How I got hired by Smith & Williamson
Sophie Kelly is a trainee in business tax at Smith & Williamson. She graduated from Durham University with a degree in biology and chemistry.
You need to find something that differentiates you from the other hundreds of applicants.
I wanted to do something finance based that would still allow me to use the soft skills I developed while studying for my degree. Business tax caught my interest around the time I was applying because there was a lot about it in the news. Accountancy has a reputation for being separate from the world and, until I started looking into it, I hadn’t realised how connected it is to what’s happening in the media, in politics and in all businesses. The work changes a lot as each new budget is released; it’s never stagnant. It’s nice to know that you’re doing something that’s very relevant.
Did you have any work experience before starting full-time work?
I did an internship with Smith & Williamson which helped me understand the work the firm did, and that I would be coming into a very supportive department. It also gave my employer a chance to get to know me, and see how I would work within the department.
What was the toughest part of the application process?
Due to the nature of the questions you have to answer, I found it very difficult to get my character across. At the same time, I was very aware of who I was up against and conscious that I needed to make an impression. As you get further along in the application process, you become more attached to whichever firm you’ve applied to, but it’s important not to let rejection hurt too much.
What do you think made you stand out?
Most people who apply are very similar academically, so I think my ‘other’ aspects helped me stand out. I took part in a lot of extracurricular activities – both at school and at university. I also volunteered for a summer doing scientific research in Indonesia, which gave me talking points on my CV that were a bit different.
Can you tell me about your role?
Each of our clients has a dedicated team working for them, typically made up of a trainee, manager and partner. As a first-year trainee I assist with the tax compliance process and also get involved with ad-hoc advisory projects. My responsibilities and involvement will increase in line with my level of experience. What’s great about Smith & Williamson is that our business tax department isn’t segregated, so I get to experience working for all types of clients and gain a real breadth of knowledge and training as a result.
Which skills have you developed the most?
My communication skills have definitely improved, given both the team environment and client-facing aspects of the job. Good communication with your manager is also essential because, as a trainee, you will need to ask for clarification and help. Time management is fundamental, especially during exam time as you need to be able to do your job while revising – you can’t let anything slip by the wayside.
Do you have any advice for students?
Make sure you get involved in societies while you’re at university – you need to find something that differentiates you from the other hundreds of applicants. The client-facing aspect of the role is really important, and having talking points, or maybe even shared experience, with the clients will make you more relatable and will give you a better working relationship.