Are you sure that you want to go to university? Can you afford to study at university? Why do you partake in so many extra-curricular activities?

Throughout my life, these are just some of the questions that I have repeatedly been asked by my friends, peers and teachers. It is demoralising to hear comments such as these and at times it has led me to question whether I deserve to be at university. However, seeing just how hard-working my mum is has really inspired me to work towards achieving my aspirations. I perceive being a first generation university student not as a disadvantage but as something that has made me more determined to succeed and I have learned that you must take every opportunity on offer.

I first became aware of the TARGETjobs Undergraduate of the Year Awards when I was researching different job sectors. I pre-registered for updates and when the applications opened for 2021, I applied for the First Generation Undergraduate of the Year Award. I specifically chose this award for two reasons. Firstly, I felt that it was the most applicable to my own experiences and strengths and, secondly, because the fast paced and challenging nature of the banking sector has always interested me. The whole application process was a whirlwind of emotions! The first stage involved sending a written application to TARGETjobs. I found this stage very enjoyable because I felt that TARGETjobs and HSBC really wanted to gain an insight into my values and the different extracurricular activities that I am involved in. Following this, I received an email informing me that I had been selected to participate in the online aptitude tests. Despite being initially nervous, the nerves melted away and I really enjoyed the opportunity to practise different online aptitude tests and learn more about HSBC.

To my surprise, a couple of months later I received another email inviting me to a virtual assessment centre with HSBC. This was the first opportunity that I had to meet different HSBC stakeholders and to ask any questions that I might have about the banking sector, HSBC or the internship. The whole experience was incredibly positive and the HSBC strengths-based interview, included as part of the assessment centre, provided me with a crucial opportunity to reflect.

The awards ceremony was held online this year, which was really nice because it meant that my family and friends could also attend. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience – from speaking Russian with Rachel Riley to networking with key stakeholders at HSBC and the other finalists. I will never forget the moment that my award was announced and I saw my name appear on the screen. I never considered when I applied for this award that I would have been selected to reach the final, let alone that I would win the award, so I was left completely speechless.

Approximately 70% of the finalists shortlisted for my award were economics or maths undergraduates, so initially I was unsure whether banking would be open to someone doing my degree. However, the fact that I won the award is recognition that degrees in a range of subjects can open doors to different industries. It is often about having strong transferrable skills and having the confidence to push past your comfort zone.

Since the awards ceremony, I have been in contact with last year’s winner, Will, and we organised a zoom meeting to talk about our experiences and any tips that he might have before my internship commences in the summer. I am so grateful for the opportunities that have been provided to me since winning the First-Generation Undergraduate of the Year Award. I am so excited to immerse myself in an exciting industry and meet like-minded people who are at the forefront of the banking sector.

My advice for anyone who is considering whether to apply for the Undergraduate of the Year Awards is to believe in yourself and apply! The application process is so rewarding and offers you an unrivalled opportunity to practise different aptitude tests, develop your skills set and network with different stakeholders.