The decision I’m talking about is the choice between financial audit and value for money (VFM) work.
Before I set out, I should clearly say that there is a third way and, every year, a certain proportion of newly qualified trainees will take it and decide to move on from the NAO to pursue careers in both the public and private sector, in financial services roles and elsewhere. But, even if you don’t think you’ll remain at the NAO forever, it’s important to consider what you want your NAO career to look like and this applies well before qualification.
For me, the financial audit vs VFM choice has never been a particularly simple one.
Factor #1 – Type of work and variety
Financial audit work is often quite uniform but getting to know the client’s business and working in a range of environments and with a diverse array of people always provides a source of interest. This is especially true if you end up working in an area that interests you, as I have done on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport audit team, where much of my work is with museums and galleries. You tend to work more closely with clients on a day-to-day basis doing financial audit and you will often move between clients every few weeks which can be refreshing.
VFM studies, by comparison, can be of much longer duration if you’re there for the full course of a study. This would be unusual for a trainee but, after you qualify, you might find yourself committed to one study for the better part of the year if you were leading a traditional VFM study (rather than one of our smaller VFM outputs), meaning that you would experience a lot less variety. The time spent working directly with clients and other stakeholders is reduced as there is often a greater reliance on our own research and analysis. That said, each individual study is different and you can find yourself working on studies of real public (and personal) interest, potentially leading to changes in how the government spends money or provides services.
Factor #2 – Travel
There’s also a consideration to do with travel. A lot of our financial audit work takes place at client sites which are outside of London whereas the majority of VFM time is spent within the NAO’s own offices in Victoria. Financial audit travel has taken me to interesting places ranging from Hampton Court to The Hague and facilitated reunions with far-flung friends. But it has also caused me to miss out on social events and ice hockey practice sessions in London. So, like many things in life, it’s a balance.
So, what should I do?
My big suggestion to any trainee joining the NAO is simply this: try both. You will have opportunities, so make the most of them. Trainees generally spend most of their time on financial audit but there are VFM teams across the office in need of trainees. As with financial audit, every trainee’s experience is different and some people do one stint on a VFM study and declare that they never want to do it again but it’s hard to know that if you don’t give it a try. So, I advise you in the (hopefully not so) immortal words of Bucks Fizz “get a run for your money and take a chance and it’ll turn out right”.
As for me, I guess the time really has arrived for making my mind up – but I’ll leave you guessing as to where that leads.