School: Bromley High School
Emma Mason is a 22 year old Corporation Tax Assistant at Baker Tilly – a leading provider of accountancy and finance services.
Like many students Emma went to university after finishing her A Levels but soon realised it wasn’t for her. She dropped out and started an accounting apprenticeship while studying through AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians).
Why did you choose to join a school leaver scheme?
I went to a private school in Bromley, I got good grades and it went without saying that I was supposed to go to university. So like many other students, I didn’t think twice about enrolling in a Bachelor of Science at Bath University.
However, it didn’t take me long to realise university life wasn’t for me. It was quite a big step for me to leave university, especially when all my other friends were there. But today I can confidently say that university isn’t always the best option when starting a career and securing your dream job.
When I was 19, I heard about AAT which offered an alternative route into the field of finance and accountancy. I saw this as the perfect ‘stepping stone’, it didn’t require a degree and I would benefit from earning a salary whilst learning on the job.
What was the application process like – any advice?
The application process for most top accountancy firms can be daunting but this shouldn’t put anyone off. The processes are long because most positions are very popular with school leavers and graduates. Naturally firms want to ensure they get the right people for the job.
I heard about the Baker Tilly apprenticeship scheme before I started my AAT studies. The application process involved:
- Completing an online application form for the school leaver stream.
- Completing an online psychometric test designed for school leavers.
- Attending an assessment day which involved having an interview with a senior manager and/or partner and a group exercise with the other candidates.
I was lucky enough to get a position at Baker Tilly which meant that once I started studying, my course fees were covered and I was given time off to study one day per week.
My advice for anyone going through a similar process would be to take your time with each level. It can be tempting to rush into completing the online form or tests but if you’re not successful at the first stage then it’s unlikely you’ll get a second chance.
You can also download some sample psychometric tests to get a feel of the process before starting.
What attracted you to your industry?
I was attracted to the idea that having a background in finance, or at least a detailed understanding of finance, is useful in whatever career you move into. Finance and accounting is the backbone of every business and so having a qualification within the industry makes you an important asset to any organisation.
What are your main duties?
When I was studying AAT I worked in audit which involved going out to visit clients all the time. This meant I did a lot of travelling and that was one of the main aspects I enjoyed most about the job. I was also given the opportunity to manage teams which meant I had to delegate and assign work to others to ensure our projects were completed on time and to a high quality.
I’ve since moved into corporate tax which involves more office work but allows me to work with clients to advise them on effective tax planning. I also prepare tax computations for corporate clients and sometimes go out to their offices to discuss tax issues directly with them.
What challenges have you come across and how did you overcome these?
It was difficult to join an organisation as the only school leaver, where everyone else was either a graduate or had been employed full time for a number of years. Coming straight out of school into the workplace can be scary but I found that people showed me respect as I had made a decision that was right for me rather than following the crowd, or continuing with something I didn’t enjoy.
Another challenge I encountered was the requirement to work and study in the evenings. Going from an environment where I was studying all day to one where I would work all day and then study in the evenings was a bit of a shock. However, I’m a big believer in maintaining a balanced lifestyle so I organised a timetable for work, study and free time which was useful.
Do you have any advice for someone seeking to join a school leaver scheme?
I’ve finished my AAT and I can now say that I have a respected and well-recognised qualification, no university debt and three and a half years’ experience in the finance sector. How many university graduates can say this?
What’s more is that once I finished my AAT qualification, I got a pay rise and have chosen to carry on studying to chartered status. By working within the office environment and applying the knowledge I’ve picked up through AAT, I feel more confident than those who have entered the workplace straight from university.