Date posted: 23/01/2018

Pursuing her passion: Shreya Viswanathan on making the most of work experience

Find out about Shreya’s exceptional career journey from a cadet to work experience in New York and her advice for those just starting out.

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When Shreya Viswanathan's name was called, it was the last thing she expected.

Shreya had previously won the Mission Exceptional competition at the state level, but the national level? She couldn't believe it.

Mission Exceptional - a student competition run by Chartered Accountants in 2013-2014 gave university students across Australia the opportunity to respond to a case study by advising a fictional business and then presenting their proposal.

Everyone had entered in teams of two, that is, everyone but Shreya. She wrote the proposal and presented to a panel consisting of Heads of Industry. And she won.

Four years later, Shreya has had an exceptional career in a short space of time, and she still has so much she wants to accomplish.

Her impressive resume of work at KPMG and American Express have one thing in common: both jobs came to her through work experience.

Shreya was recruited by KPMG for their cadetship program straight out of high school and over the course of her university career she worked during the day and attended classes at night as an Audit Assistant.

Winning the Mission Exceptional prize took Shreya to New York City for an internship shadowing the VP of finance for AMEX. For one week she learned about his career trajectory, as a fellow Aussie who sought out global opportunities. He introduced her to contacts in different teams and shared his insights into how corporate America and the financial services world works.

Upon her return from the Big Apple, Shreya continued working at KPMG, eventually being promoted to the role of Senior Accountant.

When it was time to make a change, her New York work experience gave her a foot in the door at AMEX. She'd met and remained in touch with the CFO for Australia and New Zealand, who always encouraged her to try for new positions as they popped up and when something involving strategic financial analysis arose, Shreya applied.

"It was because of that connection that I knew about the role, applied, got interviewed and was really able to get a foot in the door," Shreya says.

Today she works as an Assistant Product Manager in lending, a position with two parts. She formulates lending strategy for AMEX across the region, performing cost benefit analyses to review a strategy's effectiveness - which she then implements. She also serves as a business planner, managing the Vice President's office as well as helping him to make decisions and create presentations for senior leadership.

It's a slightly different role than you'd typically expect for a CA, but that's what Shreya likes about it.

"My CA qualification has given me such a strong financial grounding. You get a solid understanding of the numbers," Shreya says. "I find that having a financial background as a CA has been a good differentiator. If anything, it's made me more successful and respected."

For those planning the start of their career, Shreya offers two pieces of advice.

The first is to find something you're really passionate about. It can be a personal and soul-searching exercise, but Shreya says you'll thank yourself if you take the time now to really think about what interests you. Try to narrow it down to two or three industries.

"Play the long game. Don't just go for the safest option," she says.

If you really don't know what you want to do, Shreya suggests seeking out a graduate program where you are regularly rotated and exposed to different parts of a company. The variety will help you to understand where you'd like to move to next.

Secondly, give some thought to your resume. While the most important thing is to be authentic, you also need something to help differentiate yourself from the pack.

This could be a work experience program, a volunteer position, a hobby, or even a Chartered Accountant qualification - it's something to ensure your resume stands out from the dozens a recruiter reviews for any position.

"Have a clear story about what drives you and what makes you passionate," Shreya advises.

Shreya has global ambitions for her future, including undertaking graduate study at an international campus. And to think, work experience helped her to get to where she is today.

Want to kick-start your career? Come along to Employment Evening and connect with employers recruiting for their cadet, intern, vacation and graduate roles.