My Graduate Life: Surbhi Mahon

I’m Surbhi, a finance and accounting graduate from IT Carlow with a graduate programme in the big 4. During my time in college I discovered that I could do so much with an accounting degree. I decided to go down the public accounting route.

Let’s start back to the beginning of my journey….

Since I was in secondary school, I knew that I wanted to work for an international company. Other than that, I never really knew what I wanted to do. I enjoyed accounting and business, so I chose to study general business in college. I had 2 years to decide what I wanted to do. I took accounting modules and really liked them. When it came to the big decision, I was unsure on what to chose but I was good at accounting so went with that option.

I didn’t have many expectations going into the course, but it surprised me. I was studying a wide variety of modules which included corporate finance, corporate governance, commercial law, information systems, marketing and strategic management. The course gave me a board selection of skills. I thought that I would be stuck working in a medium size accounting practice.  What if I made the wrong choice and I was restricted to a job because of my degree and that my dream of working for an international was not going to come true?

During my 3rd year a lot of international companies gave presentations to the class about summer internships including the big 4 (PWC, EY, KPMG and Deloitte).I had been applying to internship programmes for the last 2 summers but was unsuccessful. So, this year I applied again. I thought it would be a great opportunity. During this time, I learned about professional exams and the different areas one can go into with an accounting degree.

During one of these visits I came across EY. They gave a presentation which intrigued me. I spoke to EY representatives. They told me that the company and that they had an open desk policy, a buddy system for interns and graduates and opportunities to network and gain insights into public accounting. It sounded great to me, so I decided to apply to EY and the other big 4. The other Big 4 asked me to do a test along with their application but EY only had an application form. It only took 15 minutes to complete and was easy to understand. One of the questions left me feeling concerned. The company has a requirement, I needed a minimum 425 points from my Leaving Certificate. I had only got 400 but I decided to apply anyways.  My grandfather whom I was very close to passed away at the start of 6th year and I went into depression. At that time, I didn’t even think I would get into college and there I was applying to the big 4.

Surbhi completed her internship with EY throughout Summer 2019.

I received emails after completing the applications, one rejection after another. I had given up hope and it was too late to apply to more programmes. One day I came out of class and my phone had a missed call from an unknown number. I thought it was a scam so I ignored it. Then I got an email from EY saying they were trying to call me for an interview at the end of the week. I could not believe it. The next few days I spent researching the company, preparing for my formal interview. I did not own even own any formal wear so had to borrow from my mother. That morning I took the train up to Dublin. I took a walk in St Stephens green to clear my head, but I was so nervous and was trying to memorise facts about the company. I remember hearing my name and we went into a small meeting room where a woman was waiting. The interview was so informal, we just chatted about my college experience, previous work experience and activities I was involved in. One of these was my involvement in the Student’s Union. The interview lasted almost an hour, but it didn’t feel like it as they only asked questions about me. I got onto my train thinking I wouldn’t hear from them for a while then I got a phone call; I got the internship. It was difficult to comprehend, who would have thought an average girl from a small town working in one of the big 4.

I started my internship in June 2019. I was working in Audit under the aircraft leasing team. I was given some general training as well as specific audit training. I had not studied audit in college yet, but I had help from my team. I was given proper work to do and the client I was working on was the biggest in their industry. I engaged with partners and directors. During my time in EY, I completed a group project with fellow interns. We were given a problem which we had to find the solution to by researching. During this I made some many contacts with partners and managers from across the business. I used internal sources to gather data which gave me an insight to the company. Every employee whether they were an associate to a director were willing to meet my group and share their knowledge. I was included in team events and meetings. I felt like an employee and as a part of a team. I always had certain stereotypes about the big 4. I thought senior staff would be stuck up and would be in their offices all day and that I would just be photocopying and getting coffee for my mangers. Instead I did work that directly contributed to the audit, I interacted with my seniors multiple times during the day, I shared my desk with a partner and I went out for coffee with my manager. I was not treated as an intern. I enjoyed my time so much and gained knowledge on auditing and EY as a whole.

During my final week I had my final interview with my team partner. Again, it was just like having a chat about my time in EY. I was offered a place on the graduate programme for September 2020. This shows that hard work pays off. I took so much from my I experience and enjoyed my time too. I made professional contacts and friends. I decided to become a brand ambassador and shared my experience with other students in my college. I gave presentations to 2nd and 3rd year accounting classes and helped with internship applications.

While all my classmates were panicking, trying to secure a graduate position I just put my head down and concentrated on getting my 2.1. I had some spare time to work in the Student’s Union. Since 1st year I was my class representative. I wanted to do more for my peers so at the end of 3rd year I put myself forward for a part-time officer. I was elected as the international officer. I spent the first few weeks of college welcoming international students, giving them information about the college and about living in Carlow. I had a great team in the SU. We organised a welcome barbecue for international students as well as a clubs and societies sign up day. I met with the international office and planned day trips and other activities on and off campus. I had meetings with students and helped them with their concerns. I represented international students in board meetings with top management in the college. I helped other officers with their campaigns. I enjoyed my time in the SU, I had a wonderful team to work with. It was satisfying to help students with their concerns and give them an amazing college experience.

The only reason I was able to focus on college during the pandemic was knowing that I had a job waiting for me at the end of the summer. It takes a huge weight off your shoulders during final year.

If you asked 18 year old me if this is where I thought I’d be at 22 , I would say no .The whole experience has taught me to take opportunities that come your way, never give up, be patient because what is meant for you will not pass.

Advice to students and graduates who are unsure on what to do next, don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone and try something different. I commuted to Dublin for 3 months, before this I had never left Carlow on my own. I thought that I would not be noticed because I was studying in an IT in a small town. All you have to do is try your best to exert yourself. Take opportunities, make  professional contacts, be active on LinkedIn and try new experiences. You don’t need to have your future planned out, just make decisions as they come.

Surbhi Mahon

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