This is a guest blog article from Olivia Ross who is currently doing a placement year with Grant Thornton. She is studying BSc Management with Accounting (Year in Business) at Royal Holloway and has written a very enlightening blog article in response to the questions we posed.
As a whole I found the application process extremely challenging. Having never held a job within the financial services sector for which I was applying, I had no idea of what to expect. I had little knowledge of how to go about creating a successful CV or what the interview process would be like. I began by drafting my CV, by recommendation, I made an appointment with Emma Baker – which proved to be very worthwhile visit. She was extremely helpful in editing and enhancing my CV. She also answered any questions that I had on the whole application process. Armed with my new and improved CV I began applying for placements.
Initially, I used the Royal Holloway database of recommended placements, to find internships I could apply for. However, later on in the year I started to use other sites such as Rate My Placement, Milkround and LinkedIn which I found to be particularly helpful as it allows you to upload your CV and apply directly from their site in contrast to the other sites where you are provided with a link to the company's own application process.
This is the area I found to be the most challenging, beyond the point of entering your generic personal details such as full name, date of birth and address etc., you are often presented with a number of questions for which you have to create an answer in under 500 words. Examples of questions I encountered ranged from the pretty standard for example; 'Provide evidence of a time when you used effective communication skills' or 'Why are you interested in this subject area?' to the more obscure for example, 'If you were a cartoon character who would you be and why?' and 'What is your favourite film and why?'. At first, I was daunted by the prospect of being assessed purely on my 300-400 word responses, however, once I was happy with my answers I found that they could largely be applied to the majority applications with slight tailoring. This sped up the usually time-consuming process, with this being said, each applications still took me at least couple of hours to complete. Additionally, the Employability module undertaken in Year 2 proved to be very helpful in informing you of how to answer these questions in the best manner.
For me, the interview process was much easier. I found the key to a successful interview to be, among other things, confidence. Confidence is easily gained by being knowledgeable on what you're saying. Therefore it is imperative that research is done on the business itself, their products, their market area, their competition and their customers. I would have rough answers for questions that were bound to come up in the interview but made sure that what I was saying didn’t sound like a speech. And always had prepared questions to ask them at the end of the interview.
The whole process itself was more challenging and more demanding than I expected, however , it was also more educational than I thought. I have come out of the process with not only a placement but also with the knowledge of how to construct a CV and perform well in an interview which are skills that going forward, will be very useful.
Would you have done anything differently in my first 2 years at Royal Holloway?
If I could go back and do something differently it would be to apply more promptly and apply to more internships. Regrettably I am the type of person that leaves things until the last minute and applying to placements was no exception. This caused me unnecessary stress and possibly gave me a disadvantage in the application process. I would urge any current students to apply in good time and apply to as many as they possibly can because the process is so competitive that you need to do anything and everything to help to improve your chances of being accepted.
What recommendations would you make to those students starting in their 1st year at Royal Holloway and their 2nd year?
If I had the opportunity to speak with the 1st years beginning their Year in Industry course, I would firstly press the importance of doing well within their first year in order to qualify for the 2nd year of this course. It is often said that 1st year grades 'do not count' well in the case of a Year in Industry student, this isn’t completely true. I would also encourage them to take up as many extracurricular activities and responsibilities as they can manage. Although first year can be a difficult adjustment, the actual work load is not nearly as much as that of the 2nd and 3rd year. Therefore this presents them with the perfect opportunity to spend time enjoying university activities. The reason I say this is so that when they come round to applying for internships, they have as lots to talk about and also a considerable amount to feature on their CV. From my experience of the recruitment process I can say with confidence that what the recruiters are looking for, more so than qualifications, is relevant experience and extracurricular activities – first year is the best time to gain these.
I would also suggest that towards the end of the academic year that the students create a CV and begin to apply to those internships whose applications have opened, often deadlines for applications are a lot sooner than one would expect so it is important to apply early, this can be advantageous.
2nd year for a 'Year in Industry' student is extremely busy. From the very beginning of the first term if not before I would suggest that the students begin applying to placements. Begin by meeting with Emma Baker, who can advise you on your CV, the application procedure as well as the interview process. 2nd year should also be a time where you focus on your studies, in order to qualify for many of the placements one must achieve a 2:1 or above therefore it is of grave importance that you attend lectures and seminars in addition to completing your work to the best of your ability.
What is your job title and what projects will you be working on?
I secured a 12 months placement with Grant Thornton LLP in their London offices. Grant Thornton is a professional services practise offering internal audit solutions, external audit services, consulting services among other service lines. I am an Associate within the Business Risk Services team. This team's key purpose is internal audit. Internal audit is defined as an independent, objective assurance and consulting activity designed to add value and improve an organisation's operations. It helps an organisation accomplish its objectives by bringing a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management, control, and governance processes.
So far, I have primarily been involved with the insurance department but I plan on working with the banking department as well as the department for NGOs and public limited companies. I have been out at several clients since I started and have been working on compliance review audits and insurance broking accounting audits where I am tasked with identifying the risks posed to an organisation and what controls should be in place in order to mitigate those risks. I then have to ascertain through sample testing, whether these controls are in place and how effective they are.
Finally, I have to report on my findings, discuss what the testing showed, how effective their controls are and how the design and implementation of these can be improved to further reduce the risk to satisfy the company's risk appetite.
I have also been enlisted to help coordinate the department’s charity initiate. Funding 3 charities with the target sum of £10,000. I have spent time liaising with the charities, organising fundraising events and setting up a Virgin Money Giving page. I really enjoy doing this as something a little different from the usual working day, in addition to this, it has provided me with the opportunity to get to know several members of the team that I otherwise would not have access to.
How have your first few months been on your placement?
I was nervous before starting, as although I had done hours and hours of research into the company, I was still struggling to grasp what it was BRS actually did.
Once I began, it be increasingly obvious that this was going to be a very different experience to the one I was used to at university where you attend lectures to be fed information - in this environment it was up to me to teach myself. At first, I found that working whilst simultaneously trying to learn was difficult, however, I have learnt so much over my short time here already. I have also identified a number of skills that I have picked up that I gave little thought prior to the internship, such as professional e-mail etiquette and time management etc. These skills will make me more confident when going into employment post university.
In my two months since starting, I have been sent to various clients to help with internal audits. I really enjoy this as it allows me to experience a huge variety of different organisations from insurance brokers and underwriters to Lloyd's management agencies and charities. In no other job would you get to experience such a broad range of businesses and have a chance to understand and see first-hand how they operate. I have also been tasked with a number of other assignments such as assisting in organising the department's charity fundraising initiative for 2015.
What has been the best thing so far about your placement?
As I mentioned previously, I have really enjoyed being able to work at clients and interacting with new people from all levels of the business. I am also really enjoying the fact that I am getting to experience so many areas within business. For example, I have been on a HR audit where I was exposed to the entire HR operation of an insurance broking company. The week prior to this I was doing an insurance broking accounting review at a brokerage where I was able to see how the accounts department functioned.
During the next few weeks I am scheduled to do a review at Age UK Enterprises so I will be able to see how a charity organisation operates.
This provides an example of the vast experience I am being provided with, I think this is something that fits in particularly well with the management modules I have completed over the last two years that are of a similarly wide range.
What else would you like to say about the Year in Business programme at Royal Holloway?
Although the effort that you have to put in order to secure a placement is pretty intense, I can say with confidence that it is all worth it. I am really enjoying myself, despite the early morning and long commute, and have already learnt so much. I also get great enjoyment from the the different learning style that you experience in comparison with that of University.
I have been told by countless colleges that they wished that they had been given the opportunity to do a year in industry for a number of reasons but namely because of the advantage it will provide me with when I leave university and begin applying for graduate schemes.
This course has also been extremely helpful in aiding my decision with regards to whether the accounting industry is something that I would like to pursue. Before starting this internship I was very unsure as to whether a job in accounting and the financial services sector was something that I wanted. Having had a small and in perspective, quite narrow experience of this industry, I am now more certain of a future path.