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Matthew Lee at PWC

In todayís tough graduate market, individuals have to ensure they do everything possible to make sure they stand out from the crowd when starting their careers. It was with this in mind I knew I wanted to undertake a work placement, to give myself the best chance of having a successful graduate career.

As a result of my own research and also attending the graduate careers fair at the NEC (arranged by the university) I decided that I wanted to start my career as a Financial Auditor. I therefore targeted the Ďbig fourí firms and managed to land a placement with PWC, the biggest firm of the four. The support offered by university over my second year really helped to give me the best chance when looking for a suitable role.

I started my 11 month placement with a week induction at the East Midlands office as a group of 28 new joiners (5 were audit placements). This consisted of an introduction to the firm as well as numerous online and group activities, this week also helped everyone get to know their peers and set out the detail of where each chosen path would take us.

Even as a placement student with PWC, you complete the same amount of exams that count towards the ACA qualification as a first year graduate. This qualification ultimately leads to the individual becoming a chartered accountant. After the first week induction, 3 weeks are spent at Kaplan to complete the first 3 modules of the ACA. This ensures everyone has the same base knowledge before commencing work with clients. As all new starters attend college together this meant there was a good atmosphere while there and plenty of people to ask questions to if you didnít understand something. College time is a very intense period with a lot of information squeezed into a short space of time, so this was a really sharp learning curve but there was lots of support throughout including; knowledgeable tutors, online resources and all the relevant ICAEW text books provided. Although this is a hard few weeks the pass rates are very high, so this system does seem to work!

Throughout the placement you can complete 9 out of the 15 ACA modules. This is structured as follows; 3 modules over 3 weeks when you start (as mentioned above), 3 modules over 6 weeks during November/ December, a further 3 modules over 6 weeks during May/ June. This helps split up the working periods and gives you chance to apply the knowledge you have learnt before the next set of exams.

After completing college everyone starts client work in their relevant line of service. My time after college started with a few weeks in the office completing small tasks for numerous clients as well as shadowing more experienced staff, this helps get you up to speed with what you will be doing. After this office integration, my client engagements consisted of me going out to clients with a team of people generally for about a week at a time. This again was another sharp learning curve as it consisted of applying audit procedures consistently, having strong accounting knowledge in many areas and remaining professional with clients especially as they are usually much more knowledgeable than you in these early stages.

From January to March is known as busy season and this is where the real work and personal development starts. Many large clients have a December year end and short reporting deadlines, which is why this period is so busy and time pressured. In this period you have to apply everything you have learnt over the past few months to get the job done and leave the client happy. Although this can be a tough couple of months you learn so much and you come out of it as a totally different person. Your audit knowledge will have grown massively as well as the development of other skills such as; time management, communication skills, ability to present data and professionalism.

After busy season you have a good understanding of audit and will start to be given harder areas to aid your development as well as be given the freedom to work more independently. For instance over the final few months of my placement, for a number of audits I was either the sole or most senior/ experienced person on the team and therefore responsible for getting the audit work done. You will also be responsible for coaching new joiners such as the summer interns.

Performance and development is assessed constantly with PWC through a feedback system that obtains feedback from each engagement you are involved with. This means that you can see exactly what you need to do to move forward, it also gives you evidence of your strong performances and achievements. This ensures strong performance doesnít go unnoticed.

Future prospects with the firm are excellent too, as once you have qualified as a chartered accountant you can second into a different line of service such; as Tax, Transaction services and Forensic Accounting plus many more. As well as this, being a global firm there is the opportunity to take your career anywhere in the world. For instance a friend of mine at the firm has just moved to the Cayman Islands to continue his career tax free and in the sun.

However the job is not all about work, in fact there were more social activities during the placement than I can count. There are a large number of socials in the first couple of months to help you settle in and build relationships within the firm. Socials over the year included; fully paid meals, nights at an upmarket bar with a huge tab for PWC staff, cocktail mixology classes and a night at the dogs plus many more. This helped to maintain a good work-life balance which is so important when working in any professional career.

The best part of all though, was that I and the other 4 placement students at my office were all offered a job as a graduate. Also as I will go back as a second year graduate, I have not lost any time by undertaking a placement. Based on my experience I would recommend a placement to anyone as even if you donít get a job offer, you will have some fantastic real world experience to add to your CV.