School leaver to senior manager!

As I was completing my A-Levels and thinking about what I wanted to do with my life my school were pushing me hard to go to University.  I wasn’t a model student, studying didn’t really come easy to me and I much preferred playing rugby!  I was very concerned that three years studying might come to nothing and I’d be in debt and back to square one.

I looked into a few different industries, but the one I saw with the most potential was training to become an accountant, (despite my careers advisor telling me I was best suited to… working in a shop) and so I embarked on my quest for employment.

This was in the days pre-internet, so I wrote a letter, constructed a C.V. and sent them both to every company listed under ‘Accountants’ in the Yellow Pages.  I really didn’t do much more research than that, I had no idea who the Big 5 (back in the day) were or even that you might do audit or tax.

I had about 6 interviews then one phoned me back and offered me a job starting on 1 July 1998.  The firm was called Barry Dwyer & Co, run by Barry, there were 8 people in the office and someone came round and made drinks three times a day!  I had a great time working there, I was involved in all aspects of accountancy and started studying for my AAT.  However, after a while it dawned on me that in order to meet my own personal ambition, I’d have to work in an office with more than 8 people.

I wrote back to Deloitte, who had offered me a second interview two years earlier which I’d turned down.  To my surprise, they offered me an interview, then a job.  Working at Deloitte couldn’t be more different to working at Barry Dwyer & Co. Expectations of me were sky high (in comparison to where I came from) and rather than fall in line and get on with things, I tried to do things in my own way.  Ultimately, I spent 3 very informative years working at Deloitte, the work was hard and opened my eyes to what lengths people have to go to in order to achieve in a Big 4 environment.

I decided that, maybe after 5 years, accountancy wasn’t for me after all.  I thought I might quite like to be an Estate Agent(!) so I took a year out, went travelling to Australia and New Zealand and came back with long hair, a Kiwi accent and a huge credit card bill.  When I started looking for jobs, the only thing I could do in order to make a decent wage was some accountancy work, so I took a temp job doing some project work for a housing association.  This was an enjoyable time, the environment couldn’t have been more different from Deloitte (or New Zealand!) and slowly it dawned on me I did have some skills and I could put them to use and someone, somewhere would pay for them.

I spoke to a recruitment agent and they put me in touch with Grant Thornton.  I had an interview and during the preparation for that I realised I was 25, I’d had three jobs and taken a year out to bum around – not exactly a great prospect.  During my interview I was given the opportunity to explain my C.V. and could talk around the choices I’d made and the experiences I’d gained, importantly, I could put these in the context of what I knew Grant Thornton did.  The comments I had about previous jobs were addressed and I felt a genuine rapport with my interviewers (Richard Cookman and Hiral Patel!)

I was offered the job and started on 2 January 2006. Immediately I was given responsibility and support and it was an environment in which I thrived.  Along each step of my career, as I’ve been pushing for the next challenge, Grant Thornton have found things for me to do, promotions to get, projects to get involved in.  I’ve been given almost free reign, as long as my clients are serviced, to make my role whatever I want it to be.  I’m forever grateful to those who took a chance on me and I’m determined to continue my career and fulfil my potential here.

So what should you take away from this blog post:

1 – Find the right firm for you.  I think this is key, it drives everything else, if you’re applying for a job and you don’t believe they’re the right firm for you, you won’t prepare adequately for that interview, you won’t make sacrifices in order to services your clients, you won’t work hard to get those opportunities to work on projects and when the time comes for promotion, you may well not get that either.

2 – Rapport is key.  Whether at an interview stage, at a networking event, meeting a target for the first time or dealing with your clients, everyone wants to get on with you, so open up a bit, let people see the real you, tell them about your interests, ask them about theirs, about their kids, dogs and cats.  People like to talk about themselves, so give them the opportunity and interact.  In order to develop rapport, you might have to flex your style a bit, become a little more professional, put a tie on, or take it off and be a little more relaxed.  Be who you need to be for the client– after all, we’re a service provider.

3 – Don’t make rash decisions.  If you’re overlooked for a project or promotion, don’t think that’s it and up and leave.  Ask why you didn’t get, seek to iron out any flaws, make sure you’re not only in the running next time, but you’re the only choice.  I know that a year can seem like a long time, but in the context of a 40 – 50 year career, it really isn’t anything.  Take that time and you may find yourself better prepared to fulfil the role anyway.

4 – You’re never the finished article.  I speak to a lot of people who come to the end of a training contract and feel they have all the skills they’ll ever need.  I was one of those people!  However, I’m always coming up against new scenarios, I’m learning new things and I’m finding people working in ways I hadn’t expected.  I’m currently working with my coach to make sure I don’t prejudge situations, to ensure I’m able to comprehensively weigh up all side of an argument and reach an informed conclusion.  The 25 year old me would have known the answer straight away – but what might I have missed!

5 – Passion, commitment and genuine thirst for knowledge get you a long way.  I like to think I’ve demonstrated my passion in what I do to everyone I come across.  If you’re not interested in what you do, how can you expect someone else to show that interest.  I’ve built a career on asking questions, following up, seeking to understand why something is as it is.

So if you are doing your AS or A-Levels and you don’t think University is for you either, be assured there are lots of other options out there especially as employers are taking on more and more candidates straight from college. Grant Thornton is no different and we have places starting this September on our ‘Accelerate programme’ designed specifically for school leavers in Bristol, Cambridge, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Oxford, Reading and Southampton. If you’re interested check out our website


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