Before moving to the external options, it is worth pointing out that after qualifying many people choose to stay at the NAO. The NAO is a fantastic employer with a competitive portfolio, good remuneration and excellent work/life balance. For many this will be just what they are looking for. There are opportunities for promotion to Audit Manager and Director levels and the office is moving toward giving staff opportunities to take on roles typically allocated to higher grades where appropriate, for example an Audit Principal functioning as the Engagement Manager. This is one of many positive steps that will help maintain progression in an organisation with a relatively flat structure.
However, some people do leave. Thus, as with university applications, the future prospects are important and employability is a key question. To answer this there are two things to consider: the skills and experience you can gain, and where leavers have gone.
Our first consideration then is the skills and experience. Over the course of your three years (or more if you stay on) you will become professionally qualified. You will take part in value for money studies that will challenge you with skills such as research, report writing, note taking, information condensing, upward reporting, drafting and development of project or part of a project. Many of these skills will be in place following university but should become finely sharpened tools to allow you to take a lot of information, sift out what is necessary and relevant before providing others with a synopsis that enables rapid understanding and use of the information.
On the audit side you will learn the standard audit techniques, terminology and skills. You will also have the opportunity to lead complete audits, manage staff and participate in meetings with very senior client members. At the NAO you will deal with some very large numbers but will also be able to see complete organisations and processes, allowing you to appreciate both scale and detail; something other firms cannot offer.
More generally (for those unsure whether to apply for an audit role), interpersonal and general productivity skills will be enhanced. You will need to stay organised under pressure, deal with challenging clients (on occasion) and the odd complex accounting treatment or issue. The important thing to remember is that while anyone can audit, the experiences and knowledge you will gain will enable you to spot the subtleties, understand the mood of the client, stay calm under pressure and deliver high quality outputs whether things go right, or wrong!
The second consideration is the destinations of those who leave. Leavers from my intake have thus far typically gone to top 10 audit/assurance firms or FTSE 100 organisations. Those that have not gone to one of these two destinations chose not to. Other leavers have either retired after decades of service or have moved to senior positions
in other good, reputable organisations.
In short, you will gain fantastic experience at the NAO that will set you up for life both professionally and personally. It will give you a good platform to either succeed in the NAO itself, or to secure a good position elsewhere.