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Network Rail

Network Rail

How I got a finance graduate job without a finance degree

Ashleigh uses skills from her philosophy and legal studies degree to manage the multi-million pound budgets of major railway projects.
I constructed my CV around highlighting my transferable skills, in particular my analytical skills.

By the end of my combined degree in philosophy and legal studies, I had decided that I did not want to pursue law any further. As my degree didn’t naturally lead into any other career, I focused my job search around my transferable skills. I constructed my CV around highlighting these skills, and in particular my analytical skills, using evidence from my degree course and extracurricular activities, such as debating. A recruitment consultant from Royal Bank of Scotland Group saw my CV on an online job board and gave me a phone call about a graduate job they were advertising.

Speaking to the recruiter made me much more confident that the analytical and investigative skills I had developed in university could be put to good use. When preparing for applications and interviews, as well as researching the employer and the job role, I’d always advise that students get in contact with someone who works for the organisation. Even if it’s just over LinkedIn, you get a much clearer idea of what the employer is offering, what kind of person they’re looking for and what working for the employer is like.

Moving jobs

Although I really enjoyed working at Royal Bank of Scotland Group, I felt that I didn’t have the long-term career security that I wanted because I was employed on short-term contracts. I began to look for jobs elsewhere. I paid special attention to a company’s ethos and employees’ work/life balance; I read employee testimonies and looked up reviews online. One employer that stood out was Network Rail. I chose to apply for the finance graduate scheme, which would give me the opportunity to work towards a professional qualification while gaining work experience.

The application process for Network Rail involved an online application form, numerical and psychometric tests and a pre-recorded video interview. The pre-recorded online video interview was completely new to me. As you don’t have an interviewer to talk to, it’s easy to get distracted by your own face on screen; a piece of advice I’d share is to cover your screen with a piece of paper when you’re answering questions, so your focus is fully on the camera lens.

The final stages of the application process were an assessment centre and face-to-face interview. Both of these were comforting and reassuring: the offices were nice and the assessors were welcoming and helpful, even with small things like how everyone introduced themselves with their first names. The assessment centre let me see first-hand what the working environment would be like; any doubts I was having about changing my career disappeared.

Working life as a finance graduate

During the finance graduate scheme, I attended college one day a week to study towards qualifications with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). I was slightly concerned to begin with as, out of seven graduates, I was the only one without previous finance or accounting qualifications. We all started out on the same level, however, and I soon realised that it was up to me to keep up with the rest. I went home and read up, so that the next day at college I could be the first one answering all the questions. Over my time on the graduate programme, the support from the other graduates has been invaluable, so I’d always advise that graduates make the most of the relationships they build in the workplace.

The days when I wasn’t at college were spent on a number of placements across the business and the country. I started out in the headquarters in Milton Keynes, working with the safety, technical and engineering team, which introduced me to finance in Network Rail. After this I moved to the accounting services team in Manchester, which carries out centralised processes for the entire organisation. My third and fourth placements were in the routes and infrastructure projects departments. The routes department is responsible for the day-to-day maintenance and operation of the railway, while infrastructure projects is almost like a construction firm, as it deals with massive projects and contractors.

My last two placements made it clear to me how finance affected people’s day-to-day lives. When I worked to make more efficient the budget for a section of railway that stretched from Crewe to Carlisle, my decisions would impact the jobs of around 900 people. I also had exposure to the Ordsall Chord project, which connected Manchester’s Victoria and Piccadilly stations. I saw the project being built from the ground up and now see how it’s made lives easier, for example by connecting the North West with Manchester Airport.

Plans for progress

I’ve now moved into a permanent position in the accounting services team and was recently nominated for a 2018 TARGETjobs National Graduate Recruitment Award. I still try and put myself out there so I’m on senior people’s radars, whether that’s just through wishing them a good morning or through volunteering to present at meetings. In the next five years I’d like to be able to influence the strategy of how Network Rail retains and develops its finance staff. With the encouragement of my manager, I’m applying for a maternity secondment that will put me on the road towards my goal.

A picture of a finance business partner at Network Rail
Ashleigh Lopia
Job title: 
Finance business partner

2009–2012 Completed a combined degree in philosophy and legal studies at Manchester Metropolitan University.
2012–2015 Worked in Royal Bank of Scotland Group’s complaints and remediation department.
2015 Joined Network Rail’s finance graduate scheme.
2018 Moved to a permanent role as a finance business partner.

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