PA Consulting: Taking the leap to change your career


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  • Rebecca, Michelle, Chris and Kathryn offer their insight into making the switch to a new industry, and their experience of how PA Consulting assisted their transition

    Rebecca Drummond – Scrum Master

    Michelle Kennedy – Support Analyst

    Chris McNeill – QA Engineer

    Kathryn Jauzion – Software Engineer

    Can you tell me a bit about your career journey up to this point, and how you ended up working at PA Consulting?

    Kathryn - My first career was as a teacher of Mathematics for four years, and I then worked as an Internal Auditor for five years. It was during that time that I started to miss the more technical side of work, so I began to research different possibilities for a career change. I came across a Masters conversion course and thought that it might provide the challenge that I was looking for. Shortly after, I was offered a job with PA Consulting. Their ethos and values really appealed to me, and they were very flexible about hybrid working.

    Michelle - For just shy of a decade, I worked in the finance sector as a Senior Payroll Consultant, managing and processing multiple payrolls for medium to large-scale clients. It was when I started working as a Data Support Analyst in my previous role that I realised that I love to learn, and browsing LinkedIn one day, I came across a job ad for a Support Analyst role with PA Consulting. I felt drawn to their values, sense of community and how they nurture growth.

    Chris- I left education at 18, with a Level 3 Qualification in Electronic Engineering, and then went to work in a large supermarket. I started part-time, imagining it would be a short-term stint, and ended up staying there for 11 years in various roles. Five years into that, I began studying Software Development, working towards a Level 5 HND. In my final class, the lecturer mentioned something called an Assured Skills programme for a tech company in Belfast, which turned out to be PA.

    Rebecca-I did a language degree at university and after graduating, I worked as a nanny in Belgium for a while. When I came home, whilst searching for jobs to start my career, I worked in a shop but ultimately struggled to find something that interested me. I went back to university in 2018 to study for a Master’s degree, during which time I applied for a 9-week software development academy, leading me to my job at PA.

    What prompted you to make the change?

    Michelle- Although I am forever grateful for the experience I gained from my previous career, I have never quite felt like it was for me. It was fast-paced and challenging, but I never truly felt fulfilled, or like I was making a valuable difference. That little voice in the back of my head kept pulling me back to the idea of working in IT, but where exactly? That was what I struggled with most – where do I fit in? What am I capable of?

    Kathryn- I was seeking more of a challenge and missed using my logical problem-solving skills. I was also looking for a career that would provide lots of job possibilities.

    Chris- While I really enjoyed my job at the supermarket, there was no real career progression there that I was interested in, so I started wondering about what I could do instead. In my Electronic Engineering course, there was a Programming module which was one of the few that I genuinely enjoyed and was actually good at. I then found the HND and went from there.

    Rebecca- I knew I wanted an exciting career with lots of opportunities but didn’t know how to get that or what that looked like exactly. It was happenstance I heard about the 9-week academy on the radio on my way to work one morning. I applied, got a space and then 9 weeks and an interview later I landed a job with PA Consulting!

    How have you found this industry as compared to your previous roles?

    Rebecca- The industry is extremely varied and diverse with a wide range of roles, client work and opportunities to find your place and make a mark. At PA I can grow and take my career as far as I want, the chance to make something of yourself is far greater than most industries and workplaces and these are all aspects that I highly value.

    Michelle- Tech companies tend to be a lot more attuned and forward-thinking when it comes to work-life balance, diversity, and inclusion. Flexible working, a more informal atmosphere, and the option to work wherever is most productive for you are some major differences I’ve noticed. For me, I feel like I am accepted for who I am in this industry. I have facial piercings and coloured hair and it isn’t an issue here; but in my old industry, I couldn’t wear my piercings to work, and I usually had to keep my hair a natural colour.

    To me, the IT industry tends to be a lot less focused on when, where, or how their employees do their work as long as the job gets done well. This relaxed approach to working encourages their staff to be comfortable and promotes growth and productivity. It’s 2024, and to me, this should be a higher priority for other industries. I feel this is very important.

    Kathryn- There are a wide variety of career openings and routes to go down. I am enjoying working in a technical development role, but there are so many other options available. If you find that one role doesn’t suit you then there is almost certainly another one that will be a better fit.

    Chris- It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, it can definitely be stressful. However, it is much more rewarding when you achieve something, and I get a greater sense of purpose overall.

    There’s plenty of variety in the career paths you can choose from. You have new experiences nearly every day and you’re always learning whether you know it or not.

    Did you find that your previous experience had prepared you for your new career in Digital? What skills do you think were transferable?

    Michelle-My past experiences have provided me with an excellent foundation to build upon and I feel better prepared for what my future holds in tech. I imagine I am much more prepared now than if I were to go straight into a tech role after leaving school when I did. Whatever your experience, it is very likely you have gained vital experience with time management, planning, communication and problem-solving that would be very beneficial to your new career in tech.

    Chris- I think interacting with a variety of different people, in various scenarios, on a daily basis was a big one. At PA you can come across many different personalities and roles, especially on the client side, as you move across different projects. So how you communicate with them and handle certain situations effectively will vary. Being adaptable to that is something that has transferred over.

    Rebecca- I learnt a lot to do with digital strategy/transformation, UX/UI, user research, SEO and other aspects of social media management and data science during my masters, all the skills I learnt during this time were very helpful when moving into the digital space of a consultancy firm. I have found that the development of soft skills was particularly beneficial when faced with public speaking, giving presentations, working on slide decks etc. I think a lot of the technical aspects can be learnt on the job, but those core consultancy skills will stand to you throughout your career.

    Kathryn-In many ways, my previous experience did prepare me. I had built up lots of other skills in my past roles, such as communication, presentation, and organisational skills. My jobs leading up to the career change had also exposed me to different types of professional environments, all of which helped.

    What would you advise employers who were seeking to welcome more talent from non-traditional pathways?

    Chris- I would say try and make it as accessible as possible, as those going down this route probably have more constraints on their time, finances etc. They’ll also be sacrificing a lot, taking a huge risk leaving one career for an entirely new one, which can be pretty terrifying. So, you have to put assurances in place that you’re a viable option for them.

    Michelle- As well as looking at someone’s experience and skills, I think it’s important to look deeper. There are a lot of people out there who may not have the traditional experience you would expect but have a powerful desire to learn and grow if given the opportunity. They have an abundance of potential just waiting to be unlocked, and sometimes all it takes is for the right person to come along and give them a chance – Be that person.

    Rebecca- I would focus on core soft skills, that are arguably more difficult to learn, with the intention of getting new joiners to do more ‘on the job’ learning. Most of us only know anything from what we learn while working on a daily basis and not what we learn from formal education. I would also note that many of us from different backgrounds may have valuable skills that we can bring across perhaps also offering a different viewpoint.

    Kathryn- People who have worked in other lines of employment will bring with them a new perspective and skills that may not otherwise have been gained by following the traditional pathway.

    Changing your career path is a decision that is generally not taken very lightly and requires dedication, motivation and positive characteristics in any employee.

    If someone reading this is considering the move into a digital or tech role, what one piece of advice would you give them?

    Rebecca-Ask, ask, ask! Ask questions on everything and don’t ever be ashamed or embarrassed for not understanding something. Nobody expects you to know everything and will appreciate and respect you for holding your hand up and asking for help.

    Michelle- Do it - My only regret is that I didn’t take the leap sooner!

    One of the most common hesitations I hear from friends and family is “I’m bad at maths/programming, so I don’t think I would be cut out for a tech role”. I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions of tech/digital roles. You don’t have to be good at programming or great at mathematics to make it in the industry. There are a lot of roles within the industry that don’t require either of these skills.

    Whether you are a people person or prefer to work alone, a coding whizz or creative genius, a number cruncher or advice-giver, there will most definitely be a role suited to you. Tech roles are more than just Software Engineers and Support Technicians; there’s Data Analysis, Cybersecurity, Business Analysis, Cloud Engineering, IT Consultancy, UX/UI Design, Service Delivery Management and many more. I truly believe anybody can find their place in the tech industry.

    Kathryn- Go for it. It has opened up so many opportunities for me, and as I mentioned previously there are a variety of roles available

    Chris- You don’t need to know everything, you most likely never will, and that’s OK. I stressed myself out when studying, and applying for jobs and in my early weeks at PA, that I had huge knowledge gaps in different areas of the development process.

    If you can grasp the basic core skills, then you’re already well-equipped to deal with most things. From there you’ll continually build up your expertise and also pick up new things naturally through different experiences.

    Finally, what are your career aspirations now that you’ve made the move?

    Kathryn- My aspiration is to keep learning more about development and to continue improving on my skills. I have recently been promoted to Consultant, so I am looking forward to seeing what that will bring.

    Rebecca- PA has been really good to me, and with the wealth of opportunities available within the firm to progress and grow I am excited to climb the ladder with the hope of specialising in the digital transformation space.

    Chris- I’m a few years in now and very happy with where I’m currently at in my own career and what I’ve achieved so far. My current career goal is just to round out my skills a little bit more. My main personal goal is to help others coming in, who are in the same position that I was a few years ago.

    Michelle- Before I started my degree, I was playing about with learning how to code in my spare time and found it both challenging and rewarding. There’s nothing better than finally getting your program working after struggling with console errors for what feels like an eternity. Since then, I’ve completed a few online courses, built small scale projects for my GitHub portfolio, and even came in joint 1st place in a beginners Python course that PA and Women in Tech hosted!

    As my confidence grows during my studies, I aim to make the move into a Software Engineering role in PA. I am particularly interested in AI and cybersecurity, and I’m thinking of picking one of these subjects as a module for my 2nd year.

    This article appears in the skills, education and tech careers edition of Sync NI magazine. To receive a free copy click here.

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