Gemma – History

Gemma studied history at Bristol University and graduated in July 2013. By September she was a graduate trainee with EY’s Assurance team in London.

When did you start thinking about employers and your career, and what did you do to set the ball rolling?

“I always knew I wanted to work in the world of finance because my family are all in finance and my mind-set is aligned to it.

“My dad has his own finance company and I remember him showing me spreadsheets when I was young, and when I was sixteen I did a week’s work experience at one of the Big Four firms but not EY.

“At university I went to a number of campus events about finance careers, but the pub quiz event held by EY was by far the most engaging, mainly because the people from EY were switched-on and genuine.”


What made you realise you could get a job at EY with a history degree, and what drew you to EY in particular?

“Before going to university, I had long chats with my family and with friends in finance about the pros and cons of doing an accounting degree.

“I concluded that I’d be better off gaining more rounded skills by studying an academic subject that interested me.

“As long as I went to a good university and got a good grade – that’s what mattered. I could learn the accounting technicalities once I’d found the right employer.

“I wanted an employer that would take an interest in me as a person, but also challenge me, which is what EY did. 

“It wasn’t just a pub quiz. I told them I wanted to go into auditing and they really quizzed me about my motives.

“I found the challenge helpful because it sharpened my mind about why I wanted to become an auditor.

“Then, further down the line, when I was being interviewed by one of the partners at EY in London, I felt she was genuinely taking the time to know me.

“She was concerned less with my strengths and achievements – which had already been assessed – and more with who I was as a person.

“I liked that. So when she rang me to offer me the job, ten minutes after I’d left the interview, I gladly accepted. The personal touch definitely made a difference.”


What skills and experiences helped you through EY’s application and selection process?

“I’m always eager to be involved, and the system EY uses to assess graduates gave me the opportunity to show that.

“I was able to talk about my involvement with different committees at university and to show how my ability to work with others would be good for EY.

“I showed them that I’m interested in the news and what’s going on in the world. It's important within Assurance to be aware of the wider business climate and not just focused on the numbers.

“As part of the qualificiation process, nine out of 15 of the tests involved some form of essay writing. Being a history student, essay writing is second nature to me.

“I love history but I also love current affairs, and I like to make links between what happened in the past and what’s happening now because it can inform business strategy for tomorrow.”


What skills from your degree have you been able to transfer to your role at EY?

“The key skill I’ve transferred from my studies to the workplace is professional scepticism. It’s the first thing I bring to a source of information that requires my critical attention.

“If it’s a historical source, I ask myself…was this fact or was it propaganda? What interest group was behind it? Why was it generated?

“When I examine an audit source I do the same thing. Who put this document together? What was their motive? Why are they making the figures appear a certain way? What's behind this?

“I like professional scepticism – it works for me. It helps me to maintain professional standards and personal integrity.

“Another transferable skill is writing – turning essay writing into report writing – managing your time, working out what the lecturer, examiner or client is asking for, structuring an argument, presenting conclusions.

“I’m good at words and their meaning and I can concentrate for long periods of time on this kind of output.

“This is because I’ve been practising these skills for years – certainly throughout school and university – so transferring them to the world of work has been quite straightforward.

“I had the opportunity to join the EY recruitment team – I like helping the graduate recruitment team to convince arts and humanities students at Bristol University that their skills are sought after.

“A lot of students think audit is all about number-crunching. It isn’t – and I’m working to correct that misperception.

“Audit is more about bringing assurance – a sense of comfort – to a wide range of stakeholders, and the critical processes involved in the study of history are relevant to this.”


How has EY supported your transition from a History degree into business? 

“From our first day at EY all the new graduates were treated equally, regardless of whether we’d done a business or finance-related degree.

“Assumed knowledge was zero – the training was structured to bring us all to the same level at the same time, so none of us felt we were on the back foot.

“It also helps to have a Buddy at EY– someone who’s been assigned to support you with advice, answers and so on.

“My Buddy’s been at EY a year longer than me, and the way he shared his experience with me eased me through the transition period.

“EY also likes to help when you want to learn about other parts of the organisation, because having a more informed view of EY is good for business.

“For instance, it’s important to learn that Assurance goes way beyond debit and credit and the balancing of books.

“Assurance is about building exceptional client relationships and delivering a well-rounded, intelligent service. In an organisation of our size, and with people of our calibre, this happens every day.”


What advice would you now give to a history student – how should they go about getting a job with an organisation like EY?

“First, realise that the skills you gained through studying history are relevant to a professional services career.

“Second, see your lack of accounting expertise is an advantage, not a setback.

“Third, research the employer that most interests you, and the function you want to work in, and think how you can apply your strengths to that line of work.

“After you’ve done that, follow the application process, be yourself and don’t fret about the outcome.”

“If you decide to go the auditing route, show that you’re good at analysis, professional scepticism, report writing and communicating.

“Show that you can identify the main points in an argument and get them across – that you know what’s important and what isn’t.”

Find out where a career in Auditing can take you. Look at our graduate opportunities available.