The journey from university to relevant professional employment is rarely easy and almost always full of hurdles and hidden pitfalls. But with professional services vacancies up by 29%, fresh graduate talent now has a real chance to seize opportunity and get a foot on the career ladder. We interviewed Danielle Ross, recent Staffordshire University graduate and Finance Assistant at Uniting Ambition, to find out how she launched her finance career straight out of university.
Why did you want to pursue a career in finance?
Even though I’ve always had a head for numbers I didn’t actually plan a finance career – it just so happened that I found out how much I was suited to the industry whilst at university. I studied a degree in Business, which was mostly a strategic choice on my part as it kept my options open. Many of the modules that went towards my degree were finance based, and it was these modules that I generally enjoyed the most and performed the best in. I then started to pick more and more finance modules wherever I could, so it was really from there that my interest in graduate finance jobs developed.
How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve had a mixture of good luck and hard work to win my current position. I worked part-time whilst studying for my degree in a handy Receptionist role at Keele University. As a Receptionist working in a busy business hub, I got to know different employers and professionals and built relationships over time. I’d mentioned my degree and interest in finance jobs whilst chatting, and was offered to come in for an interview for an entry-level admin/finance role at Uniting Ambition.
Fortunately, I passed the interview and got my first break in finance. Even though I was only working one day a work alongside my university course, I started putting what I was learning about commercial finance into practice and building up my skills.
When I completed my degree with first class honours, Uniting Ambition offered to put me on a part-time AAT course whilst coming to work for the company as a Finance Assistant on a full-time basis. I was pretty lucky in that I landed a job in finance straight out of university, and was also offered the opportunity to extend my qualifications.
I’m still learning both on the job and on my AAT course, and will (hopefully!) become qualified after passing my final examinations in August. It’s already been a whirlwind journey and I’m still only just at the start of it!
What are the challenges and rewards of your job?
It’s great to have a job where I can use the knowledge I picked up at university, and I enjoy the element of constantly learning new things. One of the biggest rewards is the opportunity I have to develop my career – my AAT course and my job work hand in hand and both feed into the other to help sharpen my skills. Plus, it can be pretty great getting strong feedback from third parties after you’ve helped solved their finance related issues.
Finance jobs certainly aren’t without their challenges, however, and the demanding workload can be difficult to manage effectively at times. You have to learn quite a lot in a fast-paced environment, and are constantly driven by deadlines which adds an element of pressure to the role.
What skills do you need to have to succeed in a finance job?
Although I think academic skills are important, I don’t think you necessarily need a degree to succeed in finance jobs. You need to be numerate and keen to learn, but much of this learning can be done on the job whilst working towards relevant industry qualifications.
Outside of academia, you also need to have great communication skills to succeed in finance. It’s often my role to manage the expectations of customers, handle any complaints and liaise between customer and client to ensure business needs are met and financial terms are adhered to. Doing so requires a great deal of diplomacy, tact and skilled communication.
Due to the fast-paced nature of the job, you also have to be able to cope under pressure, work at an energetic rate and really apply yourself to the role. Dedication is key to success in finance jobs: you have to know what you want to achieve and graft until you get it.
Can you describe a typical day in the office?
In a word: hectic! A typical day would see me handling all company invoicing, payment runs and general banking to make sure the business can run efficiently. You have to conduct thorough daily checks on what money has come in to the company money and what money has gone out, then you have to forward plan for business needs. On top of that there’s things like credit control, credit card spend and payroll to keep on top of every day…it can sometimes seem like an endless blur of invoices, charts and spreadsheets!
Are there any particular achievements that you’re proud of?
On a personal level, I’m proud of my first class degree as I worked really hard for it. Speaking more professionally, landing a job straight after university is also one of my big achievements in life, and rising to the challenge of working full time whilst also studying part-time was no mean feat!
In your opinion, is it better for finance graduates to work in practice or industry?
For people like me who don’t take the traditional route into finance jobs, working in industry is a great way of climbing the career ladder. For those who do follow a more traditional path, I’d recommend starting off in practice at first as it’s a great way to build up experience and work for many clients. It’s quite difficult to make a career move from industry to practice, but much easier to do the opposite. So, starting off in practice to acquire an overall view of accounting would be preferable for most graduates, and then afterwards you can always move to industry to make more money and get real exposure to business.