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Top HSBC in-house lawyer tells students to ditch gap years and work at JD Sports instead

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Show us that you’re not reliant on mummy and daddy, says bar graduate-turned-banking lawyer Sandie Okoro

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A leading in-house lawyer at HSBC has caused a stir after urging graduates to opt for “old-fashioned Saturday jobs” over expensive gap years in order to stand out from the crowd.

Sandie Okoro, the general counsel for HSBC asset management, reckons that top employers have got bored with candidates “who’ve gone off to China and built an orphanage” and instead would prefer someone who has “worked at JD Sports at the weekend to earn some money”.

Speaking at the Girls’ Day School Trust conference in London yesterday, Okoro — who did the bar course in 1988 before switching to become a solicitor after apparently turning down two pupillages for financial reasons — told attendees that “in some professions everyone’s got the same academics, and they can speak five languages as well.”

She went on to link the idea of glittering CVs of the type that top law firms often look for with parental wealth, before suggesting that employers were increasingly seeking evidence that candidates are not reliant on mummy and daddy:

I see all these wonderful places, they’ve gone off to China and built an orphanage, they’ve done this and done that. OK so your daddy is rich. That’s great. But when you worked at JD Sports at the weekend to earn some money? When have you dealt with the public? They don’t care where you went to school.

Recalling her own Saturday job at Marks & Spencers, the Birmingham University law graduate emphasised the importance of “that old-fashioned supporting themselves bit”, adding:

Gap years have become the norm. You almost need that gap year on your CV now, it has almost become formulaic. I see lots of similar things of the gap years. I’d like to see the mundane and ordinary come back in … I don’t care how much you are overachieving … the real bit I like to see is people who have done that old-fashioned Saturday job.

Okoro’s comments, which have received widespread approval on Twitter, come as a handful of elite law firms takes steps to move away from traditional graduate recruitment models to offer more opportunities to candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

In the last month Hogan Lovells, Herbert Smith Freehills, Baker & McKenzie and Ashurst have all signed up to a new “contextual recruitment” tool that “hardwires social mobility metrics into firms’ existing graduate recruitment applicant tracking systems”.

Meanwhile, Mayer Brown has launched a new earn-while-you-learn scheme that will see school-leavers join the firm at 18 and study for their law degrees and Legal Practice Course while working full-time, before qualifying as a solicitor after six years.

34 Comments

Lucas

Where is Not Amused’s comment?? My life isn’t worth living without his sparkling wit and insightful commentary 🙁

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Anonymous

Your life is not worth living. Not Amused is not amusing.

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Anonymous

Haha this comment is brilliant pre-emption. Not Amused has not commented on this article (I suspect as a result of your comment). Please make this comment on every article

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Anonymous

Somehow I feel she is the only one with this belief.

(1)(8)

Anonymous

No she is not, you cupcake!

(6)(3)

Anonymous

Well I’ve worked in two retail jobs and had absolutely no success with applications!

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Anonymous

Maybe you lost out to someone who held 3 retail jobs and no Gap Yaah.

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Anonymous

I didn’t do a gap year? That was my whole point!

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Anonymous

*fruitcake

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Bumder

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Anonymous

Urm, think you missed the point. You said you didn’t get positions due to 2 retail jobs and no gap year and the other person suggested maybe the other person beat you because they’d had more retail jobs than you (and no gap year).

Could also be that you aren’t getting these jobs because of your failure to understand basics… Nah surely not. Its better to blame the system than admit that others are better than you.

(5)(2)

Anonymous

“Urm”, no I didn’t. That poster added “and no Gap Yaah”, which (I took to believe) implies that he/she thought I did take a gap year. I simply corrected them. If that poster merely mentioned a greater number of jobs, then your point would be valid.

What basics? And I’m not blaming the system. I’m merely stating that, from my experience, doing jobs in retail does not necessarily make you an attractive candidate, over someone who does something abroad. Of course there are other factors.

And before you lecture others on knowing the “basics”, it appears you need to brush up on the basics of grammar yourself. xoxo

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Anonymous

Why should young people have to martyr themselves? I say let them enjoy life a little before entering the drudgery of a demanding career after uni. Don’t discriminate because they’ve been lucky enough – and had the inclination – to travel.

(10)(5)

Anonymous

You’re the type of privilege person she is complaining about.

(Don’t bother with the Jay-Z esque hard knock life comeback about your background – it can’t be verified).

(10)(4)

Anonymous

Lazy toff with rich parents

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Anonymous

I just think it’s a sad thing if young people were deterred from experiencing as much as possible, purely because they’ll face hostility from a recruiter who has had different experiences. It goes both ways – candidates ought to be judged on merits not their family background.

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Anonymous

Sometimes merits are based upon family background. If you are privileged enought to go abroad for the summer and learn a new language, that’s great. But what about someone who has to work to support themselves? There is a fundamental difference in the merits one can have. It’s not about family background, it’s about adding mobility to allow those from a lower socio economic background to be placed on the SAME footing as those who have a glittering application; simply because more opportunities are available to them.

(5)(0)

Random

So what about someone who grows up poor but with a Spanish speaking parent in the household. Should the fact they speak Spanish be ignored because of the privilege they have had of growing up with a native speaker? I think we need to be careful not to dismiss people’s achievements just because they had more opportunities to them. Look at the individual on merit and how they will add value to your business.

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Anonymous

3:29 11 June 2015 commenter. – have you considered the ILEX route? It would suit you better.

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Anonymous

While they are certainly great opportunities and experiences to have on a gap year – the idea that they somehow provide you with valuable skills to employers is wrong. Last time I checked, trainees aren’t often called upon to find a coke dealer in Cusco or coordinate the next hostel booking in Cancún.

However, a Saturday job at JD Sports isn’t going to provide you with much either. Except for the fact that it shows that you work hard to support yourself. There’s nothing wrong with a gap year, but there’s nothing particularly positive about from an employer’s perspective.

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Tyrion

Agreed.

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Anonymous

Me thinks a lot of people here are not recruiters. Go and spend time looking through CV’s and you will start to understand why she has this correct opinion.

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u mad blud

Of course she won’t tell students to go on a gap year – the more mindless, soul-crushing drudgery they experience before working life, the better.

After all, working at something like JD or Macca’s will make you far more prepared than a freewheeling gap year for when the time to bend over, and brace for penetration actually comes up during your TC.

What a prat.

(6)(5)

Anonymous

Anyone with any sense will NOT be on here. It is for students and juniors who like to waste time like me.

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dave

And for Not Amused to get things off his chest, of course.

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Anonymous

Agreed. Not Amused does not have a proper job. I would not hire him. Sounds like a right bit#h.

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Anonymous

Bet the HR department in his company has a codeword or nickname for him.

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Tyrion

What about people who work for 6 months so they can afford to go and travel, or those that use their gap years as an opportunity to continue their study of a foreign language or to pursue something they are passionate about (which could be conservation in a remote part of the world). Or those who take a bar/waiter job abroad to make ends meet during their gap year. Also there are kids of immigrants who spend a year in their parents’ country to learn the culture and make contacts, living perhaps with their family.

Blanket statements either way don’t help. A gap year shouldn’t really go on a CV, however if asked just be honest.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

I think here that the underlying message is to do something useful with your free time. A traditional Gap Yah does not fit in this category – it is essentially an extended holiday predicated by having the money to go. Now, if one worked for 6 months to fund travel then that demonstrates long termism, and hard work to achieve one’s goals. If one was given thousands of quid by daddy and went to build an orphanage in Cambodia, they have demonstrated precisely nothing about themselves.

The way to travel and to add to your CV is to study and/or work while doing so. Work to earn enough to study an LLM abroad (it is extremely cheap in the Netherlands and Germany). Find internships and jobs overseas and actually stay and live in a country for a while. Learn a language. If done alongside these things, travel is enriching and extremely CV-worthy due to the actual things that one did other than simply fly to another country.

Some people on here seem to think that gap year travel in itself is no less valuable than actual work. Those people are delusional to think that dealing with difficult customers and working long hours for low pay is not extremely character building if approached in the right way, and if used as a springboard to something else. Why on earth would I want to hire someone who believes that telling me about their Full Moon Party is interesting? Might as well whack on that family holiday to Centre Parcs 9 years ago too for all the interest anyone has. In contrast, doing a minimum wage job to save up to do something like studying or travelling shows some actual useful character traits and, if approached properly, can actually contribute to commercial awareness.

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Tyrion

Hear hear. A gap year can be very enriching but it shouldn’t necessarily be put on a CV. If its an LLM then that speaks for itself, if you learnt a language then that will be on there, if you worked then it is a part of your job history. I don’t think that a smart person will put ‘travelling in south east Asia’ on their CV, however I don’t think someone who does that should be put down. You’re only young once, and if you have the means even if mummy and daddy pay for it, then do it, because once you get upwards in terms of age, taking a gap year is pretty much not an option.
I also think sometimes that people who are jealous of others that have rich parents forget how lucky we are to live in this great country and don’t appreciate what we have even if we all can’t swan off to luxury islands before starting to work.

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Anonymous

It genuinely baffles me how anyone could ever argue for putting a gap year onto a CV. All you’ve done is have a nice extended holiday, usually due to financial input from your wealthy family. That’s absolutely fine, and I will always be jealous that I didn’t have a year in Thailand, but I really struggle to see how it would make me more employable.

However, does my part-time job as a supervisor at the SU bar not demonstrate that I can deal with people? Or lead a team? Or manage a time consuming degree while working 15 hours per week at unsociable hours? Does the fact that I achieved stellar A-levels grades while working part-time and attending an underachieving state school not tell recruiters something about me? I hope so.

The world is and always will be inherently skewed towards those from rich families. It’s a shame for someone like me, but fuck it, there’s nothing that can be done which will ever really balance the scales. However, if employers disregard skills people have gained through unglamorous means then me and the rest of the working class at university really are screwed.

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Anonymous

Both have there pro’s and con’s but I think what would make the biggest difference is how you present what you’ve achieved on you CV or covering letter

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Anonymous

In my experience working in retail / bar work is simply perceived as a lack of commitment to law. Sad but true.

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Kuzka's Mother

I didn’t take a gap year (ok, well I took two, but seeing as it was national service it’s not really the same thing…) and coming to the UK to study, it made me wonder what all the fuss was about, and pretty unfair that people who can’t afford to travel around the world to ‘exotic’ places are immediately at some sort of disadvantage. I can’t complain, because employers always found 2 my two years in the army as something fascinating, but truth be told actually working whatever job you can find (be it JD Sports, or Asda, or at your local tattoo parlour, or whatever) shows you understand what it means to put hours of your day into working and gives you a sense of what money is worth – something you don’t always get from people who live off their parents into their 30s.

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