The Big Company Career Pathway

23rd July 2018

Traditional career pathways for graduates, and specifically for Jewish graduates, have always embraced the possibility of aspirational careers with the largest companies in the corporate world: the global banking institutions, big 4 professional services firms and multi-national law firms.  In more recent times, career pathways have become more diverse and many have embraced careers in more contemporary fields such as artificial intelligence, digital marketing and media, and environmental sustainability.  But despite that, for many the view still prevails that the best, most reliable career routes remain in traditional finance and professional services firms and other big companies.

So what can you do to maximise your chances of securing such a career?  Is it going to be beyond your reach if you do not have the highest levels of formal education?

The good news is contemporary routes into such firms are definitely more diverse than a few decades ago.  There is no doubt that although you are going to be more likely to narrow the odds in your favour with a stellar set of GCSEs, A levels and a top level degree from an acknowledged leading academic institution, alternative pathways can be considered.  University is not necessarily a prerequisite as many companies will look to hire ambitious and aspirational career starters though different channels.  The major accountancy firms offer both combined university and work placement programmes and apprenticeship programmes from school, as do many of the banks and major FTSE 100 institutions.  All have different approaches and methodologies for their screening and recruitment, but there are some consistent principles that are worth considering before embarking upon applications.

What will always be important to a prospective employer will be ensuring that you are able to present a consistent and coherent narrative as to why you are applying and what your career ambitions are.  If you have taken a gap year for any reason, if you have decided to change your career direction, or if you have simply decided to follow any particular pathway, then make sure that what has brought you to this point sounds consistent and plausible from the employer’s perspective.   An employer does not want to hear that you are drifting into their business, or that you do not really care where you work.  Commented Jonathan Dickson, Head of Legal for Commercial, Innovation & Technology at Barclays UK: ““We really want to hear that a new starter, who we are investing in when they join us, has given real thought to what they want to do and why. I’m often surprised by how many people embark on a career without thinking this through. Ultimately, if you want to be good at something, you’ve got to enjoy it – not just be doing it for the salary or the kudos you think it gives you.”

Whilst a top level degree may not be critical, you will certainly need to be able to demonstrate that you have the academic horsepower to stay the course in a big company surrounded by colleagues who are themselves qualified to a high level.  You may well have to complete online ability tests and personality questionnaires, so do take time to prep for these.  And think about the soft skills that are likely to impress.  Whatever the technical specialism of the business, they will almost certainly rate highly applicants who have strong interpersonal skills, who are aware of current industry news, who are able to demonstrate fluent team working skills.  Diana Breeze, Group HR Director at Landsec said: “What sets apart a really interesting candidate is one who really shows us that they will fit into the culture and environment of our business, as these are the skills that ultimately will help someone progress.”  So do your research and try to understand how that organisation distinguishes itself from its competitors and what really makes it tick.

And finally, to work in a large business that may operate nationally, or even globally, do be prepared to embrace mobility.  You may not wish to work beyond a ten mile radius of Brent Cross, but it may really help your career if you are prepared to consider this as a necessary part of your career plan.  Debbie Sheldon, CEO of Work Avenue, the community’s leading employment and business specialists, commented: “The feedback we get from employers tells us that getting into a big company is all about what you can do for them and not what they can do for you. So think about what they are looking for and be prepared to make compromises, or even sacrifices, in the early stages, to be considered a serious applicant.”