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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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  • Trainee-in-waiting: Nora Natova

  • Posted on August 18, 2017 by

    Newcastle Office

    Nora, why did you apply to the NAO?

    As an Accounting graduate and someone who has always had an interest in public affairs, I thought that the NAO would be the perfect place for me to pursue a career in Accounting. I have always wanted to be able to make a positive impact on society, which is why I initially appreciated the work of the NAO, as it is both impactful and influential. I felt that I could potentially make a real difference by working with government bodies to help the improvement of public services and how taxpayers’ money is spent.

    I strongly believe that working for the NAO will keep me motivated throughout my career, the satisfaction of which I did not believe I could receive in a private sector company. In addition, as a trainee, you will receive the opportunity to study towards the ACA qualification, rather than a more public sector orientated one such as CIPFA. This is something that further intrigued me as an Accounting graduate, because you can find ICAEW charted accountants in all sectors and industries!


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

    Overall, I was extremely satisfied with the recruitment process. I moved quite fast through the different stages, in comparison to other companies where I found myself stuck in the process for months, which I personally found really discouraging. I would like to outline that right from the start of the process, the NAO makes it quite clear that it looks for eight competencies in every successful candidate. This was evident throughout all three stages of the process, which also made it easier to really think about your strengths and how you can demonstrate those key competencies in practice. The telephone interview was very relaxed and the interviewer made you feel really comfortable, which I think made a really good impression about the organisation as a whole. I also found the assessment centre very enjoyable, as it was nothing compared to the ones I had previously attended. There was no competition! It did not seem to be rushed and we all had the chance to have a lovely lunch with some of the current graduates, which really did make you feel better halfway through the day! I received an offer within a couple of days and I found that the communication was really good throughout the whole process.


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

    As previously mentioned, at the assessment centre all candidates had the opportunity to speak to some of the current trainees. They really seemed to be enjoying their jobs which is something that made me even more motivated to do better during the rest of the day at the assessment centre. I think that the NAO would really allow me to have a good work-life balance which is important to me and I believe that other people would find that valuable to know too.


    Any tips for next year’s applicants?

    I think that all candidates need to make themselves familiar with the NAO’s eight competencies and really think about how they have demonstrated them in the past. This will be useful when completing the four competency based questions, in addition to the telephone interview and the assessment centre itself. I would make sure that I have a few different examples of how I have demonstrated those competencies in practice, but do not panic if you have not got any relevant work experience, as the interviewers know nothing about you! At the assessment centre, the director who interviewed me seemed really interested in what I had to say, which made me more comfortable to go in a little bit more detail, so do not be afraid to tell them everything that you want to say! If you are not an Accounting graduate, I would make myself familiar with what audit is all about and what the job of an auditor briefly involves, as well as the challenges/threats auditors could face. I think that knowing that little bit of extra information (which is in fact not necessary), will make the exercises at the assessment centre more enjoyable for all candidates!

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

    For me in particular, I look forward to meeting everyone at the NAO the most, especially the 70+ trainees who will be all starting their journey at the same time as me! I am very excited for our induction week in London, where all graduates will be attending. This will be an amazing opportunity to meet everyone! I am also looking forward to learning more about the NAO and what everyone does, as well as developing my strengths and acquiring a wide variety of new skills, whilst training to become a qualified charted accountant!

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  • Trainee-in-waiting: Keval Shah

  • Posted on August 14, 2017 by

    Start line

    Keval, why did you apply to the NAO?

    I first came to appreciate how the NAO affects public sector spending and policy, when carrying out a university project that led me to a recently published Value for Money (VFM) report on the government’s energy strategy. I realised that impacting on society in this way would be something that I would find both interesting and satisfying in my future career.

    From conducting more detailed research into the graduate scheme, it became apparent that the NAO was one of the best places to train as a chartered accountant. For me, the excellent work-life balance and the blend of experience provided by both financial auditing and Value for Money reporting, are what differentiate the NAO from private sector companies who also offer the ACA.

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

    The recruitment process left me with the impression that I was more than just a number, and this further reinforced my decision to join the organisation. My telephone interview was conducted with a member of the internal HR team who was knowledgeable about the work of the NAO, whilst the relatively small assessment centre (eight attendees) gave me the chance to genuinely connect with some of the current graduates and other employees who were present throughout the day. The outcomes at each stage were also communicated in a matter of days, which really helped to relieve some of the pressure from the search for a graduate job!

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

    As a trainee, you are placed into one of six clusters, each of which represent a different area of government. This means that the scope of the work carried out by the NAO is especially broad, the extent of which I was only able to fully comprehend after meeting some of the employees. They possessed a diverse range of backgrounds, having studied or trained in various disciplines, from health to international development.

    Any tips for next year’s applicants?

    The director interviewing you at the assessment centre will not have read your application or know anything about your experiences *, so make sure to be thorough when demonstrating your alignment to the eight key competency areas. Don’t be afraid to explain the situation in detail when giving examples, as the directors are genuinely interested in getting to know you better!

    At the assessment centre, I also found that it helped to interact with as many people as possible outside the different assessed elements that took place. This included the fellow candidates, the trainees who joined us at lunch, the HR staff and even the assessors themselves. Although this can be somewhat daunting, it made the whole day more enjoyable and feel less like a competitive assessment.

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

    Getting to know the rest of my intake will be an exciting prospect. Having a group of people in a similar position, when it comes to attending college and sitting the first professional exams, will no doubt lead to some strong relationships being built.

    Given the ongoing changes in government expenditure, I am also looking forward to being in a fast-paced environment, where I can progress quickly and learn from some of the brightest minds in the field.

    *Note from HR: The NAO have introduced blind recruitment which means the assessors and interviewers will receive first names only and will have no background information on candidates e.g. school attended/work experience. We have confidence in the fairness of our recruitment process but value the opportunity to underline our commitment to eliminating the potential for bias in all its forms.

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  • My Journey So Far…

  • Posted on June 29, 2017 by


    I have officially now been with the NAO for 9 months, however my experience has been a little different to most graduates…

    Having taken a good couple months to myself to recharge and recuperate after a tough final year at uni, I was ready and raring to go at the beginning of my journey at the NAO. The first week was induction week, jam packed with a lot of fun activities and quite a lot of information to take in. I found this a great opportunity to get acquainted with the rest of the intake as pretty much everyone is in the same boat. It was really interesting to see the variety of different backgrounds, ranging from music, to history, to computer science and so on and so forth. I kind of expected there to be more people from the same background as myself, accounting, but the variety was a pleasant surprise!

    For the following 2 weeks, college was the plan in order to study for 2 of the certificate level exams, Accounting and Assurance. College is exactly like uni except turning up is not optional! Our college days would start at 9am and finish around 4.30pm. The tuition centre provide plenty of material at the beginning of the course and the tutors are extremely helpful with any queries and questions. Classes are quite small, providing a better opportunity to ask questions on anything you’re unsure about. Once you get home from college, there are online video tutorials available to go over if you need to recap and plenty of questions to go through. Outside of class, fellow members of the intake are 99.9% of the time happy to help with course questions which is always nice!

    Unfortunately for me, after one week of college, I got really unwell and I was off work for around 6 months. Long story short, I now have a stoma. It was a tough period for me personally as I had just started my professional career and it was a shame to be out for so long. The NAO supported me really well throughout this period, not rushing me but instead making sure I recovered 100% before even discussing my return. The “get well” card I received from my team was a small gesture but for me it was a really nice touch which came at the right time! When I finally had got cleared to work, plans and adjustments were made for me based on the recommendations of my occupational health reports. I was on a phased return to help me ease into the swing of things; so I first started on two days a week, then 3 days and so on till I became full time. College dates have been adjusted for me but I am lucky in that sense as I have 7 exemptions from uni!

    In my first 2/3 months back so far, everyone has been extremely helpful and understanding! We are currently in the midst of busy season so a great time to return with lots of interesting work to be done. I am presently working on Network Rail, one of the larger audits in the department. It has been such a big learning curve so far, there are so many things to take in and learn! I am constantly asking questions to improve my understanding and, to the credit of my team, their patience has been incredible. My colleagues have always been on deck to provide assistance when needed. I’ve really enjoyed the early exposure to client meetings and client sites. Next month I will be in Edinburgh for a week on the General Lighthouse Fund audit so I’m looking forward to that!

    Although my first 9 months haven’t gone quite as I envisaged, I have enjoyed my time so far at the NAO. I look forward to cracking on and completing a few exams before the year end!


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  • The social side of being a trainee – it’s not all work!

  • Posted on June 14, 2017 by


    When people ask what the best thing about the NAO is, my usual response is to say that it’s the people. For me in particular, it’s the 70+ new trainees that start with you when you start the scheme in September.

    I graduated in July 2016 and like most of my university friends started a new life in London. I have noticed for some of my friends it has been difficult starting a new job when there are either no or few people your age working there. This is not a problem at the NAO.

    The majority of trainees are twenty-somethings and the 2016 intake is a keen bunch. When we’re not scattered across the country at our clients, we usually spend Friday evening in the pub, drinking a few lemonades or cocktails, chilling out and playing a few games of darts (potentially the worst group of darts players you’ll ever see).

    At lunchtime in the office, there’s always someone to sit with in the office canteen. There’s a big group that will be there everyday. At the same time, there are those that may eat with their smaller teams, or in peaceful tranquillity. Everyone is catered for.

    College is a time to make friends. In your first three months, you’ll spend six weeks going to college with your intake. We were split into two groups of 30 and I won’t lie, it was hard work and there were days I was completely clueless. We were in it together though. You’ll bond over debits and credits and other accounting jargon thrown at you. No matter how badly the morning goes, you can go out for an unwinding lunch together. I’ve made some great friends at college.

    Of course, being part of a big social group is not for everyone. Smaller groups form and some trainees are happy to turn up for the job, or college, and have a life completely outside of NAO colleagues. The scheme is a great opportunity to meet new people, no matter how introverted or extroverted you are. In your audit teams, there will be people of varying ages. You’re likely to find friends no matter where you are in your life.

    Outside the working week, a number of us have arranged fun activities. A big group of us went to the CASSL ball together and almost all of us went to the office Christmas party, where we filled the dancefloor and packed out a karaoke booth. I arranged white water rafting for my birthday and put a team together for a mixed netball tournament and a colour run. Earlier in the year, I played in the tag rugby team. In the netball and rugby, we didn’t win much – but it was so much fun regardless!

    It’s been great to meet so many new people and we’re always looking for new, exciting events and activities to do. I’m currently trying to do every Olympic sport before Tokyo 2020 so if you do join the NAO – get in touch if there’s something you’ve always wanted to try. 

    I hope this gives a flavour of how you can make the most of your time at the NAO and in London. Use the comment boxes to ask any questions.

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  • About this blog

    The NAO graduate blog is here to help students prepare for a place on our graduate training scheme. Find out what it's like to work at the NAO: We are a team of six current trainees giving you a real insight into our roles. Feel free to add your own comments or questions to our posts!