I graduated from Royal Holloway in 2002 at the age of 22 with a 2:1 degree in Management. Four days later I had a baby.
Most people thought I was mad to start my family straight after university, and I had a lot of questions about what the point of me getting a degree was. For my husband and I it just felt like the right thing to do.
I'd deliberately chosen a general business degree as I didn't have a fixed idea about what career path I wanted to take, and I didn't feel it would lose its value if I didn't work straight away.
We were used to living on one income and I really wanted to stay at home to raise our family. I'm really ambitious and I worried that if I started a career there'd never be a 'right' time to take a long period off without going backwards. So I stayed at home with my eldest, Jay, and just enjoyed being mum.
We decided to have another baby quite quickly after and when Jay turned 1 I was already four months pregnant with our second, Ryan. He arrived in January 2004, and I started a new job working from home two weeks later. I needed to keep my brain active so I did market research 20 hours a week, mainly in the evenings when my husband could spend time with the boys.
For me the hardest thing about being at home with two small boys was the lack of mental stimulation, so I joined a lot of committees, ran toddler groups and generally kept myself busy.
I worked on the accounts as the treasurer of the local branch of the parents charity, the NCT, learnt about charity regulations, (financial services is easy after that!) built up my work skills by chairing committees, and generally how to motivate and lead a team. I also decided to retrain as an antenatal teacher while I was pregnant with our third child, Philippa, who was born in April 2006. It was a challenge working, studying a university diploma and raising three children but I was really well supported.
I graduated and qualified as a teacher in January 2008. Although I loved teaching and seeing all the new parents going through the process, I saw a lot of mums struggling with the choice of staying at home or returning to work. I always felt really lucky that I had the choice to be at home with mine because it was really important to me.
We moved to Swindon in 2009 and I gave up teaching as there wasn't enough work for it to be sustainable in the area. My daughter was in nursery so I started thinking about what I would do when she went to school full time. I knew I wanted to work somewhere local, and all of my friends who'd worked for Nationwide before they had children always said what a great employer it was.
My ambition hadn't disappeared so it was really important to me to find somewhere with scope for my career to develop without needing to keep moving companies. I applied for a temporary job in the mortgages team and the graduate scheme at the same time.
I felt really lucky that despite not having a 'standard' CV, Nationwide saw that I was no different to the graduates coming straight from university - I just had life experience to help me along.
I got the mortgages role and started in the November, meanwhile my manager and senior manager both encouraged me to continue with my application for the graduate programme whilst I was working.
I wanted to switch to the graduate scheme as I knew it would give me a unique opportunity to work across different areas of the business, and to really understand how Nationwide worked and what I enjoyed doing. The scheme offered me a structured development programme of workshops and 'on the job learning'so I'd feel more prepared to take on a higher role at the end of the scheme.
Ultimately it was an opportunity to try a lot of different things before I settled into a permanent role. I was so proud when I got a place on the graduate scheme, and my team celebrated with me.
I've now worked for Nationwide for more than four years and have had a number of different roles. Currently I'm a Lead Product Manager in the Mortgages Customer Management team. My kids know I work in the mortgages team but haven't got a clue what I do all day! They're still really proud of me.
I've been a single mum for the last four years so it's really important to me to be a good role model for them and to teach them that hard work gets rewarded, especially for my daughter as I expect she'll have the same decisions to make around balancing work and family. I think the hardest thing for me is keeping my work life balance at the right level. I love my job and want to do well but my children are my number one priority.
I hope to continue to work up through Nationwide over the next five years. I want to achieve a senior management position and continue to develop my career. I'll always be mindful of balancing my family with my work life but having both is the best option for me.
I would actively encourage other people who have done other things before deciding to pursue a career in financial services to consider applying for the graduate scheme; it offers all of the same benefits as it does to those coming straight from university, and as someone with life experience you can bring a different viewpoint and transferable skills which will help you to hit the ground running when you start.
I've certainly not felt that starting a bit later has held me back, and I've only ever received positive feedback from the other graduates on my programme about being able to bring a different approach.
Find out more about student and graduate opportunities at Nationwide.