Ndonga Sagnia is a Tax Senior and Certified Public Accountant at Ernst and Young LLP (EY) in New Jersey. Her experience is primarily in tax provision audits with growing experience in tax compliance.
Since joining EY in 2014, Ndonga is responsible for tax provision audits and tax compliance. Her role includes teaching staff and coordinating with clients and EY leadership to successfully provide tax consulting services. Ndonga is dedicated to nurturing young aspiring accountants and is involved with EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year program, Junior Achievement and diversity initiatives.
Prior to joining the firm, Ndonga completed internships with American International Group Chartis Insurance and Deloitte. Ndonga is a Gambian national who moved to the United States in 2010 as an international student. She majored in Accounting and Finance at Rider University in New Jersey and was awarded the Rider Provost Scholarship. Ndonga graduated in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and she is currently pursuing her masters in taxation.
Ndonga shares what inspired her to pursue a career in accounting and how she balances studying while working full time.
I was born in Gambia but I’ve lived in eight different countries in Africa due to my dad’s job as an international banker before I moved to the U.S. I actually started out as a finance major. I knew my whole life that I wanted to be in the corporate world. As a kid I knew I wanted to wear a suit like my dad. He worked for an international bank. As a finance major we had to take accounting courses. I did well in accounting and my advisor mentioned that it’s actually quite easy to do it as a dual major at our school. When I added accounting I found out that my career prospects were much broader. I did well in my classes and as I researched accounting firms I found the career path I was looking for.
My biggest career break so far was my very first internship. During my junior year of college I interned in downtown New York with AIG. For me, that’s my biggest career break because it was my first foot in the door.
MY TYPICAL DAY
At EY it’s not common to have one standard working day because we’re project based. So, your day varies depending on what you are working on. Right now, I’m generally up around 6am and study between 7:30am and 9am at home or in the office. I’m working towards my masters in tax and I’m reading for class.
I’m taking two classes this semester, so in the morning I get an early read, and then I start work. If I have class that night, I usually leave around 5pm, which is kind of early, especially if we’re in a busy season. My team is flexible, the firm believes in encouraging people to pursue higher education and I have support from our leadership and my team.
I’m actually in the office quite a bit on the weekends because it’s so much easier to study with a space in the office and it’s easy to switch and catch up on work. I usually catch up on study and work on the weekends.
With my new role as a senior, I’m also responsible for staff that are working under me. I usually start the day by finding out what they’re working on and if they need anything from me. I find that my mind is clearer when I know that nobody’s waiting on me and that I’ve helped them out. Then, I address what my seniors, manager and senior manager need. As a senior, we review work papers, send emails and handle requests from clients. I do mainly tax provision audits. Every day is different. I work on a large multinational client as well as with smaller pharmaceutical and manufacturing companies too. Sometimes I’m working out of the office with a client. Other times I’ll be working out of our office.
MY BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT
I think my biggest achievement was passing the CPA while working at EY. I’m a certified public accountant, and that requires taking a series of four exams. They don’t have a very high pass rate. I believe its anywhere between a 35 – 45% pass rate depending on the part you’re sitting for. Passing it while working, and getting positive feedback from my team while working and studying for the CPA, was my biggest achievement.
When I’m not working I enjoy working out. I try to fit in as many sessions or classes as I can. I do like to travel, I guess just because of the nature of how I grew up. Next year I’m hoping to go to India for the first time. This year I went to Puerto Rico for the first time. I enjoy watching documentaries about different places in the world or different people from backgrounds I’m not very familiar with. I enjoy learning about those kinds of things.
My parents inspire me. Neither of them are college educated. They are two of the smartest, hardworking people I know. They have very high standards for us and high expectations of all of us. Going to college was never a question. I thought that’s what everybody did, even though my parents didn’t go to college that was their vision for us from the start. I knew I was going to college at four.
My parents were strict about grades, but they were very supportive extracurricular activities. I played soccer probably from when I remember until I graduated, and they were very encouraging of the pursuit of other passions.
Even now they’re very involved in my life and my decision making, even though they live in Rwanda right now. I talk to my mom every single morning. My dad’s busy so I talk to him once a week or so, but if I have a career decision to make or a decision about moving or my car, I run it by my parents always. They’re just incredibly supportive, good people.
MY SECRET TALENT
I’m pretty good at reading people, I tend to do unusually well in games that involve calling someone’s bluff.
BEST CAREER ADVICE
The best career advice I received was from my dad. He explained to me that we should always have goals. Identify your goal and be specific about it. Once you have identified it, your focus should be on the action items that get you there. Not obsessing about the grade, but really throwing your effort into the work that gets you there. Showing up on time, being a reliable team member, knowing that you really put your best effort in with every work paper that you turn in. That should be what your focus is on. That has really helped me because you don’t always get the end result that you want, but when you put so much passion into the process, there’s still pride. You still have pride at the end.
Well, my short term goal right now is to graduate from my Masters and make it through my first year as a senior as best as possible. Looking ahead a little bit further, I definitely know that I would like to make manager here at EY. I do think this is a bold proclamation from someone who’s only worked here for two years, but I do hope one day to make partner. That’s something that I’m looking at obviously. It’s so far off, I don’t even know if I can call that a goal, but it’s something that I think about. Not just as a personal achievement, but because of how I feel when I see a woman that looks like me and is successful. I would really love to be that source of inspiration, whether it be to other aspiring accounting professionals, or other Gambian girls or African girls. It would mean a lot to me.
MY ADVICE FOR ANYONE WHO WANTS TO WORK AT EY
When I meet new undergraduates at recruiting events that are interested in EY, I think they all know the importance of grades when it comes to the big four accounting firms. I personally also encourage them to be involved in school and seek opportunities to develop their leadership outside of academics. I remember when I interviewed with EY, they already have your grades on paper. What people are interested in, is who you are outside of that 3.5 or 3.6 because that just gets you in the door. I think that it’s important to develop yourself in terms of technical skills and interpersonal skills because EY really expresses the importance of people and working together and teaming.
I LOVE WHAT I DO BECAUSE…
Being a tax accountant specifically, I enjoy the mix of business but also the legal aspect. We always have to keep an eye on the changing laws and understand the codes and the regulations, which is so much bigger than my initial idea of accounting being just debits and credits. That’s what I like mainly. When you look all over the world, granted it’s different accounting laws, but tax accounting is definitely a job I know I can have forever, which is also comforting.
Interview by Octavia Goredema @OctaviaGoredema