National Audit Office: what’s it like?

  • Last updated 09 Oct 2018

The NAO’s school leavers scheme is one of many on the market, so we spoke to some of their trainees to find out why they applied, how they found the scheme and what their day-to-day lives are like.


Applying for the school leavers' scheme…  

The application process was a great learning experience and probably the best I went through, especially considering I got the job at the end of it! There was a real chance to demonstrate a wide range of your skills and what you have to offer.

To apply for NAO’s School Leavers’ Scheme, you have to complete an online application, which, if successful, is followed by an interview and an assessment centre. At the centre, tasks include a written exercise and a group task.

It sounds like a long process, but it gives you the opportunity to see how the National Audit Office works and whether you like the company. It’s just as important that the NAO is right for you as you are right for the NAO.

When applying for roles, you should definitely do your research. The last thing you want is to turn up for an interview not knowing what the organisation does.

Also make sure you showcase your achievements; no matter how small you may think they are. At the NAO, we know you’ve just left school/college, so we’re not expecting you to have worked in the public sector or have led your own audit!

Why the NAO?

I did not apply to many firms as there were not many that personally appealed to me. Having secured an offer from another firm and the National Audit Office (NAO) I had an important choice to make, which I have not regretted.

There were two reasons why I chose the NAO. First of all, I felt an instant connection with the NAO, from early communication with HR and through the interview process where I gained an insiders’ perspective into life at the NAO.

At the NAO, the firm prides itself on its culture, as the focus is around one person and that is you. As we feel you are more than just a number, you gain vital experience from the start to establish your auditing career.

This is essential as it can be difficult to get into the working mindset when you have gone from sitting in a classroom being taught full time to sitting in a room full of senior colleagues with working experience longer than you have lived.

Furthermore, upon joining the company this has been confirmed through the culture of the organisation with ideas such as hot desking which allow for a knowledge sharing and friendly environment.

Thus, the fact that you are sitting next to your area director ensures that there is more contact with those in senior positions.

The second reason why I chose NAO over other firms is that simply put: no one else audits the government, so the experience on offer was unrivalled.

Where else would I be able to be able to say that I am continuously protecting and saving the taxpayer’s money?

Day-to-day life at the NAO…

I am based in the Department for Transport (DfT) where I have been assigned with my clients, Network Rail, Highways Agency and Vehicle Certification Agency.

We perform two main types of work: Financial Audit and Value for Money studies. Although I’m primarily a financial auditor, I have had the opportunity to work on VFM.

My most recent VFM work has been with the Project Delivery team, the team work to identify best practice across government’s projects and programmes.

Some of the many pieces of work I have done with the team include being responsible for updating a NAO wide tool covering best practice, interviewing client teams and preparing a briefing paper for the C&AG.

Although I’m at the most junior grade, I’m not given mundane tasks. I am allocated my own account areas to audit and, as I’ve developed, been given more responsibilities when interacting with clients. I feel valued at the NAO.

The NAO has lots of opportunities on offer. I have travelled a fair bit which I’ve enjoyed; Birmingham, Bristol and Milton Keynes are just three locations I've been to.

You could also become part of the UN audits we perform, which would involve travelling to places like New York and Geneva.

Attending college…

College is a key part of learning and development. The best thing I like about college is you learn the theory in class and put it into practice when working for clients. 

No one asks or expects you to work whilst you are at college or revising for an exam, neither do you attend college during our main busy period. All this helps reduce the stress of exams and promotes a good work-life balance.

You go to college with the rest of your intake which makes the experience less daunting and the teachers don’t expect you to know much about accounting either.

We have an agreement with BPP who provide all the required resources including teachers, course notes, online learning, and even a calculator in case you forget yours in the exam. 

The teachers I’ve had to date have all been qualified accountants with years of experience, so it’s good learning from people who were once in your situation.

School leaver scheme VS going to university

Whilst studying towards my A-levels my fondness of accounting had been established. I realised that one option was to go to university to study for an undergraduate degree before further study to become a chartered accountant.

Alternatively, I could accept a job with a prestigious employer with an above market salary and a quicker route to becoming a chartered accountant.

I did some simple mathematics - three years undergraduate study equals at least £27k debt and a further 3 years study to become ACA qualified, six years in total.

The NAO school leaver scheme would provide me with five years experience in industry, continuous above market level pay and the ACA qualification; with the same earning potential as a graduate. It was a no brainer.


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