Guest blog written by The Accountancy Partnership
Want a career in accounting, but have no idea where to start? Starting off on the right path is fundamental to a long and rewarding career. With that in mind, we have decided to put together this handy guide on how to start your career in accounting.
The most effective approach is to try and get the best of both worlds, studying for qualifications and getting commercial experience at the same time. It is important for trainees to make a decision about going into practice or industry early on as qualifications are geared towards one direction, which is why getting the right experience at an early stage is important.
Finding an opportunity
When starting your search for a suitable trainee or internship opportunity, it’s good to make a list of locations where you are willing to work (what is reasonably commutable) and also if you want to find an accountancy practice or industry role. Defining your search at the start is the best way to really focus your efforts and only target opportunities that will suit you. Search through online job boards such as accjobs.com or reed.co.uk. Set-up a LinkedIN.com account, you might get lucky and be approached by an interested client or maybe a specialist recruitment company.
Be proactive and see which companies are hiring, search through career sections on company websites and more importantly monitor social networks. When seeking interns or trainees, companies often use their Twitter or Facebook accounts to spread the word. Before you make contact via your social account, make sure it’s presentable. This is the first contact you have with a potential employer, make it a positive one!
Whether you’re an intern or high flyer, you have to make yourself employable to any potential new employer. If you have very little or no commercial experience at all this can sometimes make applications harder. Although you may be applying for a trainee or internship and commercial experience won’t necessarily be expected, you can be sure competition will be strong from other applicants. Even more so if the company is a well known brand or a respectable accountancy practice, so how do you create that winning edge in your application?
Be the best applicant
Your CV application has one main goal, to get you an interview, through the door to meet the employer face to face. So many trainee and intern applications fall at the first hurdle because people don’t take the time and effort to ensure their application stands out from the others. If you have gained any accounting qualifications or are currently studying for them, make sure it’s clear not only on your CV but also in your covering letter. The same applies with any relevant commercial experience you may have gained. Your covering letter/email is equally as important as your CV. It will often decide if someone actually opens up your CV; so make an effort with it. Also apart from your strengths and qualifications, include a mention to the company, you have taken a look across their website and something looks interesting or you noticed their article on accountingweb.co.uk. As well as supplying your phone & email contact details, also supply a link to a social account. Ideally your newly created linkedin.com profile. Make yourself accessible as possible at this very early stage in the process.
When recruiting a trainee accountant or offering an internship at an accountancy practice, employers are looking for potential in candidates. Can the candidate offer something to the company, will they be an asset? An employer will usually cover the costs of studies with caveats of timescales that you must stay with the company.
We have already mentioned how important it is to decide if you want a career in an accountancy practice or industry. Here are some points to consider for both.
- Very diverse work which keeps it interesting (unless you specialise in one subject within one of the big firms)
- Constantly learning as so much is covered
- Doesn’t pay nearly as well as industry. This is because large companies can afford to pay their finance staff more than small accountancy practices can afford to pay their accountants. Demand may also be a factor as more accountants go into practice
- More opportunity to branch out into different areas (because there are so many) or set up your own business
- You will probably get a more holistic view of the businesses you deal with than in industry
- You can build up lots of client relationships as well as with colleagues, whereas in industry you don’t get much customer/client interaction.
- The salaries are generally much higher
- Can be very repetitive work, which is suited to some people
- The scale of the business may make it more interesting to some.
Ultimately most trainees will want to obtain one of the following qualifications. ACCA: Associate of Chartered Certified Accountants from the ACCA (170,000 members) ACA: Associate of Chartered Accountants from the ICAEW (142,000 members) CIMA: Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (100,000 members) CIPFA: Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountants (14,000 members).
ACCA and ACA are usually the routes into practice and CIMA is normally the route into industry, if you want to become a management accountant/cost accountant within a big company. CIPFA is mainly for accountants wishing to specialise in local or central government.