working in the financial services since you started your job?
I did a couple of months in HR before my retail placement here and the best advice that I can give anyone is that when doing telephone or face-to-face interviews you should use the STAR technique to answer (Situation, Task, Action and Result) as it gives good structure to your answers. Put emphasis on the Result part as many forget to talk about their personal long term development when it comes to a particular scenario. This shows how you think and that you apply the results to your development.
Belal 'Billy' Kulasy is an executive management trainee at HSBC and former SIFE volunteer
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Sample cover letter for Internship position at HSBC
GOT THE JOB? Yes
As a second year student at the __, I am writing to express my interest to work for HSBC, preferably in the Hong Kong office. The resources and opportunities that HSBC provides have impressed me. After talking to an investment banker in the HSBC branch in Hong Kong, I have decided to apply for an internship to build more skills for banking and to add value to the team.
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Thank you for your time in assessing my qualifications. I would welcome the opportunity to interview with your company whenever possible.
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