Insights at EY: From a Language degree to a career in Financial Services

When did you start thinking about employers and your career, and what did you do to set the ball rolling?

I kicked-off at the end of my first year by signing up for various notifications and I received an email about a 4-day residential workshop – the EY Leadership Academy. The timing was perfect so I applied and was accepted. It was an intensely challenging workshop – they were clearly looking for students with leadership potential, hence the name ‘Leadership Academy’. I rose to the challenge and was then fast-tracked to EY’s assessment centre and onto its second-year summer internship. At the end of the internship I was offered a job, which I started when I graduated.

What made you realise you could get a job at EY with a modern languages degree, and what drew you to EY in particular?

It was clear from the information on EY’s career website that my degree subject was irrelevant. The focus was on how I resolve issues, not on my degree subject – EY’s assessment process goes beyond that. In fact, what I most like about EY is that the way it ‘goes beyond’. EY is a global organisation and its stand-alone Financial Services Office –FSO for short – is well-structured and integrated across borders. EY FSO covers Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa – so its sphere of influence goes beyond the UK. It also goes beyond in the exceptional service its delivers to clients, and I like being part of that.

What skills and experiences helped you through EY’s application and selection process?

I was Head Girl at school, making speeches to parents, governors, staff and pupils, organising school events and representing the school and what it stood for. Being Head Girl meant I had to develop my speaking, leading and organising skills, and all of these were tested during EY’s selection process. At Oxford I organised the college ball, which involved managing people, time, budgets and logistics – and again, these were tested during the selection process. As part of my degree, I’d spent a year abroad, six months as a receptionist in a Spanish language school and six months as a translator and proof reader at a global bank in Germany. In one of my selection interviews, the interviewer happened to be German, so we conducted half the interview in German, which was a great opportunity for me to show my skills.

What skills from your degree have you been able to transfer to your role at EY?

At Oxford I had to write an essay a week, which put significant time pressures on me. I had to read and process information quickly, build a rational argument and get it down on paper, all to a deadline. It’s a similar process at work when you write a proposal or a report, except the information-gathering part tend to be more team-based. I’m finding that people with more technical degrees often seek my help in writing reports at work.  I’ve had more practice than they have, and I’m always happy to help where I can. As a linguist, I’ve developed a keen awareness of the actual meaning of words, and of how meanings can vary according to where and when a word is used. Understanding these variances has been very helpful to me in my job, and I know how to use words to build rapport, not just in my writing but also in direct conversation with others. Choosing the right word at the right time can change the whole direction of a meeting or a discussion. It can also help communicate the finer points of strategy in a way that’s more immediately understood. Because I work in a cross-border business, with frequent dealings in Europe and beyond, my knowledge of German and Spanish is very useful. And this usefulness goes beyond language – knowing the cultural nuances also helps when you want to build an effective cross-border relationship.”

How has EY supported your transition from languages to business? 

EY’s induction programme included a week’s residential course, which gave us a basic transition from campus to consulting. We did roles plays in which we elicited and interpreted information from a mock client, and analysed a mock business so we could devise strategies to move it from its present state to a desired future state. I noticed that when we started studying for our CIMA professional qualifications, the people who’d studied languages did just as well as the people with business degrees. The good thing is that EY doesn’t expect you to be technically savvy straight away. You can acquire this knowledge at a steady pace. They don’t overload you – you add value gradually, until you become a subject matter expert.”

What advice would you now give to a modern languages student – how should they go about getting a job with an organisation like EY?

People think professional services consulting is about numbers but it isn’t. It’s more about managing projects and relationships, so you don’t have to be a computer or maths genius. Softer skills – the ones connected with teamwork, people and projects –matter a great deal, so you should develop them as much as you can by throwing yourself into life at university. Modern languages students have as much to offer as any other graduate – perhaps even more – because you’ll have skills that economics or finance people won’t have.

EY has diversity in its teams, which works in your favour ­– so go for it!