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Alex Stickler, winner of the One to Watch award, shares his experience with First Names Group

From the moment I arrived at the TARGETjobs Undergraduate of the Year Awards final, I knew that it had been worthwhile applying to. The raw talent that filled the room was incredible, and it was a great place to network and celebrate the achievements of the 120 finalists. With a group champagne breakfast in the Sky Garden (organised by our award category sponsor First Names Group), a fantastic three-course meal at the awards, and being announced as the overall prize winner, I can’t say that there are many days that could top this for me.

I originally applied for the One to Watch award as I loved the genuine interest taken by First Names Group in future potential. Having suffered with a brain injury while studying for my A levels, I’ve perhaps not previously been as successful as some of my peers, so I was thrilled to be able to demonstrate my passion and flare for a people-based work environment, and show what I am capable of when a task is given to me. The ability of the other applicants at the assessment centre was phenomenal, and I remember thinking that I didn’t envy the directors for having to choose a winner – I thought everybody performed with equal excellence and I wasn’t even sure I would make it through to the top ten!

First Names Group is a leading independent trust and corporate services provider, and as part of my award I am spending 10 weeks working in their head office in Jersey. I am honoured by the amount of responsibility and encouragement I am being given here; there is definitely no babysitting and I have been given projects to work on that will provide genuine value to the company.

Spending a day shadowing the chief commercial officer, two days with the head of business development, and time in accounting, administration, bookkeeping, compliance and fund management to name a few, the amount I have learned about the workings of a financial services company is staggering. This exposure to different divisions of the office is invaluable, as it enables me to not only get a general understanding of everything as a basis for future management roles, but it has helped me hone my business interests towards areas I would consider specialising in.

The highlight for me, however, has got to be being flown to Hong Kong to spend a week working in the Asian private client market – the contrast to a small island such as Jersey is just obscene! I was able to exceed expectations, completing a project designed for the week in just a few hours, and so was able to join in and help with a much broader range of activities. I loved the exposure I was offered, for example being able to give my input in intermediary meetings, offering fresh insight into how things could work. I was able to get a real flavour for the diverse nature of the financial industry and contribute to a sector that is rapidly expanding. The team were incredibly hospitable and I want to shower huge praise on them for ensuring I received the full Hong Kong experience in just a few days.

In my free time I was sent off to explore the surrounding areas, becoming immersed in the culture of local markets, remote islands, temples, and taking in stunning views from the top of The Peak. It is an incredibly diverse area of the globe and it’s somewhere I would highly recommend to everyone to see.

The One to Watch award has broadened my horizons in terms of working abroad; previously I had never considered the idea, but after spending a week with the First Names team, and learning about the incredible career progression that can be made, I am highly tempted to return to Hong Kong to progress within the financial industry.

I would absolutely recommend Undergraduate of the Year to anybody. Even if you aren’t successful, you can learn a lot from the application stages and, if you do come out on top, then you can enjoy and utilise an experience that vastly increases your business acumen, for use in your degree and future career alike. The calibre of applicants was higher than had been anticipated and so First Names Group decided to offer another two internships to other finalists. I am definitely behind this – the whole award was about nurturing future potential and so I am proud that this has been noticed throughout the process and rewarded with extra places. Talent shouldn’t be wasted just because there aren’t enough positions open.

Life after the Awards...

After winning the ‘One to Watch’ award in April 2017, the following summer was incredibly fulfilling and acted as a welcome break from university exams.

My ten-week placement with award sponsor First Names Group saw me complete challenging project work that I ultimately presented to a select group of directors, and take an action-packed trip to Hong Kong to get a flavour of the company’s international exposure. It was a fantastic experience and showed me that I am able to hold my own in front of senior professionals. It also broadened my horizons to the very real possibility of boosting my career by working abroad.

The day after finishing my internship I drove my friends to Boomtown Festival for four days of celebrations, and throughout the rest of August I took a four-day trip to Prague, attended several more festivals and spent the rest of my time on the beach – so it’s fair to say it was an eventful summer!

One year on and I’ve continued with the busy theme. I’ve since learned to snowboard, graduated with a first class honours BSc economics degree, and have now returned to First Names Group to undertake a full-time graduate role within the financial services industry. I am part of the first iteration of the firm’s new graduate ‘rotation’ trainee scheme, which will see me working within four separate client service segments and across four separate jurisdictions over a two-year period. My first role is with the Corporate team in Jersey, and from there I hope to take on new roles across Europe and Asia.

My first six weeks back with First Names Group have been great fun! There has been so much inclusion from my team and people around the business that it really is a pleasure to work here, and I have been impressed by the strong emphasis on professional development and becoming your personal best.

During my second month I was invited to take part in the company’s award-winning career development programme, Explorer, which took place at Center Parcs in Woburn Forest. This engaging, high intensity leadership crash course is designed not only to build relationships between colleagues from multiple jurisdictions, but also to nurture the underlying potential of high performing employees. The course involved a large number of complex tasks that required analysis, solid teamwork and clear structure, all within a very restrictive time constraint – followed by a few drinks at dinner of course!

Undertaking the Explorer training alongside colleagues in senior management positions has certainly been fruitful; I have learned a lot about myself as a young professional and gained valuable first-hand knowledge of effective management styles and techniques. I believe that interacting with colleagues from multiple jurisdictions, as well as having the opportunity to demonstrate my capabilities in front of department heads, has helped me cement myself firmly within the company, and has opened doorways for potential future roles.

I cannot wait to see what else First Names Group has in store for me. With their continued support I hope to prove myself a worthy winner, and indeed, ‘one to watch’.