June has arguably been the best month of my working career. The exams are in the past, I’ve been taking on plenty of additional responsibility and I’m starting to see the beginning of the end of my time as a trainee. As a result of this, I’ve been spending more time travelling across the South and building relationships with our Oxford and Reading offices.
The nature of the life of a trainee is that, for a couple of months a year, we leave the office and head over to college for study and revision for exams. As mentioned in my last blog, April was a month spent in front of books as I completed my final CTA stage. For May, it’s the ACA trainees turn to be out of the office as they prepare for June and July exams.
April has proved to be a month where my focus has almost entirely been on my future. Though the first weekend of the month played to the Southern Chartered Accountants Student Society (SCASS) Ball which was a great opportunity to get the bow-tie out and have a good night out with fellow colleagues. In keeping with last year, the event was held at St Mary’s Football Stadium and never fails to be a well talked about night during the year.
Ever since I received my exam timetable this January, I’ve been concerned that March would be a draining month. As a trainee studying CTA, the firm sets internal progress ‘link’ exams in order to allow us to practice exam technique and keep on top of the books. These are usually set a month or so apart. In March, I had four.
If there is one thing that comes from working through a professional qualification like CTA, it’s that there is a greater appreciation of the time I’m allowed to spend without the stress of exams reigning over me. I hide nothing about exams from people reading these blogs and considering a role at Grant Thornton. The exams are the hardest part.
With this in mind, and after the manic rush of January, I have aimed to make the most of my social life in February, enjoying a few weekends away to spend time with friends before my life becomes swallowed by CTA once again. Most prominent in February, as this is the month for which I would complete my last six days of tuition.
Getting back to Bradenham with my CTA class was great, and being able to share the success stories from November 2012 with people face-to-face was rewarding. It was a pleasure to see and thank our in-house Kaplan tutor, who is well known by trainees at Bradenham, for sticking with me during the difficult times in October 2012.
February also held the strategy kick-off meeting for the Spilling the Beans team. With some members leaving and three new members joining. This was an opportunity to head over to London, meet the new faces in the flesh, and brainstorm how we can continue to improve this website.
I’m really excited about the developments we are going to be working on. Expect to see even more twitters (we’re now at 30 trainee twitters, are you following us all?), a more active Facebook account and the introduction of YouTube video blogs (as well as a number of other themed written blogs). Keep your eyes peeled.
With me sitting exams in May for the first time since joining Grant Thornton (they’ve usually been in November) I imagine I’m tying up my revision with that of many school, college and university students. With 10 years of annual exam sittings behind me, for those of you who are wading through this boat let this be your encouragement; the time you put in now opens doors tomorrow. I’ve got three months left and I can’t wait to see where I can go next.
Onto March and I’ve got four mocks spread across three weeks, it’s going to be a tough month. Good job I had fun and spent all my money in February…
In my December blog, I talked about how a career in tax often means you’re working to a deadline. Different service lines will often work towards different deadlines and working for Grant Thornton means I’m working for several service lines of our tax offerings. As a result, the deadlines of December in Corporate Tax were quickly followed up by more deadlines in January for my work in Personal Tax and Trust Tax.
January then was a month filled with long days in the office, getting through the rigor of self assessment tax returns. Whilst my time spent on this type of work has dropped recently, I still found myself in the thick of it towards the end of the month, getting my hands dirty.
A plus point of our firm in relation to the overtime I do during busy periods is that this extra time gets saved as time off in lieu. During December and January I’ve racked up some five days of extra holiday, which is vital when I’m taking around three weeks a year for my exams.
If you follow me on twitter (@GT_NickB), you’ll notice that I’ve been fairly absent throughout December and January. My commitment to the job has been partly to blame for this, but with CTA results out in January I’ve been feeling slightly muted.
If you’ve read any of my later blogs from 2012, you’ll probably get the impression that my CTA training was a difficult time for me. I have never before worked so hard for any exams, and sitting two CTA papers cast a shadow over the effort I put into my University finals (which at the time seemed like a lot).
This strong effort I placed on the exams allowed me to take a relaxed approach to the results day. I had accepted that if I couldn’t pass, it was simply that I wasn’t smart enough to pass and that my effort would never come into question. That said, five minutes before the results came out I was a shaking wreck as I leant over my laptop screen with a prematurely (or optimistically) purchased bottle of Champagne on my desk.
These are moments I will never forget. From picking up my GCSE and A-Level results, to finding out my degree classification to passing my ATT exams. Each step seems that little more important to the next path in my life but all are incrementally as important as the last in the big picture.
The good news is I passed both and that I’m now just two weeks away from Bradenham again. The final sitting of CTA is just around the corner in May, and now more than ever I feel ready, not battered and bruised.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that a career in tax means that you’re often working to a deadline. In the case of a corporate tax adviser, the end of December is a particularly busy time. Added to the pressure is a Christmas office closure in Southampton which meant it was all hands on deck to get all our work done a week before the actual month-end.
I aim to keep these entries as honest and transparent as possible and, if you’ve read any of my previous entries, you’ll notice I’m a person who thrives on being busy. A quiet day in the office is a bad day for me, but thankfully they’ve been non-existent in December.
The month kicked off with a trip up to London for the 2012 Autumn Statement which was a career highlight for me. A day later and I’m out at a clients working with the audit team to file accounts and returns by the year end. This moving around isn’t something I’m used to but getting your hands dirty and in the mix is exactly what I enjoy.
Halfway through the month there was a brief break as our office celebrated its Christmas Party which saw some 70 members of Southampton staff head out for a curry and a few drinks – a great combo which made for a great night – and a promise of more to come!
The final week in the office was understandably manic and I’ll apologise for the lack of twitter activity! Breaking up on 21 December gave me the chance to have a good chill out and finally use my annual holiday for some non-CTA study time.
As ever Christmas is a great way to clear your head and fill your belly before coming back in the new year. Whilst I still don’t feel like I’ve completely recovered from all the turkey, mulled wine and late nights, I’m looking forward optimistically to 2013.
January is results month for CTA and ATT trainees. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for two exam passes on 22 January – time to see if that hard work paid off!
I hope everyone had a great Christmas and I wish everyone a Happy New Year!
With thanks for Will who stepped in for my October diary entry, it has now been two months since I last posted a diary entry for this blog. Will’s input was well needed as for six weeks running up to my exams I breathed, slept, ate and lived CTA. Reading back over my blog entries during the summer it’s clear to see that the exam pressure of CTA was starting to get on top of me.
A lot of this pressure was compounded when I began to struggle with the CTA law e-assessment. This one hour multiple choice test, with its unusually high 67% pass mark requirement, had defeated me on two occasions. As a man who always puts 110% into his work, my continued struggle with this exam was beginning to damage my confidence in the run up to the written papers.
Though, through perseverance and many many long hours with my law textbook I eventually nailed the test in early October. This, along with our internal CTA exams, was proving to me that CTA really is a massive step up from ATT. I had reason to be concerned. But with the revision course at Bradenham and some fantastic trainees and tutors, the CTA revision was almost enjoyable!November then started with me sitting comfortably the two hardest exams I have ever done. I am proud to say that I gave it everything I had and my future now lies with the examining Gods. Fingers are firmly crossed.
Getting back to the office after six weeks away was a welcome change. Being able to get stuck straight into the job again was refreshing and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed making the most of my weekends without the revision guilt hanging over me!
With Christmas seemingly just round the corner my feet have barely touched the ground. The Southampton office closes over the Christmas period so I now have three weeks to finish off and submit a long list of tax returns. I think it will be a well deserved break after a hectic few months!
In this I’m looking to fit in some memorable moments! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled on our twitter accounts for live updates of the 2012 Autumn Statement.
Whilst at University at Loughborough, I studied for the Accounting and Financial Management course. Having studied for one of those courses which was 12 hours a week, my chemistry and engineering housemates would often give me a hard time for doing a “easy subject”. Naturally, anyone doing 25-30 hours a week is going to get annoyed by someone like me getting by with 12 hours, but I always supported the idea that my course was difficult, just in a different way.
Whilst this may be hard for some to understand, but I found that the difficulty in a 12 hour a week degree course is keeping the pressure on and maintaining motivation. As a student, I found it all too easy to procrastinate and be lumped with a mammoth task towards the end of the semester. Something I’ve had to snap out of whilst working at Grant Thornton and studying for the CTA.
I started training for CTA only a few months ago but since then it’s been relentless and I can honestly say I’ve never worked so hard in my life. Like I do with all diary entries, I read the previous month’s blog again to refresh my memory, I recalled that August was a tough month – well September has been tougher.
Having had a tough month, I have naturally begun questioning my ability up against this prestigious and tough qualification. For the first time in my academic life, I have finally felt like I have met my match, something I have been searching for since I left school at 16. The challenge is great, and that feeling of failure is impossible to live with. As a result, I took a couple of weeks away from the books to allow the dust to settle and I now feel totally refreshed and 100% focused for my five week revision and exam session in October and November. The support network I have had from my line manager and fellow trainees has really helped to pull me through this and I’m grateful to have such a supportive culture surrounding me during this difficult time.
But enough about exams.
September was a good month for social occasions, with the office summer do being held at a fancy hotel in the New Forest on one Friday followed by the office away day the next. The away day was great, an afternoon of buggy racing, quad biking and other teambuilding events which set the tone of a night out on the town in Southampton with some fellow trainees.
Having joined the social committee within the office, it would be fair to say I’m looking forward to planning the next events, with go-karting, bowling and curry nights all in the pipeline – but first up on the schedule is the Christmas party which never fails to disappoint.
On that note, I’ll get back to the books and give one big heave-ho for the November exams. In readiness, I apologise if I don’t have much to say during October but that’ll largely be down to the fact that I’m either at home studying or at Bradenham revising.
Roll on 7 November.
August has played host to both ends of the enjoyment spectrum for me. As I ran hot off the heels of a Bradenham visit in July, I found myself with two weeks to get my CTA knowledge firing on all cylinders for another link exam. This time, the internal exam was for Awareness which is arguably the “easiest” of the four CTA exams I have to sit. For me, it involves having a broad understanding of corporation tax, inheritance tax and VAT as well as the ability to fire out 36 questions in three hours ? no mean feat!
From the moment I applied for my role, I had always accepted that CTA was the ultimate goal and that it was sure to be a momentous challenge. Now that I’m in the thick of it, it feels more challenging than it ever has previously and it’s clear to see why it’s such a highly regarded qualification. The training and support is superb, and I couldn’t pass the exams without them, but the personal sacrifice is something that has continued to surprise me ? the saving grace is I have that support, and a network of around 20 other trainees who are going through the same experience as me.
August also plays host to results day for ACA finalists and the Southampton office had a 100% pass rate to those sitting their final ‘case study’ exam. This then is a vital part of my development, as it is possible to be reminded regularly by my peers that the hard work will pay off. To those who have recently qualified as chartered accountants, congratulations!
Aside from the exams and studying, I’ve enjoyed gearing up with the Spilling the Beans team for the launch of the next round of applications where we’ve focused our attention on our location blog special blogs ? I hope they’ve helped you in your career choices. Other than being interesting, this is a welcome distraction and helps me to reaffirm why I chose this role back in 2009. Though this blog may give a more gritty insight into the challenge that is faced by completing these tough professional qualifications, take it from me, as a man surrounded by books, it’s worth the leap and it’s worth the effort. I only need to look at my peers to realise that.
I’m writing this blog on 3 September, which is launch day for our 2013-14 applications. I’d like to take this opportunity to reiterate what I say at every careers fair, apply early, know what you’re applying for and be yourself. I wish everyone luck in their applications and encourage you to use the Spilling the Beans website and team where possible. No question is too modest and we’re always here to help, all you have to do is ask!
For the record, I passed the link exam and there are another two in September before I head off for five weeks of study leave, so it’s heads down as always and another reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel.