Life Advice·4 mins·07/05/20

What you need to know to thrive at university and beyond

Wondering how to make friends at university? Where to work when you start your career? Our CEO Ismail shares what he’s learned from being a university student and working at Google before he launched Scoodle.

I'm a year 13 interested in entrepreneurship. My predicted grades aren't that great, but I'm hoping to join a London university through clearing this summer. What course would you recommend and why?

My opinion, honestly, is that the course doesn't matter. University serves two main purposes:

  1. To meet smart people you couldn't meet otherwise.
  2. To access opportunities you couldn't access otherwise.

If the university you want to go to doesn't give you that, I'd question whether it's worthwhile. If it does, what you study doesn't matter – the opportunities and friends you make will make sure you succeed!

Was it hard for you to make friends at university? What sorts of things did you do to meet new people and how did you socialise with them?

Get involved in societies as much as you can. Where possible, choose societies that really challenge your interests. Don't just spend time around people that look and think like you. That's the best way to develop as an individual, but also to make great friends who have very different interests!

Students sitting around laptop looking at the screen

I have just finished my second year of university and am thinking about my career. I'm stuck between applying for start-ups or going down the corporate route. What do you recommend?

Apply for both. I personally went down the corporate route first because I knew the brand would be useful for me and it would validate a company I built after. Having said that, you'll learn more at a quicker rate with a start-up.

There's no right answer. It really depends on your plans for the future. I'd be happy with a great company or a great start-up!

What's your advice for somebody who wants to become more persuasive, but not necessarily to go into a sales role?

The skills you develop do not have to be about a specific career. You can develop persuasion skills and never work in sales. My tips are:

  1. Learn to be confident. Personally, I found public speaking helps me a lot. It gives you the ability to dictate how a room sees you. This can be really powerful.
  2. Understand incentives. It helps when you can make someone want what you want. To do this, you need to understand what people care about. For example, I'm hungry. I want to go to Domino's Pizza. You hate Domino’s. Your job is to convince me to eat somewhere else. After speaking to me, you find out that I'm trying to save money, and that matters to me. So, instead of arguing about how Domino's Pizza is terrible, you talk to me about how I could save money if we ate at home instead. You need to convince me by things I care about, not things you care about. Get it?
  3. Nobody wins an argument. So never have one. Make sure you're having a conversation. When someone is on the 'defensive', you'll never get your way.

Did you struggle finding a job after graduating? Any tips for those who are?

I had about 10 rejections before an offer, so yes! Fortunately, I confirmed my job before graduating. If you're still looking, make sure to keep yourself busy. Learn to code, make videos or travel. It can be demoralising, but the most important thing is to make sure you never stop learning. This is even more important now, as jobs will be harder to come by.

Google logo on an office building

For someone who’s worked their way through college, which resulted in part-time work, part-time study and a longer time to graduate, can I still find ways to work at top companies such as Google?

Great companies want smart people. You'll have to make sure they know you're smart. This is where volunteering projects, part-time work and internships really make a difference.

Do as much of that as you can! There's no 'one size fits all' type of hire. I graduated in Political Economy and had a teaching business. The person sitting next to me at Google previously worked as a drag-queen. He was super smart. We both had the same job.

Does Google care about your university grades?

They've started offering apprenticeships, so I don't even know if they care about your a-levels anymore!

They want really smart people. A lot of them have top grades, but not all of them. I know that there wasn't a grade requirement when I got the job. But, I'm sure having good grades are a positive signal.

If you could have done anything differently during your time at Google, what would it be?

I wish I spent more time building relationships with people from different teams there. Your networks and relationships are worth more in five to 10 years than you could ever imagine.

Want to hear more tips from Ismail? Check out his full interview over on Jamma.