Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Career Diversity: A behind the scenes look at the HNC Finance Career Trek

Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) Career Services student worker and first-year MAIS student Nathan Rose gives us the inside scoop on the lessons learned from planning one of the famous HNC Career Treks. 
Hi! My name is Nathan Rose, and aside from being a normal HNC student I also work at the Career Services office.
 This month I was involved with organizing the HNC China Virtual Finance Panel. In organizing this event, I learned a lot about the possibilities HNC-ers can take advantage of.

First, when researching which alumni to reach out to, I was surprised to find out how many different places and sectors HNC alumni find themselves in. If one looks at the HNC LinkedIn Page, it is certainly clear that alumni tend to find work in state institutions (many, for example, gravitate towards the State Department). This is understandable, as the State Department and Ministry of Foreign Affairs seem like natural choices for students pursuing a degree in International Studies. However, looking beyond careers in the public diplomacy sphere, we see that HNC students pursue careers in a wide variety of fields. 

According to the HNC LinkedIn Page, there is a strong representation of alumni who have built careers in the business development sector. Other popular sectors are Education, Community and Social Services, Research, Media and Communication, and Finance. To use a more anecdotal example, I remember one of the first career treks I attended (2021 South East Asia Virtual Career Trek) featured an HNC alumni working in the videogame industry at Voodoo.io. I personally found this alumnus particularly inspiring; I’ve always been somewhat enchanted by the idea of working in the videogame industry but felt that my professional skills couldn’t possibly align. Looking at the diverse sectors that HNC alumni find themselves in, it seems that the breadth of possible career options for HNC students is much broader than one would initially assume. 

One can even find diversity within sectors. As I was organizing a finance-related career event, my research was, understandably, focused on the financial sector. Of course, there are many alumni working at firms that are easily categorized as being in the financial sector, such as Citi Bank, Goldman Sachs, BNP Paribas, Morgan Stanley, HSBC, Credit Suisse, JP Morgan, etc. However, there were some alumni working financial jobs at firms that wouldn’t traditionally be classified as “finance” firms. One alumnus worked as a Regional Senior Director at Proctor and Gamble; another works as a Budget Analyst at the National Institute on Drug Abuse… there were even some alumni who worked for the Economist Intelligence Unit (the sister company to The Economist Magazine that provides many of the analytical insights featured in The Economist). Such diversity can also be found in firms that are more traditionally perceived as being in the “finance sector.” For instance, for a finance firm to succeed, one needs analysts and data crunchers to understand the market, project managers to execute and manage specific projects, customer service specialists and relationship managers to maintain and expand relationships with clients, and even legal specialists to review contracts and ensure existing projects comply with relevant laws and regulations. This is all to say that there is a surprising diversity of opportunities in the finance sector, not only in firms not traditionally seen as “financial” but also within more traditional finance firms themselves. 

Another interesting insight I gained from organizing this event is how helpful and welcoming the SAIS/HNC alumni network can be. Cold-calling people is always a somewhat nerve-wracking experience; I always feel as if I am imposing on people—a feeling made even more awkward by a lack of familiarity. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by the positive responses I received from SAIS and HNC alumni. In my process of reaching out and recruiting for this event, I never received a negative response from any HNC or SAIS alumni. Even those with scheduling conflicts expressed a willingness to assist with future events next year. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the positive responses I received from the alumni I contacted.

I would like to close by giving fellow (and future) students some nuggets of advice I gained from planning this Career Trek.

First: Career possibilities for HNC students are much broader than many initially assume, and I would encourage students to step out and explore options that they might not have previously considered (as a completely unbiased tip: HNC alumni panels and career treks are a great way to explore these possibilities with minimal student time costs). Second: I would encourage students to similarly research unexpected possibilities within sectors (see previous completely unbiased tip). Finally, I encourage students to reach out to HNC and SAIS alumni if they have particularly burning questions about a specific job or field. I experienced very positive reactions when I reached out, and I can’t think why alumni would act any different.