Rudi Van Blerk
How did you obtain your current position?
I attended as many career presentations on campus as I could, signed up for all company dinners that sounded interesting and then applied to some of the most interesting companies that were recruiting on campus. Once I knew I wanted to go into management consulting I spent a lot of time practicing for my interviews with my friends playing the role of interviewers. I then went through their full interview process which consisted of three rounds of interviews including both personal experience interviews and case interviews.
In what way does your qualification relate to your work, whether directly or indirectly?
Directly: I conduct some basic economic modelling and draw heavily on the principles I learnt in both micro-economics and macro-economics when making business decisions for my clients.
Indirectly: My time at UCT gave me strong writing, presentation, negotiation and problem solving skills, all of which I use on a day-to-day basis at my work.
What are the key skills that have contributed to your success thus far?
Strong work ethic, structured logic, people skills and common sense.
What are your day-to-day activities?
I provide advice to senior management of some of the world's largest companies. In practice, this consists of the following activities: gathering data from client interviews and research, analysing the data - quantitatively by building models and also qualitatively - preparing presentations, presenting to the client and then iterating this process based on further input from the client and my team.
What are the best and most challenging parts of your job?
The best parts of my job are always being challenged and intellectually stimulated and making a big impact in my clients' companies which translates into an impact in the world.
The most challenging parts of my job are the long hours, travel away from home and high, constantly increasing, expectations placed on me.
How did your extra-curricular involvement while at UCT add value (transferable skills) to what you offer the world of work/your degree?
Firstly, it helped give me the opportunity to interview with some of the top companies out there - all these companies want to see that you are able to perform well at university while also maintaining strong interests outside of academics. Secondly, it helped me find out what I enjoy doing and thus refine my job preferences. Finally, it taught me how to handle the softer side of business - presentation, convincing and interpersonal skills.
To what extent did you make use of the Careers Service while you were at university?
I used their services to help refine my CV. They were immensely helpful with this, and it helped me get invited to many interviews. I also used their databases to get an idea of what companies are out there and find out about networking events I could attend.
What are your key lessons on being successful when living and/or working abroad?
South Africa is a great place, there are many things about the country one misses when living abroad that you might not even have thought about before (e.g. good service at restaurants, multiculturalism, and people always being overly polite). That said, it is possible to really have an awesome time living abroad - to be successful living abroad it really helps to learn the language, even just at a fundamental level. Also, do your best to reach out to any contacts you may have in your new country, even use Couchsurfing or connect with some new people there - it helps to get off to a good start! Embrace the culture you are living in, but don't forget that you also have a great culture to share with those in your new country.
How did you find/research the opportunity to work abroad?
I joined an internal transfer programme in my company, something many large companies have. If it's something you are interested in make sure you know what it takes to get selected for these transfer programmes as there are usually limited slots. I worked hard to get my performance up to the needed level and also spent some time in targeted networking, to build relationships with leaders within my company who would help me get to where I wanted to go.
How best should students use their time at university to give themselves a competitive edge in your field?
See your time at university as an investment in your future. It's common for students to tell each other that grades don't matter, but that just isn't true. You will be excluded from many amazing opportunities if you just pass university. So make sure you really do what the lecturers say you need to do to get good marks, i.e. lectures, tutorials, etc. At the same time, good marks are not enough, find one or at most two things outside academics you are interested in and make sure you truly do something with that. One last comment here - I would say I learnt as much from conversations with my classmates as I did from university. You get to meet truly incredible people at university, make the most of this!
In retrospect, what advice can you give to students about how to approach their own career development journeys?
Write down on a piece of paper what you would like to get out of life, even if it is pretty vague. Make sure that everything you do helps bring you closer to that goal. Think of some practical steps you can take to achieve this. Even if it’s not totally clear now, that's okay - all you need is to do your best to identify the next step in your life and act in a way that will leave as many good possibilities open to you as possible until you know what you want to do. Find out as much as you can: talk to your tutors about career possibilities, attend Career Expos, job shadow, interview with many different companies; all this will help make things clearer.
Do you have any advice for a new graduate entering the world of work?
Once you start work in a field you enjoy, really go for it - make sure you differentiate yourself in some way, whether it be working harder than anyone else or working smarter, being the analytics master or the client confidant, but make sure you don't get lost in the crowd of newcomers. Just in case you despair though, it often feels like you have no idea what you are doing, and that is the same for everyone, but keep trying your best and you will figure it out! I would recommend keeping a log of all the feedback you get on your performance (including anything you notice yourself) and then each month pick three of those things and actively work on turning these weaknesses into strengths and turning your strengths into true differentiating factors.