Kent Business School interviews Hannah Jones, Programme Finance Manager at Network Rail. After entering the company in 2011 on the Finance Graduate Scheme, Hannah has been involved in the recruitment of graduates for the Finance Scheme and recently attended the University of Kent to talk to our students about their opportunities. We catch up with Hannah to see what life is like in Finance at Network Rail and to gage her top tips for success when it comes to applying.
- Firstly can you give us an overview of what you currently do in your role at Network Rail and your career trajectory since starting their graduate scheme?
I first started the graduate scheme back in 2011. I spent two years studying towards the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) qualification and undertook several placements across the business during that time. I spent a few days in HQ functions – starting out in financial accounting and treasury before moving to the Manchester Financial Shared Services team. I then undertook two main placements – these were in Infrastructure Projects HQ and in maintenance at the Euston Maintenance Delivery Unit. Following the graduate scheme, I worked in property finance as the management accountant for Commercial Estate London.
I now work within the Infrastructure Projects Signalling team as the Programme Finance Manager for the Southern region. Within my current role, I work with a projects team who deliver around £120m/work a year. I am responsible for the governance around their spending to ensure that they are reporting robust financials. A large part of the role also involves accurate forecasting where it is essential that our spend forecast for the work bank over the next five years is as accurate as possible.
- What does an average day look like to you?
One of the things I enjoy about my role is that there isn’t a ‘typical day.’ My job differs depending on what is happening with projects, there is also a combination of internal deadlines such as forecasting and external factors such as funding constraints.
As an example, today I have been in a monthly business review for most of the day. I have been through the financials of each of our projects with the commercial team and project managers. I have looked into the ‘cost of work done’ stated in this accounting period and challenged project managers where appropriate. I have looked in detail at the amount they are accruing to ensure that this can be substantiated. I have also reviewed the forecast for each project, ensuring that the forecast over the next five years is as accurate as possible. I then spoke to our colleagues in the route and explained our forecast figures.
- What are the benefits of your job or favourite aspects?
Benefits of working for Network Rail are the excellent development opportunities which have involved big investments in staff training. The company also really offers a diverse range of experiences which has meant I’ve been involved in several placements and roles around the business.
My favourite aspect of the job is that I get to work with a wide range of people rather than being sat at a desk doing sums all day! I work with a range of business partners from engineers to project manager and the commercial team in addition to meeting the deadlines set by our HQ. There is a great deal of variety in the role and overall I like the fact that the job feels worthwhile; the team are delivering signalling projects which will benefit the public and it’s great to be a part of ensuring that we have accurately forecast for this work.
- Why were you at the University of Kent?
I came along to the University careers fair to talk to students about the opportunities available at Network Rail. By the end of the day I’d spoken to what may even have been hundreds of students about the graduate schemes we offer. On the whole, it was really good to see how enthused students were about getting their careers started, with many first years already looking at internships and placement years.
- As someone who recruits graduates, could you tell me what you look for when interviewing? Or what could make someone stand out to you in the assessment centre?
I can only really give in my own experience of what I think makes a difference. Definitely to have done research before the assessment centre to make sure you understand what the company do, and their key values. Give some thought to your own strengths, weaknesses, and have a think about what you have done so far. Think about the transferable skills you have developed which would be useful to the scheme; these could be examples of when you have demonstrated effective teamwork, business partnering or when you had to overcome a difficult challenge.
- What tips could you give to students looking to enter the finance industry? Or a commercial graduate scheme in general?
Entering the finance graduate scheme, I’d say make the most of every opportunity to get involved in placements around the business. The graduate scheme is a great time to undertake placements around the business, and to really understand what the business does.