Interviews – Financial – Pauline Leonard

Pauline Leonard, 25, is an associate at the FSA. She has an MA in management studies from Glasgow University and began the FSA graduate training course five months ago

Did you know what career you wanted at University?
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, for certain. My career just seemed to develop on a natural progression into finance.

How did you arrive at the FSA?
I worked for eighteen months in the financial services industry in Glasgow after I left university and achieved my Financial Planning Certificates 1,2 and 3. This gave me substantial professional qualifications. I then aimed to move towards something more ‘career-orientated’.

What does your day-to-day role involve?
I’m working in the Banks and Building Societies Division in a department known as JANE, which is the Japanese, Australasia, North America and European banks. You are allocated certain banks as soon as you start and your job is to ensure that the banks follow their supervisory timetable. There’s a certain amount of administration work that you have to do. You’ll also receive many enquiries throughout the working day, whether it be from the chief executive of a bank asking you a question, or somebody from a different part of the FSA with an enquiry.

What did the application procedure involve?
After successfully filling in an application form, the next step is a full day at an assessment centre. This involves several aspects, from an interview and presentation, to verbal and numerical assessments – it’s quite a rigorous day. Then you come back for a final interview with the head of the department that you will be allocated to.

How quickly do you assume responsibility in the job?
Initially there is a training period of one month, which gives you a thorough overview of all aspects of the FSA. Then each graduate goes to work in their respective departments, and continues to receive ‘on-the-job’ training. The graduate role provides a great deal of responsibility, but you’re working within a team so you’re not on your own and you’ve got the support of everybody around you.

Are there other kinds of training?
The FSA is very encouraging about training and achieving additional qualifications. As a grad, there are always training opportunities to take advantage of. I’m just back from a week’s accountancy course.

What kind of support is there for graduates
We have a mentor who’s usually a manager from a different department. You meet up about once a month and go for lunch. They’re a kind of careers advisor, and will point you in the right direction with advise on your chosen career direction. You also have a buddy, who is another grad from a couple of years above you and he’s there for general well-being and advice.

What’s the most difficult part of the job?
Dealing with people from all different levels within the FSA and external organisations. You have to have the confidence to communicate with all types of people and not be intimidated by their rank and position.

What kind of qualities do you need to get on in this job?
Communication skills are the most important thing because you’re dealing with people from all levels. Also organisation skills are essential, because you may have to meet deadlines, but have the ability to handle unexpected interruptions in your schedule. So you’ve got to be able to organise your time effectively and with diplomacy. You need to be willing to take on new knowledge and IT skills.

What are the hours like?
They’re very good actually. It’s a nine to five job unless you’ve been given a deadline for the next day, but that’s pretty rare.

What does the future hold?
The graduate programme is two and a half years, and within that there’s rotation between the departments. You negotiate your rotation with your manager, and get advice from your mentor. The programme also has time for external secondments as well; you can go out into industry and work for a bank for six months, for example, which is a valuable exchange of knowledge.

Any words of advice for young grads considering a career at the FSA?
Regulation is always changing, so you’ve got to be able to adapt to change, and be prepared for a lot of professional development if you’re going to move into the FSA.

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