It’s the age-old chicken and egg scenario.
You want to work in practice, you know that you want to be an accountant and you are prepared to work hard. But every advertised job you look at asks for 6 (if not 12) months of experience already working in Accountancy Practice. But how can you get the experience if no one will give you that first opportunity? *face palm
Because of the nature of the way we work as a niche recruitment agency it’s impossible for us to act successfully on your behalf if you do not have any relevant experience. Unfortunately, our clients will simply not pay a fee for us to find them trainees. However, we do recognise how hard it can seem to get that elusive first training contract and we want to help as much as we can, so here are our top tips;
Voluntary experience – It may not seem ideal, but if you are serious about reaching your goal of working in practice this can be an effective way of getting a taste of what it’s like whilst also racking up some experience to put on your CV. Many of the larger firms (particularly top 6) have intern programs and opportunities to gain unpaid work experience. Our advice is to apply for any opportunity you can find and grab any opportunity for practical experience with both hands. It may seem unfair working without pay now, but in the longer term it will pay huge dividends in terms of moving your career forwards.
Leverage LinkedIn– LinkedIn is the biggest professional networking platform in the world. If you are not on there yet, stop what you are doing and create a profile now. Anyone who is anyone in leadership or recruiting within the world of Accountancy Practice will have an active profile on LinkedIn. Not only will you be more visible to the potential employer (helping them to find you instead of the other way around), but you will be able to actively connect with and contact Partners and Hiring Managers online too. LinkedIn is also a fantastic platform to find advertised training roles and/or other opportunities to build your career.
Approach Employers directly– It pays to be proactive. Accountancy firms are not just looking for number crunchers these days, they know that their stars of the future will also need to be confident communicators, creative thinkers and able to build strong relationships with clients. Phone, email or write to potential firms that you would like to train with whether they have a job advertised or not. Make sure that you include why you would like to work with them in particular, and focus on why you want to be an accountant. If you let your determination and passion show through you may be surprised at the results.
Many firms do not advertise trainee accountant jobs, but will from time to time take people speculatively. Even if the firm are not in a position to hire right now, if you stand out from the crowd, they may well come back to you when they are in a position to do so.
Keep informed– Most Accountancy firms have a career page on their website. Draw yourself up a list of all the firms which are geographically practical for you to get to, and whittle this down to a shortlist of those who you feel you would really love to work for. Then make it a discipline to check their website for any training/junior vacancies weekly. You could even set up a Google alert.
Some firms have open days which will be advertised online, attend as many of these as you can to get a feel for the culture of each firm and to gain some exposure/meet more prospective employers.
Network– Look for professional networking breakfasts, lunches and events. They are a wonderful way to meet like-minded individuals who can give you advice and introduce you to potential employers, as well as practice Partners and Directors who may be hiring now or in the future. This will not be a ‘quick fix’ but will help to position you, build credibility and begin to create a professional network which will be invaluable in later years once working as an accountant. It will also provide a fantastic learning experience, teaching you presentation skills, communication skills and how to hold business conversations. Attending networking events can also really improve your confidence levels!
To find the right kind of events to attend just google ‘networking events near me’, speak with your local Chamber of Commerce and join appropriate local Groups on LinkedIn (many of them meet offline as well as talking online). It pays to experiment so attend a few different ones at first before deciding if to attend a regular networking meet up. Ask the organiser to give you a list of ‘regular attendees’ to see if it matches your needs. You need to focus on finding the events which will help you build relationships with Partners/Directors or other hiring Managers within reputable accountancy firms.
Some events will be free and other will be paid events, but the £5-£15 a month average cost is a worthwhile investment in your future.
Qualifications– It may seem obvious to state, but gain as many relevant qualifications as you can whilst you can. Potential employers do want experience, but they will also appreciate that those who have applied themselves to their study will be capable of applying themselves to their work. Besides the obvious formal accountancy qualifications (AAT/ACA/ATT etc.) do consider some courses which will supplement your ‘soft skills’ such as public speaking, presentation writing and so on.
We are confident that if you embrace all of the advice above you will soon land your first training role and enter the world of Accountancy Practice.