Case study

Senior consultant — Helena Maxwell

Helena explains how her language skills and interest in politics led her to a career in risk consulting

How did you get your job?

I wanted a job where I could use my language skills and where my interest in politics would be useful. I'm particularly interested in the politics of emerging market countries and also like problem solving and carrying out independent research. Risk consulting ticks all those boxes and gives me the option to travel for work and live abroad, which was also important to me.

I heard about the industry from a friend, started doing some research and then just sent my CV to a couple of companies that I liked the look of. I accepted a position at Control Risks.

What's a typical day in risk consulting like?

A typical day is quite hard to define as the job is incredibly varied. Each week I'm looking at a new company or individual and seeking answers for my client. I could be meeting clients to discuss their concerns, travelling to build our contact network or researching a specific industry. The work is very project based, which dictates hours a lot, but typically I start at around 8:30 am and leave at about 6pm.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

I really enjoy the variety and am always learning about new things. I also work with an incredibly interesting and diverse group of people. The requirement to be able to speak languages inevitably means that my colleagues come from all over the world.

What are the challenges?

The work is fast paced and the deadlines can be very challenging as we are often answering time-critical questions for our clients. You also must like independent research and be a self-starter. People are there to help but no one is going to supervise you in writing a report step by step.

How has your degree helped you?

My undergraduate degree is what got me my job. I am a rare commodity as a native English speaker who speaks fluent Portuguese. My degree also forged my interest in Latin American and African Portuguese, and gave me the analytical and writing skills needed to write good quality reports to tight deadlines.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

My role has developed a lot during the three and a half years I've been in the industry. I am now much more client facing and have a lot more responsibility. I manage several key relationships for my company and am given a lot of autonomy in how I do this. I am continuing to develop my project and people-management skills, and every week I deal with a new set of complex questions.

What advice can you give to others wanting to go into political risk?

You really need to be able to demonstrate your curiosity in the types of issues and questions that we are dealing with on a daily basis. Make sure you're reading about current affairs every day and that you can apply this interest to real life questions.

Writing skills are important, but it's a different style to what you might be used to in academic writing. It needs to be clear, concise and written quickly.

Talk to as many people as you can in the industry. Building a network is really important. This can be more difficult than in other industries, but don't be afraid to get in touch with people by using LinkedIn, for example.

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