‘Take the time to perfect the little things’

My Career Path: Niamh Friel, The Chartered Governance Institute and senior associate at KPMG

Niamh Friel: “I didn’t fully appreciate how important communication, interpersonal skills and teamwork are in the working world.”

Niamh Friel: “I didn’t fully appreciate how important communication, interpersonal skills and teamwork are in the working world.”


What/where did you study? When did you graduate?

I graduated with a BCL from NUIG in 2015 and then completed a part-time, three-year MSc in Management and Corporate Governance from Ulster University while I was a trainee company secretary with KPMG. The first two years of these exams are recognised as a qualifying programme to obtain chartered company secretary status along with relevant work experience.

What attracted you to your current role/company/path?

I attended an “Other Careers in Law” seminar in NUIG that included a talk on being a company secretary. I liked what I heard about the importance of the company secretary role, working at the top tier of organisations and how you could gain first-hand experience from the top down within an organisation. I liked the company secretary’s focus on company law and corporate governance as I enjoyed these subjects in my basic degree.

We were just at the tail-end of the recession and I had many friends and family that had to leave the country to find work in those years so I was really interested in hearing that there was a good job market for company secretaries. Immediately after the seminar, I applied for a job as a trainee in KPMG and thankfully got the job.

What did you find most challenging about your transition from education into the working world?

As most students know, college time is mostly your time. I was playing Gaelic football for both club – Termon – and county – Donegal – so I had huge flexibility to fit in training and getting home early at the weekends for matches.

However, when I joined the working world of nine to five – and longer – it was challenging. I was also completing an MSc in Management and Corporate Governance – that involved some weekend lectures, assignments and exams. I couldn’t get home to train every weekend but I had stopped playing for Donegal by that time, which was a pity, but I’m still playing with Termon. It took a while to find the balance but I’m still making the four-hour journey home almost every Friday and back down again on Sunday.

Do you have any mentors? If so, what is their value to you?

Yes. In sport I’ve always looked up to and learned from more experienced players. They had a big impact on decisions about my commitment to sport. When I started playing county football, there were more experienced players on the team that would go out of their way to encourage me and make me feel like you belonged on the team. Now I try to do the same with younger players.

In work, my manager and senior trainees were mentors, teaching me work and people skills. Work colleagues were always approachable and I wouldn’t be afraid to go to them for their opinion or guidance.

What is the most valuable thing you have learned since joining the workforce?

The importance of soft skills. I didn’t fully appreciate how important communication, interpersonal skills and teamwork are in the working world. When you’re playing Gaelic football, learning how to communicate with and navigate the different personalities on a team becomes second nature and I think that definitely stood to me when I joined the workforce. Similarly, speaking in a team meeting or a group setting was less daunting for me because I was used to talking to my team at training or before games.

One piece of advice for new graduates.

It can be hard to know what to expect when you start a job as a company secretarial graduate. The role can be very different depending what type of practice you go into, be it professional services, funds or in-house work. I would recommend taking the time to perfect the little things like annual compliance, minute-taking etc.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions even if you think you might be annoying others, but people prefer to answer a few questions and get a good piece of work than to get a piece of work that has been done completely wrong. Once you perfect the basic tasks, managers will recognise the good work you are doing and the more interesting tasks will follow.