Queen Mary Alumni

Alumni profile - Zeeshan Nazar

I am living proof that BAME individuals can go anywhere they want – we just need to go into recruitment and career processes with the right mind-set and be willing to adapt and overcome. I can now recognise that the setbacks along my journey to my current role as a Commercial Management Graduate for BT, were in fact setups. They enabled me to build a resilient and impenetrable mind-set. 

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What did you study at Queen Mary and what are you doing now? I studied BSc Psychology. Due to the versatility and broad nature of Psychology as a discipline, it opens more doors than most people think. For example, my degree has led to my first and current full-time professional job as a Commercial Management Graduate, with a heavy focus on Major Contract Management.

Why did you choose to study Psychology at Queen Mary? What sparked your passion for this particular degree? Looking back, it was a bit of a learning curve which ultimately led to my decision to study Psychology at Queen Mary. I initially wanted to go into Computer Science, but once I tried to get a feel for this discipline through teaching myself coding, I found that I didn’t really enjoy it, nor could I envisage doing it day-in-day-out for the rest of my working life. A real close second to my initial degree choice was Psychology and I decided to go with this because I was keen to read and learn more about who we are as humans and what underpins human behaviours and attitudes. But ultimately, the deciding factor was how broad Psychology is, if I wanted a career in the lab, it would set the perfect foundation to pursue Clinical, Forensic and Educational careers, but also careers outside of the lab. All in all, my options were vast as Psychology didn’t place any limits as to where I wanted to go; I could and still can define the career path I want to take. 

I understand that you recently came back to Queen Mary to participate in the SBCS Careers Forum. How did you find the experience of speaking to current undergraduate students, especially seeing as you are a recent graduate yourself? Indeed. I recently took part in a graduate panel for prospective students looking for career advice and how to secure a top role at their desired firm. I would like to firstly thank Queen Mary for putting on such a great event and having me as a guest speaker. Secondly, the experience itself was one where I felt truly in my element and one that will live long in my memory. Being in a position where I could give back and pass on my knowledge and insights to the audience was an honour and a privilege. Events like these are really important for students as most of them are in the dark as to what to do, or how to go about getting a job post-graduation. As someone who was in their shoes not too long ago and who now works for BT, I felt I could relate to them more closely and tailor my advice. Everyone knows year-on-year that the graduate market becomes more saturated and more competitive – take my company for example, for every graduate that got accepted in September 2019, 23 were rejected. Hence this is why the experience was amazing in every sense, because I was able to answer questions and help students differentiate themselves from the crowd. Everyone is unique but helping to identify what our key USP is provides me with such overwhelming joy. The experience has further fuelled the fire in my belly to continue giving back and helping students. Where I come from and who I am as a person means that I always view other people’s successes as my own, and if I can play a part in someone else’s journey then it only increases my appetite for such work.

In your LinkedIn post in which you referenced this event, you stated that you’re ‘a passionate individual who wants to help and guide BAME students into the workplace’. As a BAME individual yourself, how was your experience of securing your first job? Over the last few years, I have been exploring the world of diversity within the UK and how this translates into the working world. A documentary I watched titled ‘How to Break into The Elite’ sadly showed that a BAME applicant for one of the top roles at a prestigious firm with a degree classification of a First, would be overlooked by a Middle-Class individual who has a classification of a 2:2. To me, whilst the UK has made significant progress in this area, more can and needs to be done, hence why I am playing a part in breaking these barriers down at a small, local level. My experience of securing my first professional job was time-consuming but a valuable learning curve. I initially came up with a strategy where I made a list of companies whose values closely resonated with me, and I applied to the ones where I felt I had a stronger connection after hearing back from my first few. Experiencing a few rejections along the way provided me with key learning curves where I could improve and increase my success rates on the next applications – my set back was a set-up. My experience was exhaustive, but also rewarding because I am living proof that BAME individuals can go anywhere they want – we just need to go into these processes with the right mind-set and be willing to adapt and overcome.

Can you describe what a typical working day looks like for you as a Major Contract Management Graduate at BT? The term ‘a typical working day’ doesn’t really apply to the world of Contract Management at BT where there is a huge commercial focus, compared to other companies where there is a greater legal focus. I typically check my emails in the morning to see what the agenda is for the day and if there are any updates with regards to the contract we are working on, which is currently IBM with an annual revenue of £7 million. However, what comes after this depends on any given day - as a Contract Manager you are essentially running a business, now if you can imagine what it takes to run a business, you can then see the vast amount of elements that need to be taken care of in order to run an effective and profitable business. My job is to make sure ‘my business’ is running profitably and that any issues that have arisen are dealt with swiftly. What comes under this could be some forecasting of expected revenues in the coming months and the next financial year; reviewing the obligations of our contract to make sure they are being met; risk management; data analysis; meeting customers on client sites and communicating with various team members to make sure we are all updated with regards to developments. I am learning most of these skills for the first time, thus a lot of my time is spent getting to grips with the basics and building my knowledge up by networking and learning from Subject Matter Experts (SME).

Considering you studied Psychology at Queen Mary, can you describe the path that led you to this particular job as opposed to ‘a career in a lab’?  As previously stated, with a degree in Psychology, the opportunities at the palm of your hands are limitless. The way I conceptualise it is that there are two routes: the first being a career in the lab and the second being a career in the business world (outside the lab). I wanted to enter the working world as soon as possible because I am a practical rather than a theoretical person – I like to get stuck in and solve real-world problems. Thus, I decided rather than going through years of doing a master’s and then a PhD to become a fully-fledged chartered Psychologist, I wanted to enter the business world. However, I always saw myself as a leader and one who could drive projects and teams, hence I narrowed my applications to leadership schemes where companies didn’t see me as a number, but rather as a future leader. One of my top choices was BT because they have such a big focus on well-being, their employees, flexible working and career progression.

Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary? What do you think is unique about Queen Mary compared to other universities? Apart from getting an unconditional offer, I chose Queen Mary because of its status as a Russell Group University and its unique and fantastic employment and work placement programs. I remember reading about Queen Mary’s employability initiatives such as QConsult and QChallenge. These programs help any individual get a taste for the working world and how they can utilise these experiences to secure top-level jobs. I took part in QChallenge, which I remember very fondly to this day. Initially it was difficult to balance with my studies, but I fully embraced the opportunity as ultimately, challenges help shape us into resilient individuals and help us to unlock our full potential. Looking back, QChallenge resembles the working world where we need to constantly balance tasks on any given day to meet deadlines. I would encourage current students to seize the extracurricular opportunities, like QChallenge, which Queen Mary offers.

How did your time and study at Queen Mary help your career and development? Looking back, only now do I start to comprehend how much of an influence Queen Mary has had on not only my career and development, but also on my professional self. I honestly believe our mind-set is key to life and Queen Mary has helped develop my mind-set to what it is today. During University, I started to explore the career path I wanted to take and to build a network to draw upon other people’s knowledge. This was the start of developing a mind-set where we need to be proactive, rather than reactive. This didn’t end after graduation. Queen Mary was there for me internally, in the sense of my studies and my degree, but now it is also there for me externally, as I come back as an alumnus and work on projects to increase employability outcomes for students and to expand my own sense of self and mind-set.

Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? Too often I hear the same answers regurgitated for students and in a world which is only getting more competitive, it is no wonder students find it hard to stand out from the crowd. I would start off by recommending that students develop a mind-set that is resilient and impenetrable. In order to define and pursue a career path, we must define ourselves first and get our mind-set right. A lot of people tend to compare themselves to their peers when instead we need to accept that everyone is on their own journey and that we will reach milestones at different points in life. In pursuit of careers, we will be knocked down and deflated after being rejected or not getting the degree classification that we desired, but mind-sets come into play when coming back from a knockdown – think of the setbacks as set-ups. Those of us who keep getting back up see rejection as a lesson which helps you get closer to your desired career. This impenetrable mind-set programs us to keep fighting regardless of the struggle until we get what we want.

The second part to my answer is a principle that I live by - be comfortable with being uncomfortable. What I mean by this is do the things you are normally hesitant to do or which you find uncomfortable. Without stretching ourselves, we will forever be in our own little bubble and when reality hits us, in which most of us will be outside of our comfort zone, most will not have a clue how to navigate it. If you listen to this piece of advice then when something uncomfortable comes up you will jump at the opportunity rather than walk away, which in turn will open up doors and opportunities that would have otherwise remain closed.

What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments? What was really special for me and which continues to impact me, was participating in QChallenge. This experience is a prime example of being comfortable with being uncomfortable – initially I was hesitant to take part. But now I reap the benefits of that initiative through the network I built, the transferable skills I learnt and how it provided me with a differentiating factor to most other people applying to graduate schemes.

Do you have any role models that you look up to, both inside and outside of your field? A role model that I have had since a very young age was the boxing legend Muhammad Ali. He said “Suffer now, and live the rest of your life like a champion”, and my main takeaway from this was to never give up. The key to life is resilience when life gets hard or when we hit rock-bottom. What else are we going to do? Are we going to give in like most people do and amount to nothing of our full potential? Or are we going to get back up, re-invent ourselves and live the rest of our life as a champion? Muhammad Ali hated every minute of training, he used to only count the number of reps during sit-ups when the pain started. It could have been so easy for him to give in and no one would remember him how we do today, but he never gave up. For me, this is what I apply in everything I do because Muhammad Ali left one of the most memorable legacies behind. Giving up will never get you remembered is the legacy that I wish to leave behind.

On a final note, despite all the difficulties we have or may still face in society or in our personal lives, we should never let them dictate what we want to achieve. We should play the cards we have been dealt with because complaining will not get us anywhere. We need to be proactive rather than reactive seeing as circumstances do not define us, but our response to circumstances do.