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Where Can A Career In Accountancy Take You?



At its heart, accountancy is about managing the flow of money on behalf of a business or an organisation, whilst also working strategically to maximise profits or income.

Accountants might spend their days maintaining financial records, providing advice, managing budgets, liaising with clients, assessing risk and negotiating with suppliers, as well as helping their organisations make financial decisions on what will or will not benefit their company.

There are many different branches of accounting, including financial, managerial, cost accounting, auditing, taxation, and forensic accounting. You may also choose to work across a variety of areas – in-house for a company, for example, or in a large accountancy firm. You will also have the opportunity to decide whether you want to work in the public or private sector.

More experienced accountants and those who have managed to build a strong reputation and contacts within the industry might decide to take on personal clients and work for themselves, although this is unlikely to be an option until much later in your career.

Types of jobs within accountancy

There are various levels within the accountancy sector. Not all of those working in accountancy jobs will be chartered accountants – the industry needs credit control managers, for example, to ensure that all invoices are paid on time and that the business or organisation can continue to function effectively.

Some of the jobs that fall under accountancy but do not require an accountancy qualification include:

  • Accounts assistant

  • Bookkeeper

  • Credit control manager

  • Accounts payable clerk

  • Accounts receivable clerk

  • Payroll manager

Those who do take the exams required to become a qualified accountant will then be able to work as accountants within the companies that have supported their training, or elsewhere if they feel that it’s time to move on.

Later in their careers, accountants are likely to specialise – potentially in one of the following areas:

  • Managerial/cost accounting: preparing, analysing and optimising financial reports, usually for internal use

  • Corporate accounting: advising on mergers, acquisitions, and other business transactions

  • Forensic accounting: detecting fraud

  • Financial accounting: the analysis and reporting of the financial transactions of a business, including the accounts that are publicly available

  • Auditing: a specific type of accounting that focuses on making sure all financial records are accurate

  • Taxation: using specific accountancy skills to plan and manage taxes with clients or individuals

Accounting graduate schemes

Graduate schemes are one of the most traditional routes to an accounting career. The big four accountancy firms, KMPG, Deloitte, Pwc and Ernst and Young all offer extensive accounting graduate schemes in a wide range of specialisms and are often considered the best accounting graduate schemes out there. Competition for places can be fierce for these sought after graduate spots so preparation and standing out from the crowd is a must.

Top tip: Landing an accountancy work placement with one of the leading four is often a great way to impress and can often land you a graduate scheme place before you have completed your degree.

How much do trainee accountants earn?

Graduates working as trainee accountants are likely to earn between £20,000 and £30,000, progressing to around £60,000 with a few years of experience. At the highest levels this industry pays higher salaries than many other careers, with many people earning over £60,000 per year.

Here are the average salaries for some other roles within the industry, both qualified and non-qualified:

Average salary of a non-qualified accountant:

  • Accounting technician: £20,304

  • Bookkeeper: £10.30 p/h

  • Payroll administrator: £19,700

  • Payroll manager: £30,691

  • Accounts assistant: £18,598

  • Credit controller: £20,706

  • Credit manager: £34,996

  • Accounts payable clerk: £19,824

  • Accounts receivable clerk: £19,452

Average salary of a qualified accountant:

  • Company accountant: £31,301

  • Management accountant: £34,093

  • Chartered accountant: £34,637

  • Forensic accountant: £39,787

  • Financial accountant: £35,036

  • Auditor: £29,211

  • Internal auditor: £29,406

  • Financial controller: £50,780

  • Finance manager: £45,570

  • Tax accountant: £32,637

  • Tax consultant: £34,578

Skills & interests required

It goes without saying that you’ll need to have a head for numbers to have a career in accountancy. Communication, teamwork and negotiation are also likely to be important. You will also need to have a highly professional manner, especially if you are regularly meeting with clients or stakeholders.

Some of the skills that employers look for include:

- Ability to Work Under Pressure
- Communication
- Presentation Skills
- Teamwork

Typical Career Progression Routes for Graduates in Accountancy

The career route taken to qualify in accountancy is highly structured and very well established – there are no shortcuts to getting where you want to be.

You will need to study and pass a number of exams in order to qualify as an accountant. These may be sponsored or supported by your employer, especially if you’re in a large organisation. The exact time it takes to qualify will depend on your organisation and your own diligence/success within the programme.

The two qualifications that you can take are:

CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Professionals) - 12 professional qualification exams, taken over approximately four years
ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) - 14 professional qualification exams, taken over approximately four years

It doesn’t matter which of these you take, as they will provide the same outcome. Companies will offer one or the other to their trainee accountants.

Some of the biggest and most respected accountancy companies offer graduate schemes, which are highly structured and last two or three years. Gaining a place on these schemes can be tough, but they are without a doubt the best places to be if you want to progress quickly.

Tips for getting into the field

Accountancy is a competitive and popular industry, so it’s worth knowing what employers will look for when you’re applying for roles.

Obviously, a strong head for maths and a clear and defined logical approach are both essential.

There are also a large number of general, non-industry-related things that you can do to put yourself in a good position to start applying for jobs. These include:

  • Tailoring your CV for each specific role - making sure you focus on previous experience and relevant skills

  • Applying for internships and/or work experience – this is a no-brainer: as well as ensuring that you’ve experienced the field before you start applying for jobs within it, it’ll show that you’re committed and allow you to start acquiring the practical skills you’ll need in your future job

  • Take on similar roles – for example as an accounts assistant or similar, in holidays or whilst you apply for higher-level roles right after graduation

  • See what the top companies in the field require – start by looking for case studies from the big firms, and note what backgrounds and skills their current employees have

  • Get the relevant accreditation – in this case, the CIMA or ACCA is what you need to be working towards

  • Use your contacts – university professors, those you met on work experience, people you can approach through social media or LinkedIn – they’re all potentially the stepping stone to your next role, and they might very well be happy to help you.

Qualification requirements & subjects to study

Graduates in mathematics-based subjects such as finance or economics are best suited to positions within this industry, although with further study (ACCA, CIMA or similar – see details above) you can pursue this area even if your degree isn’t directly related. It isn’t uncommon for graduates with degrees such as history to decide that accountancy is actually the career they want to pursue.

Having said that, there are obviously some degrees that are more likely to lead you into this area than others. Many accountants will have studied the following subjects:

  • Accountancy

  • Finance

  • Management

  • Business

  • Mathematics

  • Economics

Useful resources

Institute of Chartered Accountants Scotland
Chartered Accountants Ireland
Institute of Financial Accountants
Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountancy (CIPFA)
The Association of Accounting Technicians
Chartered Institute of Management Accountants
Association of Chartered Certified Accountants
The National Skills Academy for Financial Services

Industry bodies

Institute of Chartered Accountancy for England and Wales
Royal Economic Society
UK Finance
The National Skills Academy for Financial Services