Joe, a Durham University student, spent last year on the Forensic Services team at Smith & Williamson completing an Industrial Placement. After he graduates this year, he will head back to the London office to join the Audit Graduate Programme. We caught up with him to hear his thoughts about his time at the firm so far.
Why did you choose Smith & Williamson for your Industrial Placement?
When looking for an Industrial Placement, I applied for a lot of schemes and companies. I was attracted to Smith & Williamson as it was a top 10 accountancy firm but not part of the big four. It was extremely reputable but also, due to it not being a huge company, it seemed to highlight the importance of looking after its employees which was something that I really liked.
What was the application process like?
The process started off with a fairly generic online application which included literacy and numeracy tests. After passing this, I was invited to the assessment centre. Here, we were first faced with the literacy and numeracy tests again and if you passed these you were invited to stay for the afternoon. In the afternoon, we completed group-based tasks and an individual task. I was successful here so went on to an interview with a manager. This was competency based so there were no real twists and you knew what to expect. The whole process lasted from September to the Christmas holidays so it was quite quick for so much to be included.
When it came to my graduate programme, I was able to skip all these steps and went straight to an interview with a partner. This was a lot more personal and they really wanted to know more about me and whether I would be a good fit.
Tell us a bit about Forensic Services
It really involves anything to do with legal, so anything that needs to be brought to or settled in court. Areas include: breach of contract (dealing with any damages that occur and loss of profits), matrimonial proceedings, personal injury, forensic technology, clinical negligence, fraud and bribes and investigations. Investigations are a large part of it – which sometimes involved going into companies and looking through records to ascertain the true picture of a company’s accounts. Lastly, Forensic Services involves monitoring trustee work, making sure that companies are complying with boundaries concerning their competitors when they were buying others or being sold.
What’s a day in the life at Smith & Williamson?
To begin with, as I came from a maths background, the first few weeks involved me getting up to speed, learning what was required of me and how to act in a professional environment, something very new to me. Past this, I would work on cases with an assistant manager and manager, and this would later be reviewed by a partner. My work involved a lot of Excel, but I was allowed a lot of autonomy and so would be left to my own devices and then later present to my manager. I was lucky enough to work in pretty much all areas of the forensic team, so my work was very varied. A couple of times I would head to client sites to look at first hand evidence. At the end of every month I had to put together a report on the performance of the team, i.e. how much money was coming in and out and the efficiency of staff members. Prior to my placement I was worried I would be doing a lot of admin, but this was not the case at all and I was very impressed by how much I was involved.
How would you describe the company culture?
They are very efficient! Our work was often very deadline intense so we would have periods that were very busy. However, the office was friendly and not intimidating in any way and I was surprised at how much contact and how comfortable I felt talking with senior people. We also had social events regularly. Every year, the forensic team have a retreat, and this year it was in a hotel in Surrey where we stayed the night, had teambuilding exercises and were treated to a dinner and drinks. We also had quarterly department socials such as a World Cup night and junkyard golf. I even was a part of organising these by the end. Everyone was very supportive, most notably my manager, in getting me the graduate job. They were very open that there were few spaces in the Forensics Team yet they still supported me in getting a job within the company, even conducting a mock interview.
What did you enjoy most about your role?
The responsibility I had! I enjoyed the actual work as well - it was very interesting, and I was working on high profile companies which was cool.
What did you learn from the placement programme?
I definitely learnt how to work in an office. I was nervous at the beginning but by the end I knew it was ok to ask any question as it leads to the job getting done quicker. I learnt time management as I was in demand a lot and at the beginning I would always say yes. I would always try to accommodate as best as possible but sometimes you have to say no. My excel skills also improved drastically!
What are your top tips for people applying to roles at Smith & Williamson?
Ask questions! This would be my main advice as if you ask questions you get more out of the whole experience. Speak to everyone you can, especially if they are beyond your peer group. I was able to get involved in far more projects due to this, even just having lunch with people. One of these opportunities was going to a conference on personal injury and promoting the business at our stall. Also, do not think that any work is too easy for you. You may begin with more mundane work but if you do this efficiently you will have a lot more trust given to you and quickly move up to more interesting and challenging things.
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