Abi Portman studied History at the University of York. She did an internship with us before applying for our Insurance Graduate Leadership Programme. Abi tells us what she has discovered so far.
First things first – Discover what drives you
I love sport and right now I’m in training for a relay race from Paignton to Manchester to raise money for Save the Children. I’ll be running 50 miles in two days, sleeping in the minibus when I’m not running!
I know I’m resilient mentally because of some of the training I’ve been through on my graduate programme, but I need to go up a level to meet this new endurance challenge. I like challenges like this – they bring me face to face with my strengths and weaknesses.
The first time I properly thought about my strengths and weaknesses was when I was applying for this programme. I even had to ask my friends and family for their opinions, to see if they saw me the same way I did.
When I was head girl at school, captain of my college netball team at university, and giving campus tours to students, I discovered that I’m naturally good at building relationships with people.
Interestingly, this is the most important aspect of my job today.
Looking back – The internship was a wise move
Like a lot of university students, I didn’t know what type of job to go for, but I knew I wanted real work responsibilities. So I applied for an internship with Lloyds Banking Group and it opened up a lot of options.
History is one of those general subjects where you can start a career almost anywhere, and actually I found this daunting – like I was spoilt for choice. But when I did the internship, I discovered there were roles for people like me that I would never have known about if a hadn’t got an insider’s view from doing the internship.
Through the internship I was able to see more clearly where I could come on board and use my strengths, and this it helped me to focus on deciding which area was right for me.
Starting out – It’s not all bankers and spreadsheets
It was refreshing for me to discover that not everyone who works in a bank sits in front of spreadsheets all day. You don’t need a background in finance – I certainly didn’t! In fact, when I started looking at Lloyds Banking Group, I discovered a huge range of roles for people with very different skills.
I just wanted an employer who’d let me explore different roles, have new experiences, move around, build relationships, progress quickly and not be pigeonholed. I’ve had all this and more. I’ve been a Propositions Consultant, a Loans Investment Manager and a Project Manager. Now I’m a Business Partner – but more about that later.
Placements – Use them to see what you’re best at
When I started a placement, I’d put myself under enormous pressure to know everything yesterday. Then I realised it was ok not to know, and that each placement was long enough for me to get a feel for whether it was right for me. I was able to narrow my options down, gradually over time, as my knowledge and experience gradually increased.
Training – Go with what stands out for you
It was full-on, but I discovered that I’m pretty resilient and pick up things quickly! Everyone I work with was extra-supportive during this time – my manager texted me to make sure I was coping, while others were more than happy to share their years of experience with me.
That type of support is common here. People genuinely care about you and your development, which is one of my favourite things about the Group.
Transitioning – Use your development manager
Moving from your programme to your first full-time permanent role is an important transition. It’s probably when I had my most useful conversations with my development manager.
Like a lot of busy people, I tend to get immersed in my day to day workload. But with my development manager on hand to talk to, I was able to take a step back, look at the bigger picture and think clearly about my next career move.
He helped me to look at myself in ways I couldn’t have done on my own. We discussed the parts of the programme I’d enjoyed the most – and done the best in – then talked about how they could translate into other roles.
First permanent role – Know your customers
I finally settled on my first permanent role, a Business Partner in our Customer Insights Engagement team, aligned with Mortgages and Payments. In this role, different stakeholders (our jargon for internal customers) turn to me for data about the bank’s customers, usually for a research or insight piece, or to support a marketing campaign.
I give these stakeholders the highest level of customer service I can. I help them to define exactly what they need, then project-manage the process by working with the technical teams, coders and researchers. I’m discovering that I’m good at managing these relationships, good at making sure the business and technical teams know what’s expected of them, and good at getting them to deliver to agreed timelines.
I’m also discovering that I have a talent for explaining complex information in a simple way, so that all my stakeholders can understand it. Maybe this is because I was on the receiving end of so much complicated information in my previous, more technical, roles!
And I’m discovering that I’m a good organiser and juggler. I usually have a number of projects on the go at any one time, so keeping on top of my diary, inbox and mind is vital. I really like that my new role gives me a holistic view of what’s goes on in our business. It suits me better than working more narrowly on one piece of work.
The future – Perform strongly, get promoted
In a year’s time I’d like to be performing strongly in my new permanent role. In three years I may have moved roles and will probably be looking for another promotion.
Managing people and building relationships will continue to be the main thrust of my development. Although, along the way I keep on discovering new things I’m good at and I can’t see that changing, which is great news for my future!
Defining moments – Three, early on in each placement
There’s a point in each placement where, for the first time, things start to make sense and I realised that I felt confident in what I was doing.
These were big moments for me, because the first couple of weeks of each placement can be quite overwhelming. I kept thinking I’d never be as good as my colleagues. But I was helped through these feelings by my colleagues around me talking to me about their roles, their experiences, and how they fitted in the great scheme of things. They were happy to answer all my questions, even the ones that seemed silly to me!
Biggest surprises – So many areas, so much to learn
My first big surprise was finding out that there were so many parts to the organisation, and that there was so much to learn.
My other big surprise was how much you can learn on just one six-month placement. I’d look back at each placement and couldn’t believe all the things I’d worked on, and how much more I knew on the last day than on the first day.
Flexible working – We live different lives
Having the flexibility to fit my work around my personal life motivates me to perform better. Also, little things make a big difference. For instance, every office I’ve worked in has changing rooms and showers, so it’s easy for me to run to and from work – and that’s important to me and my well-being.
I even worked from home for a time after breaking my ankle in a half marathon. That worked well. My performance and output didn’t suffer, and so my managers are supportive of me working flexibly.
Flexible working is quite common here anyway – working from home or working compressed or reduced hours isn’t something people comment on, just so long as it doesn’t impact your work.
Having the flexibility to fit my work around my personal life motivates me to perform better.