Graduate stories: My experience in a Big Four grad scheme

A picture of a man and a woman in graduation gowns, outside of University.

Katie is an engineering mathematics graduate, currently enrolled in an audit grad scheme in one of the Big Four companies. Read her blog post to learn how she got there, how she’s finding it, her plans for the future, and advice for anyone considering a grad scheme.

How I got here

I chose to do a degree in engineering mathematics, as I have always been good at maths-based subjects. My least favourite aspect of my degree was the coding, so I’d often assume a leadership or planning role with group coding projects to avoid it. Alongside this, I knew I enjoyed working with people, so I felt a career in finance would be more fulfilling to me than one in engineering.

“Almost every sector needs an accountant!”

At the start of my final year of university, I applied to a few different grad schemes in areas related to finance. I secured a place on my Audit grad scheme by applying for the company’s 3-day long Women in Business internship (they also offer a Black Talent in Business internship). The internship gave me an insight into what the industry entails, as I had no idea what audit was before applying (if you’re wondering- it’s basically assessing the accuracy of companies’ financial statements).

After the internship, there was no further application process for the grad scheme, as like many large corporations, the company does the same assessment process whether you’re applying for a grad scheme or an internship. This included a really hard balloon-popping game which seemed like it had nothing to do with finance at all! Make sure you practise selection tests like this if you’re applying for a grad scheme.

“I was the youngest on my grad scheme. Many people have years of experience in retail or hospitality”

What’s next

A lot of people apply for this kind of grad scheme as it gives you the ACA or equivalent qualification, which qualifies you to be a chartered accountant. This is obviously beneficial for your career prospects and earning potential. I am not sure yet where being a chartered accountant will take me as it does open many doors. Almost every sector needs an accountant!

A picture of a woman sitting in her office.

Luckily, I won’t be qualified until 2025 so I have a long time to learn more and see what interests me most, especially in audit, working with many different companies on their finances. At the minute I’m obsessed with motorsport and the automotive industry so I would love to become an accountant in this field, or I may stay with my current company if that’s where I feel is best for myself and my career.

My advice for anyone considering a career in finance, or a grad scheme

You don’t need to rush into a grad scheme

Coming straight out of university, I was surprised to find I was the youngest on my grad scheme. Many people have years of experience in hospitality or retail before joining, so I wouldn’t panic about going straight into it if you’re unsure at the minute.

Beneficial flexibility in location

Large companies will have a lot of different offices in different cities. My role offered the flexibility of locations between the internship and the job offer which is helpful especially as many graduates don’t know whether to stay in Bristol, move home, or try out a new city altogether.

The exams can be hard

Studying for a prestigious qualification requires a level of knowledge and a lot of work. The ACA consists of 15 exams over 3 years whilst working. I definitely did not hit the ground running with these, especially coming from a non-finance background. After 3 years of Covid and online open-book exams, I was used to a different way of learning, so I found closed-book, classroom exams very difficult. I failed one of my certificate-level exams twice which really knocked my confidence. Normally companies like this are quite ruthless to those who fail exams. However, I was supported by the people around me and offered another chance and a more senior member of staff even stayed after work to help me.

Prepare for fluctuations in demand

My job is both very intense and very relaxed. I feel it comes in waves of feeling overwhelmed and smooth sailing. It is very much about finding the balance and doing the work when you have less to do, to help yourself out in the future.

Don’t forget it’s not just the Big Four if you are interested in accountancy careers. Mid-tier firms offer a similar career path. Or you could consider working in-house if you want something less structured.

For further information on careers and training in accountancy check out professional associations including the ICAEW and CIMA.

Finally, you may wish to take a look at a related blog on How to get into Finance – Top Tips.