Grad Talk with Saliha: life beyond the bubble

January is all about looking forward. So, for any prematurely fatigued finalists unsure what the next chapter may hold, Girl Talk decided to interview our recently graduated female friends for some career inspiration and general words of wisdom about life beyond the bubble.  For the first in our series, we spoke to banker-slash-baker Saliha Shariff, who graduated in 2016 from St. Catharine’s with a degree in Economics.

So, what do you do now?

I joined the grad scheme of a small investment bank in October – it’s a rotational scheme with a big focus on equity research. 

Describe a typical day.

I get to the office just before 7am – we have a meeting every morning from 7:15 to 7:45, in which research analysts present their new research notes to others at the firm. I’m working on a small project of my own right now, so the rest of my day isn’t really too structured unless I have any other meetings. I spend the day reading articles and research papers, collecting and analysing data, and writing. Then I leave the office at around 6:30pm (with much-treasured lunch and tea breaks throughout).

What do you like about it? 

The people are definitely my favourite aspect. The other grads are all so lovely – we have a class of around 30, and we genuinely get along so well. There are a few who I really expect to stay friends with, regardless of where our lives take us. And the more experienced members of the firm are also great – my manager at the moment is so down to earth and friendly, and always open to giving me guidance, despite being intimidatingly intelligent. 

That’s another thing that’s cool about working here – everyone is so switched on, and so seriously good at what they do. You learn something new and interesting from every person you interact with, which isn’t something that you necessarily get at other offices.

Also, in equity research, what happens in the real world, especially within the political sphere, impacts our work a lot. It’s great to have that link to the stories that you see on the news that impact your own and others’ lives.

What do you dislike about it?

This may sound trivial, but the early mornings are killing my soul a little bit. I live a 45-minute commute away (when TFL isn’t playing games), so I wake up at around ten past 5. I have never been and will probably never be a morning person. I’ve still not adjusted to the early rise.

At University, I was never really much of a lecture-goer, so it’s been quite difficult to force myself into a tight routine. Plus being sat at a desk, inside, for so many hours of every day drives me mad a bit – you never really think about simple things like that before you start a proper job. 

Saliha: “Apply anywhere and everywhere that interests you, don’t limit yourself to what you think the obvious choice is for someone with your degree or experience”

What do you miss about Cambridge?

The people. This is obvious, but it’s so much more difficult to see or even speak to your best friends when you’re all working across the city/country/world, rather than living within a two-minute walk of one another. We all, of course, are putting in the effort to maintain the relationships that mean the most to us, but it’s difficult.

I also miss being able to roll out of bed at midday. And pre-organised holiday time. And everything being within walking distance, seriously, that’s so underrated.

…and what do you not miss?

The general atmosphere. Cambridge wasn’t the happiest time of my life – I suffered from some mental health issues, all of which I was predisposed to, but the intensity of studying at Cambridge was the catalyst to some quite difficult experiences. I did have some great times, and I met some of the most important people in my life at uni, but it wasn’t the healthiest place for me and I’m in a much better place now than I was for the majority of my time there.

Did you know what you were going to do before you graduated?

I did a couple of banking insight Spring Week programmes in first year and an internship during the summer after second year, so working in finance had been a consideration for a while before I graduated. In final year, though, I was looking into quite a few different options – working in radio (after producing/presenting a Cam FM show for a year and a half), joining a charity… Until I received the offer to join the firm that I’m at now, following its recruitment process.

What are your personal aims for 2017?

I think my overarching personal aim is to build myself up into the person that I want to be – making positive steps in terms of my health and happiness, working on my relationships with and prioritising the people I love, and getting rid of anything/anyone that is making me feel bad more often than good.

Oh and I’m running a half-marathon in October, so getting to a fitness level at which running that distance is at all feasible would probably be a good idea…

What’s your pipe dream? Be bold.

When my brother and I were born, my parents owned a bakery/café in Central London. They combined my Dad’s incredible business touch with my Mum’s magic in the kitchen, selling homemade cakes and fresh sandwiches, and they built a pretty successful business completely from scratch, with regulars who they came to know really well. That love of bringing people together with food has stayed in my family, as has the love of baking, and I would love to bring back the bakery that they had back then. I can just see what it would be like – the sign outside, the interior, the cake displays. And I know that it would make my parents really happy, as well as allowing me to do the things that I love most every day – baking and connecting with people, and hopefully giving them another reason to smile.

Name three women you look up to.

Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, is such a powerhouse. But it’s what she’s doing to support other women that makes her really stand out, as the co-author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead and founder of the Lean In Foundation.

Is it too standard to say Michelle Obama? She’s an obvious choice, but for good reason. The causes that she supports and what she stands for are what truly make her so incredible.

However cheesy this is, the woman I look up to the most has to be my mum. She came to London from Kampala as a refugee when she was 9 – and when I look at the life that she’s built for herself and for us (alongside my Dad), and how big-hearted and patient she still is despite her experiences, I can’t help but be in awe of her. She’s achieved so, so much in her own life – a career in law, her own business and an ongoing teaching career in which she has genuinely helped so many kids become the best versions of themselves – as well as always propelled all of us forward. She inspires me to be a better person in every area of my life.

Any words of wisdom for undergrads apprehensive about job prospects?

Back yourself – it’s so difficult to see this whilst you’re still in the bubble, where all of your points of comparison are brilliant people who work hard and have intelligence for days, but you are so smart and so well-equipped to deal with the real world. Cambridge is DIFFICULT, seriously, not only to get into, but to get through, and you’ll be picking up so many skills (in addition to those that are academic) during your time there, from dealing with deadline on top of deadline on top of deadline to the ability to work with people from walks of life that are very different to your own.

Also, keep your options open. Apply anywhere and everywhere that interests you, don’t limit yourself to what you think the obvious choice is for someone with your degree/experience. You’ve got nothing to lose by trying out for something a bit out there.

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