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Student Interview – Aliza Ayaz (Part 2)

By Joe O'Brien, on 10 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! If you haven’t already, make sure to read part 1!

1. How did you manage to secure an internship for the Department of BEIS?

This was through the main Civil Service recruitment process – no shortcuts. The process was as follows:

  • Numerical, personality and critical reasoning test. Warning: very long. 30% of the candidates are filtered at this stage alone.
  • The application: It was one of the longest applications where they want every detail of what you have studied and what you hope to gain. 60% of the candidates are filtered here.
  • Competency based interviews with 2 exercises lasting 3 hours. The exercises depend on which role you are applying to, or which role they plan to offer based on interests expressed in your application. Questions could be about modelling, economics or literature depending on your internship stream.

2. I want to go into a career that helps the climate! How did you land the UN internship?

I wrote a research paper for the United Nations Development Programme whilst in high school when I was 16. This wasn’t planned at all by the way and happened due to a series of random events/interests. Since then, I have been in touch with a number of UN officials while participating in various projects. One of the secretaries to the Regional Director told the recruiter I would be a good fit so they got in touch to share this specific internship opportunity. I interviewed with them. They saw my passion and thought I could do the job so I got it! It was a thrilling experience.

3. Can a second year with an empty CV still manage to get an internship?

Yes, for sure. I know of people who did not even have a proper, updated resume until third year. Point is, there is always a worst case scenario and there is always a way to tackle it. You probably don’t have an “empty” CV to begin with – you must have done something. Perhaps not in a professional capacity, but extracurricular, or taking up interests in your personal life. The trick is knowing how to articulate those skills and interests in your resume. To help you do this, attend CV workshops, read online blogs regarding resumes, or hit up UCL Careers! I am also happy to help your draft a resume.

You might also want to look at it as a positive: it is really hard to trim down a resume to one length when you have a lot of experiences. I was horrified when a friend first told me that my three-page resume had to be trimmed down to one. A lot of it was extracurricular stuff or small projects, but it mattered to me and conveyed my interests. In the end, I had to get rid of it and only a limited few things are on my resume at the moment. It kind of broke my heart but it had to be done and that’s completely fine. The entire point of recruitment processes is to get to know the candidate beyond their resume.

Lastly, it’s never too late to get started. Start applying to places. Get in touch with NGOs about how you could help them. Look for working opportunities within your department or your local authority, may be even your local hospital, café, restaurant or grocery shop. You can find roles in a number of areas from customer relationships to commercial traction. You will then have plenty to write in your resume!

4. What if someone doesn’t have all the skills necessary for an internship they’re applying for?

Firstly, speak to their HR department about your concern. Bear in mind, the bigger the company, the more swamped their HR is, hence the less likely you will get a response. If HR isn’t available to discuss your suitability, then reach out to an employee who’s doing the very job you are applying for. You can find them on LinkedIn or the official company website under “Who we are” or their project examples.

Secondly, the decision to invest the time and energy in applying to an internship depends on the extent to which the skills you do not have are needed in an internship. If you don’t have X skill that is required in 60% of the work you would do as an intern, that is unfortunately a clear answer – that internship is not the right fit for you.

Thirdly, what is the room for gaining those skills on the go during the internship? Remember, internships themselves are learning opportunities. So, if they have pre-requisites then it is probably not the industry for you unless you feel very much willing to put effort into learning that skill from scratch prior, independently. This comes with passion or a role of high interest. It is double the effort but it is doable.

5. Do you have any advice for recent grads looking for internships/grad roles?

We are in a recession. The job market has shrunk by 70%. The roles are more niche than ever. You might be thinking there are too many graduates and not enough opportunities, or that competition is going to be tougher than ever for the companies that are still recruiting.

  1. Take time to find what’s right for you: Research for yourself. Which industry? What kind of a role? Start up or established companies? Mid-tier versus large corporates? Be authentic to yourself and trust yourself. I learnt that one from my dad. Speak to as many people as you need to to get an idea of what you are looking for. Then apply strategically to the firms that are still advertising any positions. Because you are interested in the role, you will likely produce a good quality application. You might have read a blog by a current employee or spoken to a student who interned there and these insights will help you work on a stronger application. Overall, my point is that this research will give you a head start in your hunt for internships/grad schemes because you would know which roles you adequately provide the skillset for.
  2. Get in touch with start-ups: They are always in need for more hands but you have to be willing to offer your time without big expectations for the money you are paid.

6. I will be doing an MSc in Public Policy from Sep 2020, how does one get an internship with the UN?

Masters students have a greater likelihood of securing an internship at the UN than undergraduates because of their knowledge and skills reservoir. For 60% UN internships, a masters is compulsory. Public Policy is also a great MSc that fills in gaps for UN projects. Keep an eye on their vacancy page and do thorough research on the role(s) you find interesting. Pay attention to the skills they need and the job description. 80% of being able to secure a UN internship is applying to the right one. If you apply to one that you do not have the experience/skills for, it’s just not going to happen (unless you have a source of course). The applications generally ask you to demonstrate how you meet the criteria and what exact examples you have that showcase your ability to get the job done. Choose the right perosnal example and tailor it to the competency they require.

7. How was your policy experience? What did you do on a day to day basis and did you enjoy?

Growing up, I thought of policy as one of my potential career routes. My role at BEIS offered a very unique opportunity and insight into working as a Social Researcher for the UK Government. I was allocated to the Social Research Fast Stream. I also had a mentor from another team that gave me further exposure across teams in the department.

I was primarily responsible for a literature review drawing together the available evidence on the home retrofit market. The literature review fed into policy development for the Buildings Mission ambition to halve the cost of retrofit by 2050. This is one of the Grand Challenges and a key area for the Energy Efficiency and Local (EEL) policy team. My review was added to the evidence base for EELs work on home retrofit as part of their action plan, drawn up in response to the responses to the ‘Building a Market for Energy Efficiency ‘ consultation. I also identified evidence gaps and helped to scope out future research into home retrofit, in particular the UK retrofit supply chain. I was interpreting data, developing a narrative around the key findings, designing and delivering presentations to senior colleagues and MPs – I loved it all.

8. Where should I start if i feel like I don’t have the network to get opportunities?

You have three options.

  1. Build one! However, this obviously takes a lot of work, networking and professional experience. At the age of an undergraduate, it’s trickier to meet as many industry experts as you would need to qualify for having a “good network.” It is definitely possible but you would probably want to jump to an easier, quicker option.
  2. Tap into an exisitng network: UCL Careers, UCL Alumni, SEO, Bright Network, Black Heart Foundation, EY Foundation – these are all examples of existing networks you can dive into. And they are GREAT networks. Equally, you might have a friend who has a “network”. Ask them for help. Have a conversation about what it is that you want to do and they can put you in touch with the right people. Remember, don’t try to bypass them by using their network behind their back! That doesn’t end up well with the potential employer nor the friend.
  3. Don’t use a network at all and just apply to schemes. Everything is advertised on company websites and their HR teams are more than happy to answer any of your questions. This is the standard procedure and pretty straight-forward.

9. What is the work/life balance like in Consulting?

I have to admit, one must keep their expectations in check: consultants find it very difficult to create a good work-life balance. At the big firms, this will never be just 40 hours a week. It can go up to 80 hours a week. Be mentally prepared for a full workload on a day and to do overtime when results for a task don’t go to plan. In terms or priorities, you will start questioning quality versus quantity.

The key, I imagine is a broader understanding of the balance needed: this differs from person to person and day to day. A challenging career, an active social life, the time to train for marathons, to cook and get eight hour sleep all are important but very difficult to achieve at the same time in consulting. So an awareness of this dilemma will help you cope or enjoy better. For example, block out certain hours on the weekends for yourself or speak to your manager about scheduling you on projects that vary from intensive for some months and not so intensive some other months.

*My answer is based on internship experience and conversations with senior consultants as well as recent graduate friends in consulting.

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