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Student Interview – Aliza Ayaz (Part 1)

By Joe O'Brien, on 1 December 2020

Read time: 5 minutes

Written by Joe O’Brien, Marketing Communications Assistant at UCL Careers.

UCL Careers had a great chat with Aliza Ayaz, UCL student and founder of UCL Climate Action Society, about her experiences as a student, personally and professionally. She has interned for McKinsey, KPMG, the UK Government, the NHS and the UN. We asked followers on our Instagram to send in their questions for Aliza and we got so many, we’ve had to split this blog into parts!

  1. Which was your favourite internship and why?

Uh, tricky one! It’s really difficult to pick because I had different but equally enjoyable or insightful experiences during each internship. However, there is a clear answer when it comes to the steepest learning curve and the ability to create direct impact in real time. This was with a start-up in healthcare. As a Population Health student, it became clear that insight driven health is the foundation of any innovation-led approach to more effective, efficient and affordable healthcare. At this start-up, I was operating at the intersection of business and technology to combine real-world experience, clinical and business insights and new, enabling intelligent technologies to deliver the power of Insight Driven Health in this demanding new digital world. At this internship, I saw why the world’s leading healthcare payers, providers and public health entities are ready to pay for services that help them become the intelligent healthcare enterprises of the future – from the back office to the doctor’s office.

  1. How did you get your internship opportunities?

I applied as all are expected to. Details regarding internships are always advertised on a company’s website including opening dates, deadlines, recruitment process and candidate criteria. In some cases, I was recommended for an opportunity and contacted to discuss the role. I am very lucky to have a rich network of industry experts who see the potential in youth and are ready to give them a chance to do their magic.

3. How much time did you spend researching internship opportunities?

This may be a shock given my background but I wasn’t very efficient. I didn’t really have any idea about the scope of companies, who the major players were in a specific industry or why knowing the difference between industries or companies really mattered. So, I didn’t do any research the first time round. I was too busy enjoying student clubs – debating, horse riding, acting etc and so naturally had limited time anyway. I kind of applied anywhere and everywhere my friends were telling me to. This made sense because what mattered to me was gaining exposure across the public and private sector. I didn’t have a set career path in mind – I still don’t.

If I had better researched prior, I could have probably quantified a fewer number of companies I knew I wanted to apply to. Research definitely saves time and energy, allowing you to better focus on quality applications so I would recommend that you do that. But at the same time, I knew what I wanted at that point was to accurately compare how public versus private sector operates, how their work differed and how they impacted businesses, society and the environment. I gained this insight through the variety of places I applied to. You can tell a lot about an organisation just from its recruitment process. Their interview and application questions as well as HR conduct convey what the company values in its employees and what their culture is. This could be a perfect fit or a complete mismatch with your personality and work ethic. In two places, after submitting my application and moving onto the first informal chat, I knew I couldn’t thrive in that company’s culture and withdrew my application. At other times, I asked as many questions as I had during the interview stage to truly gauge whether the role is what I wanted or if I was the right fit for them.

4. How did you prepare for interviews?

Depends.

Is this designed to test my numerical or critical reasoning skills? Then I like to go with a fresh mind and that means 8 hour sleep plus a good breakfast. This helps me more than anything to focus and perform my best during the interview. Often, these tests cover areas you would have already studied over school life so it isn’t anything new. You might need a refresher, so practising some tests prior could help. But this isn’t always necessary and depends on how confident you feel.

If this is designed to get to know me better, I make sure they know I am very happy to do that. I listen to their questions and answer genuinely. The conversation tells me how much they want me just as much as it tells them how much I want them.

The company website almost always clarifies the aim of the interview so you can anticipate the kind of questions you will be asked. If this isn’t clear, then email the recruiter.

5. How do you balance your own hobbies and passions at the same time as your career goals?

I mean honestly, in the earliest days, I didn’t. I was very okay with that. I learned to not feel guilty about it. I missed friends’ birthday parties, I was MIA for a while. I think all my friends knew I had this dream of something I wanted to build. I am a really mission-oriented person. Nothing over-rides mission to me. I truly believe people in your life should understand that.

In social and environmental advocacy, my role is continuous and this is so intense. For me, there’s no better way to end the day than with the people who bring the greatest sense of calm and perspective to my life. It’s ideal to see my family in real life, obviously, but given their work & travel, video call has to do.

Also, I live by my calendar. I put everything in it — not just meetings, but thinking time and brainstorming time, even when the only person I’m brainstorming with is myself. It is unified across all elements of my life: personal, professional and everything in between.

So try to work smart because you have to make sure you arrange time. Fitness is also a big factor as it keeps you energetic which is really important.

6. How to stay true to your goal in a world focusing mostly on profit and career development?

I think this question explains why it’s important to not just set goals, but to ensure you set the right ones. Think what’s important for you – this could be launching a product, growing a brand, creating awareness, finding your soulmate, earning a crazy amount to live a luxurious life or making your parents proud– the list is never ending and there is no self-judgement. The more you want it, the more motivated you will be. Create a game plan for each of your goals and make sure your goal is measurable: hours with family and hours at work, revenue in business and income for supporting yourself, number of activities to unwind and the research amount for your career – again the list doesn’t end. Next, give yourself a deadline: by when do you want to achieve your personal and professional goals? Also, make little, tangible goals that lead to big ones. Get real about what’s holding you back. Be open to change and to inspiration. This might not work for everyone – there’s no perfect recipe – but it works well for many people that I have met.

7. What advice would you give a first year looking to get into the Sustainability field?

Join the Climate Action Society at UCL. We host a multitude of social events, educational workshops and conferences on all things sustainability that give you an idea of how you can pitch in, plus provide you with the opportunity to start delivering impact in real time immediately. Don’t worry about not having the knowledge area or the skill-set in climate advocacy, we are very happy to teach you this. Some of the ways we help you are also the advice I would give:

  • Try to shadow policy professionals in the sustainability area. Email people directly! You will learn how to interpret key policy needs and setting the scope of any sustainability reforms. It might also give you the opportunity to develop verbal and written skills in communicating climate evidence appropriately to different audiences. This is important for youth activism.
  • Take up the opportunity to interact with academics working on the sustainability key subject areas. We have plenty of experts at UCL.
  • Get in touch with NGOs in this field. We at the Climate Action Society help you do that! Look for opportunities to shadow NGO researchers in the teams working on commissioned research and gain an understanding of procuring and managing sustainability in a local council.

8. How was your experience in working in different student societies?

Each society has its own amazing reach, be it a cultural group, the coffee enthusiasts at the Coffee Society, the Lacrosse lovers or the Business-y bees. I attended numerous events by different societies throughout term-time and was a committee member at some. I was growing alongside: learning, joining teams, organising events, meeting people, having fun. Below, I summarise my experience:

UCL MUN Society: For those looking for a way to tackle their fear of public speaking, this is probably the best way to do so. You learn about world affairs, debates (present and past) and make new friends while engaging in contemporary intellectual conversation. And don’t worry, you have the support of the lovely committee to guide you throughout. I was part of the debating team at my high school and so it was natural for me to continue this hobby at UCL. Through this platform, I also had the pleasure to chair two of the largest MUN conferences: the UCLMUN and LIMUN.

UCL Pakistan Society (Vice President), UCL Afghan Society (Events): The small but frequent events are rich in culture. The food and dress-up events are beautiful ways to celebrate tradition. Having grown up all around the Middle East, I wasn’t exactly familiar with diversity in Pakistani or Afghan culture. But meeting a variety of different people at these societies took care of that and I came out with memorable friendships. It was the perfect mixture of laughter, warmth and new-found love for cultural history.

UCL Guild and UCL Business Society (BizSoz) (Vice President): I wanted to stick my hands into something-businessy, something-entrepreneurship and I was convinced cut-throat “corporate slavery” isn’t the only way to do so. Usama Yusuf, UCL Guild Founder, founded Guild because he believed there are truly so many pieces of the puzzle that is modern-day business: tech, consulting, finance, entrepreneurship, data science and so on. At the Guild, I found a place to gain exposure to industry leaders and students who were well-versed in the internship/job area. I learned a lot from their own experiences and bonded with students who shared the same entrepreneurial interests as me. It can be a bit daunting to join, and it really was for me; I still remember pitching my Vice Presidency 2 minute speech in an auditorium with 200+ people for the UCL BizSoc elections. Unlike other candidates, I had never really participated in BizSoc events so doubted I would be welcome, but I totally was. And that shows that the Business Society is for absolutely anyone.

Tip: What I see a lot is that students join a society then they sort of do it halfway. They don’t really focus on it because there are a hundred different societies to choose from and there is so much going on. There isn’t much harm in this except if you sign up to be a committee member. Explore to the extent you can pull your weight as a responsible team member – that then allows you to truly enjoy yourself at the society you become a part of.

9. Was it difficult to start your own society?

In order to start a society, the Students Union general procedure is super simple: fill in a short form, get 30 signatories and you can have your own society. Each term, the SU receives at least 20 different society proposals. That’s 60 proposals in one academic year. Starting a student club is designed to be easy because UCL promises an open space for initiatives. I know so many people who have started their own society for the sake of starting one. The difficult part is running it, staying true to the objectives and taking it to the next level to achieve the society’s goals.

While there will obviously be a number of struggles involved with putting in endless hours in addition to your academic responsibilities, raising capital, and working with a range of different members, the biggest challenge is often figuring out what the right end goal for your members is: what they will pay for, what they will enjoy, what they will dislike. I absolutely enjoyed all the challenges I faced at CAS; For one, they varied so much! My team and I all saw them as no more than hiccups and growing opportunities.

I know a lot of people note that CAS was mostly an instant success but that is because a lot of research went to it prior. For some of our other niches such as corporate sustainability and so on – that took us two years to perfect; we had to keep changing the “message” of our movement, going through numerous iterations, and moving forward so that the members were happy with the final product i.e our events. I placed a lot of focus on diversity & inclusion because welcoming everyone’s participation, not just their perspective was super important for the vision I had for CAS. We all loved this diversity and we bonded into the #CASfam. I also worked with the Under Secretary General for Recruitment Dhaval Nayi to revamp the structure of the society, discarding and adding roles each year, so I learnt that you shouldn’t be scared to fix what isn’t working. Always trust your instincts; it’s hard to shut things down but you have to keep moving. It’s great to have a dream, but you also need to make sure that what you’re offering is something that people need.

Stay tuned for part 2!

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