Alumni stories: Maija Rinta-Laulaja – Aalto Alumna & Consultant
For the first career story created and published by Aalto Accounting, we had the opportunity to interview and write an inspiring story about Maija Rinta-Laulaja – a driven consultant currently working as a financial interim in a consultancy company called Northern Interim Services (NIS). What makes Maija’s story especially intriguing is that Maija originally intended to pursue a career in auditing but was bold enough to take on unplanned opportunities and then ended up in a totally different field. In this career story, Maija will share her experience growing from a student interested in external accounting issues into a successful consultant.
Could you please start by telling us about yourself and your background?
My name is Maija and I’m a graduate from Aalto University School of Business. I did both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees majoring in accounting. I chose corporate law as a minor during my bachelor’s degree and went for a student exchange in South Korea later during my master’s. Given my original intent to build a career in auditing practice, I wanted to get an understanding about the legal aspects in the corporate world, and hence planned my studies with a heavy emphasis on courses related to external accounting.
Landing the first job in Nets from career fair
I got my first job in the field of studies from Nets during my second year of studies. I landed the job via career fair organized at campus. What happened was that in the event, I decided to go talk with the financial executive of Nets, and apparently made a relatively great first impression, got into an interview and was then hired by them. During my time at Nets, I got to work as part of their accounting and business controller teams. I was occupied with tasks related to e.g., accounts payable, accounts receivable and internal reporting for those few years I spent there. The role gave a thorough overview of the financial administration of a company in general. For me this position was a great way to kickstart my career path.
Bumping into new work-life opportunities after the exchange semester in South Korea
When I moved on from Nets, I had a short gap to my resume due to my exchange semester in South Korea. After I came back to Finland I was in the final meters with my studies, having a few courses and thesis to be completed. At this point, I landed my second job in the field and started to work full-time in an engineering company. In this position, I worked as part of their financial team and got to work with a wide variety of external accounting issues.
The financial department in this smaller company was compact, and I found this a major advantage. This is because it allowed me to get to work with and solve all kinds of issues. Consequently, I eventually had the opportunity to be promoted to financial controller in the company. Indeed, towards the end of my time in this company, I found myself responsible for all external accounting issues you could think of in the house. In addition, I was even working as an interim financial manager of the company.
Shifting the mindset from auditing to consulting
In the previous phases of my career, I worked a lot with issues related to external accounting, which also meant I got to work a lot with auditors. Ever since my study time, I had also known I wanted to try out management consulting at some point. Working with auditors gave me some insights into which kind of consulting arena might eventually interest me. Instead of heading towards a career in auditing, I found myself being highly interested in technology and decided to build my career towards that instead.
Four years as a business consultant
My interest in technology-related matters eventually led me to kick start my consulting career at BearingPoint, working on projects related to the improvement of companies’ ERP systems. I think this position with clients ranging from publicly listed firms to state-owned companies served as an effective learning experience in my early-stage consulting path. The position also gave me the opportunity to work with diverse people and environments.
Current position at Northern Interim Services
After my time at BearingPoint, I started in my current position as a financial consultant at NIS. At NIS I get to work in changing roles from finance administration development projects to interim positions. For instance, in interim roles I could be working as a temporary finance manager or a business controller in some of our client companies. In this position I really enjoy the opportunity to combine my competency areas broadly in varying roles.
Do you think coincidence has sculpted your career path in some way?
Absolutely. I do think there was some coincidence involved in where I headed in my career. I think being open-minded and taking on new opportunities have directed my career path more than strict career planning. For instance, my decision to take on the full-time position in the engineering company during my master’s degree was partially coincidental since my initial plan was to land a part time job. The insights I got during my time there directed toward a different direction given my original plan of pursuing a career in auditing. It’s obvious that my areas of interest and a will to develop myself constantly have, however, affected my choices along the way. Planning and visioning career as a student is important and it will affect the first career steps. Along the way, the best way to learn about your “career-self” is through experience. Different experiences – be they good or bad – can be helpful for you to gain perspective on what you want to do and where you want to head in the future.
What do you think has been the best part in consulting?
Based on the five years I have spent in consulting; I think the best part is getting to work with different kind of people and continuous learning. In addition, I think being
able to work on different projects in varying environments are definitely pros in this field. These elements provide a good fit for a curious and inquisitive person.
What do you think has been the most difficult part in consulting?
Even though varying working conditions is one of the best parts in consulting, it is also something that can be challenging. You can find yourself often in new situations and there can be a need to adapt quickly into new environments. Every customer is different and a new learning opportunity. I’d recommend keeping an open mind and recognizing the ways of working that are most suitable for you when facing new situations. Career toolkit comes with experience but can be developed e.g., via mentoring and coaching.
How do you manage adapting to new projects, environments, and information systems?
I have recognized the ways of working suitable for me in terms of adaption when beginning a new assignment. These differ and are dependent from the assignment. People around you are most often the key for adaption. What comes to client turnover, I think the most relevant thing from the adaption perspective is to make sure the cycle for new assignments is optimized for you. Coming from the information systems-related consulting background, I found new systems as something one learns fast as a part of job.
Is there something that has been surprising to you in consulting?
Absolutely! More often than not I have been thinking: “How did I end up in this situation?”, in a positive sense. Sometimes your role might eventually develop into something completely different from what you had anticipated it to be. Of course, there are also a lot of interesting human interactions along the way when you work with diverse people.
What skills would you say to be the most important in everyday working life?
On top of professional expertise valuable skills from my perspective are ability to see the big picture, emotional intelligence when facing different kind of people and good communication skills. Also, consulting requires the ability to adapt into different situations, and sometimes ability to cope with some level of uncertainty. Again, knowing the most suitable ways of working for you is important.
How do you think your studies in accounting have supported your career?
External accounting gave me a thorough insight into the theoretical and legal fields of accounting, and I think it has supported my career path a lot. There are new things that come up in work life, but it has been interesting to reflect the theoretical aspects from my study times into the more practical work-life setting.
Given consulting is known as a relatively hectic profession, how do you feel about your work-life balance?
It’s true that some projects can be hectic and time-consuming. It is the employer’s important responsibility to observe and reflect on the big picture and establish a ground for a balanced workload – a hectic assignment should follow a less hectic one in order to maintain balance. The key here is continuous and open two-way communication between employee and employer. I have a good balance right now thanks to the good practices followed at NIS.
What kind of career advice would you give to a student who wants to try out a career path in consulting?
I would advise them to be bold, take on those opportunities they bump into and try out different roles. Experiences are valuable, some are more positive and some not, but all those experiences will increase your understanding about what is right for you and where you want to head in your career.