Athena Liu: Assurance Intern at EY

Featured Success Stories

December 16, 2019

Athena, from Taiwan

I have been in the UK for several years now since I was 17. I did my A levels here. UK universities are very highly regarded worldwide, and I always wanted to study abroad, so UK was one of my top choices.  I am originally from Taiwan. 

‘Even Though I Tried To Find An Internship, Nothing Ever Materialised’

How was your transition to the UK as an international student?

Athena: At my University, I did a 4-year degree and I had no work experience before I joined University. So throughout my university time, even though I tried to find an internship, nothing ever materialised. I did lots of volunteer work, joined societies to expand my CV and myself as a person. 

In Taiwan, even for a graduate job, all you need is a CV and a letter. That is followed by an interview. The process is pretty short. It is very hard to get into because many people apply and the selection is only based on your CV. 

But in the UK, even though it is lengthier, I think it does give everyone equal access to opportunities. 

‘I Signed Up To Student Circus Newsletters So Every Now And Then I Still Get A Lot Of Opportunities Delivered To My Inbox’

What resources and tools did you use in your job-hunt?

Athena: One of the better ideas is to join societies because you also come in contact with students from different countries and cultural backgrounds. I also utilised the University's career services and fairs. We got a free CV check, free interview practice, we got free online test section. So in my first 2 years, I went to these sessions to just practice, practice, practice. 

My University also has an internship scheme. The Careers Centre collaborates with lots of different companies and they post internship opportunities on a monthly basis during the term time, from 10-50 opportunities, just for Southampton students. 

I got my first internship through University at the end of my first year - I got to work with the Student Union and help them organise an event called the cultural festival. So it entailed organising different events, collaborate with tons of student societies. 

Among the websites I used was Target website, Student Circus is obviously one of them. I signed up to Student Circus newsletters so every now and then I still get a lot of opportunities delivered to my inbox. 

‘A Lot Of Companies Don’t Say It Explicitly But They Leave An applicant Out If She/He Requires A Visa’

How did you deal with the Visa hurdle?

Athena: One of the criteria for me, when I apply for jobs, is to apply for Tier 2 sponsors because a lot of companies don’t say it explicitly but they leave an applicant out if she/he requires a VISA. Applying for jobs at such companies can be such a waste of time then, especially since all the graduate schemes and internships at big firms involve a lot of steps. 

So as an international student here I do have a disadvantage when it comes to job hunting because I don’t have as many options as European or local people. 

I did know about the VISA requirements before I came here, but I think it just got more and more restricted each passing year. 

I was doing a 4-year degree so, in my 3rd year, I went out for placement and I thought that if I can get a placement then I will be more likely to bag a job in the UK, but the company I worked with didn't have provision to sponsorship either. 

‘It Is A Lengthy Process But Pretty Standard Here In The UK’ 

How was your job application process?

Athena: The recruitment process begins months in advance. And each application comes in stages. The first stage is usually a simple form, following which they will send you three online tests: numerical, verbal and situational judgement. 

Depending upon your performance, you are shortlisted for a telephonic interview. If you qualify further, they invite you to their Assessment Center (AC) day it involves about three activities. If you pass these, you might be called for another panel interview. 

It is a lengthy process but pretty standard here in the UK. 

EY tried to cut down the recruitment time, and the whole process was pretty quick, 

I applied one day, and within 2 days  I got the online tests, and then you have to complete those tests within 5 days I think. And after you pass, they contact you within 1 or 2 weeks and schedule an AC day. Normally they'd also give you the result for it the day after AC day. 

‘You Need To Study Of Course, But You Also Need To Get Out And Get Exposure’

Is the internship recruitment process practice for a full-time graduate scheme?

Athena: Yes and no, because for most of the companies you either bag a full-time job through the graduate schemes or you don’t. So an internship can be like a ticket to getting a graduate scheme. If you are in the final year of your degree, you cannot apply for a summer internship anymore. It is tricky. 

I always say to people who are about to enter university or who are still at university that you can't spend too much time on study. You need to study of course, but you also need to get out and get exposure. Maybe help organise an event at the Uni. That being said, research and practise before the recruitment process is also vital. I spent a lot of time practising interview with my advisor at the careers centre. It is an opportunity to work on your Achilles Heels.

For me, English is not my first language, and so it does get me a little frustrated. it happened for the first two years because I didn’t score my English abilities up to mark-  I can communicate on a daily basis, but when it is competitive and in an interview setting it becomes hard. 

‘You Never Work On Your Own, Because You Need Questions, Help, Advice’ 

How is a day at the office like?

Athena: It was a very short internship, lasted like 6 weeks, but it really made me feel a part of the team. I didn’t have fixed responsibilities and was assigned a buddy, who I could ask any question. Then they assign you a client and an audit team.

Throughout my internship, I went to 3 client sites, each one lasting for 2 weeks, and my job was to check the financial statement of the company- whether it is was true and fair. It taught me the practical side of this auditing process. What kind of questions do I need to ask the client? What documents do I have to look at? That was very useful. Another technical skill I honed would be using Excel spreadsheets. I also figured that there is a lot of use for team-work skills. You never work on your own, because you need questions, help, advice. 

‘I Would Encourage Students To Focus On Summer Internship’

What next?

Athena: After the internship ended, I got in through the graduate scheme, and EY is happy to sponsor my VISA. I would encourage students to focus on summer internship - because there the competitors would mostly be second-year students, and if you apply for grad schemes you are competing with graduates every graduate will be applying. A lot of them will come with work experience already. 

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