Why I Chose My School Leaver Programme in Accountancy

Sophie Hennah is an Audit Trainee at BDO, having taken her A-levels in Maths, Business Studies and Spanish. She told us why she couldn't wait to get out there and earn her own money, and how she juggles study with work.  

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Why did you decide to undertake a School Leaver Programme and how did you decide what to study?

I have always had an interest in finance and quickly decided that I wanted a career incorporating both maths and real life businesses.  I heard of BDO through several career fairs and, after getting a contact from a family friend, I emailed the recruitment team. I applied for the Summer School Programme at BDO Reading and secured a position.  I had several days in each department, getting first-hand experience of what they do. It quickly became apparent that I preferred audit, not only because they took me out for lunch on the first day, but because it is a client facing role where client relations are vital.  After the two weeks I was offered a position on the Audit School Leaver Programme starting the following September, on completion of my A Levels.

What made you choose to study a School Leaver Programme over an apprenticeship or university route?

I have always been very motivated to go out and earn as quickly as possible and begin to build my career in my chosen profession. I always thought university was the only way to secure a job in the financial sector and a degree in accounting would be essential to become a chartered accountant, but after work experience and researching different routes, I found this was very much not the case. I learnt that a degree wasn’t necessary and you could gain the same ACA qualification in a shorter time than a graduate. It was a fantastic opportunity to qualify and enjoy the job, without spending three years at university.

What features of this particular programme made it appealing to you? Perhaps there was a certain practical element or theoretical module which peaked your interest for example?

The five year programme meant I could do my first six exams at a slower pace than the three year Graduate Programme, which I appreciated given that I had just left school and had little knowledge of accountancy. The programme offered by BDO meant I would get support throughout my studies and work experience would improve my understanding of the job in preparation for my exams.

Why did you feel a School Leaver Programme was the best training option for banking, finance or accountancy? Perhaps this decision was related to the amount of practical in branch work you would experience for example?

The knowledge you gain while working is extremely different to learning in a lecture hall. You don’t only acquire technical expertise, but so many soft skills: communication, teamwork and time management.  The ability to communicate with peers, audit teams and clients effectively can’t be taught in a classroom, it requires first-hand experience.  I am amazed at how much I have learnt in a few months, just by observing my colleagues and working with a variety of clients.

How many hours do you spend on your programme each week? Was this a factor in your decision to undertake one?

I am contracted to work 36.25 hours a week in my paid role, however as part of the School Leaver Programme, you must complete four business assignments over two years. This is usually done outside of working hours which can take a while, and obviously in preparation for exams, several hours of revision pay off when you get your result.

What resources/materials did you use to make your decision on further banking, finance or accounting education?

My two-week work placement was a big factor in my decision to start an accounting career. I also read about current BDO employees and their audit careers on the BDO website, and this was a great help in figuring out what to expect.

How much responsibility do you have on your banking, finance or accountancy programme? Did this affect your decision to study a School Leaver Programme?

Working in a client facing role, representing BDO, is a huge responsibility. Completing work for clients, auditing certain sections of their financial statements, makes me primarily responsible for that work, even though it all gets reviewed several times before being finalised!

What is the most challenging element of undertaking a School Leaver Programme? And the most enjoyable? Has this surprised you?

I have loved all elements of this role, starting my career early and working for such an internationally recognised company is fantastic. Everyone I have worked with has been so approachable and willing to help. I am challenged every day working on such established clients, which continues to give me good exposure to the financial industry.

Do you think choosing a School Leaver Programme has boosted your employability prospects? In what ways?

It has definitely improved my prospects. The programme means I have two extra years of work experience compared to a graduate, am in a financially stable position with no university debt, and have developed invaluable skills such as effective communication and team work.

What career do you hope your School Leaver Programme will path the way into? Did you know this when you applied, or has your ambition been influenced further during the course of your programme?

I am hoping that after qualifying as a chartered accountant, I will continue to work in audit for several years and then look at where my future is going.  Perhaps I will take up a financial role, overseeing the finance department of a large company.

Where do you see yourself working a year on from completing your School Leaver Programme? How is your programme helping you work towards this goal?

I want to specialise in forensic accounting as I think after five years I will have enough experience working in a large range of sectors. I have always enjoyed the idea of investigating fraud and having a more technical role.

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