I Want To Work In ..... Accountancy



You do not have to have a degree in accountancy to become an accountant (but if you are studying accountancy you will find our page “What Can I Do With My Accounting and Finance Degree?” useful www.kent.ac.uk/careers/accountancy.htm )

Neither do you need a degree in business administration, maths or any other specific subject – graduates in all subjects, from Anthropology to Zoology can and do become successful accountants.

What you do need is a good academic record, particularly at A-level (two Bs and a C is the minimum standard for most firms); good communication and teamworking skills; determination and motivation. Numeracy is, of course, important but most employers require no more than a good GSCE in Maths and a good standard in the numeracy tests which are likely to form part of their selection process (see our pages on psychometric tests www.kent.ac.uk/careers/psychotests.htm for some examples)

Accountancy is a career which offers a graduate environment, variety, people contact, a professional qualification, high salaries and opportunities to work internationally. (Who said accountancy was boring?). Many accountants use their qualification to move into general management or to set up their own business

Accountants work in all areas of business, plus the public and voluntary sector. Many work in firms of chartered or certified accountants (this is referred to as working in “private practice” or, confusingly, as “public practice”). Others are employed by banks, manufacturing companies, local authorities, charities, publishers, film companies, hospital trusts, insurance companies, universities – you name it!

Top Reasons for Applying to Accountancy
Opportunities for professional qualifications
Good long-term career prospects 32%
Quality of training and development 31%
Availability of jobs 25%
Excellent starting salaries 25%
Able to use your degree subject 25%
Interested in content of work 24%
Work is intellectually demanding 22%
Good job security 19%
Good work-life balance 14%
Source: The UK Graduate Careers Survey 2010 AGR/The Times

Work in private practice is centered on audit: visiting clients as part of an audit team and reviewing their business operations and financial records to establish the validity of the company's accounts. Auditing gives you a chance to visit 10 or 20 companies a year, examine their finances and strategies and and ask questions about the way they work. You see what makes some profitable, some fail, some good places to work and others bad: after 3 years training you have a unique insight into what makes a business successful.

Other work includes tax consultancy, business advice and insolvency work. This gives a broad insight into many different businesses and areas of business, which is why many accountants choose to qualify in private practice before moving into industry and other areas. If you train in private practice you will qualify with one of the chartered accountancy institutes or with the Association of Chartered Certifed Accountants (ACCA)

Accountants in industry and commerce use their financial expertise to inform management decision-making, to advise other departments within their organisation and to maximise its profitability and effectiveness. In the public sector they perform a similar role but with the emphasis on ensuring value for money.

There are several different professional bodies which regulate the training and work of accountants in the UK (see below) but, as a general rule, qualifying as an accountant will involve three years of study, exams and relevant employment. Training for professional exams is provided by employers. Early responsibility and fast promotion is available if your work and exam results are satisfactory.

PROFILE: Chartered Accountant (Audit) (ACA)

Visiting clients as part of an audit team; reviewing their business operations & financial records to establish the validity of the company's accounts.
EMPLOYERS: Chartered accountancy firms, of all sizes
RELATED JOBS: management consultancy, banking, systems analysis, certified/management/public sector accountancy, tax work.
SATISFACTIONS: Variety; early responsibility; people contact.
NEGATIVES: Long hours (of study, as well as work assignments, during training).
SKILLS: spoken communication, analysing, investigating, cooperating, and numeracy.
ADVANCEMENT: Early responsibility & fast promotion if your work & exam results are satisfactory. On qualification, move to audit senior post, then manager, then eventually partner. Many chartered accountants move out of private practice into industry & other areas.
DEGREE: Any, but applicants must be numerate.
POSTGRADUATE STUDY: None required - training for professional exams is usually provided through employers. Some full-time courses are available for those unable to obtain a training contract.
Graduate directories; ICAEW, ICAS vacancy lists
TIPS: A good academic record is important, particularly at A-level. Get relevant vacation work experience. Recruitment is almost year-round, but applying early in final year gives widest choice. Look at a variety of firms: small, medium & large.


PROFILE: Chartered Public & Finance Accountant (CIPFA)

Managing financial services such as income collection; providing budgeting information & advice to management; being directly involved in the management of a multi-million pound organisation.
EMPLOYERS: local authorities; health authorities; other public sector bodies.
RELATED JOBS: chartered/certified/management accountancy, banking, insurance, management, administration in local government & NHS.
SATISFACTIONS: Being directly involved in the running of an important & useful organisation
NEGATIVES: Financial constraints endemic in public sector; frustrations of organisational & local politics.
CIPFA is not international, but does have links with the CPA in Australia and the CMA in Canada meaning the qualification could be taken further.
SKILLS: spoken communication, analysing, investigating, cooperating, numeracy.
ADVANCEMENT: Accountant - Head of Financial Services - Assistant Director of Finance
DEGREE: Any degree subject, but numerate degrees e.g. Economics, Maths may help.
VACANCY SOURCES: Trainee vacancies can usually be found on the CIPFA website at www.cipfa.org.uk/students/prospective/vacancies.cfm and students can also register for email alerts. VAcancies can also be found using the usual graduate sources, local government's www.lgjobs.com  and individual organisations’ websites.


PROFILE: Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA)

Manages accounting systems. Audits financial records and investigates anomalies. Prepares financial statements/management information. Improves procedures & processes. Advises clients on tax and other financial issues.
EMPLOYERS: can work for private sector companies, public sector organisations or in private practice.
SATISFACTIONS: Options to specialise in any industry. Provides an overview of the whole enterprise.
NEGATIVES: Hard work to qualify. Negative image (Monty Python still). Can be high pressure, particularly at financial year end.
SKILLS: analysing, investigating, organising, cooperating, numeracy.
DEGREE: Any degree subject acceptable - numerate/analytical/business subject may be helpful.
TIPS: Study for Certified Accountancy Qualification - training for professional exams is provided by employers. These are hard work.


PROFILE: Chartered Management Accountant (CIMA)

Provides the financial information required for the financial protection & future planning of companies. Maintains & reconciles accounting records. Prepares financial statements/management information. Improves procedures and processes. Selects, implements & develops management systems.

The most important word in the title is management rather than accountant. Financial management and analysis, (preparation and interpretation of financial data) is part of the CIMA training but CIMA managers are not “number crunchers” but managers with a broader ranging brief and a wider range of specialist outlets. CIMA is about the management and planning of the future (as opposed to audit & assurance which is about examining past records): real life, practical management rather than theory, for doers rather than people who "just know".

CIMA is about partnership management: working with other business partners, working on planning, strategic development, business decision taking, risk assessment, leadership, change management and driving business forward. Typical job titles for CIMA graduates are: Management Accountant, CFO, Financial Controller, Finance Director, Information Analyst, IT Director, Project Specialist, CEO.

EMPLOYERS: Almost any type of company e.g. manufacturing, retail, energy, banking etc.
SATISFACTIONS: Options to specialise. Provides an overview of the whole enterprise.
NEGATIVES: Hard work to qualify. Negative image (Monty Python still). Can be high pressure, particularly at financial year end.
SKILLS: analysing, investigating, organising, cooperating, numeracy.
DEGREE: Any degree subject - numerate/analytical/business subject may be helpful.
TIPS: Must study for the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) qualification. This is hard work: time is the key issue, so look for a good study leave package, even if this is at the expense of salary.


The difference between Management Accountancy (CIMA) and Certified Accountancy (ACCA)

Management Accountancy (CIMA)

Focused on business and uniquely covers:

  • Operations
  • Change Management
  • Relationship and Project Management
  • Marketing

CIMA puts emphasis on:

  • Human Resource Management
  • Applied management accounting techniques
  • Stronger emphasis on application and analysis of knowledge.
  • Students better qualified to deal with business decisions.

Focuses on broad business management skills: equips trainees to deal with decisions and changes that affect the whole organisation.

Certified Accountancy (ACCA)

Focused on professional practice and uniquely covers:

  • Taxation of corporate and non- corporate entities (using actual tax rules)
  • External audit and assurance
  • Law

ACCA puts emphasis on:

  • Information systems
  • Financial accounting and reporting



Careers Information

Professional Accountancy Bodies

Chartered Accountancy

Certified Accountancy

Management Accountancy

Public Finance Accountancy

Tax Work

Vacancy information

Most vacancies for trainees can be found on the websites of the professional bodies, but the following may also be useful:

Chartered Accountancy Firms

The "Big Four"

Some other firms:


For a comprehensive list of firms recruiting trainees, see the Institute of Chartered Accountants website www.icaewtrainingvacancies.com

Accountancy Training in the Public Sector

Accountancy Training in Industry and Commerce

The ACCA and CIMA websites list training vacancies. Many graduate training schemes are also listed on graduate websites such as Prospects, & Target – see www.kent.ac.uk/careers/graddirectories.htm for details.


Last fully updated 2014