We recently spoke with Eleanor about securing a graduate role with Smith & Williamson, how she built her commercial awareness before the interview and her top tips for Bright Network members looking to follow in her footsteps.
Why a role with Smith & Williamson?
The first thing that drew me to Smith and Williamson was its size. My understanding was that it’s big enough to have a great reputation and interesting clients, but small enough that each person feels supported, valued and looked after.
Smith and Williamson are also known for having friendly people, and this was very evident throughout the application process. The HR team were approachable, efficient, and helpful, guiding me through the recruitment process. At my virtual assessment centre, everyone was very welcoming. Both my interviewers put me at ease and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. At the end, we had a Q&A session with current trainees, and they all seemed excited to tell us about their roles. After my experience at this assessment centre, I decided the Smith and Williamson would be a great place to start my career.
How did you build your commercial awareness before the interview?
In terms of testing commercial awareness, accountancy firms tend to look for a good understanding of what audit involves. Although some information can be found out online, the best way to work on this is to talk to people in the field. Going to Bright Network careers fairs and online seminars during covid lockdown gave me this opportunity. My university also offers a platform for students to connect with graduates working in specific fields such as audit. The person I connected with was very helpful and happy to answer all my questions, so I’d urge others to investigate what options their university offers.
Interviewers also look for a good knowledge of the firm, who its competitors are and how it differs from its competitors. I searched their websites, made sure I knew what their values are and the services they offer. I read through some of the news stories on their websites, and The Financial Times is also a good source for news stories on specific firms. This was highlighted as one of my strengths during the feedback after my interview.
Finally, you’re not expected to know much about finance, but they would expect you to have a good awareness of the key events in the news and how these may affect the financial services industry. I worked on this over the summer holidays by reading The Times regularly to gain a broad understanding of what’s going on. The Financial Times also has good articles specifically on audit.
How did Bright Network help you secure this role?
Bright Network resources offered me a great introduction to all mainstream career routes, and this was helpful when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. There are so many resources out there that it’s hard to know where to start, so it was great having all the key information about different routes in one place to start me off.
The careers festivals and online seminars were also great for giving us the opportunity to meet representatives from leading firms and ask them about their experiences first-hand.
Overall, Bright Network made the whole process of finding a career much less daunting.
What top three tips would you give Bright Network members looking to follow in your footsteps?
- Don’t be put off if you get rejected – audit roles are very competitive so don’t worry if you don’t get in first time. I got rejected by all of the firms I applied to for audit internships in my penultimate year. But I learnt a lot from the process, leading me to have way more confidence and secure this role as I went into my final year.
- Apply early – applications for Smith and Williamson and most other firms open early-mid September. You want to try and send in an application and go through the stages as soon as you can before the roles start to fill up. It’s also much easier to get most of your work for applications out of the way before university starts.
- Don’t apply for too many firms – research each firm before you apply and only apply for firms you’d genuinely want to work for. Some people say that the more firms you apply for, the more practice you get, and the more likely you are to secure a role. This works for some people who are very well prepared before they apply. But for me, applying for only a few firms (I applied for 7 in the end) gave me time to really research each firm thoroughly. Not sending all your applications in at the same time also helps to spread the workload and helps with focusing on each application individually.
What’s been the toughest interview question you’ve faced?
“Why should we hire you over the last candidate we interviewed?”
I found this question quite hard-hitting (compared to being asked to just tell them about my strengths). It caught me out for a minute but then I got a grip!