Working in Canary Wharf and Changing Career Paths at the age of 21! – A Conversation with Jonathan Wilson-Kouevi

Some of you may already know Jon through him being a friend or colleague, some may know him for his content via YouTube and the coaching work he does FC Passéhlona (who you should most definitely check out, having amassed 50k subscribers and 3 million YouTube views in the space of three years) & some of you may not know Jon at all. Allow us to provide an insight into his career trajectory! Having taken the apprenticeship route at 18 to pursue a career in finance, Jon has excelled and took the path that many at his age decided not to, ultimately having paid off if you ask us! Jon now works in recruitment, which affords him a better work-life balance and the ability to work in an environment where he is able to be a people person, develop and still able to commit to projects outside of work. For our employability and entrepreneurship theme this month, our founder Toren sat down with Jon to discuss his journey, advice he would give to his younger self, as well as those who feel they are currently in a career field that may not be for them.


Toren: In terms of painting a picture for the listeners, let’s take it back to post GCSEs. What was your mind frame and thoughts at the time in terms of your choices, next steps, interests’, and hobbies at that age, if you can remember?

Jon starts witty off the bat, a trait he’s well known for.

Jon: Yeah, I remember vividly, I’m not that old, I’m younger than you bro. After finishing my GCSEs, my intention was always to go into finance. I was always coaching on the side, but my intention was always to go into that field and do something finance based because that’s what my dad had done, which is how I began and got into Barclays. Even for my A-levels, I did Economics, Law, and English Literature.

Toren: Okay! Smart guy, fair play!

Jon: Yeah man come on, more than a pretty face! (We see the whit again!). I remember being sat in an Economics class just thinking, I don’t like this way of learning, my attention spans going – I enjoy the subject, but I knew at the time I preferred learning in ways that were more practical and hands-on for me to develop my knowledge. So that’s when I first told my mum I was thinking of an Apprenticeship, and she thought I lost my mind!

This point by Jon is a key indicator of how Apprenticeships have become a more attractive and respected route over time.

Jon: After a while she realised it wasn’t just a phase but was an actual way of thinking and was something I wanted to see through. She supported the plan but said it had to be something that was one, "respectable" and two, "a scheme that offered a position or something long term at the end of it", of which Barclays at the time ticked both boxes. The application process I feel was more rigorous than university, as I actually done a personal statement around the time too. The Barclays programme gets around 1000 applicants a year for their finance programme but only takes on six.

Toren: Woah, that’s crazy!

Jon: Yeah, it was really intense. Without going into too much detail, I even remember the trial day and it was proper apprentice style. There was a group of 6 and we were given the task of planning a graduation. You were given a set budget and different venues that had different costs. We had to make decisions regarding whether we were going to charge parents for tickets, if so, how much do we charge, were we going to hire a photographer etc. So, we had an hour to do that, and then we had to go into a one-to-one role play with ourselves and our ‘pretend’ manager, outlining how we've come to our various decisions and how we were going to spend the budget. However, 5 minutes before the one-to-one, everyone was given a piece of paper and it was written that the venue that we had chosen had a gas leak, so our budget had been cut and we were not allowed to charge for tickets. I remember everyone opening the paper and going ‘what the hell’. In the moment, it was ultimately an assessment to see how we could cope under pressure when things hit the fan. I really enjoyed that whole experience, they took us to one of the offices in Northampton and the head office in Canary Wharf and that's when they made it clear that you know, we’d been the people that were selected. It was perfect for me as they gave me my acceptance prior to me completing my A-Levels. So, I was set up quite nice before I even sat in that exam hall (He laughs). I knew at that point that I definitely didn’t want to go to university and wanted to go through with the apprenticeship. I loved working at Barclays, especially as an introduction to the working world. Even from a networking perspective, it was so good for me, I loved going into the office and I loved the social aspect of things. Over the three years, I was able to work across different departments and ultimately see how different branches of the bank manoeuvre.


a landscape view of London's Canary Wharf

The conversation then moves on to Jon speaking on the moment and time he began to ponder on making a career change, this moment being lockdown and when the pandemic hit.


Jon: So just before lockdown, I was looking to move within the company out of finance and into a department that was more client facing, so for example relationship management, you know being able to utilise people skills, talking to people, business meetings etc. Although once lockdown came around this kind of accelerated my desire to move. I felt like Finance felt good, whilst I was doing it 9-5, I was able to do football coaching on the side, going to the gym and meeting up with my friends, but then lockdown came and kind of got rid of all the social aspect of things, but the 9-5 was still there. Whilst the expectations of still having to deliver and not having any of these hobbies or downtime were also there. The team that I was in at the time were very understanding of the fact I wanted to move out of finance and start a new chapter.

This then left me thinking about what role could I pursue that involved speaking to people, having a collaborative approach to problem-solving and tackling issues via discussion and planning. As opposed to here’s an excel spreadsheet, I’ll call you at midday and see how you’re getting on. That’s when I landed into looking at recruitment as an industry and seeing how it works. I came across a company via LinkedIn, but the application process was quite strenuous, with the questions being very fixed and direct. I then had an interview for the company I’m at now and it was entirely different. They asked me what I was like outside of work, I told them I did YouTube and they started watching my videos mid-interview, which was funny! It was the most unscripted interview I’ve ever had but it felt so natural. I then did a presentation, where they asked me 7 questions and I had to speak on what I knew about recruitment, what I thought a standard day in recruitment would be like, the different types of recruitment, where I’d want to be in 5 years etc. It went well and I’ve been here since July last year.

Toren: Oh, so you’ve been there for quite a while then, for some reason I thought less time had passed.

Jon: Na man, I’ve been here since July last year and I’m enjoying it man. I’m still able to do my football coaching and I like the fact that this company can facilitate that. So, for example, on a Friday, I start early and finish early with enough time to travel to a coaching session and get to where I need to be. It’s nice, I feel like I have a really good balance of what’s making me money, I can commit to my hobby, and there is still that window of opportunity in which my hobby could potentially provide me with a pathway to step into it full time if it’s something I wanted to do. I feel like right now it’s on me to deliver really.

Toren: That makes a lot of sense. Do you feel like being in the industry that you’re in right now, where you were before didn’t allow you to facilitate that?

Jon: Hmm, no I do think it facilitated it, but obviously what you do as your 9-5 makes up the bulk of your week. So, with those main 40 hours, if it’s draining you and not making you happy and giving me the energy to pursue coaching, YouTube or whatever other thing it might be, eventually it just began to weigh me down. So, it facilitated it, in some respects for example having enough time to do things, but from an emotional well-being aspect and happiness perspective, towards the end of it, I don’t think it did, whereas I feel like this new role does.

Toren: What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self, knowing what you know now and considering the path you’re currently on?

Jon: It’s one that I’m still trying to apply to myself now, but one thing would be "don’t be afraid to roll the dice". I think the most daunting thing is starting, for example, the most daunting bit beforehand was leaving my old role, but once I had left, it was a big burden that had been lifted. Now I’m in a position where I really like what I do, I like the people I work with and I feel entrusted by my colleagues and managers to structure my day. I feel like because I’m a free-spirited social butterfly, I don’t respond well to micromanagement because I don’t feel like I need it, and I feel like here that’s respected enough and I can say today I’m starting early and finishing early so I can do so and so, and that trust motivates me to try and give more.

Toren: Not just advice for yourself now, but advice for any 18-year-old, that may be struggling with their next steps and establishing what they’re trying to do, or even anyone that is struggling to find their feet or purpose.

Jon: You know what I feel like we live in a very prideful city (London), don’t get me wrong pride is good to have, but I feel like we shouldn’t have any shame in asking people for help, or asking what’s their story and how they broke into the field that you want to get into. I promise you the shame you think you’ll feel now for doing it, if you do it now, you’ll be thanking yourself five years down the line for making that connection, it’s crazy.

Toren: Any last words for the people?!

Jon: Yeah man, happiness is so much more than money man. Don’t get me wrong I feel like money is a large percent of it for lots of people, but It’s not the be-all and end-all. Even if you think financially, you’re doing well, that won’t stop you from feeling sad about your surroundings when your alarm goes off at 6 am and you’re getting ready, or when Tuesday’s ended, and it’s been a long Tuesday and you’ve worked 8 hours and you realise you’ve got 3 more days of the working week left. Money is only comfort for all that stuff to a degree, you must take everything into consideration.


To follow and connect with Jon, below are some social media sites where you can find him:

Instagram: 2TIMES (@realistjon) • Instagram photos and videos

Linkedin: Jonathan Wilson-Kouevi | LinkedIn

Conversation and write up produced by Toren.

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