'My Story So Far - You can apply your learnings to fields you may not have even known existed' - Mark O'Sullivan

29 March 2021

Mark O’Sullivan, Partner in Research and Development (“R&D”) Incentives, recently featured in the Business Post discussing his career path and how he works now. 


After one of my earliest job interviews, I discovered one of my two interviewers wanted to offer me the position, but the other preferred a different candidate.

Ultimately, I was offered the role on a trial basis and was subsequently made permanent. For the interviewer who hadn’t been overly keen, my perceived shortcoming was that I didn’t sell myself enough.

Personally, I see drawbacks to “overselling” yourself. Doing so can mask the core characteristics and competencies I now look for from candidates when I’m interviewing them for new roles.

You should, of course, research the role beforehand, but the interview is a two-way process. To get the most out of it, I suggest giving an honest representation of your values, experiences and characteristics.

Don’t rely on clichéd answers just because you feel that’s what the interviewer might want to hear. I like to see candidates’ personalities and unique qualities come to the fore when I am interviewing them for a role.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been interested in problem-solving and understanding how things work. This led me down the engineering and science route and then, partly driven by the economic downturn in the late noughties, I re-evaluated my options and decided to move into research and development (R&D) tax consultancy.

I wasn’t completely sure how I’d adjust to the tax world, but as the role evolved, I became more and more interested in how I could apply my engineering background in helping others with their R&D efforts.

The move has taught me the value of education and how you can apply your learnings to fields you may not have even known existed.

Accounting and advisory firms, such as BDO, typically onboard people through structured accounting and tax-based training programmes. That’s not how I joined though, so initially I was concerned my background in engineering might be a barrier to progression.

Then I met up with a friend who was a partner at an accounting firm. They reinforced the importance of being different, thinking differently and bringing something unique to the table. Given their seniority, the advice really resonated with me. It has helped me to embrace and leverage my expertise as an advantage, rather than a disadvantage.

Some people will look to conform. They might be risk-averse and stick to delivering what is expected. But the people above you will notice what you can bring to the table with a different skillset – provided, of course, that you are delivering on what is expected.

There is no substitute for hard work. By this, I don’t mean grinding away 24 hours a day. It’s more about demonstrating a drive and desire to make sure you deliver on what you promise.

I’ve seen people over-commit and under-deliver. It can create a bad impression internally and externally, limiting their future opportunities.

The best way I’ve found to maintain good working relationships with my peers is to keep an open line of communication with everyone on my team. This, for me at least, has meant that any disagreements and misunderstandings that may arise can be easily addressed.

The pandemic has brought challenges in terms of team management and motivation. We’ve lost those organic ways of picking up information – coffees, walking the halls of the building or just checking in with people at their desk. Working from home is a much more siloed experience and virtual events are becoming less and less appealing to people as time goes on.

There’s no denying that everyone has had good days and bad days over the past year. Acknowledging and allowing for this is really important.

My own approach is to keep the lines of communication open at all times and to be equally open in discussing team and individual morale.

My advice to other managers and team leaders would be this: don’t invalidate feelings of stress or discount people when they talk about being overwhelmed. Avoid trying to solve problems immediately. Allow them to speak their mind and try, where possible, to work together to find a solution.


Content adapted from Business Post.