International College of Economics and Finance

"The Prospects Are Good for ICEF Graduates in Russian Real Economy Sector"

Alexandra Nalobina

Alexandra Nalobina

Alexandra Nalobina earned her bachelor's from ICEF in 2022. Currently a financial modeling and investment analysis specialist at Uralchem, Alexandra shares about the right approach to job search, the benefits of being employed in real economy sector, and what makes ICEF graduates perfect candidates for highly sought-after jobs.

About the benefits of being an ICEF student

I never doubted my choice. ICEF graduates boast strong training in Economics and Finance – suffice it to read the testimonials from students and alumni. Another thing that attracted me was that it offered international education. I thought about doing my degree abroad, but it turned out one can get a reputable education here. I pursued my studies with great enthusiasm, I had good mathematics skills and I could apply them easily in finance and economics studies. My plan was to qualify for the maximum possible tuition discount, 75%, so I studied hard to score high in the Unified State Exam. I did earn the 75% discount and stayed eligible for it until the end of my studies at ICEF.

One thing I immediately appreciated were the teachers. ICEF offers an aptly focused curriculum, there’s nothing superfluous in it. I heard my friends from other economics departments complain about their programmes teaching courses that had only a little to do their subject area. At ICEF, one can always tailor their learning paths by complementing the core courses they like most with subjects offered by electives – philosophy, a second language, programming, for example. I found my courses to be very hands-on: tools and skills like Excel and VBA are taught as early as year one, SQL can be taken as an elective. They are the essentials for practically every work-related task. It was thanks to the quality teaching and the elective Practical Finance that I managed to pass CFA Level 1 with good result – a valuable asset that helped me win my job.

About career expectations and real-life options

At first, I didn’t understand how and where in the industry the knowledge of finance and economics could be used. And it wasn’t until my upper years at ICEF that I started to see where I wanted to be professionally.

Jobs in investment banking and consulting have been sufficiently hyped among bachelor’s students as lucrative and high-paying, but they never tell you the whole truth about how strenuous they are 

Especially strenuous are entry-level jobs. Not everyone can handle them. After my conversations with bank officials, I realized investment banking wasn’t a good fit for me. My job search had thus narrowed considerably, leaving me with clear set of expectations from my future job. 

I owe by job search skills largely to ICEF Career Services and its manager Victoria Pralich. Victoria was guiding my career aptitude assessment and prepared me for interviews. I benefitted from her assistance also when selecting my master’s and applying for admission. She helped me write my essay, prepare for the interview, and later, when I chose to search for work instead, Victoria helped with finding the suitable vacancies and pass the interview. 

Since my initial plan was to do a master’s abroad, l started job search rather late. I was accepted to McGill University and got offers from LBS and Imperial College London, but after a careful consideration of the benefits of academic track and industry, I chose the industry. Besides, a master’s can be earned at any time in future, should I ever need one, including at a foreign university. 

Another useful thing we practiced with ICEF Career Services team were group interview activities, which, too, played a role in my winning the job. Those simulation interviews had a group of students answering a set of questions and would always be followed by debriefing. Victoria would then tell us where we could have done better and how. But, with all the invaluable benefits I enjoyed from the Career Services, I wish the students would be told more about what to expect from jobs in their target sectors. It might be wise to have more companies host trial interviews or invite more people to tell about their jobs and real-life options.

About finding a suitable vacancy

At ICEF, the third year of study is followed by mandatory internship. Mine was three months long and was with Rosbank, where I dealt mostly with macroeconomic forecasts and data management. They offered me to stay and I accepted their offer, but had to quit in two months’ time because my plans to do a master’s had eventually prevailed. After graduation, I started looking for a job not in a bank, but in a big company. I thought my experience there would be a good thing to put to my resume. Besides, big companies are often places for career growth. My target job had to offer enough room for using knowledge that I gained at ICEF – my key requirement and motivation. It had to offer decent pay and have no hidden overwork. My free time is my free time. Four weeks later, I came across a vacancy that satisfied all my requirements. It was at Uralchem.

What makes Uralchem a special place to be

I joined Uralchem’s financial modeling and investment analysis team as a specialist. The job turned out completely fulfilling. I liked the workplace atmosphere and that it came with many recreational activities. You could immediately feel strong corporate spirit, which made me want to be its part and build more expertise as a financial modeling expert. My experience with modeling was limited to the assignments that we did at ICEF. Once I started doing it professionally, I began to see it as an area to build expertise in. I am now in charge of follow-up revision and updating of the Uralchem’s financial model. My other roles include verifying the correctness of subsidiaries’ models, examining investment projects for profit calculation accuracy, and doing financial modeling for potential M&As. The job promised to be interesting from the start. It’s one of the reasons why I chose to work here.

The first weeks were the hardest. My biggest challenge was my being completely new to Uralchem’s core business: fertilizers. I spent my first weeks doing deep into the details such as raw materials, procurement, parent-subsidiary relations, manufacturer interaction chains. Now, having worked there for six months, I think I’m pretty knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the chemical industry and can provide orientation to new hires. I now have good understanding of how models work and business operates. 

About career prospects in domestic companies 

Generally, jobs at Russian companies come with good prospects at the moment as many market leaders are seriously looking to upgrade their financial analytics to international level – this is exactly where ICEF graduates can contribute with their knowledge. Now that foreign companies have withdrawn from the Russian market, new opportunities are opening up in Russian companies for specialists with diverse backgrounds. The prospects are good for ICEF graduates in the Russian real economy sector.

Given the tangible increase in Russia’s manufacturing sector, caused by import substitution policies and focus on new sales destinations, many Russian companies look highly promising employers

Internationally recognised degrees are highly useful, true, allowing their holders to successfully tackle the most challenging of tasks, but the thing you will need in the first place as a new hire is the hands-on knowledge – exactly what ICEF equips its students with. In my workplace, the knowledge that I gained at ICEF comes in handy every day.

Advice to current and prospective students

Compared to other Russian colleges, ICEF benefits its students through education which is really strong. Its name is well known to Russian employers as a provider of highly sought-after job candidates. The training and career training skills I have received at ICEF have enabled me to pass my job interview just flawlessly. Adding to my chances was also ICEF’s reputation. ICEF is not as much about international education as it is about proven prestige, high standards of teaching and quality knowledge. I would like prospective students to keep in mind this latter point when choosing a degree.

My advice to students is know your goal as early as possible and keep yourself updated on the master’s programmes and employment opportunities. Try to embrace all possible options, not only those on everyone’s lips, for the industry offers a much wider range of jobs than Finance and Economics majors tend to think. It might be wise to think of the criteria your future job will need to satisfy. Screen vacancies as if you were a long established specialist. This will help you to avoid jobs that can really wear you out, like those in consulting or investment banking. Competition levels tend to be lower in companies and there are many jobs that come with opportunities for development.