Ask a Black Woman

ASK AN ANONYMOUS QUESTION & WE WILL GET A BLACK WOMAN FROM OUR MEMBERSHIP TO ANSWER WITHIN 7 DAYS
WCAN has realised that many black female students and young professionals have so many questions and want advice on how to handle issues within the corporate world, or just a safe space to ask questions they are afraid to ask out loud.
 
Because of this we have created a space for black women to ask questions anonymously.
All submissions are anonymous but also moderated - Please refrain from questions that include names of individuals or organisations and be as specific as possible so that we can be as helpful as possible in answering the questions.

Answers...

From: University Student

I am an ambitious young woman and I know mentors are very important to your career development. As a young person, how do I know who to choose as a mentor, what do I look for? And secondly when I have found a person I would like to mentor me, how do I approach them? Finally, how can I show my mentor that I am worth investing in?

Looking for a Mentor

This is a really good question and one that is asked ALL the time. It’s important to note that mentorship is a two way process. 

You’ll first need to know why you want a mentor and this will help you to identify what to look for in someone else. Choose someone who has experience; professional or otherwise in whatever it is that you want to develop. A mentor is not a catch all for every area of life. So choose someone that is strong where you are weak. 

Now that you’ve identified them. Reach out! Don’t be cliche - you can’t just want to ‘pick their brain’ or ‘get some advice’. Where did you see them? Why are you asking them? What specifically can they offer? This allows them to understand your ask and determine whether they can meet those expectations. 

Show your mentor that you value their time. If they give advice, show them you are willing to action it. You have to think of yourself as an investment. You mentor invests in you and you yield returns (for yourself) - these can be tangible and/or intangible but should always be measurable. 

Lastly, a mentor is someone to help you build confidence, be a source of motivation and offer support. If you’re looking for someone to champion your direct career success - that’s a sponsor. Sometimes, though rarely, you get both in one person.

From: Young Professional (HR  & Recruitment)

From: University Student

I’m currently in my second year studying Psychology. I already know what I want to do which is either going into HR or Market Research. This year I’ve focused on trying to gain more relevant experience for my cv by completing a research scheme run by my university and volunteering as a student mentor during my free time and soon I will be volunteering at a gallery to gain some skills in terms of admin sector. I’ve also begun searching for possible internships I could apply to over the summer and I haven’t found anything yet that would interest me or be beneficial to me. I wanted to know if anyone has any advice for going down either of these fields. And I’m willing to take any other advise in regards to careers relating to Psychology. I love the course, however I am more interested in the social/occupational side of psychology than the clinical.

HR and Market Research

It’s great that you already have an idea of what you are most interested in, as Psychology degrees equip students with many transferable skills that make you an ideal candidate for employers. That said, think about HR or Market Research volunteering opportunities that you can get involved in - where you can also develop admin skills. ‘Admin skills’ refers to computer/technology literacy, telephone manner, email etiquette, verbal and written communication to name a few. So, my advice is to consider alternative ways of developing these skills in relevant settings, for example, free courses and committee positions.The primary action for applying is to look at the skills required in these roles and tailor your CV based on the skills taught i.e., we do a lot of stats, research, employ excel a lot, group work and independent research etc. These skills can easily be converted to appropriately match what your employer is looking for. Continue doing your research and reach out to WCAN for help with your CV too if needed. 

Stay positive when looking for internships and be strategic with your choices. When applying for any role, it is important that the link between your career interests and un/paid experiences are clear. You don’t want the person reading your CV to be confused about why you have undertaken certain work experience over others. This means that any experiences that you have undertaken should be relevant, and if they are not obviously relevant they should be well justified. Keep in mind that your CV and cover letter speak when you are not present to do so - ensure that your storyline is clear. 

In terms of finding HR and Market Research opportunities, it is crucial to know where to look. Clutch.co has compiled a list of the top market research agencies of 2018 so sites like this are a great starting point. For HR, this is less clear cut but nearly every organisation has an HR department. Choose an industry or firm that you like and check their website for opportunities - think professional services, financial institutions and law firms etc. Lastly, be mindful that each company’s needs will differ based on the clients they serve and the industries in which they operate, so the job title may not be ‘Market Research Summer Intern’ or ‘HR Summer Student’.

For careers relating to HR, you should consider going into People Advisory Services at EY, or other Big Four who may offer this service. People Advisory Services is at the intersection of HR and Technology and you may find a lot of exciting projects to work on in this sector, which will enable you to employ your psychology knowledge. EY ( and I believe other big four firms) also have Digital Advisory Services which to an extent cover marketing strategies and digital transformation for various clients. You can also look at the Digital Content Advisor role @Rothschild which you could use to gain experience in marketing. It's certainly worthwhile to peruse the consulting options provided via Big Four firms and Strategy focused firms like Bain, Mckinsey, BCG. 

From: Young Professional (Solicitor)

From: University Student

I am in my penultimate year of my Law LLB Degree and currently applying for vacation schemes. While I am pretty sure I want to be a solicitor, I feel as though I don't know much else about other possible non-law, yet still corporate career paths that I can follow with my degree and the research is seeming very daunting. Where do I even begin?

Other Law Related Careers

Don’t feel any pressure to make any decisions right now or feel railroaded into pursuing a legal career. So many industries welcome students with law degrees with open arms particularly accounting, consultancy, publicity, banking - the list goes on. However, the first thing you need to do is think about what your strengths are and what type of role you would actually like to do.

 

Also take time to reflect on whether the corporate environment for you. I would suggest that you visit your university careers service or alternatively attend the non-law careers events that WCAN hold as well to get a better idea of what careers you can pursue. WCAN partners with a wide range of corporate partners who offer various graduate schemes and different career paths you can chose so make sure you come back to the WCAN website regularly for more information.

From: Young Professional (Solicitor)

From: University Student

I’m in the final year of my degree and have been applying for legal training contracts/vacation schemes for a while. I’ve been to three assessment centres which haven’t ended as I would’ve liked so I’m working on feedback that I’ve received. Nonetheless, as my degree draws to an end I’m considering what other career moves I can take (whilst still applying for a Training Contract) to contribute to my business acumen. Could you offer some suggestions please?

Building up Law Experience

First of all, don’t be discouraged by not getting vacation schemes on your first round of applications. Many applicants go through at least two rounds before getting a vacation scheme. Now, if you are committed to pursuing a legal career, consider applying for a role as a paralegal or as a legal assistant in order to demonstrate your commitment to pursuing a legal career. You can also think about working in any commercial industry whether it is banking, accounting or any other industry but it’s important to make sure that any role you take demonstrates that you can make good commercially sensible decisions, advise others, take responsibility for projects, work in a team and are confident to use your initiative. Law firms really like candidates who have had experience of working in corporate professional environments so focus on looking for roles that will help you develop analytical skills and your written communication.

From: Young Professional (Solicitor)

From: Young Professional

Moving forward, are there considerations for international black female students in terms of events and opportunities?

International WCAN Ladies

We haven't got any plans at the moment but we would really like to get more feedback on the work we do! If you have any ideas that you think that international black women may benefit from then go to our event suggestion form!

From: Young Professional (WCAN Team Member)

From: University Student

I’m approaching the end of my degree in international business and I feel very clueless about what career I want to get into, also struggling to figure out what I’m passionate about. What advice would you give to figure out what to do next, at 22 I feel like there’s pressure to know what you’re doing, what steps should I take to get a better idea?

What should I do next?

I also struggled with something similar before I ended up at my current role, as I didn't enjoy my internships as much as I thought I would. I think one of my biggest pieces of advice is to try opportunities and start to eliminate what you DON'T want to do. Don't let your lack of knowing exactly what you want to do make you complacent or inactive. All experience is good experience.

 

I think you should reflect back on the modules and things you’ve done whilst at university and see where you excelled, what you enjoyed and things that came easy to you. Once you’ve done this you will have a better idea of the things you like. 

I would also suggest for you to ask your friends where they think your strengths lie. You should ask friends that would give you honest and candid feedback. After all you want to be able to have a better understanding of what you can offer and whether the way you see yourself others agree. I would also recommend networking and meeting people, both your peers and more senior, this will give you an idea of what others do and could perhaps give you some inspiration.

Lastly, once you’ve done all the above,  find yourself a mentor via networking or reach out to university alumni. Your careers service would be able to put you in touch with alumni. From my experience I’ve found most people want to help and offer advice so don’t be scared to reach out. Once you have a mentor, you and your mentor can now work on the things you’ve identified and discuss ways where your skills/interest can be best utilised. 

However I wouldn’t worry too much if you haven’t figured things out right now (none of us really know what we're doing lol) but it will definitely help if you have a direction you do like to follow based on you as a person. Just know not everything is alway set in stone. It’s good to be flexible and adaptable.

 

Wish you all the best and would be great to hear how you get on!

From: Young Professional (Investment Management)

From: Young Professional

I’ll keep it short, I graduated in 2013 and have struggled getting into a specific career in the last few years. I recently decided that I want to try get into Digital Marketing/Social Media Marketing as it is a field I am passionate about but have no experience. I want to network but I get nervous and anxious about the whole thing. I have no idea where to start, may you please advise? Thank you in advance!

Digital Marketing Moves

In my personal opinion, most entry level digital marketing roles don’t actually require experience; they usually just want smart graduates. If you've been working for 6 years, you will really need to convince firms why you want to make the move to a new industry so that you don’t come across as someone that’s just experimenting with the idea. Avoid reasons like ‘it’s the next big thing’ or ‘it’s up and coming’.

 

Additionally, because only entry level roles don’t require experience, you may have to be willing to take a pay cut to move industries. If you're currently at a senior / managerial role, it’s very unlikely that you'll find a digital marketing role on the same level as your current role that will take you without experience, you likely have to work your way up. But if you're passionate about it, it's worth the risk!

You could begin to build up some experience by building a portfolio for some up and coming organisations and doing some freelance work to demonstrate your passion for the industry. This will definitely help when you're starting look for another role. This will reduce your anxiety a bit when it comes to talking about your work and your passion.

 

To translate your current work experience, emphasise what transferable skills you have gained from wherever you currently working and how you can use it to make a difference in digital marketing / social media. Mention any current trends that have caught your interest. Most digital marketing roles require a unique skill set of creativity and an analytical mindset. Let them know that you know this and demonstrate  how you have used it in other work environments. You have to be innovative -  think outside the box and challenge the status quo in this field and I think you'll definitely find a way in.

From: Young Professional (Digital Marketing)

From: 2nd Year University Student

Love the platform and everything you guys are doing. I’ve applied to A LOT of internships for the summer but have not been successful yet and as I’m a second year, I’m scared to how this will affect my future career. Do you guys have any advice or other ideas on what else I could do to stand out? Thank you!

Internship Woes

This is a question I get a lot... EVERYBODY is looking for corporate internships and the market is so competitive. If you are not making it past screening i.e. not making it to interviews my advice would be the following:

  • It may be time to take a very thorough look at how you're selling your self via your CV and cover letters / applications, show them to a lot of qualified feedback and graduate recruiters.

  • Once you've done this you can start to think about how to add more relevant experience to your CV, if you've never interned before try and look for some relevant adhoc work for a start-up, charity or SME and really take ownership of the work done there to make it relevant for whatever roles you're working towards.

  • Lastly, and for good measure network effectively with the gatekeepers (graduate recruitment), get them to like you and let your new graduate recruitment buddy know you've submitted an application. Attend as many events as possible to make your face known, and it's even better when you interact with them organically e.g. through the work you do for a society as sponsorship officer and they get an opportunity to see your work in action - it helps them imagine you working at their firm.

 

If you make it to interviews, then it's simply a case of adequately preparing - for more insight into this definitely submit another question and give some sector specificities too! 

Lastly, it looks easy but it really isn't as simple - when I got my first internship at a bulge bracket bank I had no finance background, no finance experience and had received 3/4 months of solid rejections - you only need one offer from one firm and that's not a straight route. It's never too late to intern either, I interned every year of my degree including my final year and I also have some many friends who have secured internships as graduates! Just because it's the perfect route, doesn't mean it's the only route.

Good luck!

From: Young Professional (Finance & Banking)

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