I’m writing a book!

Ever since I was young, I’ve loved reading. My grandmother, who I spent more time with than anyone growing up, always encouraged me to read. In recent years, I neglected books (maybe I saw books as a chore – a hangover from seven years of higher level education!); however, in 2018 I set myself a resolution of reading a book a week for the year. My plan was to get through a mixture of fiction and non-fiction titles, both to rediscover my love of the hobby and to expand a knowledge base that was weighted far too much towards sports and the answers to questions commonly asked on The Chase.

One consequence of rediscovering my passion for reading, which was wholly unintended at the time, was that I found myself wanting to tell stories of my own. I’ve written a few blogs over the years, mainly related to my job (or, more specifically, related to the soft skills used in my job – I don’t blog about accounting standards!). Whilst I enjoy writing these (and don’t plan to stop!), the idea of having a chance to be creative and tell a story of my own is difficult to ignore.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to give writing some fiction a go. I’m not limiting myself to genres or target audiences at this point; hell, if more than ten people ever read something I’ve written I’ll call it a success. I’m going to write something I would want to read. I’m going to try to develop characters that are real people, with real struggles. I want my experiences to influence the stories that I tell. But mainly I want to have fun doing it.

I have no doubt that writing a book will take me a long time, especially with everything else going on in real life! And that’s fine by me; if it takes me a year, so be it. The ideal situation for me is that I find writing the second book easier than the first…and so on. I’m a couple of chapters in with my first attempt, and honestly the first 200 words were a slog. Scene-setting is something that I haven’t got the hang of quite yet. But the next 2,000 words were easier. And I suspect the next 2,000 will be easier again. Sometimes, it’s about sitting down and just letting your brain dump some words on a page. The editing can come later.

The thing I’m enjoying most so far as I embark on this effort is that I don’t really know where the story is going right now. I have the plot marked out, but the journey to get there I’m going to leave to the mercy of the words that appear on the screen as I type. It could make editing fun!

Hopefully I’ll write a few blogs on how well (or otherwise!) things are going over the next months. If anything, writing my thoughts on what I’m getting up to only increases my enjoyment of the journey of writing a book. If I’m going to use my spare time to try to put some words in a semi-decent order, it should be fun, right?!


It’s ‘Monday blues’ time…but you should love Mondays. Here’s why. 

Have you ever had a case of the Monday blues? Who am I kidding, of course you have. Unless, that is, you’re a multi-millionaire Premiership footballer (in which case: hello, can we be friends?). Irrational or otherwise, many people spend their Sunday night wishing that the weekend would just stick around a little bit longer. 

Once you’ve given up your Cher impression and accepted that you can’t turn back time, perhaps it’s time for a small dose of common sense. 

Ten reasons that you need to get over the Monday blues

1. A productive Monday makes for a really good week. That thing you’ve been putting off for weeks? Do it 9am Monday morning. Chances are you’ll smash it, and the rest of your week will end up super productive – which means you’ll enjoy next weekend even more! (Disclaimer: if that thing you’ve been putting off is ‘transport something valuable’, please ignore my advice to ‘smash it’)

2. An irrational fear of Monday actually ends up ruining your weekend. If you spend your Sunday evening dreading Monday, you’re ruining one day of your weekend. That time is surely better spent doing something….fun, no?

3. If Monday really fills you with dread, you’re in the wrong job. Chances are you spend 40 hours a week working. That’s about 1,800 hours a year. If you hate every single one of those hours, go out and get a new job. 

4. According to research by Red Letter Days, most people are more productive on a Monday than any other day. That means a Monday is actually likely to make the rest of your week easier. May as well embrace it! 

5. New week = clean slate. Have a bad week at work last week? Break the coffee machine, incurring the wrath of the whole office? Head to the gym in the morning only to stop at McDonalds on the way? It’s a new week – and a fresh start. After all, those diets always start on a Monday, don’t they? 

6. 1/7 of your life is taken up by that dreaded Monday. Is it really rational to live in fear of 1/7 of your life? May as well enjoy it, it’s the only one you’re going to get! (If you believe in reincarnation, go ahead and ignore that last sentence – you’ll come back as a butterfly or something cool, and you won’t even know what a Monday is)

7. Monday is a great day to do those boring chores everyone saves for the weekend. Did you, like me, spend far too much of your weekend cleaning the kitchen or bathroom? You’d be much better off doing your menial household tasks on a Monday, and spend your weekend doing something fun

8. It’s only four more days until the weekend. Seems like a great time to start planning, right?! 

9. Very few people like Mondays. Imagine how fun it would be to wind them up by being ridiculously happy? 

10. Bob Geldof didn’t like Mondays. Do you really want to be like Bob Geldof? Thought not. 

There you have it. Monday shouldn’t be feared – it should be conquered. Happy Monday!


Chartered Accountants Ireland Ulster Society Annual Conference – Boston 2017

This past weekend a group of 125 Chartered Accountants (and some brave guests!) travelled to Boston for the Chartered Accountants Ireland Annual Conference 2017. After what was by all accounts a successful conference last year in Barcelona, the organising committee had a difficult task in topping the location choice – but there can be no doubt they delivered!

Boston is a fantastic city. Having recently travelled to New York and Washington, I figured another high-rise American city might be somewhat tedious – but I was pleasantly surprised! Walking around the (reasonably compact) city was easy and very enjoyable, and it struck me how clean and open such a major city was. I could have spent a full afternoon relaxing in the Boston Common area; the 28 degree heat might have played a significant role in that!

The Conference – NI Open for Business

The theme for this year’s conference was ‘NI Open for Business’. Given the current political environment both in the US and Northern Ireland (and more broadly, in Europe as well) I can’t think of a more relevant theme – nor can I think of a time where such a message was so vital to share with the wider business community. The speaker line-up certainly reflected the theme.

Conference was opened by the newly-elected Chair of the Ulster Society, Pamela McCreedy. Her message was one of positivity for the Northern Irish economy, and aspiration for the role that both the private and public sectors can play in driving economic growth. Her view, which would have been shared by many, was that a fully functioning economy can only be achieved through collaboration between both sectors.

Our first guest speaker was Gary Hanley, Senior Vice President of Americas with Invest Northern Ireland. Gary shared with us his experiences with securing FDI through Invest NI for a range of Northern Irish companies from the US, and spoke of the strong talent pool in Northern Ireland, as well as the need to get tax structures in place to make NI a continually-attractive investment location for the world’s biggest companies. It will certainly be interesting to see whether the protracted lowering of the Corporation tax rate will prove to be a success in the eyes of Invest NI in the Americas.

Sridhar Natarajan of Nanthealth spoke to us next, sharing their experience of having invested in a site in Northern Ireland. Nanthealth have been in Belfast for a number of years now, continually growing their workforce (including in R&D) through collaboration with Invest NI and the Northern Ireland Science Park (with the company having moved through various offices in the Innovation Centres as they have continued to grow!). It was interesting to hear the point of view of an internationally-recognised company who had invested in Northern Ireland – and the positive messages that they had to share about their experience to date. No doubt the work of Invest NI in the US will continue to promote such success stories.

Third to speak was Jack Dolan of Texthelp. Having worked with some of his colleagues in Texthelp in Antrim a number of years ago, I already knew what a fantastic company they are. Hearing Jack speak about the journey they’ve been on in the United States, and the work that they put in to achieve their success, was fascinating. The fact that Jack had the only true Boston accent of the line up was a fact that wasn’t lost on the audience – mainly because he made sure to point it out! His presentation was one filled with humour, but most importantly told a story of the success that an indigenous NI company has been able to have internationally – organisations such as Invest NI are helping to drive this success. Jack’s presentation also reminded me of the important work that Texthelp do in the education and technology sectors – a truly interesting company.

We next heard from KPMG global COO Shaun Kelly; for some reason, his role in such a large international firm made me assume he was American, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear a Northern Irish accent when he began! Shaun also made sure to point out that his wife was a Derry woman, so his story of her sense of humour didn’t surprise me in the slightest! His remarks about a recent (and not so recent) visit to Catalyst Inc (the NI Science Park) struck me, as he pointed out that there had been such a rapid expansion of the site at NISP due to the demand for space. This is clearly an encouraging sign for the local economy, and Shaun noted that the Northern Ireland of 2017 is markedly different even to the Northern Ireland of 2007. We should be proud of our progress – and we should demand that our politicians get back to work to further this growth, not hinder it. Mr Kelly reflected on the fact that confidence, and perhaps a little fear of failure, only serves to drive growth. One question from the audience elicited a laugh from the Conference delegates – whether Shaun had made use of KPMG’s sponsorship to get a round of golf with Phil Mickelson (which, it turns out, he has!). Another fantastic speech!

After coffee, we listened intently to an hour-long panel discussion led by Attorney Sean P. Moynihan. The panel reflected on the recent political changes in the United States, and the policies of the recently-inaugurated Donald Trump (coinciding nicely with the President’s first 100 days!) – such a discussion was surely not lost on the audience as we reflect on the continuing turbulence at Stormont. We also heard views on a range of topics from the impact of taxation rates on FDI coming from America to reflecting on how a Northern Irish company hoping to break the American market should consider the full picture in order to secure the right mix (and quality) of staff.

All in all, it was a fantastic conference line up – some fascinating speakers, and it was clear that the messages being delivered had been well thought through by the Conference committee – we heard of the success of international companies investing in NI, as well as the success of an NI company expanding into the USA. No doubt all in attendance took away confidence in the future of the Northern Irish economy – NI truly is Open for Business.

Exploring the city – it’s not just a Conference!

As well as the conference itself, the committee had lined up a range of activities for those keen to explore the local area or network with their fellow delegates. Dinner on the night of the conference afforded an opportunity to mix with our colleagues – and after a couple of glasses of wine the conversations were truly flowing! What struck me was the fact that there are many who were in attendance who had been before, and had built a strong network through the relationships they developed at previous conferences. After all, as interesting as the Conference itself was, the true benefit of the trip is getting to know our peers, colleagues, and business partners a little better. 

Trips to Harvard (or past Harvard, at least!), the Sam Adams brewery, and the local shopping outlets were well attended – and the outlets certainly saw the benefit in having over 50 accountants being let loose with limited time to spend their money! Likewise, the duck boat tour (yep, a duck boat!) was well attended and feedback was positive. Certainly the favourite amongst those I spoke to, however, was the sunset cruise around Boston Harbour. 56 of us sailed off into the harbour to enjoy the spectacular views of the skyline (both in daylight and at night!), enjoying some food, a few (honestly!) wines, and in particular the company. A unique view of the city, and an unforgettable one!

As we travelled home on Sunday, I looked around me at the airport. The sight of 125 exhausted accountants barely able to speak was a hilarious one – and given some of the characters in attendance, the silence was perhaps the most surprising aspect of all!

Same time next year?

All in all, the 2017 Ulster Society conference was a total success. Great speakers, fun activities, and most of all fantastic craic – I wouldn’t hesistate to recommend it to anyone. Just make sure that if you’re booking next year, you save a spot for me! 

Flexible working – millennial fad or essential business practice?

It’s difficult these days to talk to someone about what they look for in a job without discussing flexibility. ‘Flexible working’ has become a huge desireable in the workplace, and often recruiters go to great lengths to outline the “great flexible working options that my client has!” But what does ‘flexible working’ even mean in 2017 – and is it really essential for employee engagement? 

What does flexible working even mean?! 

Flexible working means something different depending on who you talk to. For some, flexibility is the ability to start and finish work whenever you please (within reason…!). For others, true flexibility is only found in the ability to do your job where you please. Others again see flexible working in the embracing of technology – in other words, how you do your job. 

As someone who has great passion for the ability to work flexibly, the practice for me means all three – the choice to work (or start/finish) when I want, the option to work where suits me best (and, crucially, where I’m most productive) AND the ability to use technology to influence how I work. It’s crucial, therefore, that your firm invests in the ability to facilitate this. For the most part, this means an investment in technology that frees your staff from the shackles of their desk – but also an investment in the culture of your company. 

Do we NEED to offer flexibility? 

For most, it seems recruitment of talented, engaged staff is becoming a challenge. Call it the ‘millennial effect’, if you will, but graduates and other prospective employees have a different set of ideals when it comes to the corporate culture that they want to adapt to. A significant part of this is an investment in flexible working. 

The Deloitte Millennial survey for 2017 finds that 67% of millennials are able to start and finish work whenever they please within certain limits. A pretty big 64% also report the ability to work regularly from a location “other than their employer’s primary site” – facilitated mainly by the how factor above, being advancements in working technology. 

The survey also finds that 84% of millennials report “some degree of flexibility in their working arrangements” – with 39% reporting that their employer is highly flexible in their working arrangements. 

Is it possible, however, that such findings are a product of a ‘millennial fad’? Maybe it’s true that millennials are just lazy? 

Not at all. In millennials (and I’m talking the more youthful end of the millennial spectrum – after all, apparently I’m one myself!) we have a generation who have grown up conditioned in the psychology of everything being ‘on demand’. It follows, therefore, that we should expect the greatest level of engagement from this generation when we provide them with the ability to engage with their work life in the manner to which they are most adept – through ever-advancing technology. 

This should, logically, provide an ability for employees to work where they like. The scene that comes to mind is that of a Californian Starbucks packed with consultants working 5 hour days on their Mac whilst sipping a non-fat caramel macchiato (I have no idea what that is – I’m sincerely hoping it’s actually a coffee). 

The reality, however, should be that our employees can work seamlessly on client site, or at home. In my experience, the ability to work at home on a semi-frequent basis is an easy way to ‘buy’ enhanced employee engagement. I say ‘buy’ in inverted commas because the cost is nothing. Enhanced employee engagement, together with the mental and physical health benefits of allowing someone to work at home, for no cost above the technology investment that you’ve hopefully already made – win win, no? 

The bottom line is that the days of employees sat at a desk 9-5 Monday to Friday are over – at least in the real world. Employees are actively seeking flexibility – and other firms are embracing it. To not invest in an ability to work flexibly in 2017 is a strategy that can surely only fail. 

What is the perfect balance of flexibility and control? 

From discussing flexible working with many people over the past few years, the biggest concern from an employer point of view is the inability to directly control the output. There’s a very logical fear of having large swathes of employees sat at home, feet up, watching Friends (or whatever the millennial generation watch these days…Spongebob?) and swivelling a mouse every 90 seconds. 

The important thing to remember is that flexible working must be based on trust. The trust that you need to have in your employees to deliver – which is based on good management – but also the trust that an employee needs to be able to have in their employer to facilitate it. 

Building a culture of trust in flexible working means setting the tone at the top. Senior management should be seen to actively embrace flexibility – and also be seen to be delivering on their required outputs and be readily available during the working day. More junior employees should have a clear expectation of output defined – and trusted to deliver. Employees also need to see the trust that the employer has in them to deliver – trust is very much a two way street. 

The important thing to remember is that flexibility can be developed over time – starting from a little bit of flexibility in working times can lead to the flexibility to work where you please, once you’ve proven that you can be trusted to make it work. 

And at the end of the day, that’s what’s important – being flexible needs to work for all parties. Managed properly, and implemented effectively, the practice of flexible working can increase both productivity and employee engagement. It truly is a scenario where all parties can win. Is your company fully on board – or lagging behind? 


Interviews – tips to stand out from the growing crowd

Interviews – tips to stand out from the growing crowd

The prospect of an interview for a graduate job (or any other job for that matter – especially since many firms are now recruiting straight from secondary school) may be daunting for many people. For most, it’s a chance to get the first step on the career ladder with a large, well established firm – and their future may seem to rest on their performance over that hour-long period.

However, the vast majority of candidates have no idea how to prepare. Sure, there will be plenty of evidence of frantic ‘interview tips’ searches in their browsing history…but whether that has translated into a plan to tackle the interview is another matter.

I’ve thought a lot about this very issue recently. Partially due to reflecting on my own experiences during my job search, but mainly having spoken to those responsible for interviewing graduates in my profession (both in my company and outside it).

This post therefore aims to share a number of tips which should benefit you both in your preparation for the interview, and in the interview itself.

Fail to prepare – prepare to fail.

Sounds obvious, right? An interview is not something to be taken lightly. Your future career depends on your performance. Rocking up to meet someone in a senior position and hoping to ‘wing it’ just isn’t going to work.

The biggest amount of effort in your preparation should be in understanding the role you’re applying for. It should be obvious, but this extends to more than just knowing the name of the role itself. Ask yourself a few questions; What does a typical day look like? What role will I fill in my first year in the job? What’s expected of me from day one? These are the types of questions you should know the answer to; if you don’t, you need to find out.

Research will be your friend here. Chances are, the company you’ve applied for has a website (let’s face it, even the corner shop has a website these days). Go online, navigate through their pages, and make some notes. This should get you started. Employers also love people who are forward-thinking. Is there any information available on the company’s growth plans, market share or latest developments? Use it to show that you’re up to speed already. 

One thing you’ll learn as you progress in any career is how important building a network is. Have you got a network in place already? Use it. Ask someone who works in the field for which you’ve applied about the job. Not only will this help you to understand the role, but bringing it up in interview will show that you’re serious about succeeding.

Know your CV

This bit should be obvious – but you’d be surprised at how many people can’t talk about parts of their CV. At this point, you should have a solid CV in place (and if not, that’s a topic for another day). Hopefully it’s all true (believe me, you’ll get found out otherwise!) – so read it through. After all, the document is supposed to be about you – if you can’t get you right, how could you be trusted to get anything else right?

Make sure you know not only your employment history, but any skills or knowledge that you quote. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if you say you can speak Spanish, but can’t respond to “¿como estas?”

Furthermore, you should reflect on what your experiences have taught you. We’re all learning every day – nobody wants to hear  about how you’re the finished article, rather they’d like to see that you learn from your journey.

Be confident…but not cocky

Confidence is key in an interview. You have to believe that you are the best person for this job – and you have to show the interviewer that you believe it. Talk about your experiences with enthusiasm and conviction. If you think you have a certain skill – say so!

You do need to watch out, however, for the potential for confident to come across as cocky. Remember, you’re in the interview to sell yourself to your prospective employer. A little bit of humility would go a long way. No doubt it’s a tough balance to get, but it’s important.

One online interview tips page I’ve seen recommends you ask the question “Why should I want to come work for you?”. Don’t do it! It’s your responsibility to find out whether the company is for you – selling yourself as a must-have commodity is sure to drop you down the list of desirable candidates.

It’s not just what you say, but HOW you say it

Albert Mehrabian’s study on communication says that only 7% of the impression you create whilst speaking is from ‘verbal’ components. 38% comes from ‘vocal’ (i.e. how you say it – tone of voice), and a huge 55% of the impression you create comes from your ‘visual’ indicators (body language etc). Imagine, therefore, if you are saying some wonderful things, and making yourself sound incredibly experienced – but you’re doing so whilst slouched in your chair staring at the temperature gauge on the air conditioning.

Pay attention to your body language. It sounds basic, but get the basics right and then worry about the detail. When you walk into the room, make sure you give a firm handshake and maintain eye contact. There’s genuinely nothing worse than placing your hand into someone else’s and letting your wrist go limp! Maintain that eye contact throughout, looking away every few seconds (I doubt you’ll be successful if you state the interviewer out for half an hour…). Sit up straight, have some form of expression on your face (bored isn’t a good look!), and actually show that you’re interested. 

The basics won’t get you the job – but getting them wrong might just rule you out. Oh, and show up on time – and dressed well. If you were planning on doing anything other than this, then you can probably give up now!

You’re a real person – an individual – so show it

As I’ve already mentioned above, employers hire a person – not a CV. So don’t forget, as you sit in your interview, to have a bit of personality. Build a rapport with your interviewer, be funny if you like (not too funny mind – getting a job is a serious thing!), but be yourself. You might think that sounding like an expert accountant who can quote every IFRS and its amendment date will make you stand out – but what will make you stand out is your personality. 

Did you win the tiddlywinks competition at university? Did you captain the monopoly society? Can you play the bagpipes? Anything that’s unique about you – make sure to use it. If an interviewer comes out of your interview and tells the decision-makers anything, you can guarantee that the memorable interview will be mentioned first. Be that memorable interview (for all the right reasons!). 

Most of all, be genuine about why you want the job. Have a passion for the role that you’re hoping to fill – and show it. 

Get the job!

In summary, a few key tips for a really good interview are: 

  • Prepare, then prepare some more
  • Know your background – and why you’re well suited to the job 
  • Be confident!
  • Get the basics right – body language IS important
  • Be you

If you get the above right, you’ll put yourself in with a really good chance of landing that job. 

Ultimately, you might find that the job isn’t for you. But one thing’s for sure – you’ll learn from the experience and be infinitely better next time around. After all, it’s experience that’s ultimately going to set you apart from the ever-growing crowd.


Why choose a career in Audit? It’s simple.

Why choose a career in Audit? It’s simple.

It’s a question I’ve been asked, and have asked myself, more times than I could count over the past five years. “Why audit?”. There was a time not so long ago when audit was the default route into the graduate employment world for accountancy students. Many threw themselves into the job without so much as a second thought for what they were getting into. But here’s the thing: millennials are smarter than they’re given credit for. The days of taking the first job going are over, and more and more graduates are undertaking detailed research into the profession.

I have been an auditor for a little over five years now. I’ll be the first to admit that I was one of those graduates that threw themselves into the role without a clear understanding of what I was going to do. Sure, I did the research before the interview. I could quote a huge amount of nonsense on what the audit profession was, and I quite happily wheeled out the “An auditor is a watchdog, not a bloodhound” line (FYI – as great a quote as it is, it’s the last thing I’d want to hear interviewing a prospective candidate!). But the truth is that I had too little an idea of what I was going to do.

I’ll tell you a secret though: I love what I do. And it’s because of this that I want to encourage people to think about (and choose) the profession. So let me give you a bit of an insight into why audit should be the career for you.

What does an auditor really do?

I’ve been to countless careers fairs over the past five years (and for many years before that as a student – I’m guilty of being the kid that’s only there for the free pens!). The question I’m asked more than any other is “What do auditors do?”. The answer sounds like a bit of a cop out – but it’s not. The truth is the life of an auditor is as varied as you could imagine. Sure, your first year will be spent checking through invoices, reading financial statements, looking at bank statements. But each day brings something different – and each day that goes by brings something more interesting than the last.

You can, no doubt, find a perfect description of an auditor from any search engine. But don’t get too bogged down in trying to understand everything that an auditor does. Just know that an auditor is a third party ‘gatekeeper’ providing assurance over the contents of a set of accounts, and that an auditor should be a business advisor to his/her clients. Everything else you’ll learn as you get stuck in.

So I have a vague idea of what an ‘audit’ is. Why is it for me?

If you read the above and wonder whether the world of audit could possibly be for you, here’s the best piece of advice I could give you: if you have any desire to work in the world of business or finance, you couldn’t possibly get a better grounding in how that world works than in audit.

You’ll get first hand access to businesses you’ve seen in the news all your life. You’ll also get first hand access to businesses that you’ve never heard of (but maybe you’ll wish you had that idea first!). And everything you can find out about that business will give you the greatest thing you didn’t know you needed: experience.

The part of my job that I enjoy most as a manager within an audit department is watching people develop. I’m incredibly lucky to have worked with people who supported me in the journey towards being a business advisor, and getting to play a part in that same journey for someone else gets me up in the morning (not literally…my dog jumping on my bed literally gets me up in the morning!).

Oh, and you might just have a bit of fun outside the office too. Being part of a group of people all going through the same journey certainly leads to quite the social life! Until, of course, you get old and can’t keep up any more (or so they tell me…).

Why choose audit? Why not!

On top of the experience that you’ll gain, you’ll work closely with people experienced and otherwise. You’ll grow your network faster than you thought possible – and when people much older and (occasionally) wiser than you tell you that it’s never too early to start building your network, listen to them. You never know when that random person you met at class one day might come in useful!

I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to work for a great company. I work with highly intelligent people, all pulling towards the same goal. Do your research, ask questions at those graduate fairs, and pick the firm that will give you the best possible training.

And if you’re thinking about a career in audit, I can assure you that you’ll not look back regretting it. Take the plunge…and be willing to learn every day. Oh…and try to have a little fun along the way!

Twitter: @JasonMcIntosh88