Thursday, January 12, 2017

Undergraduate of the Year ‘Future CFO’ 2016 winner Molly Ashton visits the capital of the European Union

Shortly about to commence her final year of studies before starting a graduate role in Tax at PwC, Molly was chosen as our winner. Intelligent, with an adaptive thought process having the power to influence others, she showed all of the skills desirable for a future CFO. Molly also proves that you don't have to fit a certain mould to become an accountant: she is an avid fashion and beauty blogger, traveller, and animal lover! She describes her trip to Brussels in her blog here 

With our finalists being asked to debate the threats and opportunities associated with BREXIT for a small to medium business owner, a part of Molly’s prize was the unique opportunity to spend 2 days in the European Headquarter in Brussels, to meet with influential business advisors, EU officials, and even getting an exclusive tour of the European Parliament, organised by ACCA Brussels office.

First on the agenda was a meeting with Clara Lemaire, Head of the Brussels Office of Centrica, Sean McGuiree, Director of the CBI Brussels office and Cian Rice, director of EU Government relations for Barclays. They all stressed that the Brexit vote had increased the necessity for UK businesses to have a presence in Brussels. This allows companies to obtain intelligence on, and influence policies affecting their activities, and also to act as a link between the EU institutions and their UK offices. Meeting with influential people in the financial sector in Brussels helped Molly to understand some of the wider issues taking place following on from the BREXIT vote. Molly also heard a presentation by our Brussels office on ACCA’s EU affairs activities and on how Brussels works. 

On Day 2 of the trip, after a meeting with Peter Ujvari, a member of ACCA Corporate Reporting Global Forum and senior IFRS expert at the KBC bank, Molly received an exclusive invite to the European Commission and to the European Parliament. One of the Commission's main roles is to propose legislation, which is then adopted by the co-legislators, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
The ACCA delegation visited the Directorate General in charge for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union (DG FISMA), where ValĂ©rie Ledure, an ACCA member and the Deputy Head of the Accounting and Financial Reporting Unit, gave an overview of the work of the European Commission in general, and of her unit, more specifically.  

The group then had the opportunity to get a private guided tour around the impressive European Parliament by Rhiannon Price, the Senior Policy Advisor of Welsh MEP Kay Swinburne, predominantly active in the field of financial services.

After lunch at the EP’s canteen, the ACCA group was joined by Andrea Laskava, a special adviser to EPP’s President MEP Manfred Weber, who shared with us precious insights on the functioning of the EP and the internal political games.

In addition to better understanding the role of the European institutions, Molly also got to enjoy the cultural side of Brussels with visits to the Magritte Museum, the Royal Palace, the old town centre and of course eating Belgian waffles and frites.

Reflecting on the trip Molly said:

"I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Brussels, understanding more about the EU parliament and what ACCA's role is in the city was really interesting. It was strange to go from ACCA's huge London HQ to an office of two members in Brussels who work more closely with the parliament and commission to understand policies. The trip has helped me understand how diverse ACCA's role is across the world and has definitely intrigued me to find out more in the future!"

Monday, January 9, 2017

You have to be in it to win it! Words of advice from Management Undergraduate of the Year Shona McCotter

Hi everyone, my name is Shona McCotter and I have been lucky enough to receive the coveted TARGETjobs Management Undergraduate of the year award 2016, sponsored by Enterprise-Rent-a-Car.
I was reading through my university emails one day when I saw this particular opportunity to enter the UK Undergraduate of the Year awards. It immediately took my interest and I chose to enter the Management category.
What I really liked about this category was that Enterprise-Rent-a-Car was the sponsor. Having won graduate employer of the year on various occasions and with a summer internship and a week in the states up for grabs I knew this is would be an amazing opportunity.
Having completed my online application and passing my phone interview, I was then invited to an assessment day at their European Head office in Surrey. To say I was nervous in the days and hours beforehand was an understatement (I travelled from Barcelona – so I had a lot of time to dwell!).
The assessment centre was a lot less daunting than I imagined. The ERAC team were genuinely so friendly and down to earth, and this made me feel much more comfortable in expressing myself throughout the different tasks with other candidates and in my one to one interview. They really wanted each of us to do well! I learned a lot about Enterprise’s working environment and noticed how most of the employees started as management trainees – so they really had a found respect for what interns do.
The awards ceremony itself in Canary Wharf was such an amazing experience and the presentation by Fiona Bruce was really inspiring. I had never been to anything like it. As the winner, I was presented my award by Khaled Shabo, Corporate VP and MD for UK and Ireland who has contributed enormously to the success of Enterprise-Rent-a-Car.
I will undergo my USA trip next summer in the global HQ for Enterprise-Rent-a-Car!  ERAC have also asked me to be their Campus Brand Manager this year, which has been a great experience so far, allowing me to promote their opportunities in careers fairs and to my peers. Since winning the award I have interned in Beijing, China on a scholarship and have had graduate offers based on my achievement, so it has really brought me far and was definitely worth the application!

“You have to be in it to win it” is a phrase we’re all very familiar with but very few of us take it seriously. One piece of advice I would give after this experience is to have some faith in yourself and go for it! It was worth it for me, it might just be for you too. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Do yourself proud! Martin talks of how there's nothing to lose when applying for the Undergraduate of the Year Awards

I was just finishing some January assignments at University and had a free afternoon where I thought I would apply. I always wanted to apply, and the Department of Economics at Warwick sent around emails encouraging us to do so, but I was not quite sure which category to go for and didn’t have too much time to look into it but once the assignments were out of the way, I concluded that the Future CFO category best-suited my skillset. Not only that, but the prize – a trip around Europe! – looked incredible!

After answering three competency questions, we had four online tests to do. These were quite hard, especially given the time pressures, but ultimately if I wasn’t very good at analysing pie charts or answering the other numerical/logical tests, then I wouldn’t make a very good CFO anyway! So it was a very good test and one which tells you a lot about yourself.

Soon after, I got an email from ACCA inviting me to the next round: record yourself in a one-minute video outlining your views on Brexit! This was something I had done a lot of research in, and understandably had a lot of interest in given I study economics, so I was very happy to do so, but there were still some nerves knowing you have to record yourself on camera!

Amazingly I got through to the next round: a debate with an MP furthering our views on Brexit from what we outlined in the video. This was a superbly well-run event and given the calibre of students I was so pleased to be able to share the room with these people and give my inputs.

Whatever the outcome, I knew I had done myself proud with my research and met some fantastic people who I could learn a lot from, but it was then amazing to get the email telling me I had got through to the final!

I was so excited for this event, as were my University! After a long, but ultimately very fun and interactive, selection process, this was a day for us to mingle and get to know other incredible like-minded people. It was such an incredible opportunity to get here, to meet Fiona Bruce, to meet other ACCA professionals and to build my network with other students from different degree fields. The three-course meal was fantastic, and whilst I did not win, I was super pleased for the eventual winner and I know I walk away from the competition much better placed in terms of the graduate job market with this to my CV, and also with an ever-increasing network built.

My advice is clear: apply! I walked away so proud of myself – I knew I didn’t let myself down and couldn’t have done much better – so there is nothing to lose, be yourself and utilise every opportunity in life to make yourself stand out – and this is one of the best ones to take!

A journey full of experiences and rewards: Luisa's Undergraduate of the Year story

The Final event was in the Winter Gardens in Canary Wharf, filled with 120 of the brightest and most high achieving undergraduates, and every single one was reminded of their excellence by each speaker on stage. I was sitting amongst those 120 undergraduates, having been shortlisted to win the female undergraduate award. Every now and again I would experience a wave of insecurity because I could not understand how I managed to get through to this last stage. I do not think I realised the significance of these awards until I was there, surrounded by so many incredible students and company sponsors.
The entire journey, from sending in my CV and completing the first online psychometric tests to the final event, was the most challenging but also most rewarding journey I have embarked and looking back at it I would recommend anyone with the least bit of ambition to apply for one of the TargetJobs awards. 
I experienced a two-day assessment centre (which is not very common), but it raised my confidence and helped me prepare in the best way possible for any future assessments I will face. We had to do group assessments, presentations, interviews, write individual reports but we were also taken round the incredible sites of Rolls Royce in Derby, whereby we learnt more about the company. I was offered a summer internship with Rolls Royce despite of not having won the award itself, but that was because they spotted potential in me during the application process. I got to spend a day in Canary Wharf and take a selfie with Fiona Bruce. But most importantly, I made more than 119 new valuable contacts from several industry fields, who will certainly in future become some of the most influential leaders of our time. I also got to speak to high level managers and executives from Rolls Royce who all shared about their own career paths and gave me valuable tips. 
About mid way through this journey I started to see it less as a competition and more as a networking opportunity. I experienced the beauty of encouragement and the importance of supporting one another in our successes because there is much more value in celebrating each other than putting each other down.
As you can see, it was all in all a hard process but I got much more out of it than I had asked for.

You never know what might happen or how far you might come. If you never try you will never succeed. 

Give the Undergraduate of the Year Awards a go like Adam did, and you too could gain a lot!

After speaking to one of my friends who reached the final of the competition last year, I thought I would throw my hat in the ring and give it a go myself. Indeed, I too was fortunate enough to make the final ten for Management Undergraduate of the Year. In this short piece I thought it would be useful to share the most pertinent takeaway for me, which relates largely to the benefits of being exposed to an entire recruitment cycle so early on during your time at university.

The first port of call was to submit an online application including two or three short essay answers, as well as online verbal and numerical reasoning tests. This was followed by a 30-minute telephone interview to understand my motivations for applying. My advice to anyone who makes this stage would be to do some research around Enterprise Rent-A-Car and really get to grips with how diverse the business is. More than anything, of course, just be yourself and convey a genuine enthusiasm for reaching the next stage and you’ll do just fine.

Once the telephone interview is complete you’ll be invited to an assessment centre at the European Head Office in Surrey. This is a half-day centre with roughly 6 or 7 other applicants from universities around the country. We started with a group exercise and then moved into one-to-one interviews before finishing up with an individual exercise that definitely tests your ability to manage and lead right from the outset. Although that sounds terrifying, don’t worry about anything – one of the most surprising things for me was how welcoming and friendly everyone was. It’s a target-driven environment with a flexible and hospitable atmosphere, and you’ll feel like you’re already part of the company within the first hour.

Once the assessment centre was complete we were invited to join the finalists and distinguished guests from Enterprise Rent-A-Car at Canary Wharf. There we were treated to lunch with Fiona Bruce before the awards were presented. As I pointed out earlier, the biggest learning curve for me was experiencing the full recruitment process, from online application all the way through to assessment centre and interview. No matter what stage you get to, you’ll have that experience in the bank to draw upon when it comes to applying for placements and/or graduate roles. That has certainly proved valuable for me when attending assessment centres and interviews in recent months.

In short, my advice would be to throw yourself in and get involved as it’s a great, risk-free environment to develop those transferrable skills that you’ll need when it comes to applying for that all important placement and graduate position. Of course, networking with fellow applicants and the guys from Enterprise is also one of the most valuable things that you’ll take from the experience. And even though there’s only one outright winner, whatever stage of the competition you get to is certainly a great asset on your CV, and will give you a great foundation from which to talk about your experiences in interviews.

I’m more than happy to answer any other questions or have a more general chat if you want to get in touch. My email is or connect with me on LinkedIn.

TJ talks us through his valuable experience at Sky!

The Explore Sky Finance Insight Day was fantastic and it gave me a great idea on what life would be like working at Sky. Walking in to The Sky Studio Campus and knowing that you are seconds away from the sports and news studios is both daunting and awe inspiring. The campus in Osterley is huge and it reminded me of going to university for the first time. But what I enjoyed most about this day, was the atmosphere which was very vibrant. This made me think that the staff are happy to work at Sky and truly value their job.
Although this was a financial insight day, everyone came from a range of different academic backgrounds. Some students were in their penultimate year studying accountancy, while others were in their final year studying geography. A student on my table was doing her masters in chemistry! It shows Sky welcomes all and that the skills you obtain in any degree can be transferable.
The event gave us the opportunity to listen to the recruitment team at Sky for the placement and graduation schemes. What they said was extremely useful as they showed us how applicants should differentiate themselves from other candidates. Looking at the past applications together and pointing out the flaws and the positives will help in the future, when applying for Sky.
After this, we had a chance to listen to people that have been part of the Sky Graduate schemes and placement schemes. This part of the day gave me an insight into what it would be like working for Sky. Being told that it is fast paced and there are a variety of tasks that you need to do as there a range of jobs, excites me.
The tour of Sky was probably the most exciting part of the day. I could not stop smiling when I was in the Sky Sports studios. But the tour of the campus itself was hugely impressive. All the different departments seem top class and the scenery was beautiful.
The day ended with the opportunity to show our skills in a challenge where as a group we had to launch a plan for a new product or service for Sky and then present it to the other participants and the judges in the room. This was interesting as our group realised that our idea was like other groups around us, something that Sky must often come across. We had to find a way to make our product stand out and look unique. This task improved my presentational marketing skills, which will help me in the future.

Overall I would recommend anyone interested in working for Sky or a career in finance should come to this insight day. The information you receive about the application process and what it is like working at Sky is so valuable. The day is extremely enjoyable and memorable as there are numerous moments where you are either learning something valuable or looking at the many incredible scenes and studios at Sky.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

We catch up with the Future Business Leader Award winner 2016!

Sarahjane studied international business with business law at Glasgow Caledonian University. With a love for travel, Sarahjane completed an Erasmus exchange in France and taught English for one year in Senegal with Project Trust. Several of her experiences helped her develop a passion for sustainability within business, so she saw the Future Business Leader of the Year award as the obvious choice for her.

I was already familiar with the Undergraduate of the Year Awards before I had even considered applying, as I had used Target Jobs throughout my time at university to look for placements and graduate employment. Out of them all, the “Future Business Leader of the Year” was easily the category where I felt myself best placed. I was studying International Business and had previously worked in finance, procurement and CSR. Yet, despite this, I had still spent some time deliberating whether I should apply, especially looking at previous winners and their own backgrounds. However, I was drawn to the FMCG focus of the application, as this was the sector I had wanted to enter, and Mars being the sponsor company was naturally extremely attractive. So, perhaps partly due to dissertation procrastination, I decided to submit an application.

Everyone says it, but I really was genuinely surprised each time I passed a stage of the application. The initial psychometric testing was similar to those I was completing when applying for graduate jobs, so I was really encouraged when I had passed this and motivated me to continue with the application. Having saying that, the next stage involved a telephone interview and was probably the stage I felt I had messed up the most! I had spent so much time preparing generic interview questions that I was completely thrown by the more informal, person-centred approach of the interview. I was probed on my CV and specific experiences as opposed to the generic competency-based scenarios which I was so used to, which made it harder for me to try and work out how well or poorly I’d done. Looking back though, the interview was a good indication of what was to come: an assessment centre designed to really understand candidates further than simply what can be taken from a CV. This was probably my favourite thing about the whole process; I felt like I had really got to understand Mars (and also the other candidates in my category) and that Mars had taken the time to understand us. When I think back to how I was undecided about applying, I’ve learned that embracing having differences as opposed to being intimidated by them really paid off.

Winning the award was the most perfect way to finish off final year and gave me so much more confidence for graduate life. Admittedly, throughout the process, it struck me how well everyone got on, particularly in comparison to other assessments I had been involved with. One of my highlights from the awards was how much fun we all had together – the real source of competitiveness surrounded which category had had the best table (which “Future Business Leader” had 100% won thanks to all the chocolate goodies courtesy of Mars). Even after the ceremony, so many of us have stayed in touch, whether this be via our social media group or by supporting each other’s business ventures. I truly feel like I have met people who I can rely on later in my professional life, and if that’s what the next generation of undergraduates look like, then I look forward to what lies ahead in my career!