60 Second Interview: Business apprentices, PwC

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Business people seated around a table

Harris Kalyal, Ellie-Joy McDonagh and Alex Smyth are beginning their careers in business through the PwC apprenticeship scheme.

Although all three of them joined the same programme, they’re each specialising in a different area of the company – and share their experiences to give you an insight into the diverse places a career in business can take you, whatever your grades.

Harris, Ellie-Joy and Alex, who are training on the PwC apprenticeship scheme
Left to right: Harris, Ellie-Joy and Alex, apprentices at PwC

1. What is your job?

Harris: Tax associate.

Ellie-Joy: Assurance associate.

Alex: I am an auditor specialising in the public services industry specifically.

2. How long have you worked here?

Harris: 1 year and 8 months.

Ellie-Joy: 1 year 8 months.

Alex: I joined PwC in September 2014. I finished my A-Levels in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, and then made the big move over to St. Albans to join the higher apprenticeship scheme.

3. What was your very first job?

Harris: My first job was as a trainee accountant at my families’ accountancy practice where I worked for just under 2 years.

Ellie-Joy: Waitress in a café in Hull city centre.

Alex: I worked in a restaurant as a part time waiter / dessert chef throughout my GCSEs and A-levels. However, upon completing my A-levels I joined straight from school to PwC St. Albans.

4. What did you want to do when you were at school?

Harris: I wanted to become either an accountant, tax advisor or financial advisor.

Ellie-Joy: Originally I wanted to work for NASA.

Alex: I always enjoyed maths in school so knew I wanted to do something which involved this to some degree. In lower sixth, I made the decision to go for accountancy, rather than maths at university. I applied for accountancy degrees in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland. I also applied for the job at PwC St.Albans. Once I received this offer, I decided I would give this ago, and if I didn’t enjoy it I could always reconsider and go to university to study accountancy or even maths. In the end, I’m glad I have chosen this path and do not regret my decision!

5. How did you find out about the industry?

Harris: I had a lot of friends a few years older than me while in sixth form who worked for the Big 4 and some in small niche firms.

Ellie-Joy: I really enjoyed my accounting A-level and was lucky enough to have an amazing teacher who pointed me in the direction of a higher apprenticeship and PwC.

Alex: I found out about PwC through my accounting teacher at school. He was keen for promoting apprenticeships in business and in the end there were 4 people in my class who joined a big 4 firm. I attended an opening evening in PwC Belfast, as well as a business insight day, prior to applying for the job.

6. How did you get there?

Harris: I worked in the summer and winter holidays at my family accountancy practice while I was at school and college. I also read about financial affairs in the FT and other newspapers and would use my time in business studies (GCSE) and economics (A levels) to quiz my teachers on anything I didn’t understand.

Ellie-Joy: The application process is quite tough, with online tests, group interviews and single interviews. In terms of work experience I had previously work at a café and for Hull city football club as a sales assistant.

Alex: As mentioned above, accounting was something I always had in mind, hence I applied in upper sixth before the UCAS process. I did some work experience in a local chartered accountants in my town back home, which gave me a greater insight into what I would be doing. My subjects at school were relevant, however they are not necessary (so don’t let that put you off). My previous job as a waiter really helped with my personal skills, specifically communication and increased my confidence. In the application process I was able to apply all my relevant experience from all aspects of life e.g. social, sport, school, work; and applied these to the core competencies at PwC in my final interview (found on the PwC careers website).

7. What is a typical day like?

Harris: Most my work is done out of one of our many offices. I usually work from Uxbridge but spend a couple days a month in Reading, London or offices in the South East. Most days I’ll have meetings with the manager/teams I’m working with; we deal with some of the biggest and smallest companies in the world so teams can vary from two people to several dozen. I’ll often have calls with the clients to discuss technical aspects of tax that affect them as they are moving from one country to another and so we look at where they pay taxes and how the tax bill is split the countries they work in.

Ellie-Joy: There’s a lot of travel involved in my role getting to be up and down the country, I’ve even done a trip to America. I spend most of my time on client site which involves getting to know how all different type of business work and there finance function, testing the year end numbers to go into their annual accounts.

Alex: Every day is different! This is one of my favourite aspects about PwC. Usually my jobs last approximately a week long, with different clients and different teams. I perform a variety of work across the NHS, government, education, housing authorities and some corporate clients too! My job involves either reviewing the financial statements of a company to ensure they are a fair representation of their recent performance and current position. I also go into companies and review the business processes and controls and ensure they are operating effectively and efficiently. Often I work in small teams however, I have worked in teams as large as 10 people. I often get to travel across the UK and have worked in a wide spread area for example: London, Poole, Norwich and Leeds!

8. What’s the best thing about your job?

Harris: My team is amazing. I’ve come in a higher apprentice and as such I’m not expected to possess the technical tax knowledge or any whizzy computer skills to be good at my job. Each person in my team – from the person who joined a few days before me to the partners (someone who owns part of the business) – take it as their personal responsibility to ensure I’m constantly learning and developing, and in turn I take it upon myself to share the knowledge and skills I have with others. This makes every day challenging, interesting and enjoyable.

Ellie-Joy: Getting to meet new people and never being in the same place for more than a couple of weeks, keeps the job very interesting.

Alex: Meeting great people. I have met some great friends already and I’m sure I will make many more in the future. The social aspect is great, with frequent trips and social events. For example, I went to Milan last year for a weekend away with a group from work and this year we plan on going to Valencia.

9. What is the most challenging thing about your job?

Harris: Understanding technical tax concepts. We often have to refer back to the books of legislation (tax law) to understand and interpret the law and apply it to what we’re working on. This can sometimes be hard as HMRC (the UK tax authorities) don’t like using plain English which can be quite annoying, but I never feel lost because I can call upon a technical guru.

Ellie-Joy: It was very hard coming out of A-levels straight into a full time job, I am currently sitting my ACA exams to become a chartered accountant which is very challenging.

Alex: Juggling commitments. The work can be intense at times, especially when balancing work with exam pressures and also trying to have a social life at the same time. It does get easier but at first, it is very demanding and I remember being exhausted all the time at the beginning.

10. What advice do you have for people who want to do what you do?

Harris: Be able to show you can take your own initiative to apply for work experience or internships. Read about the industry you want to work in and wider economic climate to demonstrate that you have the ability to learn and research. You will not be expected be an expert in your interview but you will be expected to show you can find the resources and learn about a topic required of you.

Ellie-Joy: Stay positive and focused, as I said above the biggest challenge for me was coming straight from college and going into a full time job which is a huge jump in responsibility. Also Microsoft Excel is a huge part of my job so if you have a better understanding to being with this will help aid with you becoming more efficient.

Alex: Get involved in as many extracurricular events you can. The more variety you can bring to a company like PwC, the easier it will be. Make sure you research the company you want to work for and attend recruitment events. One of the best ways to get to know a business is by talking to their people. Usually at these recruitment events you will be given the opportunity to speak to employees and ask them of their journey etc.

11. What things do you wish you’d known before starting your career?

Harris: To not worry and enjoy the whole thing. I came in at the most junior role possible, so when people saw I was able to pick things up quickly and get stuck in they loved it and spent a lot of time teaching and coaching me.

Ellie-Joy: The importance of networks and how staying in touch with people can have a massive aid your career.

12. Where would you like to be in five years?

Harris: Senior manager / director.

Ellie-Joy: I like to keep my options open, as PwC offers so many great opportunities so who knows where I’ll be?

Alex: In five years I would like to be a qualified accountant and hopefully by that stage I will be a manager at PwC. I would like to be out winning work for the business, with a focus on the NHS clients. Also, I want to have upgraded my current car (Vauxhall Corsa) to something more glam!

If you like the sound of life at PwC and think it would make the perfect first step of your career in business, the PwC apprenticeship scheme could be just the ticket. Head over to our dedicated PwC section to find out more.

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