Transcript of podcast episode with alumni guest speaker, Lucius Pan.
Podcast length: 40:59
Cate: Welcome everyone to this episode of Career Talk. I will be hosting the podcast today; my name is Cate Linforth. I am the International Employer Liaison Officer here at the University of Birmingham Careers Network. I am so excited today because we are joined by Lucius Pan. Welcome Lucius.
Lucius: Hi everyone.
Cate: Thank you for joining us today, it's really nice to see you again. It's been ages.
Lucius: Yes, definitely and yes, a lot of good memories coming back.
Cate: Well Lucius, if you wouldn't mind just introducing yourself a little bit in terms of where you're from, what you studied with us at the university and just generally what you're up to now, and where are you based.
Lucius: Yes, definitely so, I originally come from southern China. I come from a very small town called Wuzhou and then I went to university at that time in Guangzhou, Southern China. And because I’ve completed a joint degree programme, so I actually done my two last years of undergrad in University of Birmingham but I’ve met a lot of good friends have a lot of fun memories and so I graduated back in 2017- gosh feels the long time ago, right now, and based in London, so I worked for NatWest Group which you probably are familiar with one of their brands; RBS or NatWest and I currently work as a Strategic Innovation Manager.
Cate: Wonderful! And in terms of, broadly speaking, what does your role involve and what do you do on more of a day-to-day basis for anyone who isn't familiar with that.
Lucius: Yes, of course, and I suppose the title of Strategic Innovation Manager doesn't really give you any sense of what it's actually doing.
Cate: They rarely do.
Lucius: They rarely do. I guess for my particular role I work in data analytics function so, which means that we work, we work on specifically introducing machine learning projects for, let's say, delivering machine learning projects into the context of bank.
So, let's say if any department in the banks, they have any specific questions if any particular business problems, and my team would be in charge of scoping that problem, identifying that business requirements, and now we're going to utilizing some machine learning models and then we're going to solve that problem using that using that advanced algorithm and all those slides from the gig slide stuff I probably, probably very technical for everyone in the call but , it's fun it's interesting , I definitely learned a lot from this post.
Cate: It sounds really, really interesting and is this obviously it's quite different to what you studied at university.
What did you want to do while you were studying? Or is this- did you always know that you wanted to go into this type of field, or what were you interested in when you were a student?
Lucius: Thanks, Cate I think that is a brilliant question so, to be honest, I think I got this I got asked about this a lot and I guess the one key word that always mentioned is artificial intelligence (AI) because I think even when I was studying at Uni, so actually studying Psychology, so at that time I have huge interest about the involvement and then also the development of the world of AI, especially around the ideas that we can use machine to actually solve the problem where human mind can probably take years.
So, it's really fascinating- it very much draws upon my, a lot of my attention so even when I was in University of Birmingham I still remember my dissertation is about, ‘How should I/ how would I be able to study the interaction between machine and human?’. So, at that time my interest has been gravitating towards that and so I guess the thrust or the key which actually takes me to my current position because again, it would be that keywords because I joined the Bank, three years ago. So, I started from a technology graduate schemes, and in those graduate schemes, I was trying to look for opportunity where I can get closer to this type of work and I think it's just very lucky that after I wrote off and I applied last year, at the end of last year I applied for this role, and I got for this. So right now, it moving to this database and getting a lot closer to machine learning.
So, to answer your question, it wasn't exactly the same as I probably envisioned myself doing when I was going through my university time, but I feel lucky that I actually get this opportunity.
Cate: It sounds it was a pretty natural progression, though, based on what your interests were, and it sounds you, even though you didn't envisage that this would be what you would do in more specifically, there was already the foundation of your interest was already piqued for, AI and technology to then go into that.
So, um, obviously you said that you mentioned that you, you started out by doing a graduate scheme. Tell me about the nature of the graduate scheme. Did you spend all of your time and one department or was it rotational and that you, you tried a few different departments during the scheme or how did, how was it set up?
Lucius: of course, so I guess the graduate scheme is very interesting when I think of it, I’m really appreciative of this offer the offer by NatWest group because, at that time, we still get 4 rotations. So, so I got the opportunity to try out different things new for you, new offices in different areas and for myself, so my first post is in, in the platform teams, where I work as a scroll master. And I was working a lot of contexts of 'agile’. Agile is one of the big methodologies everyone's talking about right now in the workplace, so you instead of doing projects, waterfall base, the things that we keep using, we're doing it intuitively so that's the nature of agile. So, I learned a lot about that side in my first post.
And then I moved on to my second post, whereas I work as a solution architect. So that role I actually got a lot closer to, what would be the, what would be the way to envision, why should I deliver something businesses want and how do I actually deliver it in a language of technology. So, I think that taught me a lot in that post.
And then the third post is about, the strategy elements of it, so I moved into a strategic our Center of Excellency is what we call it, it’s pretty much a, it's a research hub where I research functionality, where I look into lots of how we actually , provide the best research for the Bank and how do you actually help the Bank, to help different departments in the bank to formalize roadmap so that was my third rotation.
On to my last one, I actually enrolled into an AI Chat Bot team, which is team that I actually, , I’ve at the end I should go off to, so in that team I got a lot more exposure of how to build an AI Chatbots, how, natural language processing as it's being used in the context of bank and that really set me up well for my current role.
So, my current role, look at the machine learning element so it's one layer on top of all the transcripts that we've got in the bank. So, I guess if I look back into my journey from grad scheme to my current role it's actually evolving very naturally.
But I think that in that process that there is a lot of , networking, a lot of chances for me to chat to people to understand what's going on the industry and also, , some just sort of moments for me to do self-reflection to try to figure out what I want, and so I guess I’m quite lucky in that regard, so I found that the things I feel passionate about I got the opportunity and I got the got the road where I am right now.
Cate: It sounds a really interesting progression, it sounds the graduate scheme itself gave you, well, it worked in the way that it was meant to work in that it gave you a real taster for a few different areas of the business.
And for you to then go on and decide what you were most interested in and progress through that channel. Did you find that, when you were on the graduate scheme, were there enhanced training opportunities or social elements or mentoring, or anything to help ease that transition from university to full time work.
Lucius: definitely and I think that's one of the blessings for graduate program is that they give you that room for you to grow, and I think, especially when you just joined the Bank and you got a lot of opportunity to to social with the people you're wider team to, , you can get to where you can get to where you get to ask a lot of very stupid question the way I see it right now. But that that is the beauty of it, right to go through that onboarding and I think the team is very welcoming that time and I guess, I was the elements that we also get the mentoring, I think, as you rightly pointed out.
So, the mentor that I’ve got back from my Grad program, I still got a very good connection, good contact with her. So we're still going through that mentoring sessions, so I guess it just very nicely, every time I think of it is it's almost an experience that you did and then the experience that you want to hold on to, and then it gives you that start every time I talked to my mentors is really nice consistent I can get to I see how it progressed myself from Grad program the way to where I am right now.
And my mentor knows everything's about the personality, how we tend to do things so I guess maybe one tip for anyone probably listening to the podcast as well is that as soon as you get into that professional environment, even before we get into that don’t be afraid to reach out for help to ask for your mentorship and that could really benefit you.
Cate: Definitely, and I think that so, , so many of these the larger companies in particular that have grads schemes, the purpose of them is to focus on graduate retention and they want to give you a really good insight into the different areas of the business, so you can find that niche where you'll fit in the most, but also they want to onboard you in the most supportive way possible and so that you're moulded to their working environment, but also so that you stay and it's a mutually beneficial experience it sounds you've had a really positive experience with that so far.
Lucius: I would definitely second that. The other element that I want to mention is that, as an international student, I think it all comes down to the fact that we inevitably that we look at sponsorship and then we start thinking about ‘what would be the very feasible next step for us to move into an early career path in, somewhere outside of your home country?’ And I think grad programs actually sit very nicely in that transition, because the thing, un some of the other, experience hires, that you need to demonstrate very strong experience not only skillset but also experience of working in let's say working in projects or experience of, by going through very technical elements of, of the work. So, in certain aspects as those I think in Grad program that selection process really much focus on, your motivation, why do you want to join for this company, and they know what your passions are, so I know what are the things that, you're very passionate about and then also the elements of, collaboration. their focus is a lot more is definitely okay that you're not, as ready as the experience hire, but, how well/how determined you want to become into that., whether you want to leverage your network, whether you want to reach out for help, whether you're a team player to make sure that we delivered the outcome as a team. So, they focus, I think the process of grant program focusses a lot more in these elements. Which I think is something that as a as a student who just got into, just get into society, something that we can certainly demonstrate.
Cate: Definitely. When you when you were studying at Birmingham - obviously you did a joint degree, so you studied two years in Guangzhou before coming to Birmingham- did you have an idea that you wanted to stay in the UK, while you were studying or were you planning on returning to China?
Lucius: And that's a very good question. I think to be completely honest I didn't plan for it- very sort of, put it this way, the elements of when I was in Birmingham student life was good with stuff like Selly Oak and the Vale and everything. I really enjoy living here- I think that's very key element. So, I enjoyed being in this country and being in this culture as well. I guess, the second element as well I guess, I always assume when I looked at some of my peers, who decided to actually go back and I think when I look at their experience it made me start thinking about this question- ‘what is that lifestyle?’, ‘Is it very demanding?’ or ‘If I want to move very high up in this company back in China what does it mean for my work life balance?’. With these types of questions, I only get to think about the more carefully when I’m approaching that point when I think about careers and everything.
So, I guess, if I can hear anything back right now, when I just came to UK, to Birmingham, I did start looking for internships in my first summer break. But if I were to make it even better, I would probably suggest everyone who's listening, as well to make that career aspiration move as early as possible. Don't even wait for employers, just do something right now. I guess that's probably one of the things that I feel like if I’d explored a lot more, I would be able to reach that decision a lot easier. I did spend some time myself trying to learn different options and trying to look for different career opportunities.
Cate: In terms of your time at Birmingham, what did you find you did to help to get you career ready if you will, the most? Was it engaging with Careers Network, was it involvement in any societies or sports teams, or was it other things?
Lucius: First of all, I’d like to advocate for Careers Network for sure, because not only taking all of the very valuable lessons from our career coaches, but I was also part of the Careers Network at one point- I was part of the International Ambassador team, and I was also working for the team as my first internship in the country. So, all those experiences actually build up very nicely in terms of giving me that work environment and giving me that chance for me to owning certain things, that ownership sort of thing so. I guess that's definitely helped me tremendously in a sense that demonstrating that I can work in a completely different culture. In a culture where even English is not my first language, but I was still able to operate and work here so those experienced with Careers Network really helped me a lot.
I think the second elements of that would be the opportunity I was given to be able to talk to the various employers throughout the recruitment events. I think Careers Network were really great in that regard, because I think, if I’m not wrong, so I think those events do go on right now, so that you're still able to have that chance to get to talk to the employer, understand what they're looking for, how is it different for different employers. So, I think that is a really good place for you to start having those understanding, so I guess Careers Network organized those events, so we appreciate that.
And I think the third element which I probably look back in my times in your University of Birmingham was also being part of the societies. I was part of the Enactus society. At that time, we were trying to look for a social enterprise project, where we tried to provide some support from the homeless youth back in the time. I guess what I’m trying to say is that even without the formal experience of working with an employer and in a country’s organizations, you can still get the equivalent experience in a non-working environment. Let's say if you're in a society, but if you're being very clear on what would be the inputs that you got at the start of a project, where your time was and what is the output created. And if we can try to quantify that and try to build a story, on top of it, I think that is actually essentially what the employers are looking for in a Grad Program.
They have the expectations that you just graduated so there's no way you could get five years' experience to join a Grad program. With all due respect, there are some other cases like that, but in most cases, they wouldn't have that expectation that you have a lot of work experience. Instead, what they're looking for I think it's a framework and looking for your critical people capability, whether you're demonstrating you have certain capabilities that fit into what the company is looking for and, secondly, whether, if you already have those capability, have you got any experience or examples that you can prove that.
So, if I if I put it that way- if you're really interested about something there's no way you wait for the whole of your three years in the university without doing anything about it.
So, I guess it's the elements of even though you don't have a very formal working experience, what would be the exploration, or what would be the thing that you've tried to make you closer to that point. Every little step counts in that regard.
Cate: That’s such an important point, I think. When you when you look at it, experience isn't just classified by internships or work experience. Obviously, those are such valuable experiences to have, but for the students who don't necessarily have those, that's not to say that there isn't hope because any experience, either within your course on project work or within sports teams or societies or part time jobs, anything that you do or participate in, you can use that to promote your skill set and to promote what you have to offer to a company, and I think that's where you've hit the nail on the head there, there are so many different ways to paint that cohesive picture of who you are as an individual and that it's not just about one thing or another.
Lucius: I completely agree and, I think, if I can build on to that, I would say, I guess it's the mindset, I really wanted to advocate that when you done that piece of work where you're trying to position that work to future employer, I would suggest you start thinking about the STAR format: situation, tasks, actions, and results. Not only for the work-related thing but also basis for everything that happens in your life. How would you actually put all the things into that framework, because the moment you start thinking about that and apply it, it helps you to start thinking about employers and what are they actually looking for and how would you actually demonstrate your capability in very, very vivid and also very intriguing examples that can be provided there.
So, the more you start thinking about how you demonstrate that STAR framework, the better you can illustrate, so when you actually go to talk to build a story about yourself.
Cate: I think that's such that such valuable advice as well it's not necessarily that you've got the experience but it's how you articulate yourself and how you promote yourself and how you're able to promote your skill set, and I think if we start looking at things within that STAR format, we know that that's a format that employers use to tick off the boxes when they're going through interviews or when they're reading through applications and everything. They look for those examples in that format, so if we can promote ourselves in that format, it makes it really easy for nothing to be missed, and for them to really see our experience in that valuable light. Just going back to that recruitment process then for the graduate scheme, how did you find it? Obviously with graduate schemes sorry, there are notoriously several stages before you get the offer. So, walk us through that a little bit- how did you find it? Were there certain elements that you found more challenging than others? Were there certain elements that as an international student you perhaps felt you could have been more prepared for? What did you think?
Lucius: I think this is a very good question. Maybe I should just start with this line, this is one of my favourite quotes whenever I talk about grad schemes is that you only need one offer. I think that's my favourite quote. So, I guess if I draw from that line and then to try to answer your question that is, if you only need one offer then I guess it really alleviates a lot of the elements of negative feelings that you've got from rejections. I guess, at the end of day you only need one offer right, so I guess if that's the understanding we can build upon, then I go back to that to that to that process. I'm not sure if that's the same right now, but I think in my own experience. You tend to start from either numerical or verbal situation-based online testing, so it tends to start with that.
And then you can move to a place where you have actually passed all the tests and you have actually been invited into a video interview. In some cases, it might be a few rounds of video interview, sometimes maybe one to one, or sometimes maybe pre-record your answer.
And then, if you pass that stage you've been invited into one-to-one. And if the interview, and I think the last step in those grad programmes then tends to be an assessment day. In an assessment day, there were actually a lot of my group exercises. I think I attended various assessment days. It's a lot of fun I think it's key to be yourself. I think that's probably my top tip for the assessment days and then definitely be prepared. Because there is a format, or there are patterns of how you can position yourself better, like how you can accelerate in group discussions to make yourself stand out. So be prepared and definitely do your research. Do your homework about what tends to be asked for these particular employers.
Depending on the industry that you go there you are you looking for you might get a last interview with the Partner or Director.
I guess in my own personal experience I did get the offer from NatWest, and I also got an offer from PWC. So even if I look at the two different employers, the process is slightly different.
I guess the timeline of that as well, is also one of the very frequent things that are talked about with Grad Programmes. Make sure that you get ahead of the game. So the sooner that you apply, it does mean that you get the more likely to get into interview. Because some employers tend to either invite less candidates towards the end of their cycles, or they probably just close off the applications without making the announcement.
So, even though that that the deadline by saying that maybe end of January/February, it does give you the advantage of applying a bit sooner. Those are the key elements that I would cover off this topic.
Cate: That's really helpful. I know for so many current students, just getting that first-hand account of the experience of the application process is so key. We offer mock assessment centres on campus every once in a while, and we offer interview prep and elements of all stages, but what's really helpful is that first-hand experience from someone who's actually been through it and what they found was the most challenging or what they found was helpful for them going through it.
What do you think, sector specific for your role, do you have any advice for current students who are looking to work within same sector that you're in or in a similar role to what you're doing now?
Lucius: I guess it links back to my experience. I started with a technology graduate programme, like you mentioned. For any candidate that is looking for a technology related graduate scheme or role, one thing I can reassure you is that there is no expectation that you need to understand technology related stuff. If they don’t know coding, that’s absolutely fine. It’s not a prerequisite for the graduate programme. I guess what will really stand you out would be your passion for technology maybe. If you really want to position yourself as someone who is really passionate about tax, how would you demonstrate that?
You might come to a point that you're still going to say that you did self-teach programming, or you learn about very interesting courses. But again, those not mandatory. It's almost how are you trying to build up your story, I think I’m almost thinking from that perspective.
From a graduate scheme perspective, I think, demonstrate your capability, demonstrate your motivation. Why are you choosing to come here? To illustrate or this point in nicely, I think it would probably be more important than the majors that you studied. Even in my technology graduate scheme, we had a very diverse background from people coming from an arts, literature, history background, anything not relevant, technology. If I narrowed it down slightly into not only about technology, but then about finance.
I think if you want to go for a graduate scheme at a bank, because I think I would say it is competitive, and I would definitely suggest you learn a bit more about the organization because they have different grad scheme for across all different organisations. They roughly all offer the same path or experience although the scope may be different. In the end for your criteria may be different, but again what really stands out? Let's say to going for an interview for Barclays. And then you would have to answer the question ‘why Barclays but not NatWest, but not necessarily Lloyds’. So, when you're going for that sector, especially when you have a lot of similar programs out there, you want to position that story nicely, why do you choose this one but not the other one.
And I guess somewhat related back to the previous quote of ‘you only get one offer’, so I guess my cheeky advice at this point is that don't limit yourself by just going for one organization, just make as many applications as you can. But there's a fine boundary there right, so you want to make the good balance of not compromising your work in a school and your essay, your current commitments, your family, but at the same time, once we maximize your chance.
So, it's a simple math in the sense that we have, let's say, four or five stages and then. There is certain chance that you fail at a certain point. So, I failed several times, but then so if you have multiple applications on the go that is more likely for me to reach a later stage. And when you reach a later stage, for the first time and don't push yourself, don't feel you have to get this offer, any sense it might just be a learning opportunity for you anyway.
So, the more applications you have, the more likely you are to go into later stage and the better you will be prepared when you actually go into a role that you really like.
And in my cases when I’m going to grad program, I probably wouldn't envision myself to go into my current role as a Strategic Innovation Manager. But those things would probably take time, for you to find out the opportunity. So, I will say that roughly, if you want a big organization which has a very structured grad scheme, you’re in a relatively safe hands, because you can have the environment to explore and to find out the next steps of your career whether you become a software engineer, whether you want to become a solution architect, where do you want to become a data analyst. So, in my cohort a lot of my career chat just growing from this Grad program so those things it takes time.
Cate: It's nice actually because you don't have to make a decision when you're in university about what you want to do for the future, long term. I think that's where so many people perhaps get overwhelmed and where it becomes such a stressful process when people feel as though the decisions that they're making that the end of university, in terms of their career path, are the ones that are going to solidify their career for the foreseeable future and that's not necessarily the case in a lot of instances, a lot of times it's a landing pad that will spring you off to the next opportunity if you will. I think the point that you made about interviews is so so crucial, because all experience is good experience, and I think that's never truer than when it comes to talking about the interview process. Because interviews in my mind are one of those things that are so incredibly stressful when you're not used to doing them. The more you do the easier that they get and the easier you find your flow and how to promote yourself.
And so, even if it's an opportunity that you don't get, you still had that interview experience, and know what answers landed well which ones didn't land so well, and you might need to tweak. I think, like you say, so much of it is about doing your research and just being prepared and focusing on the task at hand.
What would you say, with regard to your current role, are the three biggest skill requirements? Because obviously you've talked a little bit about how it's not necessarily all technical skills in terms of you don't need to have a degree in in a technology-based field to go into that type of role, what would you say the top skills are that you do need from your perspective?
Lucius: I think this is an interesting one, because when I look at my current role, even though I call myself a Strategy Innovation Manager, a big part of my role is leading projects. So, I would say, probably project management skills that would be required. And then there's a lot of things that goes behind it, for example, ‘Are you familiar with the lifecycle of delivering a project?’, and ‘are you very comfortable about illustrating a very complex element to a stakeholder?’. So, in terms of managing projects, it always comes down to whether your team is capable, whether your team is motivated, and whether they were very clear on the things they were going after. And as a project manager, as a scroll master, your job is essentially trying to ensure everything like this is in place.
I think the second thing we want to highlight would be the communication skills- that will probably so true of all of the skills. So, it goes back a little bit to the power that you can bring to your teams. And it also goes back to when you actually spotted issues or anything, if you can actually formulate a plan of attack and communicate your thoughts. Can you break down those things? So, how would you be able to communicate your thoughts of tackling the problems? So, I guess, those are the things that I do on day-to-day basis, and I think that will actually segway nice nicely into the last point, which was to talk about the analytical skill set.
It's not only about problem that you encounter in terms of working with various stakeholders, but that is also about the specific solution that you're delivering in this project. How would you actually break down very complex questions into those workable life steps? So just like we are trying to do a conversation here, so I probably try to think about the initial framework, which will be the topics that we will talk about. That is a very similar approach when doing a project; I started from a very high level, asking what are the things that we want to achieve, and then you start to make that the base of your decision. So, I guess project management skill set, communications, and then analytical skills.
Cate: That is so helpful. Thank you so much, Lucius. I’m just conscious of the time, and I feel as though we could talk about this for ages because it's been really interesting to hear your perspective, but I just wanted to end on one final question.
This is a question that I’ve been asking everyone in the podcast. What recommendations do you have for current students at the University, who maybe aren't from the UK, about making the most in their time of in the UK- both from a personal perspective, but also from a career perspective? What can they do to make most of their time at Birmingham?
Lucius: Oh-very nice question. I’m actually intrigued as to all of the answers that my other alumni of these sessions are going to answer that. Probably my way of answering that may be a keyword, which would be priority.
So, I guess the way I’m trying to approach is that I feel a lot of the things I’m touch upon today it all comes down to this word. Being a student, when you are international students, are you clear about the priorities you probably have at hand? Do you want to actually prioritize being able to find a job? If that's the case, that might mean that you need to make conscious decision, you might not be able to travel as much as you're classmates, you might not be able to go out that often right, you might need to spend some nights where you're just looking at one application and then put it out of your head just trying to make sense out of it-so it might mean something that.
And I guess the priority is also very powerful when you're going through the interview process. If you're very clear about the priorities, like your priorities are ‘I just wants to stay in the UK and I want to find one grad scheme’. Then you can actually use that to make your list of priorities in terms of the companies that you want to apply for, and also the skills that you want to showcase.
So, when you actually think about some of the soft skills that you want to develop, you might want to make sure that you have very strong communication skills, because that is one of the very obvious but also very hard to meet criteria for international students. I think probably speaking for my background and nations we are very good at exams, so we can easily achieve the IELTS score 8 or 9. But is a different story when you actually trying to talk to people when you get into a work environment.
So, priority, in this sense, my means that you want to the moment that you start your life in university, you might want to start thinking about what are the skills that we want to prioritize we want to build on. And also, priorities are also very helpful when it comes down to making a life decision, so I think the last point Cate you touched about, is that the better you understand what matters to you, the better you have that mindset, then the easier you can actually start answering questions, like ‘Do I need to make those very big decision very early on?’.
If what matters to you is you want to be able to grow, you want to be able to get a job and want to be able to get into position that you don’t need to rely on your family and can your own life and that. If those are the things that works for you, then I guess in terms of making a decision about which industry, which company to actually go into, would be slightly less down in that list. So it would probably mean that you might just want to focus on getting one offer instead of worrying about what you become next, because those are the things that you can worry about later on.
And if you have that understanding of priority, it won't be very easy, but those should be the decisions that you should be able to make when you're approaching the end of your university time, or even when you started early. So that'll give you a lot more time to actually think about other things. So, I guess that's probably how I would see it: priorities.
Cate: Focus on the priorities and get your priorities in order so that you can organize what you want to do better. Lucius, thank you so much for talking to us. This has been really wonderful, and it's been so nice to hear about your career journey and catch up with you because it's been ages since we saw you. I really appreciate it and we're very grateful for you to participate with us.