When you apply for a trainee position in a professional services firm, you always get asked this one question: “What do you think you will be doing on a day-to-day basis?”
As an Associate in Public Sector Assurance you will be heavily involved in audit testing for our existing clients. But more crucially, you will also see more of the other side – winning new work!
A lot of the public sector audit work we win is a result of competitive tendering where we are invited to write a bid document and present to a panel. I got to see more of that in my second year with London PSA and here is my experience.
In December an unexpected invite popped up in my Outlook calendar. Subject: ‘Presentation prep’. I thought that I had been invited to shadow the pitching team for a major London hospital after a conversation with my people manager at the Christmas Party when I called our bid ‘absolutely awesome’. In fact, I was asked to present.
At first I felt a bit hesitant. I asked myself: ‘How can an Associate have the level of knowledge and competence to appear credible in front of a panel?’
The answer is quite simple: Associates are best placed to answer the question that inevitably comes up in bids and pitches: what makes you different from your competitors? In my opinion the distinguishing features of Grant Thornton are its values and unique culture. This culture is based on its people participating, collaborating and sharing – regardless of grade. And now imagine a partner and a manager telling this story. This story of empowerment sounds a lot more credible when an Associate is pitching alongside them. Rather than telling the panel how unique our values are, we decided to show them instead.
The anatomy of a pitch
The whole bidding process is very much like a job application, of which the pitch is the second stage. The presentation team is normally asked some question of strategic importance they need to address in a 10-15 min pitch to a panel.
As an Associate, seeing such questions for the first time can feel quite daunting. However during the brainstorming meeting with the pitch team my input was encouraged and everyone took the time to explain how we should approach each scenario.
The part I enjoyed most was learning about the client, their strategy, their ambitions and Grant Thornton’s role in achieving them.
The big day
Having had just a day to prepare, we reconvened for one final dress rehearsal. I was nervous about the content of my 2-minute claim to fame: will the partner regret
inviting me; have I got it completely wrong? Luckily, my bit was not the disaster I had envisioned. After the first round we all gave each other feedback and practiced, practiced, practiced.
To brush up on our presentation technique, we had two members of our specialist bid support team join our dress rehearsal. They brought a fresh perspective to our content as well as some invaluable tips on body language and presentation technique. Their positivity and amazing energy motivated us all. We then headed to the real thing.
The spirit of social enterprise, the ‘PSA Way’ and our purpose
Grant Thornton had the first slot for the day. The Panel consisted of some rather intimidatingly important people: the Chair of the Audit Committee, the Finance Director, NHS Finance Director, the internal auditor, the Financial Controller and representatives of the procurement team.
I took a deep breath and to be frank, the next 2 minutes are a blur. My approach to the question ‘What makes you different to your competitors?’ was based on the idea that in us, as their external auditor, they can find people who are not only great at providing an ISA 260 audit opinion, but are also passionate about the public sector. And even more fundamentally, this ethos is not restricted to partner and manager level but permeates the whole organisation.
This ethos is strengthened when Associates engage with existing and potential clients quite early on in the relationship; the idea being that the sooner you engage with the client, the more motivated you are to deliver excellent client care. Indeed, getting involved in a bid is one of the ways for Associates to gain exposure to some of these strategic issues. This was my argumentation to the Panel. It was simple logic, and I hope it appealed to them.
The future of PSA
If you decide to join us at PSA you will a see a flurry of activity as we gear for the new wave of public sector audit tenders coming our way. Writing bids, researching potential clients, brushing up on your presentation skills…this is all part of your work as an Associate.
The best thing about it, is that we are reminded of why we are so passionate about the public sector and why we want to work with and for them.