An Interview with Nikita Khandwala:  Her success story so far

An Interview with Nikita Khandwala: Her success story so far

 

As businesses and universities from all over the world start to work from home due to the coronavirus lockdown, we were lucky enough to interview Nakita Khandwala. Nakita is a young and successful student public speaker and co-founder of UnbOX.

We interviewed Nikita about her professional achievements, goals and aspirations. Due to her immense success so far, Nikita offers great advice and guidance to students and graduates who are just starting out in their career. We hope this interview brings you motivation and hopefulness towards your future goals during this challenging time.

 

When/How did you discover your interest in career development working as a public speaker and a student careers coach? 

 

Studying at a top university, I quickly became aware of what I call ‘corporate career groupthink’. This refers to the prestigious, parent-approved, high-paying career options (mainly finance, consulting and law) that are often the only ones exposed to you on campus. When I failed at what was seen as the definition of success, I lost confidence in my abilities, my imposter syndrome kicked back in with a vengeance and I felt like I'd let myself and my family down. 

Soon, I reflected. I’m in love with tech, startups and levelling access to career and educational opportunity...so why on earth was I pursuing consulting? That was the point at which I realised that societal pressure often pushes young people onto the well-trodden path and doesn’t give us the chance to explore what we’re really passionate about and how that can translate into a career. From then on I knew that I wanted to help as many people as possible transform their passion into their profession.  

 

What is your biggest achievement in your career so far?

 

This may sound strange but the biggest achievement in my young career is, failing. I was once rejected by the same company three years in a row, but these rejections led me exactly to where I am now and my dream graduate job. I wouldn’t have achieved the more ‘traditional’ milestones of success if I hadn’t failed first!

 

What motivated you to reach where you are today?

 

I'm originally from India but was born and brought up in the UK so my family and I regularly travel back to India to visit family and old friends. On one such visit a few years ago, when I had just started my degree at the University of Oxford, we sat down for dinner at a restaurant with some of my parent's old friends from medical school. Soon enough came the (entirely expected) barrage of questions about what I was doing with my life. I told them I was studying Spanish & Linguistics at university. Cue the shock-induced fork drops. One woman almost spat out her drink. 'Linguistics? But what on earth are you going to do with Spanish and Linguistics?' 

Charming, right? I won't lie, three years down the line, I did enjoy telling her I'd bagged a graduate job offer from LinkedIn. 

No young person ever deserves to feel like their choices aren’t valid and they can’t reach their goals. Making every young person I meet feel validated, smart and confident and bridging the gap between talent and career opportunity is what motivates me every single day. 

 

As a student career coach, what’s your definition of success, and do you believe you’ve achieved it yet? 

 

I feel successful every single time I am lucky enough to help a student figure out what direction they want to take their career in or bag their dream job offer. Ultimately, everyone’s definition of success is totally different. I would say that my personal definition of success would be connecting as many young people from non-traditional backgrounds as possible to educational and career opportunities.

 

What have you learnt from this crisis?

 

  • Mental and physical health is just as important as each other! There’s a lot of content being shared on social media about remaining productive during this time. Whilst it’s often good advice, it’s important to put our wellbeing first and foremost in such a difficult situation. 

  • We all need to help each other. The way that ordinary people, doctors, governments, celebrities and key workers are coming together to mitigate the effects of this global crisis has really blown me away. My parents are NHS workers and their amazing role in tackling this crisis inspired me to do the little I can by creating helpful content and offering free career consulting sessions to students. 

  • Desperate times call for innovative measures. People are way more entrepreneurial than they think - I’ve seen countless initiatives set up by young people doing their bit to help those most affected by the crisis. This is so heartening to see and shows that anyone can be an entrepreneur!

 

What are your goals for the future?

 

My overarching goal is to start my own school that disrupts the traditional, outdated model of education. Our education system is based on the needs of a labour force that existed over 100 years ago. To effectively prepare students for the future of work and to tackle the pressing global challenges that we are currently facing, we need to change the system from the bottom up. Being able to provide as many students as possible with an engaging, relevant and interdisciplinary education is my dream!

 

How has COVID-19 affected your studies? Have you had to change the way you navigate your early career? 

 

COVID-19 has affected all students in different, but equally frustrating ways. Personally, my traditional final-year exams (which count for all of my degrees!) have been replaced by remote, open-book exams. This obviously calls for a pretty different revision method so all we can do is be adaptable and do the best we can in a tough situation. I’m really lucky in that I’ve got a confirmed graduate job offer, so I can focus on revision, but I understand not everyone is in the same boat. If you’re looking for a job whilst trying to revise, my advice would be to split your days into blocks and breaks to keep yourself accountable for what you need to get done!

 

What 2 pieces of advice would you give to people who are looking for a job during the coronavirus crisis?

 

  • Be reactive, engaged and adaptable. Even though a lot of companies are undertaking ‘hiring freezes’, when companies start recruiting again, they will want to see that you used the time wisely to upskill, start a passion project, network virtually or complete a remote internship. It’s hard to believe but pretty much everything you can do professionally in person, you can do online! 

  • Leverage your network. A lot of students feel like their network is way smaller than it really is or is afraid of asking for help. University alumni networks, careers services, contacts from previous internships, university societies - turn all of these amazing connections into opportunities! Try and message 5 people on LinkedIn per week who you admire and want to learn from and ask them for just 10 minutes of their time to give you some specific advice - I guarantee at least one of them will say yes!

 

We hope you enjoy reading success stories like Nikitas as much as we do! Reading these inspiring career journeys during these difficult times can really increase your drive, motivation and your mentality towards your future career plans. Feeling inspired? Find out more about Nikita and her online entrepreneur business on her website.