Being a Consulting Graduate and Digital Ninja at KPMG

Ellie Dryer, who graduated in economics from Bristol University, joined the Financial Transformation Consulting Graduate Programme and is a Digital Ninja at KPMG in the UK.

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When it came to showing resilience, 2020’s graduate recruits had a challenge like no other – starting a career working from home, without in-real-life interaction with their cohort and managers. Ellie explains how that led to an unexpected opportunity, and how hybrid working is changing the office forever.

Describe your job as a Consulting Graduate Trainee at KPMG.

When people ask, ‘What do you do?’ I say, ‘A myriad of things.’ My actual job is in finance transformation in consulting , with a side role in technology as a Digital Ninja! We teach our work colleagues cool tech tips (we’re not the IT service desk and we don’t fix wi-fi or computers). It’s a chance to be tech savvy and interact at all levels, including helping managers and partners learn new skills.

How did you get involved?

When I first started at KPMG, our chief digital officer Lisa Heneghan , and the Lead of tech adoption and Digital Ninjas, presented to us from the newly opened Ignition Centre on the twelfth floor of our London office building in Canary Wharf. It was amazing and I thought, ‘I want to get involved with them!’ One year on, I was presenting to the year’s new joiners – about 400 of them on the call.

What made you opt for a career in management consulting?

I went to careers fairs and after an internship in accountancy, my research led me to consulting. I thought, ‘That’s for me!’ because I am interested in so many different things. Consultancy is diverse, especially in a big firm like KPMG. There’s so much opportunity, whether in finance, actuary work or sustainability, and you’re encouraged to get involved, with whatever you are passionate about. There are many different departments here, and teams within those departments, so people work with public sector clients, banks, corporates and charities. I’ve even worked with a team (virtually) at our Abu Dhabi office.

What activities and skills do you need in management consulting?

I volunteered at North London Hospice and that experience was as valuable as any of my transferable skills. I enjoyed studying economics but whatever degree you take, you gain skills. Teamwork, being organised and analytical certainly help in the workplace. My job in consulting requires drive, confidence and taking the initiative – my advice to graduates is to get involved.

My communication skills and confidence have improved since I’ve been here. For instance, learning to present is such an important skill and at first I wasn’t good at it, but it’s something I’ve been working on. I watched what confident presenters did, their stance, how they used their hands, how they smiled, and then I copied them. I was faking the confidence and hoped people wouldn’t notice how nervous I was. That presentation to graduate joiners was the proudest moment of my career so far.

Your career began in the middle of a lockdown – how was that for you?

I wasn’t in the office at all until summer 2021 and that was really weird. It made some aspects of starting my job harder and some easier. Being proactive, being curious and reaching out to people helped, and that’s something I advise all new joiners to do, even if it’s just signing up for virtual coffee breaks. It builds a support network.

I like being in the office at least two days a week. I get human interaction at work, even just bumping into people by the lift, and putting names with faces while I talk to them. Recently all our team went into the office to finish a project. Being in a room together and getting on with the work, leaning over and being able to look at each other’s screens – I had never done that before – felt amazing.

KPMG is a big firm. Did you consider working somewhere smaller?

I considered both but working in a big firm isn’t an issue for me; our teams are small and there are many benefits at KPMG. We are given six volunteering days every year, for example, so my project team and I took a day off to do an NSPCC 10K charity walk in Epping Forest and so many people supported us.

Management consulting is seen as a demanding, traditionally male, environment – what’s your experience?

The responsibility I’m trusted with has built my confidence. I felt imposter syndrome and out of my depth during my first project, but every graduate employed by KPMG deserves to be here and within a few months I was presenting to clients. As we are client facing, our deliverables, start dates and deadlines define our hours.

There’s no bad working culture here. I’m flexible and adaptable so I enjoy working with new people and don’t mind if my hours sometimes stretch from 8.00 am to 7.00 pm. What I like about those times is everyone is working together. A month later my hours might be 9.00 am until 4.00 pm and that is when I pick up my extra-curricular activities and Digital Ninja commitments. And no-one minds if you say, ‘I’m going for a walk now to get some fresh air while it’s sunny.’

I’ve never been told I can’t do something or felt discriminated against. I’m a big advocate of promoting and supporting women in finance, and in virtual meetings I do notice the mix of people on screen. I’m interested in discussions about maternity/paternity leave, which is complicated throughout society. You can see that women’s career progression to senior roles tails off, so at senior management and partner level there’s definitely more to do and KPMG is continuing to take action, challenge and confront biases to create an inclusive environment for all . I am hopeful we will see change in management ratios, but that is going to take time.

Tell us about your latest role

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to get involved with the Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) team. KPMG is aiming to grow sustainably and help our clients to grow sustainably too. For example, we’ve set ambitious environmental targets to support us in becoming Net Zero by 2030. We’re also supporting our suppliers to accelerate ESG action. ESG is an essential part of KPMG and I’m super excited to have had the opportunity to join the team.

What are you looking forward to?

Technology is introducing us to new skills and changing the way we do things. Digital Ninjas are helping define what that means for the future. As an example, in hybrid meetings we have found it feels more inclusive if those attending virtually speak first.

On a personal note, I will be joining a friend in Costa Rica over Christmas. I love travelling and after South and Central America my post-uni gap year was cut short because of Covid. People told me when I started working in management consulting that my social life and holidays would be over but that’s just not true. We get plenty of time off at KPMG.

Once I have finished the grad scheme and completed my exams I would love to work abroad – maybe at the KPMG office in Mexico!

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