Encouraging the economists: alumni trio return to speak to sixth-formers

Encouraging the economists: alumni trio return to speak to sixth-formers

A trio of Old Elizabethan Economics graduates gave senior pupils interested in following in their footsteps valuable career and life insights in a series of talks.

Zainul Jafferji (2000-2007), Zain Gulamali (2005–2012) and Yemi Falana (2008–2015) gave advice on topics ranging from critical thinking to internships during the programme of talks organised by the Economics department.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “Our alumni are heavily involved in helping current pupils in a wide variety of ways, from mentoring to conducting mock interviews. I am very grateful to Zainul, Zain and Yemi for giving their time so generously to guide QE economists of the future.”

Zainul visited on three consecutive weeks, while Zain and Yemi gave virtual talks.

It was, Zain told the Headmaster afterwards, “lovely to get a chance to ‘give back’… always keen to help where I can. I still remember how I felt when I was in their shoes and how important QE has been in my life since I left.”

Zainul Jafferji,  who took a Master’s in Economics (MPhil) at Cambridge, told Year 12 members of the Economics Group about applying for, and studying, Economics at Cambridge; he set out career paths, and he explained how to think like an economist.

On his first visit, he told members of the Economics Group about Cambridge’s Economics admissions process. Not only had taking a diverse range of A-level subjects (Mathematics, Economics, Physics, German) given him an edge and enabled him to stand out from the crowd, but his German is useful even today when he is advising German companies in his role as a Management Consultant, he said.

He urged the boys to start researching universities and courses early, suggesting they use the School’s online alumni network, QE Connect, to speak to OEs before applying. This was doubly important for Cambridge where the choice of college is important: he advised researching a college’s financial situation, location and, perhaps most importantly (!), menus, before applying.

Zainul stressed the importance of regularly reading The Economist and other Economics literature to prepare for interviews and advised the boys to hone their speaking skills by getting involved in debating and taking LAMDA speaking examinations.

He concluded the session by telling the boys to expect an intense, independently led course at Cambridge:  they would be either alone or in small groups in their tutorials and so would have nowhere to hide if they had not prepared correctly, he advised.

In week two, he outlined the four main career paths for Economics undergraduates: investment banking, management consulting, public policy and further study.

University of Cambridge career fairs begin three weeks after term starts, and applications for ‘Spring Weeks’ (an Easter internship) start soon after. It was, he said, important to apply early for “ferociously competitive” areas such as banking and consulting.

Zainul was able to secure a Spring Week at Royal Bank of Scotland in his first year. (He maintained that the bank’s financial collapse soon after, in 2008, was despite, rather than because of, his work there!)

In his final session, Zainul spoke on critical-thinking skills. He outlined the key skills required to think like an economist and to construct powerful, compelling arguments.

Students then split into three groups, looking at topics covering macroeconomics, microeconomics and econometrics. One group tackled the most current of issues: the impact of sanctions on Russia on the UK economy. He helped them to move beyond CPI as a measure and to better understand the worry of a wage-price spiral taking hold.

Afterwards, Economics teacher Sheerwan O’Shea-Nejad  said: “Zainul has been an excellent guide for the students through the process of choosing a university, thriving there, getting a job and excelling once employed.”

In his virtual talk, Zain Gulamali, who read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Warwick, said boys should start at university as they meant to finish, rejecting any thoughts of “the first year doesn’t count so I will work harder in the second and third years”.

He advised them to start applying for work experience immediately: there was no such thing as bad work experience, since even a boring placement could show them what to avoid.

Zain previously worked at an accountancy firm to qualify as an ACA accountant, but is now employed in the finance department of multi-national mining company Anglo-American.

He warned of the dangers of ending up in an unfulfilling repetitive career just to earn a large salary and impress others.

In his talk, which was also delivered online, Bristol graduate Yemi Falana related how he had switched from Medicine to Economics at university. He said frankly that his parents were keener on Medicine than he was.

Yemi stressed the importance of applying for internships early – even during A-levels. His included two with Goldman Sachs, where he then went on to take up a full-time post as an analyst in 2018.

Now an Associate with the investment bank, he advised researching the work-life balance and job security of different roles carefully, remarking on how he works shorter hours than the deal-making teams, and appreciates the opportunity to have more of a personal life.