What I wish I knew – Career advice from a graduate at the Bank of England
Thomas Jones joined the Bank of England’s Graduate Development Programme after studying law at the University of Sussex. Thomas has experience of anxiety and depression.
What do you wish you’d known before you started on the Graduate Programme?
I wish I’d known how important it is to develop a strong network. Any graduate scheme will provide you with a ready-made network of the others from your intake, and this is very helpful – but it’s not enough. It’s incredibly useful to know people in as many different areas of the organisation as possible, even if you’ve only spoken with them once or twice. These contacts can help you in a bind, and knowing somebody in this-or-that part of the business can make you even more valuable to your team. It can also be very useful during your annual appraisal to gather impartial feedback from colleagues with whom you don’t work directly.
My manager was great in encouraging me to set meetings with all the managers in the office, whether or not I’d be working with them and regardless of their seniority. This was helpful, but I wish I’d been more confident and taken better advantage of this window. When you’re new, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask to grab a coffee with anyone, even if they’re not in your office and their work has nothing to do with yours. They’ll probably be receptive, and if they’re not, the worst they can do is decline.
Joining an employee network or similar is also a great way to meet people with a common interest. As a member of the Bank’s Mental Health Network, I’ve had discussions with lots of people I’d probably not have met otherwise. As a bonus, joining a network often gives you the chance to get involved in something outside the day-to-day and perhaps take ownership of a project – which is great for demonstrating initiative!
What advice would you give to disabled students applying for graduate positions?
It’s no secret that people with disabilities are sometimes the subject of stigma. Despite that – in fact, because of it – I’d encourage those with invisible disabilities to be open about it. That doesn’t mean you have to announce it to your colleagues, but it should be something that your manager knows about.
Being open achieves two things. Firstly, it means that your manager can make any necessary adjustments to your workload, environment or interview process if you’re still at that stage. This is important as it helps to ensure that you’re able to contribute to the best of your abilities. Secondly, it helps to fight the stigma. The more people are open, the less hesitant others will be to come forward.
The Bank committed publicly to help combat the stigma associated with mental ill health by signing the Time to Change pledge in October 2013. And last October a short film was publicly promoted by the Bank featuring staff (including me) sharing their mental health lived experiences. The film received very positive internal and external feedback and is part of ‘This is Me in the City’, a new City-wide campaign led by the Lord Mayor’s Appeal.
Don’t forget the extra-curricular
It’s always beneficial to have outside interests which give you something to talk about at an interview or when you’re being introduced to someone. When you’re sitting in a competency-based interview (“tell us about a time when”…), you need to be able to give convincing examples which demonstrate the quality that the interviewer is looking for. It’s much better to be able to draw on more than one type of activity when giving these answers, whether those activities are sports, student politics, or voluntary work. If you keep it up once you’re in work, you might find that these kinds of pursuits continue to be useful at the start of your career.
Sometime after I joined the Bank, I became a school governor. This is a very rewarding voluntary role which allows me to contribute my skills whilst learning new ones. Schools all over the country are very keen to recruit young graduates to increase the diversity of their boards, so I’d definitely encourage you to take a look.