A career in accountancy is all about helping organisations, from small charities to global businesses, and individuals to manage their finances so as to comply with relevant legal regulations and plan appropriately for the future. It’s possible to train and work as an accountant in three main settings: within an accountancy firm that provides services to external clients, within the finance department of a public sector organisation and within the finance department of a commercial organisation.
A career in financial management involves reporting an organisation’s financial results over the course of a year and analysing them to see in more detail how different parts of a business are performing.
How can I get a job with an accounting or financial management firm?
The most common route to becoming a qualified accountant is to apply for a training contract with an accountancy or professional services firm. There are several accountancy qualifications to choose from – your employer will often determine or advise which one you study for. Some training schemes offer you the chance to experience different aspects of the business before deciding where to focus your career whereas some employers will ask you to select an area of interest when you apply.
Doing an internship could help you to focus your ideas about possible career directions. If you don’t manage to get an internship though, think about how you can sell any work or voluntary experience you’ve had – you might be surprised by the skills you have already developed.
What are the different areas of work?
There’s a wide range of disciplines to choose from and within each there are different kinds of roles on offer. Here's an overview of the main 12 areas of work:
- Assurance/audit – being responsible for the review of an organisation’s data and procedures, and providing expert advice to clients and shareholders.
- Commercial finance – implementing economic measures to ensure a quality product is made at the lowest possible cost.
- Corporate finance – managing the change and growth of a business with numeracy skills and strategy.
- Corporate recovery – dealing with complex financial information to help failing businesses recover.
- Corporate treasury – managing an organisation’s finances to safeguard against strife and potential hardship.
- Financial accounting – keeping tabs on money flow in an organisation to scrutinise performance.
- Forensic accounting – uncovering key financial information to quantify losses, investigate fraud and assess the potential need for reparations.
- Internal audit – improving business efficiency by advising management and delineating the most profitable ways to operate.
- Management accounting – knowing the various functions and budget of a company to provide business-specific economic guidance.
- Public sector accounting – improving public services for the community
- Risk assessment – identifying and evaluating risks, and helping clients reach their targets.
- Tax – combining law, administration and accountancy to help businesses and individuals pay their taxes in the most efficient way possible.
In addition to reading the overviews above, it's a good idea to talk to people working in the area of accountancy you're interested in. An internship is an obvious way to meet graduates working in accountancy, but you could also make contact at careers fairs or via LinkedIn.
What’s involved in the application process?
The majority of employers use online application forms, although some, especially smaller accountancy firms, still prefer to use the CV and covering letter as a method of selection. Many ask you to complete online tests, such as verbal, numerical, non-verbal and situational judgement tests. If an employer likes what they see you may then be invited for a first round interview (this could be over the telephone or a video interview), which could lead to an assessment centre day. At an assessment centre you will be asked to take part in a variety of exercises and you could also face further interviews.
When should I apply?
Many organisations accept applications all year round, but it’s always worth checking individual employers – a few do specify early closing dates or advise early applications. We've got plenty of application advice for you:
- Get the job you want with a winning application
- Commercial awareness and job-hunting success
- Get ready to impress at your interview
- Make an impact at assessment centres
What qualifications and skills do I need to work in accounting and financial management?
- numeracy and analytical skills
- excellent communication (oral and written) and interpersonal skills
- time management and organisational skills
- commercial awareness
- initiative and motivation
- teamworking skills
At interview and assessment centres it is important to demonstrate these skills, not just talk about them. Graduate accountancy employers will usually be looking for a 2.1 degree, but in recent years recruiters have become more flexible and possessing a 2.2, in many cases, does not mean that your application will be automatically rejected.
What are the opportunities for professional development?
Professional accounting qualifications are highly respected and many career paths will be open to you, whether you want to work in an accounting role within practice (an accountancy firm), industry or the public sector. It is also possible to move into other highly paid business areas – a higher percentage of company board members have an accountancy qualification than any other postgraduate qualification. Working in this sector will also give you an in-depth business knowledge that would be invaluable should you wish to set up your own business.
Once you are working as a qualified accountant you will undertake CPD to keep your skills and technical knowledge up to date and build up experience that will further your career. There are a range of specialist qualifications you can take, from short assessments to MBAs.
Having a recognised accountancy qualification opens many career doors – a higher percentage of company board members have an accountancy qualification than any other kind of postgraduate qualification.
What are the salaries in accountancy and financial management?
£26,433 is, according to the latest biannual survey from the Institute of Student Employers, the average starting salary offered by accountancy and professional services firms. Your earning potential will increase dramatically once qualified. If you train and work in the banking and investment sector your salary is likely to be considerably higher. Common benefits packages include life assurance and pension schemes with company contributions. Some firms also offer discretionary bonuses, golden hellos, private healthcare and share options. Depending upon the size of organisation you work for, secondments abroad are a distinct possibility.
What is working life like?
If you work for an accounting firm, the nature of many areas of work means you will spend a considerable amount of time out of your office visiting clients at their premises. For example, if you are involved in auditing a large company you could spend three or four weeks working away from the office. Depending upon the size of the organisation you work for, clients could be based locally, further afield in the United Kingdom or abroad.
On the whole accountants enjoy a decent work/life balance, with fairly regular hours. There can be exceptions: if you work in tax you are likely to be really busy around January when tax returns are due, for example, or if you are 'in house' as a management accountant, there are busier times of year such as financial quarterly and year-ends where the pressure will pile on.
What are the highs and lows?
Status and earning potential are just two of the benefits of being an accountant. In addition, an accounting qualification can open doors worldwide. Certain times of the year can be pretty hectic though, so this isn’t a career for you if you can’t work under pressure.