Careers Service Occupations

Accountancy & Tax

Accountancy and Tax

About

Accounting and professional services provide the most vacancies among the top 100 graduate recruiters.

The Graduate Market in 2016 (PDF: 602KB) report shows that in 2015 there was a 12.3% increase in the number of graduate roles compared with the previous year.

The same report also shows that accountancy and professional service firms are among those offering the highest graduate starting salaries, an average of £30,300. 

Qualifying with a professional accountancy body can give your career, bank balance and professional reputation a huge boost. It can take three or four years, but most accountancy employers will give you time to study and pay for your exams.

Careers advice 

The following websites give advice about careers in accountancy:

For tax and financial management there is:

You can also view video case studies:

News and research

There are industry publications and news websites, including FT.comThe EconomistReutersBloomberg.com, Public Finance magazine, Accountancy Live, Accountancy Age and Accounting Web.

Research sites include Finance Glossary, an online dictionary of financial terms, and Vault, a US-based company research site.

Professional bodies

They represent the interests of people working in the sector, providing training and networking opportunities. They often provide careers support for students and graduates. Follow professional associations on LinkedIn or visit their websites for news, contacts, work experience and vacancies.

The main professional UK institutes for accountancy include:

There are also accountancy associations and financial regulation authorities, including:

Overseas there are accountancy bodies including CPA AustraliaAssociation of International Accountants and Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Organisations looking at tax include the Chartered Institute of TaxationIrish Tax Institute and Association of Taxation Technicians. The Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT) deals with financial management.

Making contacts

Making contacts is useful for success in this sector. Gaining insight and arranging work experience comes through networking and speculative applications. You could start with:

  • Graduate Connections – working graduates happy to give you advice
  • social media, particularly LinkedIn and Twitter – useful for contacts, employers and finding opportunities
  • connecting with our alumni on LinkedIn. Find out what they did after graduation and how they got there, and contact them for advice and inspiration.

Events

Recruitment fairs, open days, talks and other sector events give valuable insight. There is also the opportunity to make useful contacts.

Many big employers and the professional bodies in this sector run events and other opportunities, for example:

For events listings, see Careers Service events or External Events.

Related sectors

You may also be interested in Banking and Finance, Management Consultancy, Economics and Statistics and Actuarial, Insurance and Pensions.

Or see our occupations pages for more options.

Roles and Skills

Accountants analyse and prepare financial records, which are vital to the efficient running of any business.

There are many different areas of accountancy to work in. You can focus on a company’s current position or use financial information to make decisions for the future.

The following job profiles include descriptions of typical duties, entry requirements and case studies.

Accounting technician

Auditor

Chartered accountant

Chartered certified accountant

Chartered management accountant

Chartered public finance accountant

Corporate treasurer

Financial manager

Forensic accountant

Tax adviser

Skills employers look for

  • analytical and problem-solving skills
  • numeracy skills, particularly working with statistics
  • a methodical approach, with accuracy and attention to detail
  • communication and interpersonal skills
  • leadership and effective team working skills
  • initiative

Employers will want you to show a real interest in and awareness of finance and business. They will also expect you to be proficient with IT. Most graduate roles in this sector require you to study while working, so self-motivation, commitment, time-management and working under pressure to deadlines are all important.

For roles in tax, you need the ability to interpret and explain complex legislation to non-specialists. Tact and discretion are also essential, as you will be working with confidential information.

Gaining Experience

Finding a job in accountancy is competitive. Relevant work experience is invaluable in developing expertise and demonstrating motivation and commitment.

Most large companies advertise summer internships early in the first semester. These are usually aimed at undergraduate students in or above their second year of study.

Applications open early, around August, with closing dates usually between October to January. Placements with smaller companies are not always advertised. You'll need to contact the employer with a speculative approach.

Several recruiters are now offering ‘insight days’ to first year undergraduates. These tend to be for one to five days during Easter and/or Christmas vacations. They are a good way to find out more about a company and get the edge for internship applications.

Finding work experience

Use the following sources to find advertised opportunities:

See Internships, placements and shadowing for additional ways to find work experience.

Speculative approach

Speculative applications are when you contact employers directly, ie not in response to an advertised vacancy.

They are a useful way to approach smaller employers who don’t offer formal internships. They also help with finding opportunities in a specialised field or specific location.

Find companies by:

Other ways to gain experience

To develop your skills, or if you are having difficulty finding relevant experience, you can:

Competitions

Taking part in competitions is a way to enhance your CV, raise your profile and gain valuable skills while having fun.

You could also win a cash prize, an internship or even a chance to travel abroad.

There are lots of national and international competitions open to students. Those listed below are relevant to the accountancy sector. Deadlines are throughout the year, so check each link for up-to-date information.

See our Awards and Competitions section for details of general competitions and those for other sectors.

Finding Jobs

Competition is strong, especially for entry-level positions. Use these resources to find advertised vacancies and also research employers for speculative applications.

Careers Service: Vacancies Online - graduate vacancies in the North East, UK and overseas. Log in to sign up for personalised email alerts.

Occupational profiles on Prospects website link to employers and vacancy sources for specific jobs.

Graduate schemes

Professional bodies – training vacancies and immediate start jobs

Vacancy sites

Public sector, audit, tax and corporate treasury

See more sources of graduate jobs.

Specialist recruitment agencies

Recruitment agencies often advertise graduate and entry-level positions. They also have a wealth of industry knowledge.

Search Agency Central for a list of specialist recruitment agencies.

Finding companies

Not all jobs are advertised. You can approach firms or find work through networking in the industry.

Find firms that interest you and get in touch, always with a named contact. Be specific about why you are writing to them and what you’re looking for.

Show your enthusiasm for the sector and highlight any relevant skills. Don’t give up if you don’t get a reply – follow up with a phone call or email to show that you’re keen.

Professional body directories

Company reviews and listings

Study and Training

To become a qualified accountant or tax adviser you'll need to complete professional training. This usually takes three to four years.

It is legal to work as an accountant without training with one of the professional accountancy bodies. But being qualified will vastly improve your employment prospects. To work in audit or insolvency, by law you need a certificate from a recognised qualifying body.

Choosing a trainee position

Most graduates will break into this sector by taking up a trainee position with an employer. Employers usually have preferred training providers and will support you through your qualifications.

The support you get from employers can vary, from paying for exams to giving you study time off, or providing a mentor. It is important to consider the support open to you when deciding which trainee position to apply for.

You should also consider the different qualifications available, and what impact they have on:

  • the type of accountancy and sort of role you would like
  • which employers you would like to work for
  • what title you want to use – eg chartered accountant or chartered certified accountant
  • what the training will involve – some qualifications are longer and require more exams
  • whether you already have exemptions from studying an accredited course. That could fast-track qualifying time for specific professional bodies
  • whether you want to work abroad – is the qualification internationally recognised?