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    Introducing Josh Perks – what is it like to be an Early Starter?

  • Posted on March 7, 2018 by


    When I first found out that I’d passed the NAO assessment centre, I was obviously really happy, but then I discovered the opportunity to start early in January, before the rest of my intake. Initially, I was unsure what to make of the position. Getting vital experience before exams start seemed like a huge advantage, while the full salary was also very attractive, but what would my responsibilities be when I hadn’t had any official training? Would I fit in without having other members of a cohort to discuss things with?

    I decided that it was definitely worth it, and I’m incredibly glad that I did. A month in, I’ve already had some excellent grounding in the work that the NAO do, as well as a lot of fun in general! I was dropped into meetings straight away, which sounds daunting, but they made it clear from the outset that there were no expectations of me to do anything outside my comfort zone. My team were also eager to introduce themselves and help me settle in. A couple of other early starters began at the same time as me in London, so I haven’t been completely on my own in terms of a cohort either, with more starting in February and March.

    In terms of work, I’ve been tasked with activities that are achievable, but not meaningless. I’ve also received some important training into how to use excel (something I’ve been told that I will learn to love), and double-entry bookkeeping (something that I’ve been told I need to get used to whether I like it or not). As someone with zero accountancy knowledge or expertise prior to starting, it’s been very helpful! It also helps me get ahead of the game for when college starts in September.

    In just my third week, I was out on audit with some of my team. This was a great insight into how government organisations are run and the NAO’s role in making sure they fulfil their role correctly. I was given real responsibility from the first day, but wasn’t alone, with support from my manager and the other trainees. While I was just shadowing members of the team as they dealt officially with the client’s staff, I did carry out some of the sample tests myself behind the scenes.

    The next few months should be as exciting as my first. I’m getting involved in a high-profile VfM study, as well as carrying out some other audits with the different teams in my cluster. After these projects, final audit season begins, which should be challenging but interesting! Ultimately, if you’re reading this and considering whether to go for the early starter scheme, I can definitely recommend it. Especially so if, like me, you’re interested in government but don’t know the first thing about accounting. I’ve gained some vital grounding in audit before the exams kick off, as well as accountancy more broadly!

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  • Introducing the Data Science internship

  • Posted on November 10, 2017 by

    Michael Gayler

    The NAO has recently introduced a Data Science internship, allowing people to participate in a year long scheme working with our Value for Money teams. Successful candidates will spend most of their time applying strong quantitative and qualitative analytical skills, to build and implement analytical tools to support our range of assurance work. Michael Gayler joined us in September as one of three interns, here’s how he’s getting on.

    What attracted you to the NAO?

    I am doing a Maths degree at University and it allows me to take a year out between my second and third year to gain work experience. I wanted to do this because I went straight from 6th form to university and as well as taking a break from studying, I wanted the opportunity to extend my knowledge of applying Maths in practice.

    I applied for several placements and I was particularly attracted to the NAO as it seemed like a unique opportunity to work within an organisation that has a reputation for being at the forefront of innovation in auditing and analysis (along with and sometimes more so than the big four).

    Being located in Victoria is a bonus as it allows me to explore central London and is close to the Houses of Parliament.

    What was the recruitment process like?

    It was a two stage process: submission of a CV and cover letter followed by a one day assessment centre for those who were shortlisted.

    In the covering letter, we were asked to provide detailed answers regarding aptitude and competencies that were specifically tailored to working at the NAO. An example of this was having to submit a computerised model of complex analysis that I had used previously and explaining its workings.

    The assessment centre included:-

    • An overview and introduction to the NAO in the form of a Q&A with some current employees and trainees.
    • An observed group exercise.
    • An excel competency assessment that tested our ability to model information quickly and efficiently under timed conditions.
    • A one-to-one interview which included a discussion and test of our model.

    First two months.

    In the first two months the three of us who were successful in getting the placement have gone through a lot of training and guidance. We have spent a month learning to program in R using DataCamp, an online training environment, and a syllabus provided by the NAO. This has been very useful to learn as the use of R is becoming more important for the NAO to try and streamline and aid efficiency in financial audit and VFM studies.

    I found the R training challenging, but rewarding as I did not have much experience with programing before. DataCamp was (for the large part) a very engaging learning tool, giving us clear instructions to work with and allowing us to actually write real code as opposed to just reading about it.

    In the second month we got to put our skills into practice by making an R program and then later an interactive application built using R Shiny. I found this to be an extremely valuable experience because it allowed me to put my learning into practice and see the challenges of using real-world data sets. We also had to present our code and application to the team and had to explain how and why we chose to approach the problem like we did.

    Challenges and support.

    Having to get up early every day of the week and facing the London commute and then work for 7/7.5 hours a day is a big change from the more relaxed setting of Uni. The first couple of weeks were challenging but you quickly get into a routine. This has been aided by the people I’ve been working with and the office environment and the fact the work is interesting and diverse.

    The NAO have been very supportive in this transition with a clear management structure and willingness from everyone to help and explain acronyms.

    What next?

    The NAO has a clear structure of objective setting that you do with your manager so that they know what you want to achieve and can help you with it as well as ensuring your work is aligned with the requirements of the job and team.

    I have been integrated into the new Data Analytics Research Team (DART) and I will be able to work on projects which will have an impact on the entire office. I am looking forward to increasing the effectiveness of my work at the NAO and meeting new people within the organisation. The skills and experience I am gaining will serve me well in the future and certainly in my final year of university and dissertation.

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  • Introducing the Summer Internship – Kevser Tekagac and Fis Noibi

  • Posted on September 5, 2017 by

    fis and kevsar

    Every year the NAO hosts a 9 week Summer Internship aimed at second year university students from a diverse range of backgrounds, and is a great opportunity for those interested in audit and accounting. Kevser is currently studying Maths at Queen Mary University and Fis is studying French and Arabic at the University of Oxford. They are both penultimate year students who completed a 9 week summer internship at the NAO and took part in a graduate assessment centre for the opportunity to join the 2018 trainee intake.

    Why did you apply?

    K: I applied for the summer internship because I am interested in auditing, and in particular public sector audit. I hope to study for the ACA and their 91% pass rate at the advanced stage was very encouraging. There is also a lot of flexibility around study leave to ensure that the assistant auditors can prepare for their exams.

    What advice would you give to young people wanting to apply?

    K: It’s important to tailor your application to the NAO competencies. There are 8 in total, which can all be found on the official website. Make sure you demonstrate these throughout the application process with plenty of examples.

    How did you make the most of the internship?

    F: Be yourself – YOU are your biggest selling point. Be confident in the value that you bring to the table, in terms of your previous experience, your ideas, your skills and your strengths! People will appreciate your authenticity rather than listening to you sound rehearsed.

    K: Take on challenges – Once you are here, enjoy the experience and take on challenges like doing team meeting presentations. Everyone on your team will be happy to hear about your experiences, and even any recommendations that you might have. This will encourage you to come out of your comfort zone and will be an amazing opportunity for you to develop your personal skills.

    F: Feel free to ask questions – From very technical questions like “Where do you see the NAO in ten years?” to even asking what acronyms mean (you will hear the words C&AG at least once a day!), you shouldn’t feel afraid to be upfront about not knowing something. The information you can gain from working at the NAO is very wide-ranging and I know personally that some of the knowledge I’ve gained will most definitely be taken forward with me because it’s so relevant to other areas of life.

    What are things that you wish you’d known before coming to the NAO?

    K: More insight into the teams we are allocated to – Although we did receive some information about the different clusters at the NAO, a more personalised email highlighting the roles of our own departments could have been more useful.

    F: Working styles – There are a variety of ways to work while at the NAO. In some office environments, it can be easy to fall into one specific way of working and that is silently! However, it’s perfectly acceptable at the NAO to work in whichever way you feel comfortable, be that with headphones plugged in, speaking with team members around you or totally silent with your head down. All of these ways are totally respected!

    What did you enjoy the most?

    K: I enjoyed leading my own project with the MESH team – I was given a lot of responsibility early on and this encouraged me to step up and get out of my comfort zone. Having no previous knowledge around accounting estimates and methods of auditing, I managed to pick up so much in a short amount of time with the support of other NAO staff. During this project I had to meet MESH leads, who were often managers, to discuss the accounting estimates/models. This significantly improved my confidence.

    What is the most interesting thing that you’ve learnt here?

    F: I was interested to learn that there are opportunities to travel abroad while working at the NAO. As a modern languages student, I was pleasantly surprised that it would be possible to put my knowledge of different languages and cultures to use, because of the wide potential for international audit work here.

    What do you hope to see added to the internship in the future?

    More intern projects K and F: We have really enjoyed collaborating to write this blog post and we also took the initiative to film a video with the other interns of our experience at the NAO. These group exercises were great for building up our personal skills, such as good teamwork, planning and organisational skills, ambition and presentation skills. We really think the inclusion of more intern projects would be a good idea for next year as it’s been a lot of fun but we’ve also ending up producing lasting things that we’re really proud of and we can take these accomplishments away with us, feeling that we’ve really added value to the NAO.

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  • Trainee-in-waiting: Miranda Lee

  • Posted on August 28, 2017 by

    Newc office

    Miranda, why did you apply to the NAO?

    After I left university I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to, I just knew that I wanted a job that made a difference but also would set me up for a structured career. The NAO was the perfect fit for me, combining working with the public sector and charities and whilst gaining a world respected qualification in the ACA.

    At the NAO, there is such a large range of clients and areas and I think it’s cool to be able to say I could be working on everything from farming to the MOD to the British Museum. I was also very attracted by the NAO’s impressive stats on their pass rate, higher than any of the Big Four, which seems indicative of the supportive work environment that the NAO prides itself on.

    How did you find the NAO’s recruitment process (compared to others)?

    When I applied the online tests were very similar to other accountancy firms and the NAO’s section on skills and experiences was very structured and clear on which competencies they were looking for so you could really tailor your answers.

    The assessment day really stood out for me at the NAO. It was quite a full-on day but was much more relaxed than I was expecting. I had heard rumours that some firms continue to access you during breaks at assessment days but this was not the case at the NAO so meant as applicants we could relax. I think this really helped me keep calm and do my best in all the tasks as well as get to know quite a few people who I will be working with come September.

    What do you wish you knew about us before you applied?

    During lunchtime at the assessment day we received a powerpoint about the NAO where we could ask questions informally to a member of staff who had already completed the grad scheme. It was interesting to find out that there are plenty of opportunities to travel both around the UK and even do secondments abroad.

    Any tips for next year’s applicants?

    My tips would be to look closely at the NAO’s core competencies and think about times where you’ve demonstrated those. Make sure your examples are as clear as possible.

    I would also highly recommended researching the ACA exams – they are tough exams and at the NAO you will do six exams in your first 4 months so you start studying straight away. Just make sure you’re ready to study alongside work for at least another three years.

    I would also recommend looking at the NAO reports and in the news for stories on public spending, unsurprisingly there are quite a lot at the moment. It will give you a good chance to see how reports are written as well as inform you on the areas that the NAO audits.

    What are you looking forward to when joining us in September?

    I am going to be working in the Newcastle office so that means a moving to a new city for me which I am very excited about.

    I am looking forward to meeting the rest of the grads in my intake and also everyone else already on the grad scheme as well as getting involved with as much stuff as I can, both in and outside of work.

    I am also really looking forward to finding out my cluster and in which sector I will working on first. I am also quite excited to start learning again after having a year off after university but I am a bit nervous for the exams…

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  • Trainee-in-waiting: Stuart Costello

  • Posted on August 23, 2017 by

    trainees at lunch

    Stuart, why did you apply to the NAO?

    My first interaction with the NAO was at a final year careers fair at my university. I came away with a clear impression of the NAO’s purpose and vision and interested to find out more. Whilst at university and post graduation, my employment background was in publicly funded bodies and I found that a recurring issue under discussion was how to make the most effective use of our funding. Realising the importance of this issue within public funded bodies, I found myself drawn to applying to the NAO because I felt a career with the NAO would allow me to contribute to having a larger impact in this matter.

    How did you find the NAO’s recruitment process (compared to others)?

    From my experience of graduate application processes, the initial stages were fairly similar to other roles I had applied for. One massive difference was the turnaround period of my application: with the NAO the entire process took me from October to January, while with other applications I had filled in at the same time I was still waiting for them to reply to my initial application.

    Going to assessment centre was also different from other organisations. Firstly, the staff you met were people you would be interacting and working with if successful, so to me if felt much more like there was a community within the NAO. Secondly, the assessment centre had a really friendly atmosphere so it made aspects of the day, such as the interview, feel more enjoyable and less nerve-wracking. I felt like I was having a conversation rather than an interview.

    What do you wish you knew about us before you applied?

    As I mentioned earlier, it was a really nice surprise discovering the community vibe of the NAO at the assessment centre. Having seen other organisations at assessment centres, the NAO was the only organisation (for me) that had a personable atmosphere the second you walked through the door. This was further reinforced by meeting members of staff and current graduates, as well as the explanation of the cluster hierarchy and their scope of work.

    At the assessment centre, the current graduates also discussed the opportunity to express a preference of cluster allocation during your time at the NAO. Again, this was a pleasant discovery as it reiterated to me the supportive nature of the NAO.

    Any tips for next year’s applicants?

    Know your competencies. Many of my interview questions were centred around them and how I demonstrated them in my life so having a good understanding of them with real examples is key. During my interview I was also asked several questions relating to public services. I felt more confident with these answers when I gave my honest answer (there was probably no single ‘right answer’) while still looking objectively at the question.

    Finally, I’d advise you to get to know your fellow applicants on the day of the assessment centre. You’re all in the same boat so it can be quite reassuring to have company. Moreover, it makes group elements of the day easier if you already have a rapport, hopefully allowing an overall better group performance.

    What are you looking forward to when joining us in September?

    Since getting my offer I’ve been working in a school and have had plenty of time to prepare for this position. With September nearly here, I really can’t wait to meet my new colleagues, join my cluster and really get stuck into the role!

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