5 steps to kick start your career in accountancy

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Accountancy is a rewarding profession within which you can build a varied and fulfilling career.

But what’s the best way to get started and speed your progress up the ladder?

Here’s our five-step action plan to ensure your career in accountancy goes from strength to strength.

1. Get qualified – the right way

The qualifications you need depend on what type of accountant you want to be. But whatever area of accountancy you want to work in, AAT qualifications are a great place to start.

Craig Moore, is now a certified chartered accountant with his own practice – CJM Associates in Staffordshire.

“I started an apprenticeship with AAT after leaving school. It was a good way to get work experience while I trained.”

Options include stopping at AAT Foundation Certificate (level 2) that prepares you for entry-level roles. Or continuing all the way to AAT’s Professional Diploma (level 4) and become an AAT professional member MAAT.

You can also take your studies further after AAT with organisations such as, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), or the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) – both of which offer fast-track routes for AAT-qualified applicants.

“Studying to be a chartered accountant with the ACCA is a good option if you want to run your own practice,” Moore said.

“And having the AAT qualifications allows you to skip certain exams.”

2. Know your subject – and yourself

When applying for your first – or indeed any – accountancy position, it’s important to have a CV that is tailored to the role and highlights why you are a good candidate.

And while logic and numbers skills are obviously indispensable, communication skills may be more highly prized than you think, especially if it is a client-facing role.

Joanne Clark, a fellow chartered accountant who works in the tourism industry, said: “Being good with clients and colleagues is one of the main attributes you need as an accountant, so communication skills are key.” Before any interview, you should also research the company and the sector as a whole.

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3. Consider your options – practice or industry

Once you are qualified as an accountant, you can work “in practice”, which means taking a job with an accounting firm.

Or “in industry”, which means working for a company as an accountant.

Each alternative has its pros and cons.

Working “in practice”, for example, can mean dealing with lots of different clients, which makes the work more varied.

“Working on lots of different client portfolios should also give you a broader knowledge base, which can be useful later on,” Clark said.

However, working for lots of different clients can be stressful, especially if they all start making demands at the same time.

Opting for a job “in industry”, meanwhile, allows you to pick the sector you work in, but may limit your career choices going forward.

4. Try it out – find work experience

Having relevant work experience looks good on your CV, but that’s not the only reason to do it.

Seeing the reality of a working day can also help you decide what type of accountancy you want to do.

Summer internships with big firms can be extremely competitive and are generally only open to university students. But even shadowing someone for a day can give you a feel for the kind of accounting activities that would be best suited to you.

It may also help to convince future employers to support you through your accountancy studies.

“Employers are more likely to invest in someone who has work experience and has considered their career path,” Moore said.

5. Show willing – take a related role

If you’re struggling to find a job in accountancy, try to find one in which you can build up a transferrable skill set.

Many administrative roles, for example, involve inputting and processing financial information, while customer-facing positions will help you develop those all-important communication skills.

Lower-level jobs in areas such as payroll or bookkeeping can also prove a great stepping stone as they demonstrate you are happy working with numbers and can help you make more informed choices about your career.

“Taking on a entry-level job is a good way to decide what you want to specialise in,” Clark added.

Your five-step action plan

  • Consider what you want from your career in accountancy.
  • Research the qualifications that will get you where you want to go.
  • Make sure your CV is up to date and highlights your relevant skills.
  • Find some work experience or look for an accountancy related position.
  • Look for an employer who will fund any further training you want to do.

Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor.

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