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Developing the technical knowledge and skills needed to succeed in one's career is a key component of tertiary studies. However, not all degrees provide students with practical opportunities to develop the equally important people or 'soft' skills required to do any job well.
That's why it's important for students to actively seek out opportunities that will help to strengthen their soft skills through internships and attending networking events.
Ashleigh Whitmore did just that. As a former CA ANZ Achiever Programme intern and CA student representative, Ashleigh has been able to take the whole host of skills she developed through these experiences and apply them to securing her role as a Business Advisor Graduate for accounting and business advisory firm, Baker Tilly Staples Rodway New Zealand.
Ashleigh joined Baker Tilly Staples Rodway as an intern, where she was recruited by Chris Wright, Head of HR, and Anika Scholz, HR Manager. Responsible for graduate recruitment, Chris and Anika have hired multiple former CA student reps and have seen the benefits a former CA student rep can bring to the workplace.
"You can already see that our former CA student reps are going to go a long way at Baker Tilly Staples Rodway."
Employers want leaders
As a CA student rep, Ashleigh found herself in a leadership position within the student community and relied on some important personal qualities to help her assist her fellow students.
"A large part of the role is providing guidance to other students, even those in high school. A CA student rep is that go-to person for those seeking advice or help along their career journey into business. Holding this role means you need to be confident, empathetic, and communicate well," Ashleigh explains.
Chris and Anika say what makes CA student reps stand out in particular as job candidates is that they typically possess key personal qualities that are well aligned with effective leadership.
"They're natural leaders in their own right and within their teams, and they display a level of confidence and maturity that means we're comfortable giving them more responsibility, knowing they'll rise to the task," Chris explains.
"I certainly think that Ashleigh has set a great precedent for former CA student reps at Baker Tilly Staples Rodway. She picked up the work very quickly and fit into the team straight away. She has a very easy-going personality and takes ownership of her work. These are qualities we keep in mind when recruiting," Anika adds.
Relationship building is key
Ashleigh recognises how her role as a CA student rep helped strengthen her relationship building and communication skills, which ultimately prepared her for her new graduate role. She credits her interactions with students, employers and educators as a great training ground for improvement.
"CA student reps attend a variety of events at high schools, university campuses, industry conferences and expos. At these events you talk with hundreds of people from all backgrounds, and through that experience you learn how to better connect with people. My communication skills definitely improved," Ashleigh says.
"The networking aspect of being a student rep has really prepared me for my graduate role. It developed my understanding of what employers look for in applicants, and also helped me develop a demonstrated ability to talk with all kinds of people in the workplace," Ashleigh adds.
Chris and Anika also pay extra attention to applicants with CA student rep experience because they can be confident they'll be strong communicators and influence effectively.
"As the accounting profession changes, the ability to build strong client relationships will become even more critical. We certainly look at applications from CA student reps in more detail because we know that they've developed these abilities on the job," Anika says.
"We've also found that their confidence can put them ahead of other recruits due to their ability to build those strong relationships. You can already see that our former CA student reps are going to go a long way at Baker Tilly Staples Rodway," Chris adds.
Words of advice
With multiple successful job applications under her belt, Ashleigh has some advice for students and first time job seekers.
"Show your passion! I've found that employers love to see applicants with a real passion for the role or industry. That's why I was successful in applying for the CA student rep position, I showed I am passionate about accounting, and they noticed," Ashleigh says.
Accounting professionals of today and the future must be able to communicate and build relationships effectively. The CA student rep experience can help students develop their confidence in communicating with other people in a professional capacity, build their network and kick-start their career in business and accounting. 2
"It's important to seek out extracurricular opportunities, as you never know what doors they could open. For me, I first became a CA student rep and then a CA Achiever Program intern, which led to my internship at Baker Tilly Staples Rodway. That internship eventually turned into an offer of full-time employment in a graduate role," Ashleigh adds.
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