How to land your first job in accountancy
Over a fifth of all vacant graduate jobs are within the accountancy and professional services sector, making it the largest employer of new graduates in the UK, according to figures from the Association of Graduate Recruiters. While there are many opportunities, there are also large numbers of graduates and professionals targeting careers in the industry – which means competition for jobs can be tough, particularly for those just starting out.
Read on for our guide to the different routes into accountancy, where to find your first job, and how to stand out from the crowd.
Different routes into accountancy
There are several possible routes to enter the profession.
'You could start out by studying for a university degree; a degree in accounting or economics is an obvious one, but individual companies may have routes into working with them for people with different degrees,' says Olivia Hill, AAT's Chief HR Officer.
While you don't need a degree to become an accountant, most employers will only consider candidates who are AAT qualified. You could gain this by doing a vocational qualification in accounting, where you attend evening classes while you work, for example.
Lynn Sedgwick, Managing Director of Clayton Recruitment, says: 'Themajority of accountancy professionals will have graduated from university, but apprenticeships are becoming an increasingly viable option and can provide you with on-the-job experience that is almost unmatched.'
Olivia agrees that practical experience is something that employers value highly.
She says: 'As well as learning accountancy theory, apprenticeships allow you to learn practical skills on the job. Many big organisations such as KPMG and EY now offer their own apprenticeship programmes, as do other smaller and medium-sized practices. This shows that organisations are beginning to see the benefits of apprenticeships and how they can help train highly-skilled staff.'
So which is the best route for you? As well as taking into account costs (earning while you learn will run up less debt than a university education), Olivia suggests researching the businesses you might want to work with, and finding out how they recruit and what kind of qualifications they prefer.
At the end of your degree or vocational training, you may want to consider obtaining further qualifications.
'If you don't mind spending a bit of money, gaining some additional qualifications will really boost your employability,' says Lynn.
'While the cost may seem like an issue if you haven't got a job yet, it's completely worth it and can be seen as an investment that can boost your career in the long term. You can either go for a trade qualification run by professional bodies like the AAT, CIMA, CIPFA, ICAEW and ICAS or even something a bit different like cyber security.
'While this may seem like it wouldn't help your chances of securing an accountancy role, it highlights that you have the drive and determination to continue to educate yourself once you've left school or university, and the skills could actually prove invaluable to the firm further down the line.'
Get some experience
As mentioned, employers look more favourably on candidates who have work experience.
'A degree will give you more classroom-based opportunities, but if you have opted for this path then make sure you gain work experience during either your holidays or a sandwich year if you get one, as this will hugely add to your employability,' says Lynn.
Olivia suggests contacting local accounting practices to see if you can arrange a few weeks work experience. 'You could also gain experience by starting work in a company's finance function in a non-accounting role, or by looking to do a temporary job, a traineeship, or another structured training package,' she adds.
Finding a job
You'll find accountancy vacancies advertised on jobs boards online, with recruitment companies, as well as businesses advertising vacancies directly on their websites.
'You could also approach local accountancy practices to see if they have any vacancies. In addition, you can look for jobs in the public sector, or look through an organisation such as the National Apprenticeship Service,' says Olivia.
'Every type of business needs well-trained finance professionals so there are a wide range of different organisations you may be able to find a role with.'
Stand out from the crowd
When you're starting out, it's a good idea to build contacts with others in the profession. Attending events demonstrates that you have a real interest in the profession, and is a good way to keep your knowledge up to date.
Networking doesn't necessarily mean you have to go and stand in a room full of people you don't know. As Lynn says: 'LinkedIn can provide the perfect opportunity to connect with people in the industry and you should look to comment on professionals' updates, post on accounting forums and essentially get your name out there.
'If you do fancy yourself as a good networker, attend some trade events and shows to meet potential employers. Hirers will generally be good with names – after all, we deal with a lot of people, and if you've made a good impression it's likely to stand you in good stead and should at least help you get an interview.'
Stand out from the competition
A CV that's well-written, succinct and informative can help you stand out from the crowd.
'You would be stunned by how many applications we read that are littered with spelling and grammar errors, as well as poor formatting and badly constructed sentences,' says Lynn.
'Always back up points you make with examples and give hard evidence where possible. If you don't have much experience, focus on transferable skills – times you've had to utilise your mathematical skills or show attention to detail in either education or day-to-day life.
'And make sure you show enthusiasm at interview. Candidates that stand out from the crowd speak passionately about their qualifications and experience, and make a convincing case for why they want the job.'