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A Rising Star

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IMG_9713-1Sonya Barlow studied Business Studies and won Mentee of the Year 2015 – she has now moved in to the world of media and has been shortlisted in the 2016 We Are The City Rising Stars Awards. We chatted about how everything has happened so fast!

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I studied Business Studies with a year abroad in Italy in my 2nd-3rd year. I didn’t major in marketing or finance but in the 3rd and 4th years I was drawn more to communication and technology (modules like strategy for business, virtual organisations), more than the accounting and business modules.

I found my first year quite overwhelming and it was hard to settle in, but by the 4th year I really found my feet. I’d studied abroad and created two societies (including the Erasmus Student Network Society), found a mentor and won mentee of the year 2015 – my mentor also won mentor of the year!

Cass is not an easy university to study at – academically the courses are tough. Recently, I was out for drinks, and I met someone who learned I’d studied at Cass and they gave me a round of applause!

At the beginning I was stuck and didn’t know where to go – but then I found myself. Finding your personality gives you confidence that you can do it, you just need to work hard. I think you just need to work hard and exploit every opportunity. I went to networking events and M&A talks to understand the University and see the path ahead of me, and I also had one-to-ones with academics and went to alumni events – so that I could start to mesh real life with the university experience.

Working life is different! I want to study more, and I want to inspire and give back. I could end up teaching! Cass is very finance based, and there are more males – and like it or not we were encouraged to go in to a banking or corporate environment once we graduated. I’m not super corporate, I’m more marketing savvy and when you go in to the City it’s all males males males, so I’m thinking – how can I as a female do something extra to inspire and encourage?

How did you get nominated for this award?

The lady who nominated me for the We Are The City award, I actually met her through the Sprint London, a joint mentoring initiative for female students between City and UCL. She was a guest speaker from RBS who presented to at one of the events. I liked her story and was inspired by her so I kept in touch through LinkedIn. She sent me a message to say she really liked my progression and that I’m an inspiration, and that even though I am just out of university she would like to nominate me for this award. She said don’t feel bad if you don’t get shortlisted because you’ll be up against lots of people who have been in the field for years – whereas I am just out of uni. But I ended up getting shortlisted! You can vote for me here.

Who are We Are The City?

We Are The City is pretty focussed on finance and Cass is a finance school, which I think helped with the nomination. The City is still really a boys’ club so We Are The City was founded as a network for females in the City (it’s expanding across the UK and in India also now), focussing on technology and finance sectors. These awards are to celebrate female achievements but I don’t think it goes far enough.

What did you do next?

When I graduated, at the start I was afraid when I was applying for jobs at the likes of EY and KPMG, but after the six-month recruitment period, I reached the final stages, which was a real confidence boost.

I got all my offers from my applications, and rejected all of them, including EY. The partner who gave me the job offer said “if I were you I wouldn’t take this because you have too much personality to be in an office doing audits”.

Then I panicked! I went travelling for a week and came back to no job! I knew I wanted to go in to relationship management, not strictly media but to be comms based – so I went to a recruitment firm. After a week of looking for roles for me they wanted to hire me for their own vacancy – they had cherry-picked me. Unfortunately I was mis-sold the job as it turned out not to be about a brand partnership or relationship building, but instead was cold-calling, which did not sit well with my ethics. After five months I decided I couldn’t do it any more! I’m worth more!

Then in the summer I met with another recruiter and ended up being offered an account management job straight away after the initial interview. The problem was that it was with a start-up and it turned out they didn’t have the budget to hire me. Then the same recruiter got me in touch with dunnhumby. The interview stretched across two days and they gave me a media role in account management straight away.

So I quit the recruitment firm job, went travelling to Japan for two weeks and then started at dunnhumby. It’s a great company that’s really people savvy that lets you take the initiative, and ideas are encouraged. I never knew I liked numbers so much, and need data and insight. After six months I understand the positive and negatives of the company. I really enjoy creating media content, especially researching and writing blogs, and social media. I think I’m heading towards being a digital champion– in this day and age you have to conform or miss out.

What have been your challenges?

They are always the same for me. 1) Thinking I’m not good enough 2) Not having the confidence 3) Not knowing my values. These are the three things I’m firm on now. I know my values – the things that make me me, and I make sure that my job aligns with this. If you don’t have confidence in yourself how can someone have confidence in you?
When I went to Thalia at the Professional Mentoring Scheme, she said “you’re so confident, why do you need a mentor?”, but I was not really confident in my ability and I needed help and guidance.

Sprint London is for ladies to support each other and it’s taught me to have a plan, to know myself and to keep in touch with others. Everything is a learning experience, and for getting ahead at work, interview practice is key. Know why you applied for the job role and what you can bring and you will be happy.

Can you give any advice to others looking to follow in your footsteps?

Know your values and stick to them – this also makes saying no a little bit easier!

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Spitalfields Market or the South Bank
Favourite holiday destination: Italy! But I’m biased
Must-check every day website: LinkedIn and the FT
Dream travel destination: If I want to go somewhere I’m usually very spontaneous and book it. I’d like to go to a spiritual retreat though!
Cheese or chocolate: Cheesecake with chocolate!

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