Accountant: job description

Last updated: 22 Jan 2024, 12:59

Accountants are employed by organisations and private clients to audit accounts, provide financial advice and manage accounting processes.

A picture showing an accountant at work

What does an accountant do? | Graduate salaries | Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Accountants provide financial advice to clients ranging from multinational organisations and governmental bodies to small independent businesses and individuals. They often specialise in particular areas of practice, including management accounting , internal audit , forensic accounting , taxation , assurance and corporate finance .

Typical duties include:

  • preparing accounts and tax returns
  • auditing financial information
  • compiling and presenting reports, budgets, business plans, commentaries and financial statements
  • analysing business plans
  • providing tax planning services based on current legislation
  • financial forecasting and risk analysis
  • dealing with insolvency situations
  • negotiating the terms of business deals with clients
  • meeting and interviewing clients
  • managing colleagues.

Graduate accountants study for professional qualifications on the job. These qualifications are offered by accounting professional bodes and lead to chartership, which demonstrates to employers, clients and the general public than you have met a range of professional standards. Take a look at our round up of the main accountancy professional bodies and qualifications (from ACCA to ICAS).

Graduate salaries

The 2021 Institute of Student Employers report that the average graduate salary offered by finance and professional services firms is £35,540, but bear in mind that this figure is taken from a select number of employers that are typically the highest payers. The Hays 2021 Salary Survey, meanwhile, suggests that a part-qualified trainee accountant typically earns £20,000–£28,000, depending on location and the professional qualification being studied. Take a closer look at graduate salaries and benefits on offer in accountancy.

Typical employers of accountants

  • Private accountancy firms.
  • Professional services firms.
  • Banks.
  • Charities and not for profit organisations.
  • Commercial and corporate organisations.
  • Governmental bodies.
  • Public sector bodies.

Vacancies are advertised on targetjobs , by careers services and on national newspapers’ websites. Professional accounting bodies (such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) also advertise graduate roles.

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into a career in accountancy for both university graduates and school leavers.

Requirements for graduate jobs reflect those set by the various professional bodies offering the professional accounting qualifications you’ll work towards. However, generally, graduates need an honours degree in any discipline, although if you’ve passed specific accounting, business, law or management modules, you may be exempt from some of the steps on the way to qualification.

You’ll also need three GCSEs and two A-levels (or equivalent) to be accepted to study some professional accounting qualifications. Traditionally, graduates needed at least a 2.1 degree, but some firms – including the Big 4 – have relaxed their entry requirements.

Professional accounting qualifications take at least three years to complete and can be demanding as you’ll be working while studying. Employers will offer graduates study leave and support while studying, and it’s important to consider these carefully to give yourself every chance of success.

As part of the training, you must complete three years of relevant work experience. Prior experience gained through internships may count toward this if it meets certain development objectives and was supervised by an employer approved by the qualification provider. Here's a list of key organisations offering professional qualifications in accounting:

To qualify, you’ll need to meet all training objectives, pass exams and complete a professional ethics assessment. Training doesn’t stop once you’ve achieved chartered status: you’ll keep learning through continuing professional development (CPD).

Key skills for accountants

  • The ability to reflect on your own work as well as the wider consequences of financial decisions.
  • Numeracy.
  • Business acumen and interest.
  • Organisational skills and the ability to manage deadlines.
  • Teamworking ability.
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Proficiency in IT.
  • Analytical ability.
  • A methodical approach and problem-solving skills.

Discover more skills sought by graduate accountancy and professional services firms and how to demonstrate them during the recruitment process .

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