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Audit & accountancy Career Pathways & Advice

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The audit and accountancy industry is central to business in the UK, contributing billions to the economy.

Every organisation has a finance department responsible for recording, analysing and interpreting financial information, producing reports, determining budgets and filing tax returns. This means that if you have graduated in a finance-related discipline, the prospect of you finding a decent job in the sector is much better than in other areas, with the added benefit that you can choose the type of company you would like to work in.

You can alternatively choose to work in a company that services clients – the Big 4 accounting firms (Deloitte, PwC, KPMG and Ernst & Young) are examples of these. The opportunities available in accountancy and audit are varied, with positions in most companies across most industries.

The industry encompasses everyone from credit control managers in small companies to financial directors in huge, commercial organisations. Those in financial director positions will have overall responsibility for the financial decisions made by the company and the consequences of them.


You will need to be comfortable working with numbers to have a career in accountancy and /or audit. Soft skills such as communication, teamwork and negotiation are also likely to be important.

Some of the skills that employers and recruiters will look for are:

- Ability to Work Under Pressure
- Analytical skills
- Commercial Awareness
- Communication
- Presentation Skills

Progression opportunities

Progression in accountancy and audit can be fast, and in big organisations you are likely to be paid well, have access to clients and hold a large amount of responsibility early on. It’s the pay-off for hard work and longer hours than you’ll find in many other industries.

You’re likely to have exams that you need to pass in order to move up in the majority of roles – these may be sponsored or supported by your employer, especially if you’re in a large organisation. The exact structure of your career progression will depend both on your organisation and the particular area you’re working in.

Some of the biggest and most respected graduate employers are in the accountancy and audit sector offer graduate schemes, which are very structured and last two or three years. Gaining a place on these schemes can be tough, but the pay-off is that all of the Big 4 accountancy and financial services firms feature in the Times Top 100 graduate employers – meaning they’re overall great places to work.

Career development

All accountancy and audit roles require some degree of expertise, so graduates are almost always required to complete further training.
To progress on from most graduate level roles, you’ll need to qualify as a chartered accountant. Most graduate schemes in this area, and some entry level roles, will support you to become qualified.

Many trainee accountants take the CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Professionals) qualification, which consists of 12 professional qualification exams. It takes on average four years to complete CIMA, with many companies supporting employees to become qualified.

Also popular is the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) qualification, which takes roughly the same amount of time to complete and consists of 14 exams. Most of those taking the ACCA work whilst studying – the course requires three years of practical experience.

To work in audit in the public sector, you’ll need a Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) professional qualification.
The National Audit Office (NAO) also offers a 3-year training scheme for graduates in any subject.

Earning potential

The pay scale in this industry varies greatly depending on the kind of job you have.

Graduates working as trainee accountants and auditors are likely to earn between £20,000 and £30,000, progressing to around £60,000 with a few years of experience. Actuaries start off earning around £30,000 and can also make over £60,000 as they gain experience. It's a similar picture for those who work in financial advisory positions.

At the highest levels this industry pays higher salaries than many other careers, with many people earning over £60,000 per year. At the very top end of the industry, financial directors earn an average salary of £70,900 – although in large organisations they can earn significantly more.

Here are the average salaries for some roles within the sector:

Financial controller - £47,658
Credit control manager - £32,765
Trainee accountant - £20,000 - £30,000
Chartered accountant -£34,637 - £56,000
Qualified auditor - £32,000 - £53,000

Related Companies

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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) you can pursue this area even if your degree isn’t directly related.

How to get there

Formal work experience is not essential for work in the sector. You should prove yourself through the industry-specific qualifications for your particular area – so the CIMA, ACCA, or other required qualifications.

The recruitment process for graduate schemes in accountancy and audit will be tough – you should look at schemes as early in the academic year as you can if you want to start on a scheme as soon as you graduate. Expect interviews, assessment centres and take-home tasks as part of the process.

Further Reading

Institute and Faculty of Actuaries
Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales
Institute of Chartered Accountants Scotland
Chartered Accountants Ireland
Royal Economic Society
Institute of Financial Accountants
Chartered Insurance Institute

Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountancy (CIPFA)
British Insurance Brokers’ Association
UK Finance
The Association of International Accountants
Association of British Insurers
The Association of Accounting Technicians
Chartered Institute of Management Accountants
Association of Chartered Certified Accountants
The National Skills Academy for Financial Services
National Audit Office