Loud, confident, and ambitious: how I took the first step on to the career ladder 

Samantha Smithson-Biggs

An only child of a waitress mother and a lifeguard father in a council house in east London. That was where it all began. Money was not in abundance, but love, support, and a belief that you can be whatever you worked hard at was free flowing. This was my start point in life. My parents instilled in me a deep value set that hard work pays off, and you should never be afraid of too much hard work. 

When it was time to leave school with a decent set of GCSEs and A-Levels, it was clear that financially, university was not going to be a realistic option, so I set about looking for jobs in the City with very little idea about what I wanted to be “when I grew up”, but with a hunger to get started and a curiosity as to what the world had to offer.   

In my first interview with a Japanese bank, I was loud, confident, and ambitious – I wanted to be a trader, and I believed there was no obstacle in my way. 

I was offered the job as a junior audit clerk and when I asked my boss why he had chosen me, his response was that I was a rough diamond. 

That first boss saw the ambition and commitment in me to go beyond the perceived limitations of not having a university degree. Becoming my mentor, he educated me on the various functions within a bank and urged me in the direction of becoming an accountant, as it opened so many opportunities across different parts of a business, and the words that ‘most good CEOs started life as an accountant’ ringing in my ears. When the trading desk came knocking after 12 months of my being in the bank, with the opportunity to become a trader’s assistant, I turned the role down having already committed to becoming an accountant and the longer-term ambitions for the future of a C-Suite role. 

The early intervention by my mentor to give me my first step on the career ladder and opening the door to further education ignited in me a curiosity for business, further learning, and traversing the career ladder. Qualifying as an accountant was just the start, and over the years, I have continued that passion for learning with a Master’s in project and programme management and becoming a qualified business coach. 

My time in the City saw me work on the rough edges – I tried to smooth my east London accent and I tried to be accepted into a world that in those early years didn’t have a concept of social mobility or the need to focus on female talent. I stopped wearing dresses and moved to trouser suits in a bid to fit into a male-dominated world. 

It has taken self-reflection and resilience to not lose the confidence of that 18-year-old who didn’t understand the barriers to entry, because she thought her intelligence and aptitude was enough. I have gone back to wearing dresses in business and am proud to be able to share that success is possible even when the goal seems out of reach. 

I will be forever grateful to my boss and mentor for that first opportunity.  That same privilege is now my day job at Digital Futures where it is our mission to remove barriers and offer the chance for everyone to pursue their dreams.