I want to tell you about a conversation I had with a current postgrad student called Emily. Now let me start by being really clear about Emily. She is a very impressive individual indeed. But for all of you studying and trying to think about what you’re going to do next in your lives I think there are some very useful lessons to learn from how Emily goes about her life.
Firstly a bit of history.
Emily was born in San Francisco and in her own words she has “tech in her blood” – she’s always been fascinated by tech and has grown up in the world of high growth start-ups. She tells a great anecdote about starting her undergraduate degree at Stanford and meeting her neighbour in halls, who described himself as an entrepreneur, “I asked him what his idea was, and he pulled out a non-disclosure agreement for me to sign, that’s at 18 years old”.
She’s worked in various tech businesses during her degree including being one of the first employees at Justworks, a disruptive payroll, compliance and benefits company in a “learn as you go, jack of all trades position” that “involved everything from capturing customer narratives to working with the dev team to implement new features.” Through to working as a portfolio analyst for Kiva.org - A microfinance platform, where Emily “helped determine which financial organizations Kiva issued credit to, to fund micro-entrepreneurs throughout the world”.
After Emily graduated from Stanford with a major in contemporary middle-eastern history, she has a minor in Spanish and a concentration in Arabic, she decided to move to London to pursue a masters from LSE. Curious to learn more about the fin-tech ecosystem in London “I started e-mailing people. My dissertation is on ‘the fin-tech in emerging markets’ so I wanted to get people’s perspective on the topic.”
“I met with a range of people – start-up founders, academics, venture capitalists, etc.. Eventually I ran into Dan Cobley’s profile and a week later I was working for SalaryFinance.” Now I should quickly explain that SalaryFinance are part of the same portfolio of businesses as Arch Graduates – hence the introduction!
Emily works Thursdays and Fridays at SalaryFinance and spends the rest of her week at LSE working on her masters.
What advice would you give a graduate leaving university now? Any top tips? Emily said “I forgot who said it, but I think the phrase ‘planned serendipity’ rings true. So, if a few key areas are of interest to me, I will seek out people in those fields to learn more and hear their perspectives. Ha, while I’m sure it can come off as creepy, I will blind call people or message them on Linkedin to ask them for coffee and advice. I’d never have met Dan if I didn’t ask him for his perspective on my dissertation, and then I wouldn’t be working here now.”
Emily and I kept talking and she kept being one of the most impressive young people I’ve ever met, but on reflection that’s a really easy thing to say.
What is it specifically? Is it the degree from Stanford? Sure, very impressive, but that certainly wasn’t it, was it the fact that she worked in every spare hour she has to get experience? Yes, definitely, but that wasn’t really it. There is something about her that left you feeling “Well she’s going to be a huge success no matter what.” I’ll tell you what it is. It’s her attitude. It’s that thing we keep coming back to, confidence. It’s the motivation, the enthusiasm and the “I thought this might be interesting – SO I WENT AND DID IT” thing that really stands out.
I guess that’s bravery or, at the least it’s an absence of fear or social insecurity – in Emily’s case I would say it is definitely courage.
The bit of the chat we had that really stood out was the bit about messaging people on Linkedin asking for advice. That is the difference between ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’ – when Emily decides to look for her first full time role out of University she’ll be in interviews and they’ll ask her “how did you end up working for SalaryFinance” to which she’ll reply “when I got to the UK I wanted to learn about fin-tech start-ups, so I e-mailed a lot of founders and CEOs of them asking for their time and advice. One of them offered me a part time marketing role to do while I was studying”. The people interviewing her will write the word “Excellent” down on her CV at this point.
What do you think is standing between you being ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’? Could it be fixed by simply asking some people for advice? Being brave and getting in touch with some “it would be amazing if I could meet” people? You never know where it might lead.