I was an English literature graduate!
Getting a job at Deloitte on the graduate tax scheme in 2007 at the height of the credit crunch was like a dream come true.
I was among only three people in my graduating class I knew of that had landed such a prestigious job.
Hugo had landed a job at EY, Katie had bagged a job in HR at Goldman, and here I was at Deloitte pursuing tax.
The internship itself had been pretty damn fun.
The work didn’t blow me away – but I’d won a few of the competitions I was in and had a hell of a time at the social events.
On a night out with Nick Ellison – we’d go on to do a lot of work together
When you win an internship and you’re enjoying a night out with the other interns you do somewhat feel like you’re a special bunch.
And I guess in many ways that were true.
I had several friends that were economics, finance and computer science majors that had not been able to land jobs immediately in the city. Furthermore, I remember being called and being told that I had landed the last actual job offer for the London office.
What’s particularly poignant about that memory is Bablo (my housemate at the time) spraying my face with water in celebration of landing the internship.
Everyone around me was pleased and Deloitte themselves had certainly been good to me.
As Lehman’s Brothers collapsed and thousands of people were laid off at various banks and consultancies around the city – my job was secure.
Furthermore, Deloitte had allowed me to have a deferred start which meant that I could start one year after graduating AND take advantage of a 7k interest-free loan during my gap year after university.
And to add to all of this, it was 2009, and I was going to be starting on a 27k salary – which whilst it wasn’t an investment banking salary start – it was certainly bloody good.
This was all I had to be thankful for as I attended my first real networking event during my first weeks of starting my placement within the remuneration tax consulting department of Deloitte.
Networking night out with the interns
Our partner in our office, Matthew Ellis was known as being the highest-earning tax partner across the Big 4 last year.
He’d earned something like £750k in salary and then had a bonus that matched that amount. I couldn’t really even comprehend how much money that was – but knew enough to know that it meant that our particular department was very high performing.
And as I sipped a glass of wine at this ‘get-to-know-you’ office networking event I pondered upon the people that I had met.
Tax, and understanding tax legislation is inherently hard.
And thereby getting into Deloitte on a graduate tax programme and keeping your job in spite of all the cuts and being in a top-performing department…well….
It meant that I was around a very smart bunch of people.
So whilst there’d been some internship laughs at some folks who had managed to ‘slip through the net’ – they had all been weeded out upon starting the graduate programme.
And I could feel it.
Our official hours were 930 to 530 amongst the new starters – and we were encouraged to work to those hours by the associates a year or two above us.
Of course, at the same time, we’d signed a work waiver that allowed us to work longer than those hours if we wanted to.
Alongside this – amongst the graduates who were the new starters – if you wanted to get ahead then there was no way you were waiting until 930 to come in.
930 became 920/915/9 am until it settled at 830am.
This became the new normal – with the new leave time following a similar route.
We were after all only modelling those who were a couple of years/promotion ahead of us in the pecking order.
530 became 545 became 610 became 7 pm.
No one left at 530pm.
No one that is.
Apart from myself.
What you’re reading is a story of my brief city existence and what ultimately became my disillusionment with a well-oiled corporate machine and my inability to stomach this life that others seemed born for.
When I started the graduate programme in 2009 – the tone was very different to the internship programme.
This was no longer about dipping your toes in the water – this was about getting fully f*cking wet. And get wet I did. From the dizzying training expectations to learning the ins and outs of tax legislation…
To the precision expected of us in terms of our understanding of tax terminology. To our keenness and outspoken love for tax and putting in the extra hours. To the military-esque atmosphere that we worked in.
It all made for well…a tax haven.
And after all – we were billable in 6-minute increments and every big company always ‘knows’ to pay their accountants well. The right advice in this world was priceless.
Our time was already worth in excess of £200 per hour.
And we didn’t really know sh*t.
It was a vibrant and dynamic atmosphere to work in where you could absolutely thrive and fashion your own rise to the top.
I hated it.
From the outset, I’d got off on the wrong foot.
I’d already been chided for sending too many jokes/informal-style messages on the company-wide group emails.
Furthermore, I found the silence deafening when we sat around the islands of computers that we worked from. I had a burning desire to connect and communicate. And this wasn’t it.
The rose-tinted spectacles that people wore when they knew I’d got a place at Deloitte and the prestige that came with it had firmly been ripped off.
Now it was time to get serious and do the work that made Deloitte such a successful company; at the top of their respective game.
And therein lies part of the reason why I found the atmosphere so limiting and oppressive.
What they do works.
And the rigours of working for a corporate company in their world separate the men from the boys.
In their world – I was definitely the boy.
In this environment that was sink, swim or doggy paddle aimlessly in the middle – I would definitely be in the middle, doggy paddling for dear life.
Whilst I had the IQ and skillset – this wasn’t a place where that was enough. It also required hard work and determination.
I had neither of the above – and from Deloitte’s perspective – to make matters work – I was MUCH more easily taken by flights of fancy and visions of another life.
I remember one particular thing that I was told.
If you want additional work – ask for it from your immediate superiors – but don’t ask for help that’s above your station.
I felt like this was a stupid rule and therefore chose to ignore it.
Post networking event when I had the opportunity to meet a senior director – some 7-10 years and multiple promotions ahead of me – I decided to go over to his desk the next day and ask for some work.
We’d struck up a good conversation at the networking event and I was confident I’d made enough of an impression that I could go over and see if I could assist him with some work.
I knew that asking someone like him by email probably wasn’t a good idea – it’d be better to go over based upon the personal conversation that we had rather than transition it to email.
Especially given I’d already been told that to remember the lines of division when it came to who and who you shouldn’t ask for work from
The first time I went over he wasn’t there.
I knew I was somewhat transgressing; so I told no one.
I went back later again and this time found Stephen at his desktop.
He was deeply focused.
After the pleasantries, I asked him ‘do you have something I can maybe help with Stephen?’
As it turns out he did – and I was immediately given a research project for a client meeting he would be going into.
Alongside my current workload which was far from intense…I dived into it!
Around 30% of the new starters didn’t have so much to do. Those who were proactive, rapid-fire answered emails, asked around and sought aggressively after work found it. Those who were slightly less motivated – like me….didn’t.
But that was all about to change –
this was my chance to shine, to stick my head above the parapet and not get shot in the head!
And when I opened up the document I quickly realised I didn’t know what the hell I was doing….
But try and forge through I would.
So I put something together based upon other similar documents I could lay my hands on – had a senior associate give it a once over and got to a place where I was happy enough with it.
And as it turned out >
I was the only one who was happy with it.
Stephen as I got told – was far from impressed – and again I was read the same line I was read before – THIS is why it’s not good to go hunting for work from those a couple of levels above you.
And yet whilst we were told this – there were one or two others who had done so with success – and word had got around.
A combination of political angling; making sure you were putting in extra hours AND being seen in the office as well as working extraordinarily hard and accepting you were at the bottom of the pecking order seemed to be the way to success at Deloitte.
Probably similar to many other environments as well.
I would later see some parallels to this in the military – minus the political angling.
And what a brilliant way to build a company man of commitment and loyalty who would be wholly committed and last the distance.
For someone like me – who wasn’t committed – this process weeded me out and allowed me to self-select.
And ultimately opt out of such an experience.
So my time soon came to an end – and I left Deloitte and corporate life behind to embark upon a new chapter in my life.
And one of the things that became pivotal within this journey was building a strong internship team – which I’ll go on to talk about in the next email 🙂
Catch you then!