"Stay true to yourself and your values": How Zeeshan is navigating life as a BAME graduate

Lara Billington
Content Marketing Executive

Zeeshan graduated from Queen Mary University London in 2019 and launched straight into a career on BT's Commercial Management Programme. He's using this platform to help improve the career prospects for other BAME graduates and drive change in his industry. 

We spoke to him all about his experience finding a job, his role at BT and the advice he'd offer upcoming BAME graduates for navigating the working world. 


What is your graduate job?

I'm a Commercial Manager on BT’s Commercial Management programme. My role has a specific focus on the major contracts BT has with other multi-national companies (MNCs) within their global division. BT has multi-million and billion-pound contracts with MNCs across the world, and we as Contract Managers are in charge of running these. The day-to-day roles are so vast, which continues to challenge me and take me to new heights.


When did you start looking for graduate jobs and how long did it take you to find one? 

I started looking for graduate schemes in the summer prior to my final year, so I could research the companies and roles that were appealing and then have enough time to familiarise myself with their application process and do my own research into the company. 

I think it's really important to start early. I remember most of my peers weren't thinking about post-graduation, but doing research early gives you time to put in high-quality applications. Your mind-set will determine how much you want a graduate job or scheme - will you embrace the challenge and apply alongside your studies or use your studies as an excuse to delay your future career plans and panic come graduation?


"If a company doesn't allow you to embrace your values then they're not the right fit for you, regardless of whether it was your dream job or not."


Knowing that BAME people are unfortunately still underrepresented within many industries, how did you feel about your graduate job hunt? 

I think the whole BAME concept has gained traction over the last few years, particularly due to the Black Lives Matter movement, and despite seeing progress being made in the area, there is a long way to go in making sure there's a level playing field. 

Reflecting on my own graduate job hunt, I didn't really experience anything out of the ordinary due to being an ethnic minority. I felt BT was very accommodating during the application process and even guided us to any prayer rooms should we need it. I do know that others don't experience the same that I did and what I say to that is, always stay true to yourself and don't compromise your own values. If a company doesn't allow you to embrace them then they're not the right fit for you, regardless of whether it was your dream role or not. 


What do you think are the main issues that need addressing by employers and universities to nurture more social mobility, diversity and inclusion? 

The first issue is a lack of awareness of career paths. Within the Asian community you're only exposed to the mainstream career paths such as Law, Medicine, Engineering etc. - I didn't even know there was a Commercial pathway like I'm in now. It's about talking about the career options available to students that they may not have known about. 

For ethnic minorities, I also think there is a lack of access to role models who look like them, speak like them and can relate to them on a background and faith level. I always saw white, middle-aged men come in as guest speakers on careers - where were those who I could directly relate to? It's imperative to have diverse role models and provide students with networking opportunities to go with it.

We also need companies to be better represented in our communities. Take BT as an example, people still think BT is only a broadband company, when it's so much more. It's pivotal to have representation of such companies to spread awareness of the full scope of role available. 


What are you and BT doing to help improve the career prospects of future generations of BAME graduates? 

I am working closely with the BT Muslim Network on a mission to improve social mobility for ethnic minorities in the UK. A recent Government report highlighted that despite young Muslims achieving excellent grades through their education, they had some of the worst employment prospects out of any demographic within the UK. 

Based on this, we're doing online events targeted at graduate schemes, roles and industry sectors that ethnic minorities may not be aware of, as well as panel sessions, networking and career talks. Our first online event was a big hit - we're not just here to regurgitate tips from Google, but rather provide a different edge. 


"Keep going, keep trying and putting in the effort even when you think all is lost, because what separates a winner from a loser is that they tried one more time."


What advice would you give to any students who are from a minority background and who are about to start looking, or are currently looking for a graduate job?

Mind-set is key in the search for a graduate role. The pandemic has made the competitive graduate market even more saturated and competitive, but how you navigate this will be down to your mind-set. Rejection is inevitable, but frame it as re-direction; everything happens for a reason and the more 'no's' you get, the closer you are to that 'yes'. Keep going, keep trying and putting in the effort even when you think all is lost, because what separates a winner from a loser is that they tried one more time. 


Is there anything else you would like students and graduates to know or learn from your experience? 

To those from an ethnic minority entering the working world - be proud of your roots and what you stand for, stay true to yourself and use your background as a 'superpower' to act as a force for change. Doing this will allow your natural persona to shine through, which will guide you to the company that's the best fit for you. And remember that the situation around us doesn't define who we are, but our response to such situations will. 


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