What it’s like to work in audit at EY

Ciarán is a senior auditor in EY’s Assurance government and public sector department. He completed the EY Assurance Programme and is based at EY in Luton. Read about the route he took to his graduate career.

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With two siblings who are qualified actuaries and a third with chartered accountant status, you could say the accountancy profession runs in Ciarán’s family. So, when he chose accounting as one of his final subjects in school in Ireland, Ciarán had his sights set on university, a graduate job and ACA qualifications . But life doesn’t always go the way of projections and predictions.

‘The way my university course was structured didn’t fit into my longer-term goals, so I did some research into apprenticeships,’ Ciarán explains. ‘I looked for an apprenticeship in Ireland but essentially there were none that would lead to me getting chartered, so it meant moving to the UK.’

His career could have taken a different turn if Ciarán had accepted an offer of a law apprenticeship.

‘What made me decide against that was that Assurance is a growing, I can develop a wide range of skills and work with colleagues from across the globe. The Assurance qualification is recognised globally, so if I wanted to, I could move to different countries, working for all kinds of different companies. It’s very flexible and global.’

The proof of that statement is evident in two of his siblings’ careers, one of whom lives and works in Dubai, while another lives and works in Luxembourg. ‘I have first-hand experience of people moving away for their job,’ he laughs.

Why EY?

EY figured high on Ciarán’s list of potential employers, partly because his brother had begun his career there. Ciarán believes his extra-curricular activities, rather than his studies, gave him skills such as resilience to see the apprenticeship application process through and helped him to stand out to recruiters. Years of playing rugby while at school – something he’s managed to continue as an adult – had taught the value of teamwork, motivation, hard work and training. Another activity – soccer refereeing – gave him an unusual edge.

‘As you can imagine, refereeing when I was 16 or 17, going on to a pitch with adults and a crowd who were all older than me, taught me to be confident in my decisions. You are pretty much on your own for 90 minutes, especially if you make a mistake,’ he says. ‘It taught me to learn about constructive feedback and how that can improve my skills.’

Other skills he gained as a referee, such as confidence, learning to think independently and develop influencing skills – a transferrable skill with Audit work.

Audit: memorable clients, a diverse culture

Though Ciarán mainly works with government and public sector clients, he also covers a broad spectrum of industry-based clients.

‘At EY in Luton, you’re not limited to one industry. I might work with clients in retail, heavy industry, councils, hospitals and property developers. Having a range of clients means I can see which I am particularly interested in and which I could specialise in, if I wanted to,’ he explains.

Seeing the ways hospitals are distributing, using and managing government grants during the pandemic, from an audit viewpoint, has been especially memorable. So, what makes Ciarán feel proud to work at EY?

‘It’s a very diverse and accepting company. It has made particular strides to try to be more inclusive of different cultures, teaching how to fight against your own biases. EY is also extremely supportive, so if I wanted to progress to a more senior level, like a Partner, there are many people to help and tell you how to do it. And even though it’s a huge organisation you still get very close with your business area and the people you work with day in and day out. I love the culture here.’

Myths vs reality

Like many, Ciarán has found working during social restrictions a challenge, though studying has been easier because there are fewer distractions.

New starters at EY should expect a steep learning curve and fast progression. ‘I didn’t really know what was going on then it clicked, so you go from knowing nothing really, to suddenly leading a team and giving all the first and second years coming in hints about how to work best,’ he says, adding that he attends careers fairs and Teams calls to help students considering a start at EY.

‘I had a stereotypical image of an accountant in an office when in reality you’re meeting and talking to different people every day. Working in Assurance gives you an understanding of how businesses operate because you see what they are spending money on – everything from the moment they get money into money going out. Seeing how an entire business operates is interesting. And you can compare businesses in the same industry, because some look very similar, but behind the scenes they’re extremely different.’

Studying, working, and playing

Ciarán has just one exam left to full qualification as an ACA chartered actuary, meaning he is senior to graduates who might have been his university contemporaries.

‘The most challenging aspect of my job, I would say, is studying for the exams. They are really content heavy… different to university and school,’ Ciarán says. ‘When you are meeting work deadlines and you’re studying, you have to put in milestones because if you don’t, you end up with twice as much to do the following week. That’s a skill I’ve learned.’

Good team support, managing workload and flagging up an over-heavy schedule to seniors lessens the intensity, Ciarán feels. ‘You really do have to study, so it’s important to manage your work/life balance effectively.’

Ciarán credits his dad – and admires him – for instilling the importance of reliability and perseverance. His dad structured his working day to make sure his children turned up to the activities they had committed to, with the result that all 11 of them are now graduates or professionally qualified through apprenticeships. Ciarán has also recently renewed his refereeing qualifications so he can restart on the pitch.

Skills to develop for audit success

  • Asking the right questions and questioning answers: ‘I research my questions more and look at more data than when I started, which in turn means clients give more focused and insightful answers.’
  • Good communication: ‘I am able to get my ideas across and explain much more technical things than I used to.’
  • Teamwork, especially in Assurance: ‘Your team is likely to change every few weeks depending on the client work.’
  • Willingness to learn – no matter what stage your career is at: ‘Look for new challenges and new areas that you haven’t seen or done before.’
  • Confidence: ‘Don’t be afraid to challenge your seniors and other team members – asking better questions and challenging opinions helps to promote diverse thinking.’

Applications are currently open for EY’s Assurance Graduate Programme and Assurance Apprenticeship Programme . Find out more and apply.

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