Author Archives: Mahmoona Begum

Why being a mature student can help you get ahead

Mahmoona-BegunStudent accounting ambassador Mahmoona Begum is in her second year of a BSc Accountancy and Finance degree. Earlier this year, she wrote an award winning essay. Here she shares her journey on studying for a degree as a mature student.

It’s amazing to think that eight years ago, I was working in a solicitor’s office and the prospect of going to university was very slim.

But here I am, at the age of 25, studying for a BSc in Accountancy and Finance at Bradford University School of Management with the aim of becoming a Chartered Accountant.

Bradford University

I didn’t find it hard to choose Bradford. Not only because it had been ranked as one of the best business management schools in the North, but there was a major focus on employability which was an important factor when I was deciding which university to go to.

I also liked the fact that my course offered a year out in industry – gaining work experience within a finance related role was just as important to me as studying within a professional and challenging environment.

Although studying at Bradford University School of Management has been a steep learning curve, I have learnt so much and here I share with you the skills that will help you in your career, my tips for getting the best out of your student experience and a five point plan to secure a work placement.

1. What skills have I learnt?

Teamwork isn’t something you learn in a day. University and the world of work are similar as you may end up working with people you do not get along with. Demonstrating that you can work in a team is incredibly important and you get plenty of practice at university – from competing in business challenges to attending mock assessment centres.

Being organised is really important. University can prepare you to deal with challenges you may face at work as studying for a degree teaches you to work under pressure, meet deadlines, stay motivated and plan your time effectively.

Developing excellent communication skills is essential in every aspect of business. As this is one of the best business management schools, we students learn to write reports, deliver presentations and even attend mock interviews. We are also given assessments that test every area of our communication skills.

2. How can I get the best out of being a student?

Get involved in extracurricular activities – university isn’t just about getting a first!  There are a lot of extra-curricular activities available and it is really important to get involved as these will help you keep the balance when studying gets too much. Not only that, but it will also help you to develop new skills that will look great on your CV and give you the opportunity to make new friends.

Be organised and have a schedule. The best thing you can do for yourself is buy a planner on your first day and use it to remind yourself about deadlines (if you make a note of them!), when to attend events and things to remember after each lecture. Planning your work beforehand will save you from panicking!

Start a study group – it’s amazing how quickly you’ll go from week 1 to week 12. Study groups can be really effective because you help others and share ideas.

Don’t just depend on your reading list – this isn’t a must, but if you’re the type of person who likes to engage with different types of learning material in order to understand something then I would suggest looking at alternatives.

Lots of lecturers at Bradford University School of Management upload links, documents and audio files on blackboard, so make sure you check these out.

Youtube is another great (free) resource! I managed to revise my entire macroeconomics module with the help of 10 minute revision videos by Paj Holden.

Get feedback on your work – many students worry and feel their tutors are unapproachable but this hasn’t been my experience.  Tutors and lecturers can give you practical advice and feedback on how you can improve the quality of your work.

Attend guest lectures – I would definitely recommend this to students as this is an opportunity to meet employers and people working in industry.  And more often than not, many students end up securing internships and placements.

3. My Five Tips to Winning a Placement

Get your CV checked – the process of applying for a placement starts with an up to date CV and we are lucky as the School of Management has a dedicated careers team who will help bring life to your CV (well, not literally- that would be like something out of Hogwarts) and check your cover letters.

Don’t leave your placement hunt to chance – draw up a list of employers and placements you’re interested in, start learning about them and their application process. Being proactive in searching for employers and attending careers fairs will be a major advantage when you come to apply for their jobs. If you’ve had contact with them before, chances are they will remember you and realise that you’re interested in their organisation.

Deloitte, for example, have a “buddy scheme” which is open to students. If successful you can meet their staff and get to know their business areas. They even offer to answer any application questions you may have.

Practice, practice, practice – take advantage of the many workshops and seminars that run throughout the semester (and even after exams!) such as mock interviews and assessment centres. If requested, you can even get access to practice online tests.  In most cases, the interview process for a placement is the same process graduates go through so the more familiar you are with the interview questions or the assessment, the easier it will be for you to perform well.

Be passionate – employers like to know what your motivations are and why you applied to them. Unfortunately, saying that you need a placement to complete your degree won’t quite cut it and you need to demonstrate a passion for what you want to achieve and the area you’re interested in, be it accounting, banking, financial planning or insurance.

job-interviewNailing a hard ball interview question that tests your industry knowledge could actually set you apart from the other candidates as someone who doesn’t just repeat facts taken from Wikipedia. One of the ways I have stayed informed on topical financial issues is to sign up to Deloitte’s Monday Briefing which is emailed to me every Monday!

Be prepared for rejection – most students have to apply for a number of placements before being successful so don’t get too disheartened by the rejections. Although, the application process can be stressful and time consuming, my advice would be to keep persevering.

For instance, I started my search for a placement at the beginning of my second year and eventually got my first offer after it had finished. In between, I received countless rejections.

4. Why being a mature student has helped me

I have found that being a mature student and accounting ambassador has given me an advantage when applying for placements. More often than not, employers tend to look favourably on mature students because they can demonstrate skills and experience and are more focussed on what they want to achieve.  Remember, the more life experience you have, the more examples you will have to draw on in interviews and applications.

5. What I want to do after I graduate

Once I graduate, I want to complete my professional qualifications and then find a challenging graduate training programme within public or private sector accounting.

I would also consider further study because the School of Management has opened up so many opportunities for me. One of the things that interests me is the Innovation, Enterprise and Circular Economy MBA which offers a unique insight into the circular economy business model, something more businesses are moving towards.

How have you found being a mature student? What advice would you offer prospective students and does being a mature student give you an advantage with employers?

Introducing social media to accountancy firms to attract and retain clients and employees – #ICAEW award-winning essay by Mahmoona Begum

Mahmoona BegumMahmoona Begum, second year BSc Accounting and Finance student, at Bradford University School of Management won the 2012 West Yorkshire Society of Chartered Accountants (WYSCA ICAEW) Essay Competition.  Mahmoona’s essay was considered the best out of submissions from 5 universities including York, Leeds, Bradford, Leeds Met and Huddersfield. The prize is £500 plus 4 weeks’ work experience.  Mahmoona can be found on Twitter @moonabegum

Mahmoona’s prize-winning essay focused on how a fictitious accountancy firm, JPP Accountants could use social media to market themselves cost-effectively as well as looking at risks and ethical issues.  Here are the key points from her essay

1. How can accountancy firms use social media to promote themselves?

Social media is now one of the most effective ways for businesses to promote themselves and market their products/services (Key Note, 2012) there are many features within these platforms, from customer reviews on Facebook to recommendations on LinkedIn that can be utilized which creates the need for organisations to become social media savvy and start getting noticed online.

Social Media Platforms

As can be seen in the figures above, a vast majority of businesses are using Twitter and Facebook as part of their online activities and 57% are using business network LinkedIn. These trends are on the increase since the use of mobile and smart devices such as tablets make it easier for users to connect and communicate.

2. Which are the main social media?

 

The three main social media networks for accountants, explored here, are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. The opportunities presented by these three platforms are the most significant to win new customers and keep existing ones as well as staying connected with staff by providing JPP Accountants with new ways of finding and engaging with them. It is very likely that their current clients will also be using these platforms.

Facebook-twitter-linkedin

3. How to use social media for business development

As the Key Note research highlighted, the main challenge for accountancy firms in recent years is to stand out from the competition and generate new business.  There are a number of ways within social media to attract new clients:

Tweeting a link to their blog, case studies (of previous clients) or details of services that JPP Accountants provide is an effective way of educating prospective clients on their services. They can engage with those followers that re-tweet you by starting a discussion about it.

As a financial management lecturer would point out, issues such as taxation are important to all business owners – who are looking for accounting firms that are well informed on current tax law.  By tweeting tax advice or links to tax-related news and articles you can advertise your knowledge and services to all those people who are interested in tax issues by using the hash tag function to optimize their posts (CheapAccounting.co.uk, 2012)

  • Create a company profile on Facebook

No other social media site can compete with Facebook in terms of its user base. A Facebook page will broadcast information about your business in an official manner to those people who want to connect with JPP Accountants. When someone “likes” the page it appears in their entire friend’s newsfeed almost like a referral or endorsement which increases JPP Accountant’s potential business. Facebook ads can also help to connect you with potential clients.

  • Connect with potential clients on LinkedIn

There are thousands of groups on LinkedIn and you can target the groups that would contain prospective clients such as a local business network. Once you connect with groups you can join in with discussions and start getting noticed. Recommendations from current clients are also likely to spark interest from potential clients. At the moment JPP Accountants only gains clients through word of mouth referrals or get referrals from other professionals, this can increase their scope significantly.

4. Improving client retention of accountancy firms

Holding on to existing clients is proving difficult for accounting firms during economic downtimes (FRC, 2012) and it’s even harder when competitors are constantly trying to take your business away. Social media can help cement relationships with your clients and reduce your attrition rates.

  • Your clients are only a tweet away! JPP Accountants can utilize their presence on Twitter by engaging with their clients and answering simple questions or responding to requests quickly.
  • More and more people increasingly fail to respond to emails and phone calls and are more likely to be logged in to their Twitter or Facebook account. A personal message via Twitter and Facebook can prompt business owners to get in touch to sign off important documents.
  • Posting upcoming events and other engagements on Facebook will keep JPP Accountants clients aware of their activities and will also keep the dates in their “Events” tab to remind them of when the event is happening.

5. Social media to support recruitment

For accountancy firms their employees are their current and future source of wealth. Accounting lecturers say that in order to operate effectively, accountancy firms need to find the right talent. More and more people are using social media to find jobs now that they are beginning to recognize the value of having an online presence and the impact it can have on their professional careers.

  • Recruitment campaigns can now be based on Facebook and Twitter rather than job fairs alone, JPP Accountants can answer questions relating to the job quicker and more people are likely to see their posts about jobs and placements.
  • Tweeting links to their recruitment website/ online application page can prompt potential applicants to log in and apply, while those that have friends that may be interested can retweet it for their followers.
  • LinkedIn has replaced the traditional methods of job hunting and recruiting, it’s easier to link directly with potential employees and have instant access to their online CV so that JPP Accountants can reduce the time it takes to request information and receive applications.
  • JPP Accountants could post open positions in their status updates on LinkedIn- which will generate interest from those people who are already interested in their firm and linked with them.

Retaining current employees is just as important as recruiting new ones. Here’s how social media can keep current employees engaged:

  • Having current and former graduates share their experiences within the firm on Twitter and Facebook as ambassadors can have a positive impact on employee behavior as well as giving outsiders a valuable insight into your business.

Training your staff on how to use social media will encourage them to use their Twitter accounts to interact with both existing and potential customers.

  • Posting about top performing employees or recognizing their achievements on Facebook or Twitter will give them public recognition. This is seen as much more personal approach to congratulating your employees.
  • Creating a group on Facebook or LinkedIn will enable employees to share views and news amongst each other as well as giving them the chance to collectively support each other, to give and receive help and to congratulate each other on their success.

6. Other social media platforms for professional services marketing

Effective communication is important in business dealings with employees and clients. Here are descriptions of other platforms that are being used for this.

7. The benefits of social media to accountancy firms

Social media tools offer a number of benefits, the most obvious of these are

blog-3-vs3

cost-speed-qualityvs-28. Are there social media risks for accountancy firms?

There are a number of risks in using social media that we will now examine.

  • Disclosure of proprietary information

When information is passed through social media websites the privacy of that information could be breached. In order to prevent such happenings companies should regularly review their social media content and train their employees on how to use social media effectively.

  • Negative impact of social media on the company

There are risks that the employees of your company may not engage in social media professionally and there may be abuse or misuse of social media that could damage your reputation. To avoid happenings like this the company should have a social media policy in place that clearly outlines any unwanted situations.

  • Theft of PII

If you’re using social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook there is a risk that internet fraudsters could steal your or your client’s personally identifiable information. However, there are a number of privacy options on all social media sites that can allow you to restrict which information you want to share with those that you are connected with.

9. How does the ICAEW’s code of ethics apply in social media?

It is important to consider the ICAEW’s guidelines on ethics before deciding to implement social media into your business practice. The guidelines help all members of the ICAEW (including students) to demonstrate the highest standards of professional conduct. We will now discuss these ethics.

1. Integrity: To be straightforward and honest in all business relationships

Social media can allow you to be open and honest in all aspects of your business, for example you would be able to share a post on your blog-which could be an update on your business practices- through Facebook and Twitter and it would reach a wider audience than just your mailing list.

2. Objectivity: To not allow bias, conflict of interest or undue influence of others to override professional or business judgments

Although social media can bring you closer to your clients and associates, the same rules apply to the way you communicate as it would to someone who you are meeting in person. You must have a social media policy in place in order to keep your interaction/engagement strictly professional.

3. Professional competence and due care: To maintain professional knowledge and skill at the level required to ensure that a client or employer receives competent professional services based on current developments in practice, legislation and techniques and act diligently and in accordance with applicable technical and professional standards.

LinkedIn is a great way of keeping up to date with professional seminars and networking with other professionals that could be helpful in dealing with your clients. Twitter is another medium that could be used to follow current developments in practice and legislation- and tweet to keep your clients informed of these! The ICAEW have a twitter account that regularly posts tweets about current business issues as well as posting links to their discussion board- get engaged and stay informed!

4. Confidentiality: to respect the confidentiality of information acquired as a result of professional and business relationships and, therefore, not disclose any such information to third parties without proper and specific authority unless there is a legal or professional right or duty to disclose nor use the information for the personal advantage of the professional accountant or third parties.

Disclosure of private information is one of the risks you will face when using social media, however, you will never need to post about or share details of clients’ accounts or other information that could breach confidentiality.

5. Professional behaviour: to comply with relevant laws and regulations and avoid any action that discredits the profession.

Social media is a powerful tool for business communications on all levels but it can also do a lot of damage if your employees violate regulations. This links in with your social media policy, which must be comprehensive so that employees are thoroughly trained in order to be familiar with what is expected and what is allowed.

If you had to prioritise how an accountancy firm used social media, where would you recommend they should start?  Have you got case studies to share?