Print First published: February 26th 2021; Last Updated: February 2nd 2022
'But what I was utterly enthralled by were the obstacles she faced as a female professional in finance. She did not gloss over challenging aspects of her job to paint a rosy picture of the industry. While her glowing career highlights sparked my interest in a career in finance, it was her openness about the downsides and how she dealt with them that truly inspired me.'
Prior to university, I had never committed myself to a serious contemplation of my journey after graduation. The pathways in the education system were often nicely mapped out, well-trodden, and offered good visibility. At every stage, it was relatively clear what to expect from the next; at every fork, I was fortunate to have dedicated teachers who informed my choices and guide me every step of the way.
Faced with the prospect of being thrust into the unfamiliar world of work, it then dawned upon me that forging my own career path was a different ball game entirely. The decisions I had to make in my academic journey paled in comparison with the whole gamut of career choices that I now had to grapple with. Poring over resources on the internet was undeniably helpful, but I occasionally found myself inundated by the vast ocean of information. It proved especially difficult to find first-hand insights and personal stories that spoke to clueless students like myself.
In 2019, I was immensely privileged to have had the opportunity to participate in a mentorship scheme organised by Cambridge Women in Business and Judge Business School. The first session brought together female professionals from a diverse range of industries and female students in an informal setting, with the aim of making a “mentorship match”.
Amidst rounds of self-introduction and eye-opening conversations, the evening seemed to pass by in a whirl. But one professional was particularly striking. She had previously worked for a preeminent financial firm and was planning to return after her Master’s degree. After explaining what her job entailed, she enthusiastically told us about what she enjoyed about her day-to-day work, how much she loved the working environment and what motivated her to get to work everyday. I was instantly drawn to her vibrant enthusiasm and her genuine passion for her work. But what I was utterly enthralled by were the obstacles she faced as a female professional in finance. She did not gloss over challenging aspects of her job to paint a rosy picture of the industry. While her glowing career highlights sparked my interest in a career in finance, it was her openness about the downsides and how she dealt with them that truly inspired me.
After the session, we matched as mentor and mentee. Having no prior experience with mentorship, I initially thought it would be some form of coaching, not unlike the “hand-holding” that I was used to with teachers in school. Contrary to my expectations, my mentor did not prescribe a specific area of finance that I should go into, nor teach the A-Zs of the technical knowledge required for interviews.
After further interaction, I began to realise that she was actually steering me towards a journey of long-term self-development. The first thing she did was to pose several questions for self-reflection, which nudged me to seek the answers to my own questions about my future direction, instead of blindly following someone else's. She also shared her past mistakes so I could glean lessons from them, whilst reminding me that it is impossible to get everything right from the outset. Rather than imparting context-specific finance knowledge, she advised me on how I could adopt the mindset and essential skills that would set me up for success as a female professional in the long run.
My Mentors wholehearted supported has bolstered my confidence in moving into the working world and carving out a path for myself. Most recently, when I was disheartened by a spate of rejections during the internship application season, she shared her own experience and advice on dealing with rejection in a positive and constructive manner. Without her sincere encouragement and unwavering faith in me, I would not have been able to persevere with the application process.
Writing this article has allowed me to reflect on my Mentors indelible influence on my journey so far. But while expressing my appreciation for everything she has done for me, I was also pressed to find a satisfactory way to give back to her. Her strikingly simple answer has been etched into my mind: pay it forward.