1. Study the right accounting qualifications
The AAT qualification is typically the minimum level expected of an accountant, but to ultimately become a chartered accountant, you’ll have to progress to the ACCA, ACA or CIMA qualifications.
Although many accountants will hold a university degree, it’s often desirable rather than essential. Even if it is a prerequisite for a role, the degree can usually be in any subject.
So, while maths and economics at A-level followed by an accounting degree may be advantageous, if you didn’t go down this focused route you’d still be able to get the qualifications you need – as professional bodies provide courses for students and workers at all levels.
A variety of finance qualifications are available to those interested in accounting careers, which can be confusing when searching for job opportunities.
To give you a good starting point, the most popular accountancy qualifications include:
- AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) accounting courses – made up of three qualifications across three levels, they combine industry knowledge and practical work skills.
- ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) qualifications – they comprise of two levels: Fundamentals and Professionals. The modules cover a variety of topics from corporate and business law to audit and assurance.
- ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) chartered accountant status – also referred to as the ACA, this qualification consists of three to five years of practical work experience and the completion of 13 modules.
- CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) business finance award – oversees the widely-recognised CGMA (Chartered Global Management Accountant), which requires you to have already gained the postgraduate-level Certificate in Business Accounting.
- CTA (The Chartered Institute of Taxation) (CIOT) offers the highest level tax qualification in the UK, the Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) qualification From the leading professional body concerned solely with taxation, the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), the Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) qualification is the highest level of tax qualification in the UK.
- CIPP (Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals) offers professional certificates and qualifications to support you at all stages of your payroll, pensions or reward career
Many accountancy firms will accept qualifications from any board, but if you have a definite career path in mind, it’s worth taking a look into the preferred qualifications of that specialism.
For example, if you’re interested in becoming a chartered accountant, you’ll need to have studied for the ACCA qualification and have three years’ work experience in a relevant role. It usually takes around four years in total to become fully qualified.
If you’re wondering whether you can become a chartered accountant without a degree, you can apply for the ACCA qualification with a combination of GCSEs and A-levels. However, by already holding a degree or Masters in any subject, this may make you exempt from some of the exams. Even without any formal academic qualifications, you can enter the accounting profession and study at the foundation level.
2. Choose your accounting specialism
Accounting careers can be split into two key areas: management accounting and financial accounting. Within these divisions are further specialist fields such as budget and financial analysis, and working as a controller.
The difference between management accounting and financial accounting is that the former provides information to people within a company, while financial accounting provides information to those outside of it, such as shareholders.
Unlike financial accounting, management accounting is not required by law and only covers particular products, while financial accounting covers the entire organisation. Most graduates will enter accounting through financial accountancy, which can provide a variety of career prospects such as:
- business recovery and insolvency
- corporate finance
- forensic accounting
For each accounting specialism, graduates also have the choice of whether to work in the public or private sector.
3. Secure a job or accountancy apprenticeship
Despite the importance of qualifications to become established in the industry, the value of real-life accountancy work cannot be underestimated. Study often complements work in a full-time position, presenting the perfect opportunity for graduates to build the necessary skills. Securing a training contract enables you to work while studying for a recognised accounting qualification.
As an accountant, you’ll be able to find work in any sector (public and private) and with both large companies and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Over time, you’ll be able to focus on your preferred working environment. Most vacancies are available direct from employers so look out for roles that you’re eligible to apply for.
You’ll also find that finance graduate schemes are often structured with the opportunity to attain an accounting qualification such as the ACA or CGMA as one of the programme’s objectives.
However, accounting apprenticeships, such as those run by the AAT, are a viable alternative to university and they provide a fast-track to achieving chartered status with the main professional bodies including ICAEW and ACCA.
When you secure an apprenticeship, you can gain practical skills while earning a wage and receiving the same benefits (including a holiday allowance) as other employees at the company.
4. Get relevant accounting work experience
Another way you can enter the industry is through a work placement or voluntary or part-time role. Even work-shadowing for a day can give you a feel for the kinds of accounting activities you might be involved in.
Formal summer accounting internships with larger financial institutions, such as PwC or Deloitte, can be highly competitive for students, as they’re usually oversubscribed, but any type of finance work experience will boost your chances of landing a full-time job in an accounting role.
Check individual websites of companies you’d like to work for to see if they have any current vacancies. You may be able to land a work placement by sending speculative applications to local small to medium-sized employers (SMEs) in the financial sector.
If you’re at university, consider volunteering to be the treasurer for a club or society, or look for a part time job that will help you to develop skills in this area.
Depending on the size of the firm, you may get to work on real projects and manage your own workload as you acquire key accounting skills. Training is usually provided to those engaging in work experience and you’ll get to make industry contacts that can aid your future career.
As many employers will only support a trainee accountant in studying for their accounting qualifications if they’ve previously undertaken relevant work experience, this will be a valuable addition to your CV and help you on your way to becoming a qualified accountant.
For a confidential conversation about routes into Accountancy roles or a change in your current accountancy career get in touch with James Turver at Eventus Finance.
Head of Accountancy and Finance/Managing Consultant
Eventus Finance (Part of the Eventus Recruitment Group)
Direct Dial: 01524 233789
Mobile: 07495 734342
2A Aalborg Place, Lancaster LA1 1BJ
The Award-Winning Eventus Recruitment Group recruits talented legal, HR and finance professionals, throughout the UK and in particular, across Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire, North East, Cumbria, Merseyside, Wales, Bristol, Somerset, Hampshire, London & Home Counties on both a permanent and contract basis. Eventus is Latin for “Results” and our main aim is to provide both candidates and clients with a thorough, professional, and effective service.
Information and extracts taken from various sources