School leavers: jump straight into a financial services career with Mazars

We spoke to Gurdat Pannu, 18, a Corporate Assistant in Financial Services External Audit at Mazars, about why he decided against university and jumped straight into a career instead.

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What did you do before your programme?

I did A-Levels in Maths, Economics, Physics and Geography, and my GCSEs. Within three months of school ending and being 18 for approximately a week – with no real prior job experience – I found myself within fulltime employment at one of the top 10 accountancy firms in the UK.

It feels like it has been ages since I last did my A-Level exams as I have learnt so much in my short time here but not everything is so dissimilar, the exams for the ACA qualification made me feel right at home.

What attracted you to this industry as a profession?

Attending a few workshops and reading a lot about the audit profession had taught me a lot about the different things to expect in audit and how to get a job in the industry but the main thing I took out was that you learn and gain so much no matter what firm you decide to settle on.

This pretty much is the sole reason why I made the decision to skip out on university and go straight into audit. Exactly what you learn depends on the firm and the job itself, but at Mazars I’m learning things that will stay with me for the rest of my working life. It isn’t just a job where you repeat the same tasks over and over, but every day is a very new challenge and experience, and the phrase “you learn something new every day”, really applies here.

What attracted you to your programme over other options like university?

Between Years 12 and 13, where I started my research, it seemed pretty standard to apply and attend university and so in turn, it was quite difficult to break away from that norm and actually start thinking about my own future. This is where I was introduced to the school leaver programmes that firms nationwide were promoting.

The key benefit I saw was the real chance to gain work experience and exposure to the world of finance for three or four years more than the university counterpart. That can make a massive difference in the long-term and can really affect your career. I am not saying that university isn’t a good option, it can be the right option if you feel you need to develop and understand yourself more before committing to a career such as audit and it can also be the right option if it is simply how the industry you’re applying for works and that the best way to progress is through university. In my opinion, I think that the best way to learn is through practice and for me that was through the school leaver programme.

The key benefit I saw was the real chance to gain work experience and exposure to the world of finance for three or four years more than the university counterpart. That can make a massive difference in the long-term and can really affect your career. I am not saying that university isn’t a good option, it can be the right option if you feel you need to develop and understand yourself more before committing to a career such as audit and it can also be the right option if it is simply how the industry you’re applying for works and that the best way to progress is through university. In my opinion, I think that the best way to learn is through practice and for me that was through the school leaver programme.

Why did you choose a programme at your company in particular?

I find it very hard to gauge a company by reading about them on the internet, since it all is very impersonal and distant. Seeing the company in person and meeting everyone who works there gives a much more immersive and genuine perception. At my first interview with Mazars, my experience with the receptionist was very lively and interesting, I felt immediately welcomed and didn’t feel out of place at all. I can’t say that this is the case for all firms that I attended interviews and assessment centres for.

Now I’m not saying that I joined Mazars only because of the receptionist, but it helps to know that if everyone was half as nice as the receptionist, you know that the firm is going to be great.

The main reason I chose Mazars was its perfect size: it’s big enough that there are always things to learn and opportunities to follow, but small enough so that everyone has their own say and influence. I felt like Mazars could provide me with the resources to develop and become better, like I could make a difference and really improve the work done by them.

After my first six months, this feeling that I had couldn’t be any more on the nose. Applying for an accounting firm, such as Mazars, is as much a choice for the firm as it is the candidates applying.

It is a matter of personal preference and for me, Mazars ticked off all the boxes plus more and I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

What is your average day like in your role?

In my role at Mazars, it is very hard to describe an average day because every day is so widely different. Depending on the client I am booked to, I can be staying at a hotel or I might be at home, I might be working as part of a team as large as six, or a team as small as five, I could have some pressing work and come in to the office a little early or I might have a completely open day where I let fate decide my workload in which case I might come in on time.

I (or we, if out of London and staying in hotel with team) go to the client’s office at around the 9am to begin work. I will be at my laptop 70% of the time with the remaining 30% being in front of the client. This can involve going though questions with them, requesting items and solving problems. I think with the client is where you can really learn the most and so I recommend making the most out of the time you have with the them.

To summarise, an average day would be filled with a lot of computer work, quite a bit of talking to the client, some email replying, a lot of question asking and a bunch of fun.

Can you describe the study side of your programme? What support do you have with this?

The CFAB apprenticeship is the same stuff as the first year of the ACA plus some bits and bobs. I have completed the first four of the six certificate exams, which are Accounting, Assurance, Tax and Business & Finance. I received college for Accounting and Assurance within my first couple weeks of joining the firm and had to self-study the next two using online tutoring videos provided by the college via their website at home, so it was very flexible.

Mazars gives you an allocated set of days to learn for these exams and give five days extra to be used in the year as study days. The actual practice parts of these two sets of exams came after college and during working days. So a typical day would be 9am-5pm at work and then come back home to revise. This might seem daunting at the time but once you realise that you have to pass these exams, it becomes almost second nature to revise. These exams were tough but with enough practice and dedication, anyone and everyone can pass. Almost my entire year’s intake has passed all the exams first time, but we all put in a lot of effort. This may even mean sacrificing a few weekends.

Now we have two years to the six exams, which means you can go at your own pace. You can decide on your own exam dates after discussion with your training manager and book a date best for yourself. We receive the material, and it’s up to you when you start learning and revising since the school leavers have no set exam date, unlike the graduates.

We have to complete coursework over these two years – writing and documenting how you’ve met certain skills and behaviours such as leadership, proactivity teamwork and more – and do it in our own time. This is done via BPP and requires submitting the coursework to their system for review.

What is your favourite aspect to the programme?

It has to be watching the rest of my year’s intake develop throughout our time here. We all started from having no audit knowledge at all and to see all of the progress each of us have made in just six months, it really is astonishing. As a school leaver, you might think that the grads have an extra something to help them do better in work, which they very well might, but they are all in the same boat as us as we all knew absolutely nothing about how to audit. It is just very interesting to see how much we have all achieved in our short time here.

Do you think choosing your programme has boosted your employability prospects? In what ways?

The things I’ve learnt will stay with me for years to come. I can’t see the future but just basing off what I have learnt so far, I think there is potential for us all to do something quite big and interesting. I’ve become not only better at audit, but also more efficient with the software we use, and more confident in client-facing situations. I am always taken outside of my comfort zone – this is the best way to develop as a person and business professional. I can’t even begin to imagine how I will turn out to be in five years. I hope someone quite smart.

What would you say to a young person hoping to go into your industry and considering a programme like yours?

Be yourself and try your best. There will be a firm out there that you will like and who will want you. It may or may not be Mazars, but make sure you are very comfortable with the idea of working as it is a very important decision to make straight after finishing school. Most of all, try to appreciate as much as you can while on your journey – something that may seem like an annoyance now could become pivotal later on in your career.

 

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