Top advice from working graduate accountants to help you get hired and get ahead
In a large survey conducted by targetjobs.co.uk we asked graduate accountants to tell us about any surprises they’ve had in their working lives so far, and how, if they had their time again at university, they’d make sure they were better prepared. This is what they told us.
Do your research
Some of our respondents wished they’d spent a little more time researching their new employer and sector. Make sure you know what you will be doing in the job you want, so that you can make sure it is the job you want. Reading our employer hubs should help. Also, think carefully about which service line would suit you. Talk to current staff in professional services firms, go to careers fairs and apply for internships to deepen your knowledge. For further help, check out our feature, Which accountancy specialisation should you choose?
Consider size and location
Respondents at smaller firms advised students not just to go for the big firms, saying smaller organisations have better working environments and many more opportunities to grow as a person.
Some respondents believe you should try to work in London, as its where the most exciting work is and the greater opportunities; others are pleased they work outside London as they think regional offices offer more specialist areas to thrive in, increased responsibility and a better work/life balance. Think about your priorities and needs. Reading Which type of accountancy firm has the best jobs? may help you with your decision.
It sounds obvious, but, after you’ve done your research and thought about your priorities, don’t procrastinate when it comes to applying. Respondents found that even when firms don’t have closing dates, once they’re full, they’re full. Also remember that it is usually easier to get into graduate programmes via internships.
Be prepared to… travel
Be prepared to travel a lot. Some respondents report having to be on the move much more than they expected. Think carefully about what this will mean for you: living out of a suitcase, long periods spent on trains/planes, being away from friends and family…
Practise your time management
This is a key element of many graduate jobs, in particular accountancy roles, where you will be working and studying for a professional qualification at the same time. You’re probably practising time management at university already, especially at exam time, but get used to prioritising tasks. If you really feel that you don’t experience any time pressures (lucky you!), then think about looking for a part-time job or extra-curricular activity. Many respondents wished they’d completed an internship for this reason, not just for its CV-boosting qualities.
Work on your writing and IT skills
Many graduate accountants did not realise how much of a role writing – reports, emails, internal and external communications – would play in their careers. If your actual degree work doesn’t require you to do a lot of writing, find some extra-curricular activities that do, to get some practise.
Many graduate accountants also commented on how they wished they had started their jobs equipped with better IT skills (particularly Excel). Respondents wished they’d considered taking a business module as part of their degree, or attended sessions on Excel and other computer skills.
But don’t forget your soft skills…
People skills are just as important as everything else – if not more. Make sure you can demonstrate these in your application and at interview. It surprised graduates how much knowing the right people and having good relationships with them is important in accountancy. It’s vital to understand your clients and their needs, and to get along well with your work colleagues. Our survey respondents wished they had undertaken more social activities with new people at university so they could have broadened their understanding of working with different types of personalities.