Accountancy and financial management
Graduate trainee at Smith & Williamson

How I got hired by Smith & Williamson

Alex Gready is a trainee auditor, studying for ACA qualification, at Smith & Williamson. He studied physics at the University of Bristol . We asked him to describe working life, and how he got hired.
The interviewers are very sympathetic and put you at ease.

Why accountancy?

After university I knew that I wanted to work in finance and ideally live in London. Accountancy seemed to be a good fit for me because of the degree I’d done. It was also very appealing to work for three years and get a respected qualification.

What was the toughest part of the application process?

I was most nervous about the interviews, but actually if you know your stuff and haven’t embellished your application too much the interviewers are very sympathetic and put you at ease.

Describe your job for us.

My role is that of a trainee auditor, which means that for most of the year I spend my time out of the office in a client’s office, usually in a team of three other ‘students’. The role of an auditor is basically to check that what the client has said in their accounts is truthful. I’ll spend a lot of time with a client, understanding how they have come to the figures they have put in their accounts. One of the best things about this job is that you are handed a great deal of responsibility from the off and by the time you reach the second year you will already be managing and giving guidance to more junior members of the team.

What sort of support have you received with your qualification?

I had no idea about anything to do with business before I started but the ACA qualification really does explain a lot and the teaching you get is incredibly good. The internal training we receive at our work is also of a very high standard and helps us develop soft skills such as how to deal with clients and how to manage other members of a team.

How’s your work/life balance?

The work is quite seasonal so from February to May you can expect to work a bit later, but for the rest of the year working hours are great and I can leave the office most days at 5.30 pm. At exam time I may lose a bit of free time, but otherwise I have all my weekends and weeknights to do as I please and there is plenty to do in London. Another great thing about my firm is that for every hour of overtime worked you get another hour of holiday!

Any downsides?

I  know I am too disorganised, so I have been trying to put this to rights by keeping as many lists as possible and I think it’s working.

Is there anything you wish you’d done more of at university to prepare you?

I actually wish I’d had more experience with Excel! This sounds very geeky but I use it so much at work and I am in awe of people who can use it with their eyes closed.

Top three skills for a career in accountancy?

  • Be personable. You have to spend a lot of time with clients and colleagues and you won’t get very far if you aren’t friendly.
  • Be analytical – surprisingly for accountancy I don’t think you need to be an expert with numbers, and in fact loads of graduates at my firm have not done a maths-based degree. It is much more important to be able to analyse information you are given to a high standard.
  • Be honest. Don’t tell people you’ve done more work than you have. It will only get you into a fix later down the line!