• Role: Industrial Placement
  • Location: Sandwich, Kent
  • University: Canterbury Christ Church
  • Degree: Accounting and Finance
  • Organisation: Kreston Reeves

Stuart Gemmell

I am a retired Royal Engineer (Army) Staff Sergeant, of twenty-one years’ service, studying Accounting and Finance at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) and currently enjoying an Industrial Placement (year three of four), at Kreston Reeves. My family and I moved to the seaside town of Deal, Kent, after sustaining life-changing injuries in Afghanistan in 2013. I spent three years in military rehabilitation at Headley Court learning to walk again after losing my left leg above the knee, retiring from the Army in June 2016.

I now enjoy a more relaxed pace of life, studying and watching live sports, especially tennis, of which I enjoy attending the Wimbledon Championships each year. I also volunteer for the Air Training Corps, where I help run 2235 Deal – ATC Squadron, which promotes and encourages a practical interest in aviation and the Royal Air Force among young men and women aged between 13-18 years old.

Why did I choose to do a placement?

During my second year of study at CCCU, one of my second-semester modules was Work Based Learning. During this module, students are encouraged to undertake some practical work experience to enhance their skills and to get a feel for what their chosen field of work entails. I decided to work with the administration department at the Royal British Legion and work for Business Services at Kreston Reeves LLP, and it was during this part of my work experience that I realised I enjoyed the more practical elements of accounting work and that I needed greater exposure to become more proficient.

How did it tie in with your overall career plans?

When I started on my accountancy journey, I never intended to take advantage of a placement year, but as with most things in life, your experience is vital. I understand that the profession has a recognised entry process that many companies adopt, and after my experience in second year, I wanted to enhance my future employability and applied for an Industrial Placement (IP) at Kreston Reeves.

I hope that my IP will aid the deep-learning process and when the time comes to graduate, I will already be familiar with many of the systems and process that accountants adopt, to be successful.

What was the application process like – any advice?

My application process for Kreston Reeves consisted of two computer-based tests (numbers and reasoning), and an interview, but when I reflect on the process as a whole, I would include my year-two work experience placement.

If I were to give any advice on this process, I would say, do your research into your chosen company. Why would any company employ someone who knows nothing about them?

Be honest and be yourself. Do not claim to be something you are not. During the interview process, the company will try to get to know more about you. Tell them all about your interests and all the extra volunteering you do, however small it is. It is vital for them to know if your values and standards align with theirs.

What are your main duties?

The firm has many different service lines, covering a wide range of financial services, but my primary duties are centred on accounts and outsourcing work. I spend three days a week working on accounts preparation tasks, all the way through to submitting tax returns, for sole-traders, incorporated companies and not-for-profit organisations, and two days a week in outsourcing, processing clients bookkeeping duties.

Splitting my work between accounts and outsourcing has helped improve my understanding of the accounting process as a whole.

I have also represented the firm at careers fairs and networking events, meeting new and potential clients, understanding how best the company can help service their needs.

What are the most important things you have learnt from your placement?

The most important thing I have learnt during my time in my placement is not to be afraid of asking for help. In the short time that I have been at Kreston Reeves, I have noticed how the senior accountants are all talking about the best ways to do things. There is a natural chat in the office of questions being asked and people answering and helping each other out.

Never be afraid to take on tasks that you think may be beyond your knowledge. You will never learn much if you are stuck in your comfort zone.

What skills did you acquire or improve during your placement?

I have learnt many new skills during my time at Kreston Reeves. I have enhanced my theoretical understanding of accounting and learnt new practical skills to add to my knowledge base. There are many accounting software packages on the market, and it has been of great value to learn how to use a number of them.

Communicating clearly with both clients and staff is essential. One of the firm’s values is “Be crystal clear”, and although many of us think we can communicate appropriately, it is easy for things to get lost in translation, especially if clients are not familiar with financial terminology.

Time appreciation is one of the most valuable skills I have been able to improve. Things do not take place in a vacuum and often rely on other people providing information for you to complete your task.

Do you have any advice for someone seeking a placement?

Think carefully about what you want to achieve while on your placement and always tailor your applications to the company and the position you are applying. It is highly likely that you will get many rejections through the whole application process, try to learn from each one to improve on the next one.

Finally, remember your placement time is seldom wasted, even if it does not go to plan. You can learn just as much from negative experiences, as the positive ones. 

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