If you like working with numbers, calculating taxes or helping others manage their finances, you are at the right place. Becoming an accountant is an excellent choice in terms of career prospects because every business needs one. If you are researching different career paths and are interested in accounting, take a look at this career guide to find out how you can become an accountant.
Research the Profession
Before you are ready to decide whether this is your dream career, you need to do some research and find out what this profession requires from you in terms of day-to-day duties and career progression.
The main role of accountants is to manage a person’s or organisation’s finances. They are responsible for offering financial advice, auditing accounts, and providing trustworthy information on financial records. Depending on their speciality they may also carry out taxation, forensic and corporate accounting. These professionals may work in many different settings from public practice, industry, and commerce to not-for-profit and public sectors.
Their duties may be varied depending on where they are based but as an accountant typical job responsibilities include:
- Managing financial systems and budgets
- Undertaking financial audits (an independent check of an organisation’s financial position)
- Providing financial advice
- Liaising with clients (individuals or businesses) and providing financial information and advice
- Advising clients on tax planning and tax issues associated with activities such as business acquisitions and mergers
- Maintaining accounting records and preparing accounts and management information for small businesses
- Advising clients on business transactions, such as mergers and acquisitions
- Counseling clients on areas of business improvement, or dealing with insolvency
- Detecting and preventing fraud
- Producing reports and recommendations following internal audits or public-sector audits
- Preparing financial statements, including monthly and annual accounts
- Arranging financial management reports, including financial planning and forecasting
Because accounting is a very diverse field, you need to decide where you want to work. Depending on what you choose you will have to meet different educational requirements and might get slightly different responsibilities, working hours or be based in a different work environment.
Checking your options in advance can help you make a well-informed decision about your career. To help yourself out, have a look at the following:
- Chartered accountant: you are employed by companies and can cover all types of finance work in business and commerce, financial services, banking and the public sector. To become a chartered accountant, you will need to become a member of one the professional bodies as mentioned further down.
- Certified accountant: you will be administering responsibilities of finance work within an organisation. The difference with chartered accountants is that they are more likely to be studying independently or work and be sponsored by major companies. You can get qualified as a Certified Accountancy technician and then complete the professional exam to become a Certified Accountant. There is also the option to continue with a postgraduate Diploma in Financial Management (DipFM) that can equip you with specialist knowledge in accounting and finance. All certified accountants must be members of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).
- Public finance accountant: you are likely to work in public bodies such as local authorities, the government, police, and hospitals. Also, you can become members of Chartered Institute of Public Financial and Accountancy (CIPFA).
- Management Accountant: As a management accountant you will be involved in the strategic elements of a company and take on responsibility for the implementation of financial business strategies. If you are interested in becoming a management accountant you can work towards a qualification that is approved by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).
- Accounting Technician: as an accounting technician you are not a qualified accountant though you have the option to take the required exams to become one. As an accounting technician, you usually work in supporting roles. You can obtain your Certified Accountancy Technician Qualification if you are above the age 16 and as a Certified Accountant Technician, you can become a member of the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT).
Essential Skills and Qualities
Accounting is a demanding sector to work in and most professionals need to have a range of skills to succeed. Generally, every accountant should possess the following skills and qualities:
- General business interest and awareness
- Self-motivation and commitment, in order to combine study while working
- Communication and interpersonal skills
- Good organizational and time management skills
- IT proficiency
- Strong analytical and problem-solving skills
- Leadership and teamwork
- Motivation and initiative
- Integrity and trustworthiness
Working Hours and Conditions
Working hours vary depending on the role and the organisation, but the standard office 9 am to 5 pm shift is quite common. You will be working Monday to Friday but also may need to work extra hours in the evening or during weekends to meet important deadlines, especially if you work in a large firm. You are most likely to be based in an office, but can spend a lot of time visiting clients.
Starting salaries may vary depending on the location, sector, size, and type of firm. The following are salary indications of how much you could be earning in each position:
Entry Level: up to £25,000.
Professional Level: £26,000 to £50,000
The average earning potential of chartered accountants with two years of experience is £47,900 plus bonus. The average annual salary in business can be up to £90,800.
Entry Level: £25,000
Professional Level: £26,000 to £45,000 for senior accountant/accounts senior roles
With more experience, salary can range from £40,000 up to £100,000.
Public Finance Accountant
Entry Level: £18,000 to £30,000 (as a trainee)
Professional Level: £32,000 to £65,000
Senior Level: up to £100,000
Entry Level: £28,000
Professional Level: £64,011 including bonus*
Senior Level: £46,000 to £129,000+
*The average bonus for CIMA students is 8 percent of their annual salary, while qualified members receive 12 percent on average.
Entry Level: £16,000 to £22,000
Professional Level: up to £30,000 or more
2. Get the Qualifications
Accounting is open to graduates from all disciplines though many come from a business-related background. A degree in accountancy or finance is not essential but it can improve your career prospects because it’s a highly competitive field.
Obtaining a certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (CFAB) may be a useful step between a degree and a training contract. But, entry into this profession is possible through an apprenticeship.
If you want to become a chartered accountant you will need to complete training at a company that can take up to three years of practical study and exams. Some employers train students to get the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) which doesn’t require a degree and can lead to chartered status.
You will need to be qualified with one of the following professional bodies:
- Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
- Association of International Accountants (AIA)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
After completing your bachelor’s degree, you can choose your specialisation as a postgraduate student.:
- Financial accounting: it involves recording and classifying business transactions, preparing and presenting financial statements. Also taking part in business decisions, employee benefits, and long-term financial projections. This work can vary from week to week so it needs to combine an understanding of accounting and finance.
- Auditing: it involves checking accounting ledgers and financial statements within businesses, public and not-for-profit organisations. This work is becoming increasingly computerised and can rely on random sampling methods and provides a solid foundation to future specialist work.
- Tax accounting: it involves preparing corporate and personal income tax statements, strategies for deferring taxes, when to expense items, how to approach a merger or acquisition etc. For tax accounting, you will need to have a good understanding of economics and the tax code.
- Management accounting: it involves taking part in decisions about capital budgeting and business analysis. Main activities include cost analysis, contracts analysis and controlling expenses. As a management accountant, you will work alongside marketing and financial managers to develop new business.
3. Land Your First Job
To get a job in accounting, you should to aim to get a 2.1 in your degree. This is the grade most employers expect you to get and helps you secure a job. Since accounting is a competitive field, you will need to work on acquiring new skills as well as the right experience that will make you competent for your first job. Not only that, but you will need to make a good impression in the interview. Practicing some of the most common accounting interview questions can give you an advantage.
As already mentioned there are many types of accounting careers. Depending on what you choose, you can work at any of the following:
Public accounting firms: this includes a group of accountants that work in a partnership that provides accounting services to individuals, businesses, and government. Working in a firm is usually a good place to start as it can help you gain experience in the field before you move into a more specialised area.
Government: you can work at any level of the government preparing budgets, tracking costs and analysing government initiatives. Chances for advancement are good and can be an excellent choice if you are also interested in politics.
Corporations: every company needs to have an accountant or accounting department to prepare financial statements and calculate expenses. Here, there is the opportunity for steady progression towards a managerial position within a business of any sector.
Independent: you can work as a self-employed accountant, opening your own business or as a freelance consultant.
How to Gain Work Experience
If you want to gain more experience, you can volunteer to help with accounting in your community or for a local organisation. Alternatively, you ask if you can work-shadow a professional, complete vacation work, internships or work placements with different organisations.
If you are at university or have graduated recently, you can contact the careers service of the university to help you find an employer who hires students and offers training opportunities.
Where to find Accounting Jobs
There are many sites you can search to find a job in accounting. Most of the professional accountancy bodies mentioned above list vacancies for accounting. The following sites are some of the best:
Employers occasionally post jobs on their site as well, so it’s worth checking them out. LinkedIn is another great source if you are looking for a job because it can help you connect with large employers in the field directly such as PwC, Ernst and Young, KPMG and others.
4. Develop Your Career
Advancing your career in an accountancy role requires moving into management and progressing to the role of director in finance. However, changing from private practice to public or management accountancy is a career move that you can consider at any point in your career life. Another option is to earn more qualifications in specialist areas or open your own business.
If you are interested in becoming an accountant, you need to start searching for an approved course and find out what each one offers. It helps to look for any exemptions for subjects because this is going to make your life easier when you land your first job. Getting initial work experience and learning more about the industry can give you an idea of what to expect in your chosen career.
So do you think you would enjoy a career in accounting? Let us know in the comments section below…