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How I Broke Into Technology at an Investment Bank - An Interview with Emmanuel Okyere

by CorpFit Team on April 05, 2021

Breaking into Technology is often viewed as a daunting task for students, but the right mindset and preparation will boost your chances of achievement tenfold.  

In this blog post we spoke with Emmanuel, a Technology Analyst and Corporate Coach on the CorpFit platform.

Q: Thank you for your time today Emmanuel, for the readers information could you share a brief introduction into your background and what you’re doing today

A: You're welcome. My name is Emmanuel Okyere, a first-year graduate technology analyst with Citibank, currently in the equities platform development team. I’ve been at Citi for 6-7 months, and will stay in the team up until September before my next rotation. 

Q: Interesting! So what drove your passion for the technology sector?

A: I feel like its a bit cliché but I am an inquisitive guy, I always liked to break and fix things growing up so I suppose technology was quite a natural path for me.

During my time at school, I was also given an opportunity to build a website. So I took the time out to learn HTML & CSS for this project, from there I've been taking every opportunity I can to get more involved in Computer Science and Technology.

I'm also into Cars, and used to draw my favourite models growing up. This eventually evolved into attempting to build the Lamborghini website which is how I eventually learnt how to code.

Q: So what did you study at GCSE & A-Levels (Grades)

 A: During the GCSE stage, I was the typical science-focused kid. I studied triple science, but due to the school I went to (Beths Grammar School), I had the opportunity to take up a few GCSE's or A-Levels early.  

I chose to study A-Level Maths and Computing in year 11 due to my interests in IT. Being part of the small group of people who chose computing really boosted by interest in programming and allowed me to get the fundamentals down.

For A-Levels, I studied Computing, Maths, Physics and Further Maths and achieved A*AAB respectively. I also studied AS Electronics but dropped it due to how niche the subject was. 

Q: Brilliant! It goes to show how far an early interest can take you. So what was your first programming language?

My first ever language was Visual Basic.  

Q: Given your A-Level choices it seems that Computer Science was an obvious choice, did you consider any other courses at University?

A: Maths & Engineering.

Q: Interesting, so what made you decide on Computer Science in the end?

A: I felt like Computer Science had enough mathematical content, I also wanted to continue to learn programming and develop my analytical and problem-solving ability. Computer Science also offered a clear career route, and the option to pivot into Finance if I wanted to.

Q: Where did you apply for University? What made you choose Warwick over others?

A: I was put in that position to be completely honest, I wanted to study at a top ten university and was willing to do a gap year if necessary to get there. In the grand scheme of things, what's a year anyway? I applied to Oxford, Imperial College London, Warwick, Bristol and Nottingham.  

Both Oxford and Imperial required the MAT (Maths Admissions Test), which was one of the hardest papers I have sat. I interviewed at Imperial however, as I studied the full AS and A-Level for Further Maths in my final year of sixth form, was less prepared for certain questions asked.

Q: How did you enjoy your experience at Warwick?

A: Group of people I met on my course were definitely a major strong point for me. The university is also quite multicultural, and enjoyed getting to know people from different backgrounds to me.

It was also quite a sporty university, even if you don't want to play at a competitive level. I played basketball for the university team during my 1st and 2nd year, but I also enjoyed the recreational side of things as you get to meet new people and it kept campus life interesting.

Q: After arriving at Warwick, at what stage did you start thinking about your career and the next steps upon graduating? 

A: I feel like I was quite early to the game. I started to hear people on campus discuss initiatives like on campus like Rare Recruitment and SEO London, and at that point I wasn't part of any of these types of organisations and felt like I was behind.

This motivated me to seek out opportunities apply for a number of events. I ended up applying to SEO and attending an event. Following this, I learned about Spring Weeks and made a decision to apply to as many as possible.  

In the end, I was able to achieve offers from: Bank of America (Investment Banking), Citibank (Technology) and Morgan Stanley (Markets). 

Q: Very strong set of offers. So what was your approach / methodology when applying?

A: I was focused on applying to institutions that were high performing and would provide the best options for my career and those firms were the most obvious to me. I also considered the likes of Google but felt they were a bit out of reach for me given the levels of preparation required.

Touching on my methodology, I started by applying to the companies I didn’t want first, using those as practice. I also wanted to make it as easy for myself to apply, so then submitted applications to companies which did not require cover letters.

By this stage, I had made a number of applications and progressed to the testing stage. If I failed a test, I'd use that as an indicator to do more practice before completing another.

For all companies which required cover letters, I applied last. I don't know if that was a good strategy but it allowed me to use my former applications and interviews as practice and to gain momentum in the process. 

Q: What would you say the most important parts of the application process were to nail?

A: I feel like people become so hung up over trying to perfect every stage of the process. My perspective was to be appropriate at every stage and check the boxes, you need to at least be appropriate, before you can become outstanding.

Make sure the key things are at a decent level: 

  • Your CV should showcase relevant experience and skills for that role
  • Cover Letter should make sense for the role you are applying to
  • Then, you can start to think about the personal strengths you have and how to leverage that in your application

So that's my approach, I believe you can't be an outstanding candidate without checking those fundamental boxes.

Q: You touched on the CV & Cover Letter being fundamental to a successful application, do you have any tips for those reading along who may be early in their academic career? 

A: Good question. I was working with a mentee of mine this week on his CV, and he didn't have experiences directly applicable for the role so for students early in their career I'd suggest the following: 
  • Leverage your experiences: I believe it’s important tailor any kind of experience you do have, in order to demonstrate the necessary skills required for the role. 
  • Format: It's important for things to look organised and neat. Over time, I arranged a unique format for the technology applications. I feel like I took a bit of a risk as it was not a typical format, but it ended up working out very well  

Q: Which extracurricular activities at Warwick did you think helped you secure your role?

A: At a university like Warwick there are loads of things you can do. Joining groups like the Finance society, Trading society, Data Science and AI society, Warwick Africa Summit and Warwick Congress were all great experiences for me. 

Societies also offer the opportunity to take on a leadership role and to build your network. I find mirroring the success of more senior students who came before me was very helpful. 

My most immediate network was also a key contributing factor, these were the guys I lived with during my university experience. We each focused on covering the "five bases" (in no particular order):

  1. Applications
  2. University Work  
  3. Vibes 
  4. Gym 
  5. Learning languages and extra skills

Q: Let’s touch on the interview process, what were the key areas you’d research for the interview?

A: Depends on the stage, as the type of interview questions change with experience. Fortunately, I completed my assessment centre a year early for Citi and used a lot of knowledge gained from my Spring Week experience to gain the offer.

  • Know the basics: for technology roles specifically, I'd say being able to understand solve basic programming questions (algorithms, data structures etc.)
  • Commercial awareness: Keeping up to date with both the technology and financial sector is also an important factor. I'd watch Bloomberg weekly, and practicing preparing a stock pitch also helped me 
  • Be personable and challenge the interviewer: Always keep in mind what you can gain from that firm, I find asking challenging questions back to the interviewer can help you remain memorable in the process.

Q: Considering we’re in the Easter break, do you have any tips for the current class of Spring Interns on how to stand out and convert their internship?

A: The way I see it, a Spring Week is about being positively enthusiastic. It is an opportunity to learn as much as possible, and ask more detailed questions about the role and company, showing your interested is key to standing out.

A spring also will allow you to think about which divisions will help you develop the skillsets you desire for your future. This is how I was able to consider the trade-offs and benefits of each division.

Overall, I'd say what will maximise your success is showing that you’re eager to learn.

Q: Amazing answer, shall we talk about maximising your chances of conversion whilst on the internship?

A: I’d say its all about building positive relationships. When working or speaking with someone it's like leaving a business card with them, so it's important to try and put your best foot forward and stay on top of your game. In addition: 

  • Treat each day like a new interview and opportunity: When you make a mistake during an internship, it's easy to fall into the trap of hanging onto your errors. For me, I treated each day like it was an interview day, every day is a chance for you to impress and gain an opportunity to reach the next stage
  • Networking within the firm (and with the fellow interns): A lot of students only focus on their performance on the desk. In Summer, myself and a few other interns at the bank formed a knowledge sharing session which greatly improved my experience at Citi
  • Be a team player: You may not be the one with the great idea, but showcasing your ability to work well and support others will certainly work in your favour

    Q: Thank you for sharing those gems, Spring Interns have no reason not to impress! Now that you’ve progressed to becoming a graduate analyst, what would you say have been the biggest opportunities and challenges for you working full time:

    A: For me, the biggest challenge was overcoming imposter syndrome. Other analysts at the firm were very good, however this should not intimidate you. You need to find a way to polish your own skills and let that serve as motivation. 

    Working from home (WFH) also posed its own set of challenges, given we aren't working in the office it is harder to gain assistance or ask quick questions.  

    On the other hand, WFH has allowed me to optimise my time and also save money due to lack of commute. 

    I also was able to get involved in a diversity initiative at Citi. This has allowed me expand my internal network and access new opportunities at the firm. For example, I was able to present to senior members of the organisation just last week on key Diversity and Inclusion topics. 

    Also, another opportunity has been the chance to develop in my chosen profession and learn from the more senior peers around me at the firm. 

    Q: You mentioned imposter syndrome, was this due to your confidence in your skill level? Did heritage have a part to play?

    A: A little bit. I feel like there is an element of not knowing if you are good enough to do a piece of work, and also how much of your authentic self you can bring to work.

    For me, a good thing has been the ability to work with senior individuals in the organisation, who were black and also come from a similar background to me. This was very helpful in building up confidence to be myself on the role.

    Initially, I was quite tentative on knowing how I would fit in. I believe this point works two ways however. I think people from ethnic backgrounds sometimes believe diversity is only about people who look like us. Always keep in mind that you may have a colleague in the office who is also from a different nation, I find that taking interest in other people and their cultures has made it easier for them to do the same and foster a good working relationship. 

    Q: That was an amazing interview, thank you for your time. Outside of work, what does Emmanuel get up to and where can we find you on social platforms? Any book reviews too?

    I enjoy focusing on my fitness, albeit less so than whilst at University. I am also currently working on a start-up idea and am passionate about mentoring and giving back to people. I am also a part of Nural Research, working on providing technology content to the younger generation. 

    Book Suggestions:

    • Cracking The Coding Interview, Gayle Laakmann McDowell: https://amzn.to/3sQ7NCH
    • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey: https://amzn.to/3sQ89t1
    • Atomic Habits, James Clear: https://amzn.to/3dz6ZeX
    • Principles, Ray Dalio: https://amzn.to/39H3Qsx

    Instagram: @emmanuel.io

    LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/emmanuel-okyere-304434150/

    CorpFit Profile: https://corpfit.com/products/emmanuel-okyere

    Website: Coming soon! 

    Comment below your favourite part of the post and any questions for Emmanuel!


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