Even if you have all the qualifications necessary to start a career in finance, it can be hard to score that first job when you have no experience working in the sector.
James Harper, a senior tax manager at accountancy firm Wilkins Kennedy, remembers struggling to get relevant experience when he started out.
“I began looking for jobs in finance as soon as I left college at the age of 18,” he said. “For about the first six months, I kept being told I didn’t have enough experience, which was quite frustrating as that was what I was trying to change.”
Here’s how to build up the workplace skills you need to get a foot on the ladder:
Prove you are employable
Working in any field will show potential employers that you are dependable – especially if you hold down a job for a reasonable amount of time.
Experience of this kind has convinced Karen Lowen, founder and chief executive at accounting software company Dod-dle, to take on a job candidate in the past.
“One of the trainees I took on had a part-time job they had held for a while in a shop,” Lowen said. “It was work experience in a different sector but it still proved they were consistent and employable.
“It also meant the candidate was able to provide an employer reference, which gave them a definite advantage.”
Work on your transferable skills
Being good with numbers is not the only ability you need to work in finance. There are lots of skills you can pick up working in other sectors that will stand you in good stead.
“Communication skills are very important to accountants who deal with clients on a regular basis,” Harper said. “So a customer-facing or marketing role will furnish you with transferable skills.”
Damilare Oladunni, a finance apprentice at Hays Recruitment, agrees that experience in other sectors can be a big help.
“Before becoming a finance apprentice, I was working in sales,” he said. “It’s a different industry, but there are aspects that are proving useful in my current role.”
And if you can find a job that includes some money management, that’s even better.
“I was working in a pub while I looked for a job in finance, so I asked my employer if I could take on more cash administration responsibilities,” Harper said. “It was an opportunity to demonstrate real-world skills in the financial field, and it went down well with potential employers.”
Taking the apprentice route
By combining your studying with employment in a workplace environment, you can start getting that all-important experience, and earning a salary.
Open to anyone aged 16 and over, they are a great way to get started in a new industry if you want to change career.
Oladunni, who is currently a few months into his 18-month apprenticeship, found it the best way to gain experience in his chosen field.
“It’s not easy to find relevant experience when you are starting out,” he said. “So I would advise anyone considering a career in accounting that becoming an apprentice is the easiest route.”
Skills exchange placement
Many firms offer work experience placements that look good on your CV. While the benefit might not be monetary, both parties will gain something from the experience. It can be a good way to get your foot in the door with a local employer.
Lowen’s advice to anyone keen to do a placement of this kind is to find out about the company first, and to be persistent, and flexible about when you can do it.
“One young man we took on recently for a week wrote to us three times – twice by email and once in a letter – explaining why he was interested in the firm and saying he could come in any time,” Lowen said.
“It got him his placement, and I also gave him a glowing reference for his university application.”
If you are having trouble finding a placement, it may also be worth seeing if you have any relatives or friends who can help you out.
Get more qualifications while you wait
Experience counts for a lot, but so do qualifications.
In fact, Lowen believes that qualifications are more important than relevant work experience.
“I look at job applicants’ qualifications before their work experience,” she said. “I always look for AAT qualified staff.”
So if you are struggling to find a job in finance, you can make yourself more attractive to potential employers – and keep your skills fresh – by taking supplementary courses.
Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor.