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University of Western Australia
Associate at EY
Sarah McDougal studied a Bachelor of Science (Engineering Science) (Accounting) and is an associate at EY.
What's your name and job title? What did you study?
My name is Sarah McDougall and I am an associate in the assurance service line. I graduated in 2016 after studying a Bachelor of Science majoring in Engineering Science and Accounting.
Where did you grow up and go to school?
I was born in and grew up in Perth. I attended Perth College for my high school years and studied at The University of Western Australia.
How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?
I started in May 2017 and have been with EY for about 18 months now. I started my career through the Vacationer Program, which led me to gaining a graduate position once I graduated from university.
How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?
I began in audit because I thought this would give me the best foundation for my career – you get exposed to so many different businesses and industries. Before taking this position I was weighing up looking for engineering roles, however, I ultimately chose to take the EY offer because in audit you can really understand how different businesses work and obtain a diverse portfolio, which I know I will be able to use should I choose to change specialisations.
What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?
The interview process was a lot more relaxed than what I was expecting. There were a few situational questions where I was asked how I would react to certain situations, or whether I’d ever experienced specific social challenges. There were no technical questions as it was more of a general discussion to see whether I could see myself at EY and whether my interviewers could see this also.
Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? Are there any soft skills that would be beneficial for them to develop? Should they pursue any sort of work experience?
I would definitely say accounting is a useful degree to have if you wish to go into audit, although if you don’t have an accounting background there are bridging units that are available to be taken while you’re working so you can gain those skills. I think working in an environment where you have interactions with diverse people is a really good skill to have for this profession, as there are so many different clients who react to certain situations differently. It’s good to have an understanding of how to approach a variety of situations.
What does your employer do?
EY is a professional services organisation that provides services such as auditing, tax advice, legal advice and other strategy approaches to their clients.
What are your areas of responsibility?
My areas of responsibility are mainly around auditing the accounts that are lower risk, due to the fact I’ve only had about 18 months experience. However, I have had some exposure to higher risk, more difficult accounts on smaller jobs, which has been great for my development. As you gain more experience, you get a lot more opportunity to push yourself and take on more responsibility, which is really rewarding.
Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?
It’s difficult to describe a typical day in audit as each day can vary depending on what client you’re working on. For instance, one week you can be working on a small health services client where you get the opportunity to have a lot more client interaction, then the next you could be working on a large oil and gas client. Recently, I’ve been working on an aged care client that presents financial statements to their residents to ensure the revenue is being expended appropriately. This involves leveraging off some of the group work and testing the individual village income statement to obtain comfort over the balances presented to the residents.
What sort of person succeeds in your career?
The type of person who wants to constantly be learning something new. There is never a week in audit where you don’t learn a new technique or approach. You also have to be adaptable and have good teamwork skills, as you are constantly working with diverse teams and dealing with different clients.
What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?
As audit provides such a good foundation and allows you to learn about so many different industries and accounting standards, it gives you great opportunities to go into roles such as financial controllers and CFOs. There’s also the option to become a director or partner as your career progresses.
Could someone with a different background do your job?
Absolutely. There are a lot of people with different backgrounds working in audit, including geologists, lawyers and those with purely engineering degrees. Due to the internal support offered, you’re able to take bridging courses. You’re also provided with a lot of internal training that allows you to constantly improve your knowledge.
What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?
I love that I’m constantly learning new things and have a great support network around me. My favourite task would be performing substantive analytical procedures where you set expectations on balances based on your knowledge of the client and perform calculations to see whether the balances are materially correct.
What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you have to work on weekends? Are the stress levels high?
The biggest drawback would have to be the hours required during busy season. The stress levels can get quite high and you often have to work a bit longer than normal. However, as everyone is in the same boat, it’s definitely something you bond over with your co-workers. I can definitely say I’ve made some of the best friends while working here.
What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?
I would have loved to have gone into teaching so I probably would have tried to become a high school accounting teacher!
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?
- Set goals: long-term, medium-term and short-term goals. They don’t have to be career focused – they can be totally personal – but it’s so much easier to achieve what you want if you know what that is.
- Always try and see something from another person’s point of view. This has helped me when dealing with clients, team members and on a more personal level as well.
- Do what makes you happy.