This week’s problem

I am a refugee who recently graduated in economics in Italy and will be undertaking a Master of Science degree in finance at Trinity College, Dublin. After arriving in Italy during the refugee crisis in 2015, I had to start from nothing. I always wanted to work in investment banking but I am finding it hard to secure an internship. What is the best way to do this given my non-linear path? Male 20s

Jonathan’s answer

In just five years, you have left your home country seeking refuge elsewhere, studied for an economics degree, and been accepted for a graduate degree at a leading university. You seek to build a career in investment banking which is an industry that usually has quite formal entry processes to cope with the large numbers of applicants. 

You probably don’t want to be defined solely by your refugee background and City firms generally work hard to eliminate bias in recruitment, but your career path to date doesn’t fit the usual. Given the last five years, and more importantly the period leading up to leaving your home, you will have developed and demonstrated some rare skills that can be of great use in specific parts of the industry. 

It will be instructive to evaluate why you are finding it hard; observe and analyse the barriers you have found so you can define what resonates with recruiters, what gaps you may have (and which can be filled), and which types of recruiter find your background interesting and suitable, and which don’t. 

Evaluate which parts of the investment banking industry would play to your strengths: from front office sales to back office analysis, and from asset management to equities trading. Within the sector, which firms are historically more open to people with diverse backgrounds? Try using LinkedIn, or your universities’ alumni groups, to find people who have trodden the path you want to follow.

You’ll have a fascinating, brave and unusual story to tell and finding a receptive audience in the right part of the industry should help you start the next stage in your career. Readers have already offered to help: if they send details via the [email protected] email address, we will pass them all on to you.

Readers’ advice

It’s wonderful what you have achieved. My sense, however is that the lack of response is due to the business climate, and is not down to your non linear path. If anything, that’d prove to be an asset in the long run. Jack W

Your journey has, I’m sure, been anything but easy. You need to find a firm that sees your tenacity as more valuable than an Eton blazer. I really hope they exist in practice rather than just in HR policies. Aberdaberdoo

Lots of companies talk about ‘diversity’, and some individual managers actually practise it. They actually see and believe in the value that people from different backgrounds can bring. You need to find one of those individuals. I suggest a ‘door knocking campaign’ — keep making contact with as many people from as many different target organisations as you can, until you finally find someone who can see how you would fit and bring value to them. LondonReader

Jonathan Black is director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Every fortnight he answers your questions on personal and career development, and working life. Do you have a question for him? Email [email protected]



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