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Hackernoon logoParadigms and Principles: From University to Equity Research by@balaghi

Paradigms and Principles: From University to Equity Research

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@balaghiAhmed Al-Balaghi

‘The power of a paradigm shift is the essential power of quantum change, whether that shift is an instantaneous or a slow and deliberate process’ Steven Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

In this article, I will share something I wish I knew before applying to graduate schemes and internships and it is directed to all students who are applying for any scheme.

I will explain this through my personal experiences and a very interesting concept called Paradigm Shifts.

So bro, how many applications did you get done this week?

At one point during University, you will be thinking about applying for summer internships and graduate schemes. We know it is a very competitive environment, and usually, the advice is to do as many applications as possible.

I made over 100 formal applications across different banking divisions, professional services divisions and others for internships and graduate schemes across my 3 years at university. I managed to secure over 15 first round interviews and reached to the final stages of half of them.

I only received 2 formal offers which offered structured training as part of the program across my 3 years at university.

Just 2…out of 100 applications.

At that time, I thought I was doing pretty well compared to my peers who did many applications but had so few interviews. I thought writing these many applications was the right way to do it, at least according to advice from the university, from online forums and my environment, that is most of the students around me were also doing a huge amount of applications.

Only until before my graduation ceremony, I found out everything I did when it came to applications was, to my astonishment, a total failure.

Before I continue into why it was a failure, I want to explain the Paradigm Shift concept that inspired me to write this article.

What is a Paradigm Shift?

(Most of this section is my summary of the ‘Paradigms and Principles’ chapter of the book called The 7 habits of highly effective people)

It was termed by Thomas Kuhn in his book called ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’.

He showed the different paradigm shifts that happened in the field of scientific breakthroughs, and how almost all breakthroughs allowed the scientific field to break away and shift from old paradigms and way of thinking.

I’d like to think of a paradigm shift as experiencing an ‘aha’, ‘whaaaat’, or ‘oh my god’ moment, a moment where you perceive and think differently by taking the view of the other side. I’ll explain this later on.

A paradigm is commonly known to mean a model, theory, or the way we see and interpret the world.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey allows us to understand paradigms as ‘maps’.

A ‘map is simply an explanation of certain aspects of a territory’. Each map will try to explain a territory, and thus different theories arise.

‘But when they shift us in positive or negative directions, whether they are instantaneous or developmental, paradigm shifts move us from one way of seeing the world to another. And those shifts create powerful change.’

Steven argues that the paradigms we have are the sources of our attitudes and behaviours, and so if we want to change for the better, we need to change our paradigms first. Changing attitudes and behaviours in a wrong paradigm or ‘map’, will not have any effect as we are within the wrong fundamentals.

‘Our paradigms, correct or incorrect, are the sources of our attitudes and behaviours, and ultimately our relationship with others.’

Example 1

Citing an example from Steven’s book,

‘If you wanted to get to a specific location in Chicago, you’d use a map to get there. Suppose the map was wrong…and it was a map of Detroit. Can you imagine the frustration, the ineffectiveness of trying to reach your destination?

You might work on your behaviour, you could try harder, be more diligent, double your speed. But your efforts would only succeed in getting you to the wrong place faster.

You might work on your attitude- you could think more positively. You wouldn’t get to the right place, but perhaps you wouldn’t care. Your attitude would be so positive you’d be happy wherever you are.

The point is, you’d still be lost. The fundamental problem has nothing to do with your behaviour or your attitude. It has everything to do with having the wrong map.’

Then Stephen makes the point that, if you had the real map of Chicago and encountered obstacles, that’s when behaviour and attitude come into place. Why? If you run into obstacles, then the attitude of positivity and perseverance makes a crucial difference.

This example becomes very important in explaining my failure later on in the article.

Let’s explore more examples of paradigm shifts in real life.

Example 2

Stephen mentions an exercise which he encountered at Harvard Business School. This exercise consisted of 2 groups of students who were asked to look at one of these 2 pictures for 10 seconds.

As you can see, picture 1 shows a young, elegant woman. Picture 2 shows an old woman.

After, the professor showed the third picture (below).

Can you see it?

He invited students to tell explain what they saw.

This led to a huge debate in the classroom where both groups argued their case.

Almost all in the group who saw picture 1 saw a young elegant woman in picture 3, and almost everyone in group 2 who saw an old lady in picture 2, saw an old woman in picture 3.

After a back and forth debate, and endless arguments, the ‘aha’ moment finally came through. Students in both groups now saw the other person’s paradigm or ‘map’.

What was interesting in this study was that by seeing picture 1 or 2 for 10 SECONDS ONLY, it goes to show how conditioning powerfully affects our perceptions and paradigms. Steven then goes on to say ‘If ten seconds can have that kind of impact on the way we see things, what about the conditioning of a lifetime? The influences in our lives such as family, friends, and work’.

Another important thing to point out is that in this exercise, most students never knew that another point of view did in fact exist.

Those students who diligently argued their ground by looking away at the picture and back without taking into account the other side’s perspective made it harder for them to see the ‘light’. Only a few tried to really grasp the other point of view and they eventually had the ‘aha’ moment when the image came into focus, seeing both an old and young woman.

The point of this is that these paradigms are the source of our attitudes and behaviours (i.e. the two groups acted and saw differently when they saw picture 3 together after being influenced by different conditioning). They both operated from different paradigms and ‘maps’, and when we describe what we see in the picture we emulate our attitude and behaviour by describing our paradigms and perceptions. If I was in group 2, I would need to look through the lens of group’s 1 paradigm or map before I can change my behaviour and be open to their perceptions which would allow me to get a larger picture.

Example 3:

This is a paradigm shift I encountered myself.

My friend’s girlfriend worked part-time during university. She wasn’t also doing very well in her studies too. I quickly pounced and said, well obviously she isn’t doing well because she is working part-time, time that can be used for studies. I then went on and explained my study techniques and advised its best not to work part-time.

He looked down and said, my girlfriend’s father passed away many years ago, her mother’s salary was not enough to sustain the family of 4, and in order to pay the bills at the end of the month, his girlfriend had to work part-time. At that moment, I was swathed in mixed emotions. That ‘oh my god’ moment occurred.

I felt incredibly apologetic and embarrassed. My attitude and behaviour went from advising she should quit in order to achieve better grades to being remorseful and understanding.

I changed my behaviour completely once I acknowledged the other side by looking at the lens through this different paradigm by showing empathy and offered to help to find a solution specific to his girlfriend.

I never noticed this example can be considered a paradigm shift until I came across it in Steven Covey’s book. In life, we experience paradigm shifts in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes we are too ignorant to accept the other side or we embrace it but unknowingly undergo a major transformation.

My failure during University

Now I have explained paradigm shifts according to Steven Covey’s interpretation and research, now I will tell you why my approach to applying for graduate and internship schemes was ineffective and what I wish I knew when I was at university.

I knew halfway through university I wanted to do Equity Research/Stock Analysis within the asset management industry. But I also knew it was hard to get in and so I applied to places outside this sector because they looked like good opportunities and were decent ‘backups’.

The problem was that I slowly lost my focus without realising it and I was an in an environment which conditioned me to believe, the more applications I do, the higher the chance of success. I was with a group of friends who’d do applications together all the time. We spread ourselves too thin by applying to so many places across different industries.

The ‘aha’ moment!

The defining moment of the paradigm shift I experienced was before I graduated. I still knew I wanted to do Equity research, and so I decided to try to get to know people within the industry through networking.

I was introduced to an Equity Research manager at a top tier bank and luckily had the chance to engage and learn from someone within the field. I went even further by taking a proactive approach and asked the manager, can I present my thoughts on a stock that you’re currently researching. I said this knowing I never have really analysed a stock before, but also understood I had to start somewhere.

The answer from the manager was yes.

This little endeavour allowed me to learn so much, and it was an incredible experience and a great addition to my CV. This eventually led me to a telephone interview 2 months later!

Comparing this to example 1 earlier, during my whole university experience, I was operating in the wrong paradigm, the wrong map. No matter how my behaviour and attitude was, i.e. being proactive by doing nearly an application every day, this will not yield effective results. Even if I accepted a backup offer, would I be happy and satisfied in the long run?

Just before my graduation, I changed my paradigm and looked through the lens of the employer and HR. In this competitive environment, employers want people with experience and passion, and so I had to change the map in which I was operating in.

My behaviour and attitude changed. Instead of wasting time on writing applications for ‘backup’ jobs I particularly didn’t like, I engaged with the industry and was creative. I did something that few students do, which made me stand out. This time, as I was operating within the right map, a proactive attitude paid off!

Although I never got the job, it taught me an important lesson. If I had achieved to network and deliver a mediocre equity research presentation in a matter of 2 months, and then be invited for an interview 2 months later, imagine what I could have achieved if I had done this throughout my whole university experience for 3 years?

That was my ‘aha’ moment. I shifted from a map which said success at university is only defined by securing a job at the end of your degree to a map that says focus on what you enjoy doing and be creative whilst you’re at it.

I shifted from thinking securing a stable 9–5 graduate role is a success to thinking there is nothing wrong with a 9–5 job as long as I do not have a 9–5 mindset

At university, I wish I knew about:

a) How important focus and creativity are (both of which I am still trying to improve)

b) The concept of paradigm shifts

Moving on- Finally understanding the shift

I decided not to take up equity research as my interest pivoted me elsewhere. However, I applied these same principles and lessons in a new industry I took an interest in. Through networking, willing to take on small important projects in the beginning and most importantly emitting passion led to so many opportunities within the current sector I am in, and this could be the case for most industries out there.

I have seen my friend only apply to one position during his final year, but he made it his sole focus and aim and worked it so well that he eventually got an offer, an offer awarded to 60 people from out of the 70,000 students who applied. He stayed focus on what he wanted to do, his passion.

This eventually led me to think if we have our interests, and know what we want to do, why don’t we just go all in?

Why couldn’t I devote every weekend during my 3 years of University to analyse a different stock? Maybe write a post about it too? Maybe I was interested in equity research but was I really interested?

If you like trading, why don’t you commit your extracurricular time to running a mock portfolio and then investing your own real money into real stocks?

I am sure when you are in the application stages of a trading graduate job, you can easily document your experiences and are in a much better chance of securing it than people like me. Why? Because when I applied to trading jobs without trading experience, I only cited my ‘interest’ in trading.

The reality is, these graduate schemes are looking for hires who have done something before and in such a competitive environment where other applicants actually have run trading funds before, how do I stand a chance against them?

If you like marketing, why not try to scale a small business through digital and see how the project goes? If you’re passionate about it, you’d do it for free.

I can go on with these examples, but what I’m trying to say is, try your hardest to focus on what matters to you. Explore what you could be passionate about and over time you will find something you like. It may take you a day, it may take you years.

For me, it took 4 years.


Initially, this article was only planned to explain my failure but since I am passionate about sharing knowledge and concepts like the Paradigm Shift, I thought it would go in hand and concepts like the paradigm shifts go far beyond university life.

Paradigm shifts can be positive or negative. You’re at university, try and understand the dozens of paradigm shifts that you may encounter!

Finally, if you are thinking about your ideal internship or graduate job, the key is to focus on your interests. Look through the lens of the paradigm of your potential employer, and be creative in order to stand out from the thousands of applicants out there.


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