Working life

How BDO allows you to be yourself and boost your career

21 Jun 2023, 15:42

Joanne Okanlawon is a tax associate in the corporate tax division at BDO. She spoke to us about why she wanted to join BDO and what it means professionally and personally if you can be yourself in your workplace.

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Why did you want to join BDO?

I did my research and BDO seemed like the perfect fit for me. There were several reasons why I wanted to join the firm, but I distinctly remember watching a video on the BDO website, one of the ‘Be bold, Be creative’ videos. It felt warm, friendly and inviting, and made me want to be part of such a diverse and inclusive work environment. I wanted to work for a graduate employer that would challenge me but also make me feel comfortable, able to be myself.

An extra plus for me was that BDO is a global firm, with offices in many countries. This gives me the option of one day moving back to my home country, Nigeria, while still working for BDO.

Joanne Okanlawon, tax associate, BDO

BDO tax associate

And do you feel you can be yourself at BDO?

I am of African heritage; I grew up and studied in Nigeria until I was 16, after which I moved to the UK. I remember feeling out of place in many places when I first moved here, especially predominately white spaces. I felt alone and out of my skin, as if I was pretending to be someone else to fit in. I hated that feeling because I knew the real me was amazing and she deserved to be seen!

At BDO I feel seen. I don’t feel out of my skin; I don’t feel alone. I have met and made friends with wonderful people of different heritage, close and far away from mine, and I have been able to be me. Of course, like anywhere else BDO still has capacity to improve in different areas but I am very happy to be along for the journey.

Many grads worry that they won't have a voice in the early years of their career. Was this a concern for you?

Yes of course, at first. I believe most people would expect this as a new starter but it’s quite different here. You’re encouraged and supported to find your voice, and use it. Formally, we have monthly catch ups with one of the tax partners to raise any issues we have and separately we’re positively encouraged to approach any of the senior staff with any questions or issues we have.

I have some amazing managers who gave me responsibilities such as contacting clients – through emails or calls – and speaking in client meetings, early in my career. It was scary, especially speaking in the meetings, but I loved it; it showed me that they cared for my development, wanted to help me succeed and believed in me.

How do you think you impressed recruiters during the BDO application process?

I believe my persistence, along with the help of one of the recruitment staff who saw my determination, landed me a spot at the assessment centre in Manchester.

I think the recruiters were impressed with two things mainly: my knowledge of the company (demonstrating my motivation), and the fact that I had completed my ACCA professional exams while studying full time and working a part time job. I really wanted to work for BDO so I collated as much information as I could find on it and, when I was being interviewed, I was able to display this knowledge at appropriate times. I specifically remember identifying BDO’s latest client wins in my partner interview; he therefore knew I was well prepared. I believe my assessors could see my strong desire to work for the firm.

What do you do at BDO and why do you enjoy it?

I work with a variety of clients, charities and non-charities. I help companies determine their corporation tax liabilities, draft returns and submit to HMRC. I also work with managers, directors and partners in specialist areas such as R&D and SAO.

I enjoy my work because there is lots of room for growth. I am encouraged to take responsibility and initiative on my client profile. I’m given a variety of tasks that can sometimes be challenging, but those are the best because the learning opportunity is great.

I also love the feedback from my managers because it helps me understand the areas I excel in, which boosts my confidence. Of course it also highlights the areas I need work on, but that helps with my growth.

How are you finding combining work and studying for qualifications?

I am studying for the ACA /CTA qualification. I had a few exemptions as I was part qualified when I started at BDO, so I have only sat one exam so far. Generally, I’ll say work and studying is not easy; it requires a lot of planning, discipline and adequate rest. But BDO’s culture is about balance. The environment allows me to achieve balance in my work, study and personal life.

How does BDO support you in your work?

Everyone is available to support me if I have any questions. In my first year a partner took the time to explain a client’s technicalities to me, which I thought was really amazing.

BDO also has a mentorship scheme which was initiated in Manchester late last year. I’ve registered for it and I am really looking forward to it. My mentor has an impressive career journey and I really like her personality.

When we first met she took the time to try and understand my background, where I am coming from and where I intend to go. She also shared her background and some personal experiences with me. We are working together to create a system that works for the both of us and will help me develop in the short and long term.

What makes you excited about your future at BDO?

The opportunity to grow and excel is here as long as I put in the work!

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