Could you tell me a bit about yourself and what inspired you to work for Smith & Williamson?
My name is Alex, I’m a first year audit graduate trainee working in the Southampton office. I studied Zoology, trained as a safari guide, and interned at a consultancy and an EdTech firm before starting, so don’t worry if you aren’t from a finance background!
Like most new grads I started by applying to the biggest firms first, but I soon realised that the Big Four weren’t for me. I was better suited to a firm that specialises in smaller, more entrepreneurial clients as this gives you a greater breadth of experience and more opportunity to take on a variety of interesting work. S&W offers exactly this whilst still being a strong top-ten firm.
What’s your role at Smith & Williamson and what do you most look forward to about your working day?
My average day is spent working in a 2-5 person team, usually at the client’s office. As a first year you start on the simpler areas of audit, but quickly start to take on more and more challenging aspects as you progress. Although the areas you start on are simpler this doesn’t mean you are the one doing all the photocopying. Within the first couple of hours of working at my first client I was already interviewing one of their staff, taking notes on how their systems and controls work.
I most look forward to working with interesting clients and learning about their businesses. A lot of what we do stems from a detailed understanding of how a particular company works. If like me you are curious about this then audit is an excellent way to learn about the inner workings of a variety of companies.
Why do you think a graduate should choose to start their career at Smith & Williamson?
Firstly S&W are a top-ten firm with a good reputation, making them an excellent place to start your career. The biggest reason I enjoy working here though is the variety. I’ve worked for farms, boat builders, investment managers and a company trying to develop a revolutionary (and currently secret) way of transporting soldiers around the front-line. Every week I’m somewhere new, looking at something different.
What would you say is the most interesting piece of work you have been involved in so far?
Most interesting job was definitely working for the company mentioned above. On top of their work with the army they make engines and equipment for some pretty adrenaline filled sports (think paragliding and self-propelled surf boards). A colleague and I both attended their stock take so had the chance to walk through a number of their product lines, not only seeing what they make but how they machine, manufacture and put together the components.
What are your three top tips for graduates to stand out in the application process?
Work experience. You don’t have to have worked in anything to do with finance (I certainly didn’t) but make sure you have done something and can confidently talk about some of the more pertinent things you learnt.
Highlight how you have the relevant skills for the job. A good example would be people and teamwork skills. We’re always working as part of a small team, and have a lot of facetime with clients. Make sure you use tangible examples of how you have demonstrated these skills through work experience or moments in your life.
Do your research and have a good understanding of the firm as a whole, not just the service you are applying to. Whilst you don’t need to know everything about the area you want to work in, at least make sure you can talk about some of the day to day aspects of what you might be doing.
How would you describe the Smith & Williamson company culture? Do you get involved in many social activities, clubs or sports teams?
This has been a particular area of focus for the firm recently and there have been some significant changes even in the short time I have been here. As a whole the firm is very friendly and there are a number of extra activities to get involved in. For example, we have just started running a ski trip and take part in a friendly football tournament every year, this year hosted in Barcelona. Locally I can only speak for the Southampton office, but there are opportunities to play sport against other rival firms and we organise quarterly socials courtesy of the company.
What was the most important thing you learnt in your first week?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. When you first start the learning curve is pretty large and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the beginning. Just remember that everyone has been in the same position and your colleagues are there to help. Just don’t delete an entire audit file like I nearly did…
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