Pre-application checklist: read this before you apply to an accountancy firm

Before you start filling out your online application form to an accountancy or financial management firm, make sure you can put a big tick beside each item on our checklist.

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You’d look at a menu before ordering your food, after all.

Have you…

… printed off the application form?

It’s a good idea to do so before you start completing it online, so you can read it through thoroughly and see exactly what’s involved. Then you can scribble down a few ideas that you can build on.

… done your research?

Grant Thornton’s request is typical of many accountancy employers, who want to make sure you’ve thought carefully about the personality of the firm you’re applying to: ‘Please tell us about your decision to apply to Grant Thornton, and what you believe is the main difference between Grant Thornton and our competitors.’

You must be able to answer this question. Working graduate accountants we spoke to last year said they wished they’d spent a little more time researching their new employer and sector before applying. 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. Know what the organisation does and the markets it works in. You’d look at a menu before ordering your food, after all.

… chosen your service line?

Think carefully about which service line would suit you - most firms ask you to specify this at application stage. Talk to current staff in professional services firms, go to careers fairs and check out our feature, Which accountancy specialisation should you choose?

Our areas of work and employer hubs will help you to research accountancy specialisations. You’ll find out, for example, that Sophie Pollitt at KPMG chose to work in restructuring because ‘it sounded more hands on than other areas of accountancy’, and that ‘within advisory and restructuring it’s possible to work on a wide variety of cases, providing services to companies within different industries.’

Employer websites are another excellent source of information and advice. KPMG’s graduate website, for example, provides applicants with a self-selection test to help them see which areas of the business they are best suited to (this is not part of the assessment process).

You may find that your grades or choice of degree subject directly affect your options. If, for example, you want to join one of the two actuarial schemes in the consulting division at Deloitte, you’ll need a degree with some grounding in mathematics, plus an A in A level maths. At BDO, to work in the forensic services department you’ll need a 2.1 or above in an IT-related degree. With the exception of divisions for which firms have specific entrance criteria, however, choosing your specialisation is a really a matter of figuring out what best suits your personality, as Grant Thornton points out.

… made sure you’re applying to the right programme?

This is probably only going to be an issue if you’re applying to a large professional services firm, which can have many different options for graduates. At PwC, for example, there are over 20 schemes open to graduates.

… found out which professional qualifications are offered?

Show you have researched the professional qualifications on offer, that you are aware, for example, that a management accounting qualification is particularly suited to those wishing to enter industry.

… made sure you meet the minimum requirements and possess the required competencies?

Again, you can check the employer insights for this information. At Deloitte, for example, the analytic and forensic technology scheme in the corporate finance division requires degrees in maths, statistics or aeronautics, or in technology-related subjects such as computer science. Other applicants are only accepted if they have an IT-related master’s degree. Helpfully, Deloitte also offers an initial pre-screening questionnaire, which allows candidates find out straight away if they meet the minimum requirements.

The employer hubs are also an excellent source of information on the competencies an employer is looking for. Find out, for instance what are the nine 'behavioural capabilities' KPMG seeks in its graduates and interns.

…written your password down somewhere?

Most online application forms have a ‘save and return’ function, so it’s possible to save your answers as you progress and return to them later on. Employers will not see your answers until you press ‘submit’. You will need to remember your password to access your application, however, so make sure you’ve kept a record of it!

… checked the deadline?

It sounds obvious, but make sure you’re applying before the deadline and, ideally, with time to spare. Mazars recommends graduates allow at least one week to complete an application before the deadline and always to leave it overnight before completing a final check.

Apply when the applications open – not just before they close. Accountancy firms tend not to have concrete deadline dates but instead recruit until their places are filled. Over half of PwC’s graduate roles are secured by January, which is far before many of its competitors have even begun interviewing. The earlier you apply the more roles there will be available. Overall it’s about giving yourself the best chance via canny application timing, showing career focus and differentiating yourself.

Finished the checklist? Now you can get started!

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