Graduate in focus: Sheena Desai

Guest BloggerFinal Year, Graduates, Graduates in Focus, Work Experience

Full name: Sheena Desai

Degree title:
BSc Business and Sociology

Year of graduation:

Organisation name: Aviva Investors

Job title:
Real Assets Graduate

Can you tell us a bit about your placement experience?

I completed my placement year at Agilent Technologies where I was based in their Manchester office. Agilent is a multi-billion-pound company and a leader in analytical instruments and software. I was placed in the business operations department providing first and second level support for internal tools enabling numerous business functions. I was also undertaking tasks such as training users on tools, launching SharePoint sites, and creating various weekly reports for multiple management levels.

I learned many different skills during my time at Agilent, notably, due to the nature of the role, I became a problem solver, became proficient in technical tools such as SAP and learned how to operate in a business environment which is a crucial skill you learn on any placement.

Finally, I feel my placement focused me on utilising my final year in the best manner. I began to think earlier about post-university employment and also gain the routine required to achieve strong academic results in final year.

You also completed a summer internship at Aviva before they offered you a graduate position – how did that go?

I began applying to summer internships during my placement year in the hope of experiencing different industries and job roles.

Aviva Investors is a global asset manager managing approximately £356bn across all asset classes. The summer internship they offer is highly competitive and the application process had eight separate components – so I was elated to be accepted!

The 10-week programme thrust me into the world of asset management by providing me and the other interns with several knowledge sharing sessions to give us a rounded view of the company and the industry as a whole. During the internship, I was able to present several projects to my seniors, as well as being able to network with individuals both inside and outside the organisation. I left the 10 weeks feeling confident this was the place for me.

Summer interns were invited to apply to internal graduate positions for the following year. This process consisted of me being interviewed by fellow members of the Real Assets team, and a collection of feedback from line managers regarding the work undertook. I was given excellent feedback resulting in me being accepted onto the graduate scheme for their Real Assets department. 

How has gaining all this work experience impacted your career?

I believe securing work experience in the first year of university is essential regardless of what industry it is in. I had spent my summer in first year working at a summer camp in the USA. I believe that selling the skills I had learnt during summer camp was essential in my successful interview at Agilent. Even though summer camp is not in the business sector, I was able to show through this experience that I was adaptable (becoming a teacher to young children, moving countries for the summer and living without electricity), a hard worker (I worked 11 hours a day, 6 days a week) and can communicate with different types of people.

Once at Agilent, again, I could now utilise the skills and experiences I had gained to show how I would be successful in the internship and make use of the opportunity in front of me. After now having worked in a business environment I was able to understand what roles would best suit me and my personality. My manager at Agilent always pushed me to understand what parts of the role I did not like explaining that sometimes this provides more clarity when at the beginning of one’s career when there are so many directions available. One opportunity that I was afforded due to my work experience was the option to also extend my contract with Agilent – at that stage, I had to decide the best step for me. I am an extrovert and so wanted to experience a relationship-based role; this is something that drew me to asset management and specifically real assets.

In the end, once I had completed my internship, I knew I would be a good fit on the Aviva graduate scheme. Of course, having completed the internship, it was easier for me to secure a graduate role because I was able to connect with my colleagues and demonstrate my interest in being a part of Aviva Investors. I think each stage of my experiences led to the next and this why building work experience was so critical for me.

Do you know what your day-to-day work will involve when you start your graduate scheme?

Yes, during the internship we were encouraged to spend as much time with the current graduates on our floor as possible. This was the best way to get a picture of what our day-to-day work would look like. I expect to be involved in many of the analyses when making investment decisions and taking on some really exciting projects. I loved how much responsibility each graduate had. I am yet to find out which four rotations I will be working in, but I know that they will be within the same department as my summer internship.

I am incredibly lucky that I have been provided the opportunity to have rotations because it will allow me to explore many job roles in depth. Furthermore, I will be taking some time to work towards two qualifications that Aviva Investors are supporting me to achieve.

How are you feeling about starting your graduate scheme?

I am excited to start my graduate scheme. After so many months at home, I am looking forward to having a routine, especially after receiving my degree results and, in turn, closing the chapter on my university journey. Also, having kept in contact with so many people from Aviva Investors it makes the transition from education to employment very smooth for me.

Do you have any tips for other students who want to work in finance/are looking for a finance role?

My main tip is to begin early. Although first year is about finding your feet and getting thrown into university life, you shouldn’t neglect thinking about gaining experience in whichever way you can. This can be in the form of first year taster days or even a job at a coffee shop.

I think it is important to organise yourself when applying as applications can be long. I would make spreadsheets with all details included to make sure I wouldn’t miss deadlines and completed every stage. In addition to this, students should make use of any failures or weaknesses to explain why they are more motivated to succeed – companies love this in my experience. I have seen many students not wanting to disclose their failures or weaknesses because they want to put forward their best image, but they can help show your resolve.

Specifically, for finance, I would advise students to develop their analytical skills. There are many workshops both online (via portals such as LinkedIn) and in person which can help demonstrate your interest in finance. Students should make use of opportunities also provided by Aston such as employability events or employer-led skills sessions.

Finally, practise! Psychometric tests in the initial application stages are where several students fall back. It is important to practise taking these tests and practise video interviews even if that means speaking to yourself in front of your camera/mirror. Students should attend the Careers+Placements workshops on testing to gain further knowledge.

Did you receive any support from Careers and Placements during your time at Aston?

The Careers and Placements team are crucial in helping students secure work placements. In my case, I used the Careers and Placements team to help me correct my CV. Their CV advice helped me achieve a better response rate from placement organisations, so it’s a service any student at Aston should take advantage of.

Furthermore, in first year I attended a few talks held by the Careers and Placements team. This really pushed me to start thinking about gaining experience early on – this advice ultimately stayed with me and led me to the position I am in today. I would, for this reason, attribute my successes to the Careers and Placements team!

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

My time at Aston has been life changing. I began my journey at Aston as a very shy individual, but throughout my 4 years at Aston I have learned to find my voice and made so many amazing friendships I will treasure for the rest of my life. Aston was absolutely the best place for me and I have been able to create a very bright future for myself here because of the emphasis placed upon employability. I am exciting for what the future will bring for both me and my cohort!