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University of Western Australia
Andrew studied Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Economics at The University of Western Australia, 2014
Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a little about your background in regards to your education and employment?
I lived in Perth for the first 23 years of my life for school and university. I started university with an engineering and commerce degree and soon discovered engineering wasn’t the field for me. After a microeconomics class with an inspiring professor I swapped engineering for economics and haven’t looked back.
During university breaks I had several short internships with various accounting firms to understand what accounting looked like beyond the textbooks. When I graduated, I turned down a job offer with an accounting firm to live and work abroad in Canada. I originally planned to be there for six months but I ended up staying for the full two-year work visa.
I had several jobs in Canada, which included working as a ski lift operator, pizza cook and bank teller. The experience cemented a desire to work in a finance or accounting role that would challenge me to continually develop. Currently I’m working through the Chartered Accountant program, which Downer is supporting me to complete.
How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?
After returning from Canada I applied for the Downer Graduate Program in December 2016. After completing the initial phone interview, I was selected to attend the graduate assessment centre and was successfully accepted into the graduate program. My first rotation commenced in March 2017 in the Sydney head office and I’ve now been in the program for a year and a half. The finance graduate program offers four six-month rotations throughout Downer with my first three rotations giving me the opportunity to take on roles within our Group Finance Transformation, Rail Through Life Support business and internal audit division. My final rotation has seen Downer support my relocation to Melbourne, working within our Transport and Infrastructure division head office.
How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?
The benefit of the Downer program was the flexibility provided by the four rotations. The program allows me to stay broad while I develop technical skills before selecting a specialisation.
What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?
The interview process included a phone interview and an assessment centre with group activities, a formal interview and presentations to executives. The interviews consisted of:
- behavioural-based questions: ‘When have you led a team?’, ‘How did you deal with a difficult situation in the workplace?’;
- technical questions: ‘What accounting standards do you know?’, ‘How proficient are you with Excel?’; and
- questions on Downer’s Pillars, in particular its Zero Harm policy: ‘How do you relate to the Pillars?’, ‘When have you demonstrated Zero Harm?’
I enjoyed how simple the process was. Minimal online questions and a phone interview instead of a video interview made me feel like Downer was actively interested in getting to know potential graduates. This carried through to the assessment centre with a presentation in front of divisional CFOs and executives.
What does your employer do?
Downer designs, builds and sustains assets, infrastructure and facilities and is the leading provider of integrated services in Australia and New Zealand. It has a history dating back over 150 years and approximately 56,000 employees across more than 300 sites.
What are your areas of responsibility?
This will depend on the role and business unit I rotate through. My responsibilities have ranged from posting accounting journals to assisting budget or forecast development, financial modelling, communicating with stakeholders, presenting to management groups and preparing reports from financial data. Managers have always actively involved me in the requirements of their role and I have been given the opportunity to cover their duties in their absence.
Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?
A typical work day will be determined by the rotation. Currently my role involves developing a cash forecasting model. Several reports from our financial system will be run into the model to predict our expected cash flows. This involves processing the information to an easily understood format and helping management to ask the right questions given the right data.
During my last rotation in internal audit I would typically visit the site for several days to conduct audit interviews. After the interviews we would document our findings and compile a management report. I participated in all stages of the audit process and often had several audits running at the same time.
What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?
The sheer number of potential career paths is overwhelming. There is a potential to specialise in a particular field, operate as a generalist accountant or a financial manager in a division, lead a small team with a specific skill set or progress to manage an entire division. The network you build from the rotations also opens up opportunities to work in familiar divisions under previous managers.
With the end of my program approaching, I value the freedom to choose my own path. One of the unique opportunities I was offered by Downer was to participate in the Jawun program. As part of this program I was seconded to an Indigenous not-for-profit located in Broome, Western Australia. The experience provided me with incredible insight into management of Indigenous businesses and the communities they support. It was empowering to apply and transfer the skills I had developed during the graduate program, to another company.
Could someone with a different background do your job?
There is a diverse range of finance graduates within Downer from both my intake and subsequent intakes. Most of the technical skills have been developed from the job and not my studies. I’m a firm believer that with the right mindset, any competency is achievable in time.
What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?
I would potentially be in Canada still working in banking.
What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?
If I can find a solution that saves people time or makes their life easier then I’ll always enjoy that task – whether through discussions, data analysis or a process change. As nerdy as it sounds, I love manipulating a bunch of spreadsheets to pull out an actionable piece of information.
What’s the biggest limitation of your job?
Being unable to see projects through to completion is a limitation of the program. Due to the difference in length between rotations and projects, there is a high chance you will start a project and rotate out of the division before it is complete. It can be frustrating to leave your hard work but also heartening if another graduate can continue from where you left.
Do you have to work on weekends? Are the stress levels high?
Month end has involved a few late finishes – as expected of any accounting role. Outside of that I’ve never felt a lot of stress in the workplace. Fortunately, I’ve not worked any weekends yet. I have been lucky that my managers have supported a work-life balance and provide extra responsibilities to challenge and develop me.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?
- Work while you’re at university. Summer internships in your field are great, but anywhere will do. The experiences you gain provide all the answers for behavioural-based interview questions and an understanding of your future job. For a Chartered Accountants you study while working full time, so get some practice in early.
- Learn how to work with other people. You might hate group projects but in the workplace your ability to work as part of a team is just as highly regarded as your technical skills.
- I know you can’t wait to graduate, but learning doesn’t ever stop. Read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and live a growth mindset.