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Career

Career advice by Maria Southey (VP and Lead Financial Officer at American Express)

Today we will treat you with an exclusive interview with Maria Southey, Vice President and Lead Financial Officer for UK Consumer Card Business and EMEA Partner Card Services at American Express. Moreover Maria is a Non-Executive Director of Alpha Card, a joint venture between American Express and BNP Paribas Fortis. She is based in London. In the following questions she will give us an insight into her career and some advice on how to present yourself in a job interview.

[elbenomics]: First of all, would you like to tell us something about your career? As we know you studied Psychology. How did it come that you work for a bank ?
[Maria Southey]: One piece of advice that was given to me when choosing my university subject was to do something I found interesting. Psychology was certainly very varied and fitted in with my interest in people and science! Choosing a career aged 20 is always hard though and I wanted to do something that was transferable and gave me an opportunity to work in many different companies and industries. Once I gained my accountancy qualification I worked in a variety of Technology and Media Companies however after 15 years I felt it was time to change sectors. I wanted to work in a company that had a recognised brand and was growing and American Express fitted that criteria!

Was it difficult for you to get into the finance business?
I was lucky in that I was approached by American Express so that made it slightly easier! Having said that the interview process was very rigorous – I had 12 interviews with many people in the business and finance. This did give me a really good idea of the culture within the business though; American Express has a very collaborative culture and likes to involve all stakeholders in decisions.

What do you think about a fixed percentage for women in leading positions?
Suggesting we should have fixed percentage of women in senior positions is one way of solving the problem of lower proportion of women in leadership roles. Personally I would like to think I was successful at getting a role because I was the best person for the job not to fulfil a ‘quota’. It is important to have the best person for a role and the question for me is more to understand why a women might not put themselves forward to be considered and what they themselves can do to demonstrate their skills. I have recently read a really interesting book called ‘Lean in’ by Sheryl Sandberg which discusses this and other aspects of being a women in business that I would recommend reading!

Which advice would you give postgraduate students or young professionals for a job interview? Is there a recipe for a perfect job interview?
I think it is important to put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer, what would you be looking for if you were them, how can you demonstrate in a clear and concise way that you have those skills. Prepare in advance some examples of what you have actually done that show those skills. A lot of the interview is actually about demonstrating an ability to build relationships as this is massively important to succeed in business. Also it is important to remember that the interview is your opportunity to decide whether you will fit into an organisation as well as the other way round!

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