Hindsight is 2020 (#HI2020) is a ground up initiative founded and led by SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business Class of 2020 graduate Jessica Lee Yi Ling. In this series, she uncovers personal stories of resilience, courage and love amidst the crazy year that was 2020. Through the reflections and learnings shared in #HI2020, she hopes to empower internship and job seekers to improve their status quos and encourage aspiring entrepreneurs and volunteers to pursue their passions in 2021.
By Jessica Lee, Alumna, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business
Underneath a calm and composed demeanour lies one of the most participative students I’ve ever met—Farid Mohammad—a penultimate SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business student and a Finance and Communications Management guru, Bondue Corporate Relations Director, Farrago Programmes Head and incoming Google summer intern. Fun fact: this young man learned to read stock market movements through simulations in Neopets and Grand Theft Auto V! Let’s take a trip down memory lane and revisit his summer 2020 experience.
Here are three key takeaways from Farid:
- Invest in yourself, it pays the best dividends.
- You too are a brand—whether you know it or like it or not.
- You must forge your own path for it to be meaningful.
Hey Farid, we first met when I participated in My Bondue Life—a series run by Bondue where you serve on the Executive Committee. Tell us how you got involved in Bondue.
Bondue, also known as SMU Business Society, is the student Constituent Body for the SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business (LKCSB). The first Bondue event that I joined was in Summer 2019 (Bondue Camp), which was a very memorable and fulfilling experience for me. I eventually ran for Bondue’s 16th Executive Committee and got elected as the Corporate Relations Director. I was inspired by my predecessor, who chartered his own directions during his term, and decided to incorporate sustainability into our work during my term. Throughout the journey, I enjoyed getting to know more about the respective representatives from different companies, and realised one of my strengths was building relations with people given my interest in people’s lives.
Fill me in on the details about your Bondue involvement during the summer of 2020.
I managed a team of three people in the Bondue Freshmen Experience 2020 (BFE 2020) and my main aim was to facilitate interaction among freshmen and introduce them to LKCSB. The BFE 2020 team had to be creative in coming up with games that allowed the freshmen to engage in online team-building games due to the safe distancing measurements.
Slightly Scarlet 2020, our annual philanthropic fashion show, also had to be moved online last year. The organising committee produced series of Instagram Stories and TikTok videos to raise awareness for the visually impaired community. Through this, I learnt more about the trendy social media platforms and how they can help to spread simple messages very quickly. It was impressive to see how the organising committee managed to raise funds despite the limitations of having to move the event online.
What skills did you learn from Bondue that you think are applicable to the working world?
Communication and negotiation skills when engaging with prospective sponsors and building a two-way relationship were useful skills I picked up while serving my term. Another notable one would be managing people at work. I always believe that team work makes the dream work and no man is an island. Every team is different, and the working dynamics is something you need to find before work can actually start.
Farid (back row, 4th from left) and his Bondue team mates
Give me an idea of what your dream summer looked like.
I wanted to secure an internship at a bank, and at the same time, watched the fruits of our labour for Bondue’s two major events—Bondue Camp and Slightly Scarlet—come to life.
How did Covid-19 impact your plans and the activities you had undertaken?
Good: In the case of Bondue, we were originally quite bummed out that events were no longer possible given the Covid-19 situation. Then we realised that it was a good opportunity to start digitalising most processes for our club, such as moving our merchandise platform online. My mentor and I also hosted a series of webinars for Kinobi, an early stage startup which focuses on mentoring.
Bad: The department at the bank I wanted to go to froze their hiring, which also meant all internships were canned. A few of my sponsorship deals for my Bondue events also fell through due to the Covid-19 situation.
Tell me more about your internship plans with the bank.
In late March, the department at the bank that I had applied at was merged with another department, resulting in a headcount reduction and canning of all internships. I felt pretty defeated because I had applied for over 100 internships. By then, it was already March, and with the Finals and Project Presentations Week looming, I decided to stop trying to get an internship and chose to focus on what I had on hand instead.
I understand that you were later offered two internships in June. Why did you turn them down?
Yes, I applied for internships at SMEs and startups in the Fintech space, went for interviews, and was offered in June. However, I realised that there was no point serving an internship just for the sake of doing it. Additionally, given my commitment to Bondue and Kinobi (a digital mentoring platform started by my mentor), I was unsure if I could commit to an internship and gave it my best.
I decided that there were better ways to invest in and develop myself. I was also fortunate that I was able to tide myself through the summer break with an income from some investments in the stock market. Meanwhile I also attended courses available on LinkedIn Learning and Coursera.
Farid (right) and Benjamin Wong, his mentor from Kinobi
What was the best and worst advice you received during this period?
The best advice I received was to find purpose in everything I do. Before I decided on turning down the two offers, I asked myself—why did I apply for these internships in the first place? What did I want to achieve at the end of this three-month long break? Only then I realised that I was only trying to do what everyone was doing.
The worst advice I got was to grab whatever internship comes along, simply because something is better than nothing. I weighed the advice and asked myself if it aligned with my purpose in life to give my all in everything that I do. Given my already heavy commitment at that time, I decided not to heed this advice.
This summer has been a crazy ride for you. That said, congratulations on securing an internship with Google for summer 2021! Why do you think your hiring manager from Google chose you?
It just so happened that I have had exposure to the kind of market that they wanted (at Kinobi where I was helping out). I think the manager liked the way I handled setbacks during my 2020 summer and how I chose to invest the time in developing myself instead. I was also able to deep dive into the problems I experienced in Bondue because I was fully committed to the events at that time, which showcased my ability in handling problems that I ran into. Plus it helped that the problems that needed solutions were “digital” in nature (in moving the events online).
Now that you can say you’ve been there and done that, what advice do you have to give to your juniors applying for internships?
I would say develop yourself first, find out more about yourself and invest in yourself when applying for a role. Not many people work on their personal branding, which sets them apart in interviews. Many just try to say what they think the interviewer wants to hear. Personal branding helps to tie you to a certain skill or trait that you have and that allows you to stand out and be remembered. I think you should always remember that you discover more about yourself through introspecting and reflecting upon yourself truthfully; you don’t necessarily need an internship to do these things.
“Personal branding helps to tie you to a certain skill or trait that you have and that allows you to stand out and be remembered.”
Through whole of 2020, what kept you going despite the different challenges and set backs that you faced?
What kept me going was having a strong sense of purpose and knowing who I’m doing it for. There were people who depended on me for the team’s success—my team in Bondue and Kinobi. It helped knowing that the Bondue events impacted people’s lives in the same way they once helped me when I was a freshmen in SMU. It’s not always about finding someone inspirational and copying their footsteps, but rather having someone inspire you to take pride in both your success and failures so that you can craft your own journey. Everyone has their own definitions of success, and there are countless ways to get to that.
To wrap things up, are there any people you wish to make a shout out to?
I would like to thank the wonderful mentors and mentees I’ve met in Mendaki Club Mentoring Circle (now Mara Mentoring). My mentor, Benjamin Wong has been someone who has always been encouraging to me!
Thank you to my 16th Bondue Exco as well, you guys are the best! Thank you for helping me to build up my resilience and for making me a better person when handling problems. Despite 2020 seeming like a setback, I think we pulled through way better than we hoped.
This article has been adapted from LinkedIn for republishing on The SMU Blog with permission. Learn more about Hindsight is 2020 here.
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