Although alumnus Mike Allen has been at the top of his game for years, he can still keenly remember what it was like to be a student, and the mingled excitement and trepidation of the unknown future just beyond graduation.
“When I was an undergraduate Quantity Surveying student at the University of Westminster in the days when it was still the Polytechnic of Central London,” he tells us, “I was searching for context to my learning. And I also wanted to know how I would deal practically with the difficult choices I knew lay ahead. Therefore, hearing someone provide their own experiences – having sat where the students are now – helped me to rationalise the various decisions that I was considering for my next career steps.”
It was this desire to give the same advice and guidance which helped Mike to find his feet that led him to join 12 current University of Westminster students last month – all studying diverse subjects – to tell them the story of his career to date. And as Mike is now Senior Managing Director at FTI Consulting, a global business that helps organisations to manage change, mitigate risk and resolve disputes, it is a fascinating one.
He meets the students in The Hive – a buzzing and hip co-working space in Hong Kong’s up-and-coming Kennedy Town area – but Mike’s session is focussed on timeless and universal good advice for any student looking ahead, regardless of their area of study.
For the next two hours, students hear about the difficult decisions that Mike had to make, learn about the importance of listening when making contacts, and reflect on their own personality and strengths and weaknesses. Mike also takes the students through the highs and lows of emigrating to a new country, and the opportunities and challenges this presents.
The students were in Hong Kong as part of Westminster Working Cultures, a programme that provides current undergraduates with the opportunity to travel abroad and experience the professional working culture in different cities across the globe, including Hong Kong and Mumbai, and soon expanding to Washington DC and Shanghai. Over 10 days, the students visit alumni from a broad range of industries and backgrounds – a mixture of expats and locals – to join in workshops and listen to talks on interview tips, how to succeed in the media, and why it’s important to discover your own USPs.
The purpose is to create the next generation of global citizens by giving students the chance to be inspired by the stories of those who have successfully built their careers abroad after studying at Westminster, and to gain confidence through interacting with different cultures and work practices. However, Mike also recognises how much that the volunteers themselves gain from the experience.
“Graduates are still facing the same challenges and choices that I faced 30 years ago, and it is exciting to see and hear such fresh-faced energy about to embark on their chosen careers. So any help that you can provide to a future professional will give you a feeling of fulfilment as you are giving something back.”
At the end of the trip, equally exhausted and inspired, the students feel that they have learnt from each and every alumnus that they have met. They have also made valuable connections, with many now planning work placements in cities across the globe – a thought that may have seemed too daunting just a few weeks ago – and one student has just been offered a job, citing the confidence she gained during the trip as the reason for this.
For volunteering their time to meet the group and share their stories (or helping to organise a visit), we would like to thank: Karen Lau (Business Administration BA, 2000); Parry Ravindranathan (Journalism MA, 2003); Mike Allen (Quantity Surveying BSc, 1988); Wai Tang (Architecture Dip, 1995); David Buffonge (Professional Practice in Architecture, 1998); Yaron Jacobs (Marketing MA, 2002) and Vincent Schoofs (Chinese with French BA, 2004), as well as the UK Department for International Trade for hosting us for a morning.
Do you live in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Washington DC or Mumbai?
We are always looking for alumni with interesting careers and valuable advice to join the Westminster Working Cultures programme. If you could provide one or two hours to talk to students and provide inspiration then we would like to hear from you. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.