Balance your new-found expertise with practical work experience and commercial thinking
When it comes to applying for a graduate job with an accountancy employer, you'll need to be able to sell any postgraduate qualifications to recruiters and get the recognition you deserve for your extra academic effort. We've put together the best and worst reasons to pursue further study in accountancy, so you can make sure you're making the right decision.
Really good reasons to do further study in accountancy and financial management
1. To explore a burning interest in a particular aspect of finance further.
Make sure you choose your course wisely. A lot of business schools run specialist MSc or similar masters programmes that allow you to focus on specific subjects, many of which can complement a first degree in a non-finance-related area (but do check with individual course providers). Does an MSc in international securities pique your interest? Or is actuarial finance more up your alley? Institutions offer a wide range of courses to suit all tastes. You can also tailor courses to your individual needs and interests through your choice of supplementary electives – so if you're set on finding out all there is to know about, say, credit risk or entrepreneurial finance, make sure your course lists this particular option.
2. To network and gain experience – getting yourself known will no doubt pay dividends, particularly if you're looking to cross over into the finance sector from an unrelated field.
Use your free time wisely: make the most of your university's facilities by getting involved in extracurricular activities, attending any additional training modules and networking at conferences. Show that you can thrive outside the library by keeping up to date on commercial developments in the financial world and getting work experience in the holidays, both of which will prove you can apply your theoretical knowledge to a practical environment. MSc courses usually last one year full time or two to three years part time (or on a distance learning basis) and some programmes also have close links with employers so you can gain valuable work experience while you study.
3. To improve your skills set and gain specialist skills – while these will no doubt be handy in your career later down the line, balance your new-found expertise with practical work experience and commercial thinking so you can offer employers the whole package.
Further financial study can demonstrate your intellectual capacity, while the sustained effort of working on a dissertation is a good example of self-discipline, organisation, independent research and project management. Presenting papers, giving talks and working on group assignments will hone your presentation, cooperation and communication skills.
Really bad reasons to do further study in accountancy and financial management
1. To make up for poor first-degree results – most companies look for consistent academic ability so having a good postgraduate degree won't erase the fact you only just scraped a 2.2. Plus, many employers will now consider you even if you have a 2.2, especially if you have work experience on your CV and possess the skills they're looking for.
2. To put off competing for jobs – further study shouldn't be a fall-back option if you're reluctant to grapple with the tricky job market. You're going to have to do it at some point. Be honest with yourself: if you can't see how further study will benefit your CV, how will you sell it to future employers?
3. To guarantee a boost in your employability – a postgraduate degree alone may not give you a competitive edge in the eyes of employers.
Completing certain postgraduate courses (and certain undergraduate ones) can mean that you gain exemption from some of the exams required to become professionally qualified as an account, but it would be best to see this as a bonus rather than a reason alone to pursue further study. If the thought of working and studying at the same time scares you, accountancy is probably not the career for you.
Employers want to recruit people who have the right mix of competencies to do the job; they're not looking for a CV full of academic qualifications at the expense of work experience and interpersonal skills. Keep in mind that your undergraduate degree is seen as the minimum requirement for your job application to be considered, while any additional experience is the icing on the cake. Postgraduate study carries no guarantee of a job – you'll still need to demonstrate all the transferable skills that recruiters are looking for.