Management Consultant, Ernst and Young (EY)
Watch a Youtube video of Lee talking about his life and career-path after graduation
Degree subject and year of graduation – MA Hons Mental Philosophy , (in my opinion, the greatest course of all time)
My current job (March 2015)
I am a management consultant with Ernst and Young (EY) in their Financial Services Advisory Practice. In meaningful terms, I work with some of the largest UK banks on a range of strategic and risk projects, helping them deliver large scale projects aimed at reducing their risk and improving business culture.
My career history
- Since graduating, I have spent time selling suits for a local business, working with the Courts Service of Northern Ireland as an Analyst and with the BBC in their HR department, all in a 2 year period in Belfast
- On a whim in 2008, I applied to work for a bank and moved to London, to work for Barclays. 5 years later, I’d spent time working as a manager in some of the roughest areas of London, created an internal intranet site for 3,000 people, visited over 150 branches across England, Wales, NI and Scotland and worked on multi-million pound business projects as a Strategy Analyst, guiding medium and long term investments in their branch network
- When I left Barclays in 2013, I moved to EY, a management consulting firm, to do business strategy and was immediately asked to work on a long term Derivatives project. Fast forward a year and a half and I was recognised as one of the Technical Specialists on the project, promoted to Manager and responsible for managing one of the most complex and sensitive areas of the project.
How I used my degree-skills and/or knowledge in my career
Philosophy has been absolutely invaluable to my career and professional life and there are three points I can talk about in particular.
- Firstly, Philosophy teaches you the importance of understanding a range of viewpoints. Being able to do so, and debating this understanding, is central to what Philosophy is about. This is absolutely critical in business – I have to be able to quickly understand where a client or colleague is coming from, help them analyse their own viewpoint it and sometimes coach them to appreciate different perspectives, which makes it much easier to do what is right for each other, yourself and the business.
- Secondly, Philosophy teaches you how to develop your own opinions and both construct and communicate an argument that supports them. Again, this is crucial in business, especially when you are working with very challenging people. Being able to successfully explain your view and bring people round to your way of thinking is a skill and can be extremely rewarding. It is also central to collaboration and effective decision making in business.
- Finally, my degree taught me both the value of and ability to learn. Since I left university I’ve never stopped learning and Philosophy absolutely inspired me to always look for chances to learn and develop and gave me the tools to do this effectively. This is central to progression in any career.
Experience that helped me to get where I am now
The two things that stand out for me are quite simple actually. Taking a part time job where I had to work full time hours in my final year while writing a dissertation really stretched me. However, succeeding in passing my exams while holding down a job taught me that I could perform while under pressure and look after myself. It gave me a lot of confidence.
The second big experience I had at University was really around developing my own sense of personal values. This was done through both my lectures and the people I met. Edinburgh and the University is a very diverse place and having opportunities to debate, live and mix with people of all religions, backgrounds and opinions taught me just how valuable diversity is. It’s one of the reasons I love London so much.
Making my career decisions
The two biggest ones for me were really about understanding when it was right to change.
- The first, moving to London, was stumbling across a great opportunity to work with Barclays that I threw myself into with the attitude that I can only learn and benefit from the experience. This meant moving to a new city, new industry and having the confidence that I’d be able to succeed. It was a decision made over a period of months where I recognised I wasn’t getting the challenge I wanted from my existing job, I had outgrown my hometown and wanted a fresh start. At that point, it was very much a case of being offered a new challenge at the right time
- The second was around knowing when to leave Barclays, which was a much more considered decision. Before leaving I took months to research the company I was moving to, met with people who worked there already from a range of levels and experience, including an ex colleague at Barclays and drew on my network to get a feel for what was right. I made the move to EY from an informed position, know why I was moving, why the time was right and the type of business I was moving into. The transition to EY was very smooth as a result and instead of wanting “any change”, I knew I wanted the “right change” and I knew beforehand that I was moving to a business for all the right reasons to work with the right people, which was a really good feeling.
My advice for students wanting to work in this area
- Attitude is often more important than expertise, especially when you’re starting out. Once you graduate, your degree tells potential employers that you are intelligent and committed. Often, that will get your foot in the door. But what will really make you stand out is your attitude and approach to work. This is more than just being enthusiastic – it is everything from showing an interest in learning, showing that you’ve researched the business and its competitors, asking intelligent questions and being committed and flexible if needed. I’ve seen many people apply for jobs who are academically smart fall down at interview stage as they sound like they’ve swallowed a text book or come across as if they are saying what they think the employer wants to hear, rather than bringing their individuality out.
- Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know, but I’ll work with you to find out”. It shows intelligence and professionalism to acknowledge when you don’t know something and offer to work with someone to find it out.
- Be fearless, flexible and confident – EY, and business more broadly, want people who are proactive, confident and willing to take risks and make decisions. Management consulting is often fast paced where you’ll know little more (sometimes less) than people who are asking you help guide them. To be able to do so, you need to be confident in how you talk, be willing to learn things quickly, often under pressure. Getting used to being under pressure is the first step, the next one is appreciating that this is can be one of the best ways to learn and grow.
My advice for students making career decisions today
- Don’t worry and trust your judgement, you’re not going to consciously make a bad decision and taking risks is part and parcel of life.
- Take responsibility! Don’t be afraid to say “I’m going to do this because I want to achieve X, Y and Z!”.
- Try figure out what you value and look for a role that delivers that. For me, it’s always been the culture of a business that’s most important. Specifically, where everyone has a voice, there are no hierarchies and there are opportunities to work independently. I always made a point of asking about these points in interviews.
- Embrace the mistakes – even the career moves that haven’t worked out for me are ones that I’ve learned a lot from and I’ve met some amazing people. If you find yourself in a job you don’t like, take time to reflect on this and move on, but don’t view it as a failure, view it as an opportunity to learn and improve.