Eagles in the Spotlight

Oliver O. '14

Taking a gap year is a road less travelled for most ISZL graduates, but one that shouldn’t be underestimated according to alumnus Oliver O. ’14. During his senior year at the Riverside Campus, Oliver was trying to decide between attending university in the UK (where they start in September) or in Australia (where they start in January). He also felt that after so many years in the classroom it could be very rewarding to get some real world experience. “I wanted to do something that would set me apart from others in my class and I thought that having experience in the corporate workplace would be just the thing. Having a degree is one thing, but a degree with hands-on experience is something completely different and quintessential to sifting one out from the ‘average’ crowd.” With the idea that he could always start university “late” in Australia, Oliver decided to apply for internships in the sports and financial industries.

Interning in Switzerland

With support from his parents and several applications later, Oliver got an offer to intern half a year at a private equity firm in central Switzerland. “I had never been in an environment like this before,” Oliver explains. “I had to learn the politics and hierarchy of who’s who and to watch what I say. I learned plenty about private equity too, but the experience was more about how to act in that kind of professional environment rather than in a classroom. There were new concepts and new vocabulary that I had to become familiar with. Sometimes I took work home with me just so that I could conceptualize all that I needed to. The most important thing I learned from this experience was to act quickly and on my feet when I was given a task to complete. It’s not like school where you are given time to finish an assignment. Some work can’t wait.”

Working in Melbourne with a business trip to Hong Kong

Just before January 2015 and having to make the choice whether to attend university in Australia or not, Oliver decided to return to his second home, but not necessarily to study. After two weeks of settling in, he started working as the Assistant to the CEO of an asset management company in Melbourne. Unlike the internship position in Switzerland, this job was clearly defined with a daily routine and set responsibilities. The experience gave Oliver a better understanding of how news and world events impact business and how much money is actually being invested everyday in the world. “What was also different about this job compared to the internship was that the company culture was completely different. So now I wasn’t just learning how to navigate the corporate environment, but also how companies can have different cultures,” Oliver says.

Oliver’s gap year of work experience was taken to another level when the CEO invited him to come to Hong Kong for a two-week business trip. When speaking about the experience, Oliver feels that “this was basically what I expected to be doing in 30 years’ time. You’re up at 7:30, meeting with the boss, reviewing the day’s agenda of meetings and then running all over the city to meet with clients. I sat in on meetings and was able to listen and learn to how the others managed business. I could only think, ‘This is as real as it gets. I was made for this kind of work.’”

Volunteer work turned career … almost

Back in Melbourne, the company’s CEO was about to take a three-week vacation although Oliver was technically still employed. Without a CEO to assist, Oliver would have been left without much to do. “Nine months ago I’d think it great to get paid for doing next to nothing, but now I see things differently,” Oliver says. So he quit and started doing volunteer work as a Project Officer for Philanthropy Australia. The main function of this position was to improve awareness of philanthropic work for those in the finance advisory sector. This included meeting with banks, businesses, and even other philanthropists. Not only did these meetings meet the function of the position, but Oliver also received job offers from those he was in contact with. “At the start of my gap year I was sending out CVs desperately trying to get an internship, but now I was getting offers without even applying. I believe this was because I had something to show and even without having a degree, it was something that the industry valued.”

Oliver describes his experience as one of shock. “A fast-forward button had been pushed, I was working and I was really comfortable with it. More than once I had the thought, ‘Is it wrong if I don’t go to university at all? It’s just more classrooms. Why invest all that money into university for a degree that won’t necessarily make all that big of a change when you already know what you are capable of?’”

So what did Oliver decide: to work in Australia or to attend university in the UK? All the way up until his last week in Australia, Oliver was set to take a job in research department at the Bank of Australia. However, a job in research would require the same kind of book work that a university degree would require, but wouldn’t give him access to the same variety of finance jobs. Therefore, he’s decided to start the coming school year at Loughborough University in the UK to earn a degree in International Business.

Oliver sums up his experience

During his gap year Oliver observed how his experience at ISZL impacted the choices he was making. “The quality of courses and the real world application of classroom theory that you learn at ISZL is not something you forget in a couple years. It sticks with you on gives you the upper hand in the career world. This experience has given meaning to my degree. I now have a clearer idea of what I am working towards. I’m totally motivated for university and will be ready to work right after I finish my degree.”

If you’re thinking of taking a gap year, Oliver recommended that you…

  • Should only do a gap year if your goal is to get career experience. If that isn’t your goal, don’t do it.
  • Remember that taking a year off from studying isn’t limiting your career options or holding you back. If used wisely, it can actually give you an advantage.
  • Prepare a few different versions of your CV that speak to the different industries you are applying to.
  • Send your CV wherever you can. There are hundreds of thousands of companies out there and you have start somewhere. Look for companies that already offer internship programmes or ones that you already have some sort of connection with.
  • Don’t let rejection get you down.
  • Keep in mind that having a year of work experience let’s you work “open ended”. You can work on a project for as long as you like and then try something new without any worry.


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