Getting an internship or graduate job in the City is tough, whatever your background. Historically, it has been even harder for those from ethnic minority communities, especially in what the City terms “front officeâ€ positions, such as sales and trading at an investment bank or project management at a professional services firm.
Over the past 12 years, not-for-profit organisation Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) London has helped more than 2,500 students from black and other minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds to secure internships and graduate positions with the City's best investment banks, law firms, strategy consultancies and professional service firms. So how can ethnic minority university students give themselves the best possible chance of success in the current climate?
It's important that you choose the right industry and the right firms to apply to. There's a huge range of different career paths available in the City, but some are much better known than others and the most popular tend to be the most competitive. You need to take the time to research which ones are most suitable for your skills and interests, which can be done through online research, speaking to your careers service and also engaging with people working in those industries. Often it can really help if the people you speak to come from similar backgrounds to yours.
Given that many City graduate programmes are not expected to grow this year, it's critical that you apply to as many of the firms that interest you as possible. You should seek opportunities to maximise the number of firms you can access by attending on-campus events and applying for support from SEO, which has partnerships with over 100 top employers.
Most City firms don't wait until their application deadline to screen and interview candidates. Instead, they fill places as and when they meet strong candidates. Most students apply later in the process than earlier, but firms often take the view that earlier applicants are more determined and interested in them than later ones. Applying sooner therefore means you'll be competing against a smaller number of candidates for a larger number of roles.
You should have a good understanding of exactly what skills and strengths the firm you're applying to is looking for. It's important to show this understanding on both your application and also in person when they interview you. Tailor your CV to the specific industry you're applying to and print off your application before you submit it to ensure it's error-free. Take advantage of any resources your careers service can provide in terms of practice tests or mock interviews for your industry of interest.
Many firms are keen to put as many of their future graduate recruits as possible through an internship first. If eligible, consider applying for an internship in the year before your graduation. The experience will undoubtedly help confirm if this is the right industry for you and also make your CV more attractive to other firms in the same industry. It won't guarantee you a graduate job though, so prepare appropriately.
City employers expect you to have achieved a 2.1 or better in your first year exams at university, even if they don't count towards your final degree. In the spare time you have try to attend firm open days or industry insight schemes to establish which careers appeal to you most.
This academic year, SEO will provide more than 1,000 internship and graduate opportunities for ethnic minority students with over 100 top employers. Students supported by SEO receive up to 100 hours of training before their internships start to ensure they out-perform their peers. And it pays off: more than 80 per cent of students who have completed internships with SEO have been offered graduate positions with our partner firms. For more information about opportunities and support, visit seo-london.com