Trusting my instincts: Nicola’s story

Having decided on a career in academia, a six-week work placement changed Nicola’s life


I had my career plan mapped out when I was 21. I’d just finished my law degree, and I was heading to the London School of Economics to complete my Masters in International Human Rights Law. I’d then go on to complete a doctorate and become a Professor, with my end dream being teaching students, as well as acting as a consultant to the UN on International Law. It may sound ambitious, but I was brimming with confidence and excited about the future. But when came to Standard Chartered on a work placement for a six-week project, everything changed.

During those six weeks I met and worked with more interesting, diverse people than I’d ever come across before. I was trusted to lead on interesting and impactful project work and, importantly for me, I felt I was actually working in a place which made a real difference to the parts of the world I’d studied through my humanitarian and human rights legal studies. When I was offered a contract extension, I put my aspirations of heading back into academia on hold.

Over the years I’ve taken on different project roles, each more interesting than the last, including working on various historical sanction compliance issues and remediation. This gave me the opportunity to live in New York for three years, which was amazing and a wonderful experience!

After my time in New York I was asked to consider a role outside of project work but I must admit I wasn’t sure where I’d fit in the organisation. Time after time, I kept coming back to HR, even though I had no experience in the field. Sure enough, I was successful in my application to become an HR Business Partner and found that this was a role where I could use my skills to make an impact by placing the right people in the right roles and driving high performance.

I have never questioned my decision to make the jump from regulatory focused projects to HR – I have been with Standard Chartered since my early 20s and in many ways I’ve grown up in the Bank. I’ve travelled and built relationships with people all over the world – India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai – which I never dreamed of. HR continues to provide opportunities for me to be challenged and grow.

If you’re open to new possibilities, up for the challenge, and willing to be pushed out of your comfort zone, the world’s your oyster here. I’m so happy I put academia by the wayside and listened to my parents’ advice of applying for a work placement in 2009!

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