Ellie completed her undergraduate degree in management from The University of Nottingham before beginning the retail and business banking graduate scheme at Santander
How did you get onto the graduate programme?
I applied directly through the Santander website, with the process beginning with an online form. After reviewing my application, Santander invited me to take a series of aptitude tests in situational judgment, numerical reasoning, and verbal reasoning. I scored in the top 10% on all three tests and was invited to participate in a digital blended assessment centre and final interview.
For the assessment centre component, I received a briefing a week prior and was tasked with creating a PowerPoint presentation on how Santander could improve its customer service. I delivered the presentation to two assessors, followed by a question-and-answer session. The final interview consisted of 12 questions, both personal and professional, about Santander and the financial industry.
What made you choose a career in finance?
From my days in primary school, I have always been fascinated by numbers. However, I was initially hesitant to pursue a career in finance due to the stereotype of it being a monotonous desk job.
As I advanced through my academic studies and conducted independent research on the finance sector, my perspective evolved, and I discovered a diverse array of roles that extend beyond the confines of a computer screen. This realisation helped me appreciate the diversity of the industry and its pivotal role in our society as the driving force behind our nation's economy.
My passion for the technical aspects of finance, such as numerical analysis and data interpretation, combined with my desire to make a meaningful impact in this vital sector, has fuelled my decision to embark on a career in finance.
What's a typical day like on the scheme?
I'm currently a month into my graduate scheme, and during this initial three-month period, I'm based at a Santander branch. I spend most of my time shadowing my colleagues to learn about the branch's operations.
This hands-on experience includes tasks such as greeting customers, answering their questions, directing them to the right department, and helping them with ATM transactions. I also participate in personal banker's meetings, which gives me a better understanding of the broader workings of the branch. Additionally, I'm working on a project to create a newsletter that highlights Santander's People Deal. The newsletter will be published in the market in the coming weeks. The variety of tasks and responsibilities I have at the branch makes each day informative and exciting.
What do you enjoy most about the programme?
I find the opportunity to interact with a diverse range of customers to be the most rewarding aspect. Manchester city centre attracts a broad spectrum of customers, varying in age, ethnicity, and financial situation. Each day, customers ask me questions about a range of financial topics - such as mortgages savings accounts, and investments - where I then book them an appointment with an individual who specialises in the specific area. I enjoy getting to know our regular customers and helping them with their financial needs. It's rewarding to see a smile on their faces when I can help them achieve their financial goals.
In addition, Santander's non-hierarchical culture sets it apart for me. While everyone has their defined roles, there is a collective spirit that values collaboration and support. Colleagues don't act superior to one another; they work together harmoniously. This atmosphere has made it easy for me to network with people throughout the organisation. I feel comfortable reaching out to individuals in various roles, from financial advisors to regional managers, as everyone is approachable, friendly, and genuinely eager to facilitate my learning journey in any way they can.
What are the challenges?
Financial matters can be stressful, and this stress often becomes evident when customers visit our branch. For example, customers may feel angry, frustrated, or even scared if they haven't received an expected payment or have experienced unexpected deductions from their account. As frontline branch employees, we are often the first point of contact and thus bear the brunt of these emotional outbursts.
One of the key challenges is staying calm and composed in high-pressure situations. It's crucial not to take the customer's emotions personally and to maintain a polite yet assertive demeanour when required.
This challenge is closely linked to another: the need to separate our personal emotions from our customers' financial circumstances. As representatives of Santander, we are obligated to uphold our consumer duty, which means prioritising the customer's best interests. This may involve offering help and support where possible, but it's essential to recognise that, as a bank, we have limits to the financial support we can provide customers. Learning not to internalise a sense of guilt in such situations is an ongoing challenge.
In what ways is your degree relevant?
My business management degree is highly relevant to my current role. I chose this programme due to its comprehensive curriculum, which covered a broad spectrum of business subjects, such as finance, accounting, marketing, and human resources. This wide-ranging curriculum gave me a strong foundation in business fundamentals, which are directly applicable to various departments within Santander.
This academic foundation has proven invaluable, particularly as I transition from my three-month branch placement to considering future roles within the organisation. The knowledge and skills gained during my university studies have helped me make informed decisions about which departments to select for future placements. For example, my interest in risk management, which I developed during my studies, has led me to consider placements in Santander's risk management department.
How has your role developed, and what are your career ambitions?
My journey at Santander has been marked by the continuous evolution of my role. As my confidence and experience have grown, so have my responsibilities and workload. I have also taken on a leadership role within my graduate cohort, actively organising communication channels and events to foster unity and camaraderie.
While my experience is still in its early stages, I am eager to explore various departments through my placements, each adding to my understanding of the organisation.
Looking ahead, I aspire to assume a leadership role where I can manage a team and create a collaborative and positive work environment.
What advice would you give to other women considering a career in finance?
Confidence is a foundational pillar of success, especially in male-dominated sectors like finance. It's not just about having confidence in your abilities, but also in your interactions and opinions. Even the smallest trace of self-doubt can be discerned by others, potentially inviting unnecessary critique and doubt from your peers. While it may sound cliché, the 'fake it until you make it' mantra can hold merit.
Imposter syndrome can also compound feelings of self-doubt. Research shows that a higher percentage of women, compared to men, grapple with imposter syndrome. The roots of this can be traced back to traditional gender roles and biases entrenched in the workplace. Women often face additional obstacles, societal expectations, and discrimination, all of which contribute to the pressure they experience. These pressures can erode confidence, making women feel like they don't belong, even when they are qualified and competent.
Recognising and addressing imposter syndrome is crucial for women in finance - reframing our thinking and acknowledging our capabilities are essential steps toward overcoming stereotypes. Practicing self-care and maintaining a kind and encouraging inner dialogue is crucial. It's vital to remind yourself that you are not inferior to your male counterparts. You possess the knowledge and expertise required to excel in the field. As a strong, capable, and empowered woman, you are more than capable of achieving anything you set your mind to.
What three tips would you give to others looking to apply for this scheme?
- Prepare and practice - Applying for graduate schemes can be highly competitive, so it's important to be well-prepared at every stage of the process. This means understanding what each phase entails, how long it typically lasts, and what you need to practice beforehand. There are many online resources available, including practice tests, examples of competency questions, and interview tips. Take advantage of these free resources to feel confident in your ability to handle any challenge that may come your way.
- Connect with previous graduates - One of the best ways to prepare is to reach out to previous graduates of the programme. Most graduate schemes have a cohort of alumni who can provide valuable insights. These individuals have experienced the same or a very similar selection process and are now working within the organisation, so they have first-hand knowledge of what the company is looking for. Don't hesitate to connect with them on professional platforms like LinkedIn. A polite message explaining your current application and requesting advice can be remarkably helpful. In my experience, these individuals are generally enthusiastic about offering guidance and sharing their knowledge.
- Be authentic and showcase your personality - While competence is essential, don't forget to let your unique personality shine through in your application. Companies aren't just seeking skills; they're also looking for individuals they'd want as colleagues. In a sea of applicants with impressive academic backgrounds and work experience, demonstrating your personality can set you apart. Consider personalising your CV by adding a touch of creativity without compromising on its professionalism. In competency-based questions during interviews, aim to relate your answers to unique experiences, making yourself memorable to the interviewers. Authenticity and individuality can make a significant difference in how you are perceived during the selection process.
Find out more
- Explore finance graduate schemes.
- Read about diversity in the workplace.
- Consider applying to the Santander graduate programme.