Ilaisaane Vaine Soakai
Ilaisaane’s dream was to be a Tax Consultant with one of the Big 4. Read her story to find out how she made it happen.
I am from Fua’amotu, Puke and Pili, Tongatapu. I am studying Law and currently in my final year.
I grew up in a very humble family in Tonga. Getting a degree was not something I considered. I knew that my family could not afford it. Fortunately, my older siblings successfully supported our residency and we migrated to New Zealand. That opened the opportunity for me to attend university.
I was inspired to study Law when I saw that the language barrier and legal costs may prevent Pacific people from accessing justice. I wanted to be a criminal defence lawyer. However, when I took International Taxation, I immediately developed an interest in International Tax. From that point I knew I wanted to be a Tax Consultant at a multinational organisation at the end of my degree and become a member of Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand (CA ANZ).
My first year was challenging and I didn’t expect to make it into Part II. It was difficult to adapt to a new culture and environment and I was uncomfortable with my Tongan accent. However, I tackled things from a Pacific perspective.
Despite my struggles, I always remember that my village is behind me, and they are counting on me. Also, I didn’t want to pass on the wrong message to my kids that when things get tough, it is okay to give up.
I knew about CDES from the University website when I started my degree. Honestly, I didn’t think they would offer much help. But when I approached the Law School’s Career Adviser early 2021 for assistance with an internship application, she referred me to Pepe Afeaki (CDES Career Development and Employability Team Leader, Māori and Pacific).
We had a chat and she asked me where I wanted to work, and I told her I wanted to work in a tax role preferably Inland Revenue. She asked whether I wanted to work for one of the Big 4? I said yes - that is where I always wanted to work but I didn’t think I would be good enough for it. I was shocked when she told me I had a very good chance of getting into the Big 4.
As well as talking to Pepe, I started working on my CV and cover letter with help from Pepe and Lisa (also a CDES career consultant), I also attended the CDES Māori and Pacific Team’s Deloitte recruitment event and a Big 4 session for Pacific students.
I also read some of the online stories from Pacific students who made it to the Big 4; their stories motivated me to be more confident and know that if they can do it, I can do it too.
Instead of going for an internship, I decided to focus on my GPA. Then, I decided to go for a graduate role with Deloitte. When I received the invitation for an interview, I knew that I needed to ask Pepe for help. So, part of my preparation for the interview was seeking Pepe’s help and acting according to her directions. Pepe supported me in many ways. She arranged for interview clothing and guided me on how to prepare and the kind of questions that I needed to prepare for.
I carried out significant research about the organisation. I learned about their values, their purpose. What they do inside the organisation and their involvement in the community. I also carefully studied the job descriptions for Tax Consultants and all the tax team and studied what they do. I studied my CV and cover letter and made sure that I had answers prepared. I asked a student who I knew had made it to Deloitte (from reading his success story online). He helped me and also referred me to another student who made it to the tax team. I talked to one of the managers at Deloitte via Linkedin (a suggestion from Pepe) which was really helpful. I asked about everything I wanted to know about the organisation that was not on the website.
The interview process was overwhelming. There were three interviews in a week (video interview, interview with partner and managing director, interview with managers of potential tax team), but I knew that if I wanted to get my dream job, I would have to step up and do something that I had never done before. I was intimidated to be honest, but I was surprised when I was interviewed it felt very relaxing, and I was allowed to be me and not try to be someone else. I was impressed because when I went through the interview, I felt like everything they asked for was something that Pepe flagged to look out for and I’m glad I sought Pepe’s help.
My advice for anyone is to start building your CV and network early. Being involved in the community is a big bonus. It is not solely about grades. It is also about YOU.
Talk to the experts at CDES, they will boost your chance of succeeding. For Pacific students, the Māori and Pacific team are culturally competent to coach you. If others can do it, you can do it too. Have confidence in yourself and work hard.
If you're interested in career opportunities and activities we have available to support our Pacific students, please get in touch with our Careers and Employability consultant for Pacific students, Sela Pole-Fehoko.