gradireland National Student Challenge 2014: have you got what it takes?

As the competition for the 2014 National Student Challenge hots up, gradireland took some time to talk to last year’s winner, Duncan McGregor from Belfast, who is now working as a Risk Advisory Consultant for global giant EY.


The winner of the gradireland National Student Challenge 2013, Duncan Macgregor (right) receives with gradireland Publisher, Mark Mitchell.

The winner of the gradireland National Student Challenge 2013, Duncan Mcgregor (right) receives with gradireland Publisher, Mark Mitchell.

Duncan McGregor has come a long way in the space of a year. In March this year he was one of 60 finalists who competed in the gradireland National Student Challenge in UCD, and now, ten months later he has worked with EY in three different European countries and in all three EY offices in Ireland, in Belfast, Dublin and Cork. “I joined EY in September in 2013, and am based in the Belfast office, but with EY it’s a global family and you really do feel at home in any of the offices. Be it Dublin, Cork or abroad in London, Paris or Barcelona. It’s a very integrated firm,” he says.

“My current role is as a Risk Advisory Consultant,” Duncan explains. “My role is to advise EY client companies on corporate risk, including financial risk and to date I’ve worked on several internal audit engagements for clients, many of them leading national and international industry leaders, so it’s been a great experience.”

Graduating from University of Ulster in Law, Duncan’s original career plans were oriented towards becoming a barrister, but that changed when he took the gradireland National Student Challenge. “At University we had an employability skills award called the Ulster Edge award, and one of the ways for getting credits for that Award was through doing the online gradireland National Student Challenge. So I thought it would be worth doing, not realising at the time where it would lead of course. When I got a call from gradireland to invite me to UCD in Dublin for the final it was a surprise, but I was obviously delighted. I’m normally quite competitive, but I knew all the other finalists would be very strong candidates and one of the great things about the Challenge is that it is very collaborative and there is a lot of teamwork involved. It also has something for everyone, from those who are strong academically, to those who excel at team work and leadership. The range of challenges is also very good, from the EY debating challenge, which I won, to the gradireland design challenge, which I found exceptionally difficult. So it’s a process that you learn so much from.”

In an era when one of the keywords for any graduate is ’employability’, taking the Challenge is a worthwhile investment. “By doing the challenge you’re already boosting your employability skills. The online test is very similar to the psychometric testing that so many companies use these days so by just doing the challenge you’re improving yourself, it shows you’re interested in doing well and if you make the final, that shows achievement,” adds Duncan.

When he was announced as the winner of the 2013 challenge, Duncan remembers being thankful the camera wasn’t focused on him. “I was rooted to the spot, I really didn’t expect it. I was happy having won the EY challenge and I knew I hadn’t done badly, but to win was incredible. Then, leaving with a €1,000 novelty cheque and a bottle of Champagne for the bus trip back to Belfast was one of the more memorable parts of the day!”

As a reward for winning the EY challenge, Duncan won a short placement with the firm, in order to get a better sense of it and what opportunities were available. “I met people from all levels and departments and it really felt like this would be the right place in which to start my career. The gradireland National Student Challenge definitely played a part in me being here today with EY and in terms of the benefits that the Challenge offers versus the short amount of time it takes to enter, I would say it’s something definitely worth doing. What have you got to lose?”

Take the challenge today at