Talent Talks: My value doesn’t come from studying at Cambridge, but from the life lessons, I learned in order to get here.

by | May 3, 2019 | Arrival Network, Organisations, Talent, The Inclusion

Written for The Inclusion by Daniel Afolabi. Law graduate at the University of Cambridge, Daniel is currently working with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

 

I believe businesses need to radically rethink their recruitment processes if they want the next generation of talent entering their business.

Currently, their general perception of talent (by this I mean polished via private education) and their desired CV experience (namely internships in top firms), are excluding and screening out socially and ethnically diverse talent.

Although going to Cambridge might open doors for me as an individual, I have real concerns about other, equally talented individuals from my community, who might not match up to what many businesses perceive as ‘talent’, nor have they had work experience in those businesses.

Of course, studying at Cambridge is potentially an advantage but I don’t think my value comes from attending and studying at Cambridge alone but from the life lessons, I learned in order to get here.

I have had to overcome a number of hurdles to get where I am today. I went to an inner-city state school with no track record of people going to Oxbridge; I grew up in and around some very challenging communities and people, and my parents weren’t able to give me the head start that most of my University peers take for granted.  I’m not complaining though, quite the opposite. When I look around me, I believe my life experiences have given me an edge. I’m driven in a way that many aren’t. I am able to get on with a wide range of people. I see things in a different way than many people. I wasn’t served a place at Cambridge on a silver platter… I earned it.

I believe my life experiences have given me an edge. I’m driven in a way that many aren’t. I am able to get on with a wide range of people. I see things in a different way than many people.

Surely, that life experience is worth more than the acquired polish of private education? Yet, I can’t easily give that life experience an obviously recognisable badge on my CV.

The New Success Rules

Although the top universities, such as Cambridge, Oxford & LSE, are more focussed than ever on expanding the diversity of their student body, attending those universities doesn’t automatically guarantee successful career outcomes.  A number of very able peers of mine have been already told they lack the necessary business experience and skill-sets. But who teaches business skill-sets? Not my school, not my university, not my parents, not my peers.

And then, what no-one tells you, but those from privileged backgrounds seem to know, is that the leading firms all look for internships on your CV. What many of my peers think, because it is what we were consistently told through school, is that they just need to get the best grade they can from the best university they can get in to. What they don’t realise is that they need to be thinking about careers pretty much from the moment they start their first year of university, or even before that.

My peer group at Cambridge are able to draw upon networks of family members and family friends, who can get them work experience opportunities. No employer asks if you got the work experience through merit or through networks. All they see is the brand. that gives you a massive head start.  

I recently read that nearly 50% of all interns are offered a full-time graduate job. I would be surprised if my community get 1% of those top internship places. Those internship experiences provide not only recognisable brands that open the door, but also access to the right people, who can help you understand how to get in and get on in the best businesses.

This is the new battleground for career equality.

Why is it that the privately educated individuals get offered such a disproportionate number of internships at prestigious firms?

I have noticed that my peer group at Cambridge are able to draw upon networks of family members and family friends, who can get them work experience opportunities that help build up their CV. No employer asks if you got the work experience through merit or through networks. All they see is the brand. If your parents, uncles, aunts or godparents can ring up a friend, and get you a two-week work experience at their firm, that gives you a massive head start.  

Organisations like Arrival Education are vital for levelling the playing field. They effectively acted as that experienced parent, who knew how to navigate the world of work that people like me don’t have and universities and schools don’t teach you.

Alongside their ability to access the top firms, they also seem able to navigate company assessment processes, as they have been informally prepared by their network, in ways my peer group haven’t. But does being able to pass an assessment process mean they are the most suitable for the role?   

If you aren’t privileged and don’t know the rules, the odds of successfully getting into many professions and top firms becomes a lot less certain. Success becomes more about luck! The luck of meeting an open-minded employer prepared to employ someone different from the norm.

I was lucky, I was selected for a business success programme by Arrival Education, called ‘Success for Life’. I didn’t fully understand what it was or what it meant at the time, but it changed everything for me.

It gave me access to world-class businesses and their best people, as well as the mindsets required to flourish in life and business. It took the ‘luck’ element out of things to some degree. It’s such a shame their school programmes aren’t available anymore. I’m indebted to them, and their business partners, as are hundreds of people like me.

Organisations like Arrival Education are vital for levelling the playing field. They effectively acted as that experienced parent, who knew how to navigate the world of work that people like me don’t have and universities and schools don’t teach you.

If businesses really want to diversify their workforces to include socially and ethnically diverse talent they need to think and act differently.

I don’t think my value comes from attending and studying at Cambridge alone but from the life lessons, I learned in order to get here.

Given that diverse talent typically don’t have access to top businesses, recruiters need to think differently. They should understand what different talent can bring and take a different approach to recruitment. Don’t assume that work experience and internships on CVs are signs of competence. Often it is just a sign of privilege.

Businesses need to think and act differently if they’re truly going to be able to capitalise on the full scope of the next generation of talent. As they say “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Changing the first part of the equation could result in some exciting new talent being accessed to give a real business benefit.

The diverse talent your organisation needs

We work on not only changing the way the businesses perceive and recruit diverse talent but also finding the brilliant and aspirational young people businesses need to create real change. Contact us via contact@arrivaleducation.com or speak with our Director, Daniel Snell via LinkedIn.

 

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