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My ACA experience: Sarah

After university Sarah started working as an Environmental Consultant, but soon realised that the role wasn't for her and decided to apply for ACA graduate schemes. After qualifying with PwC, she moved to PKF Littlejohn where she now travels the world looking at the finance of humanitarian aid projects that help refugees, malnourished children and communities affected by natural disasters. She's visited Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Gaza, Cameroon, Nigeria and Mali.

Sarah Dixon, Humanitarian Aid Project Auditor at PFK Littlejohn

Sarah Dixon Humanitarian Aid Project Auditor, PFK Littlejohn

ICAEW route: Graduate - non-finance degree

Industry: International development

Location: Canary Wharf, London

Sarah's story...

The ACA is a really useful qualification to have – a good grounding in business and financial knowledge and useful in any industry and any country. It opens doors everywhere! 

I wanted to work in the international development world, so decided to learn a skill to be able to take back into the industry.

I started work after university as an Environmental Consultant but soon realised it wasn’t quite the direction that I wanted. I applied for graduate schemes studying the ACA, having realised that accounting would be a useful skill. 

I landed an offer from PwC which was exactly where I wanted to be. I even got a six-month break to go travelling across Russia, Mongolia, China and India before I started. 

I spent a useful year sussing out my options after qualifying – there is so much out there for ACA qualifiers, that I didn’t want to jump at the first offer, I wanted to wait for something I would really enjoy.  

The average day of my job varies quite a lot. When I’m in the field (which could be anywhere in the world in humanitarian crisis), I spend some time in a local NGO office chatting to the finance and logistics teams and to the managers of the project I am looking at, to understand how it works and the progress that’s been made.

I then travel out to some pretty remote places to visit the projects, see them being implemented and meet the beneficiaries. This enables me to check whether the grant given to the project is being used as it was intended to be, right where it matters.

In London, my time is spent writing up reports of the field trips and planning for the next trip. 

Since moving to PKF Littlejohn and taking on this job as a Humanitarian Aid Project Auditor, I have been to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Gaza, Cameroon, Nigeria, Mali, Kenya, Uganda and Greece.

I have looked at disaster risk relief projects; Syrian refugee camps; Human Rights projects; and nutrition and child protection projects for those displaced by the violence and acts of Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.  

 

The best bit of this job is being out in the field, seeing new places and meeting new people from different countries, cultures and backgrounds, all the time. 

In terms of career highlights so far, passing the final ACA exam was a relief; and receiving job offers from both PwC and PKF Littlejohn were good moments.  

For me too, all of the interesting places I have been. With PwC: New York and Delhi; with PFK Littlejohn, all of the places listed above. 

I definitely did not realise when I started the ACA quite what it gives you. The technical accounting skills are only one small part of it. Your people skills improve vastly because you are constantly meeting and working with new people on every new audit.

My analytical skills and scepticism have developed, as well as my ability to quickly understand new businesses, industries and topics to be able to audit different companies and organisations efficiently and effectively.

My presentation skills have also developed from meetings with teams and clients, as well as my project and time management – from juggling more than one audit or project at once.

Above all, it has boosted my teamwork skills; with new and different teams for each audit, different personalities to adapt to, and hard deadlines to meet by working together. 

Trying to make career decisions is probably the biggest challenge! Making a decision over what you think you want to do, then having the confidence to follow it through and really believe that you are right isn’t easy.Equally, being able to admit to yourself when it wasn’t quite the right decision and having the confidence to do something about it. 

Where will I be in five years? Possibly on the client side within international development: working at an NGO or a UN agency; perhaps with a development bank making investment decisions in development projects.

I have a bet with a friend that I will win the Nobel Peace Prize, but I am currently struggling to come up with ideas of how to reach world peace so that may be a little ambitious!

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