Time to think small

If you really want to work in an accountancy practice don’t wait until you finish your course before you start applying for jobs. You could be missing out on years of valuable experience that will see you walk straight into a great job once you’ve finished college or university.

Even if your sights are set for one of the large accountancy practices, gaining understanding and knowledge in a local practice will see you jump ahead much faster than others starting off at the same time as you.

I’ve run my own practice for over 22 years and in that time I’ve taken on trainees from different walks of life. The best ones have worked in some sort of financial function before and have not had a degree at the time I’ve taken them on. I want to give you some insight into what many small accountancy practices look for. So I’m not talking for the top 10 firms here who have different resources and priorities from me.

Becoming a fully qualified accountant is hard work and when you finish your course you still have years ahead of study in order to get your qualification. By its very nature this has to be done while working, so you may as well get used to that now.

The work will also give you greater insight into your course work and you will understand in a practical manner what it all means. Let me give you an example.

One of my trainees was struggling to understand how to interpret ratios and write a report for a scenario where she was the accountant writing to explain this to a business. I got her to benchmark one of our clients with software we use for that purpose and which produces a report. Once she read that she could see clearly how this could be of use to a business and found it much easier to do the report.

By the time she had finished university she already had three years of experience behind her and could do a myriad of tasks in the practice. She was incredibly useful so I offered her a full-time job on a much better salary and paid for her to sit her professional exams.

I would no longer take on someone coming straight from a degree in accountancy unless they had already worked part-time in another accountancy practice. Why is that? They have higher expectations of salary but can do no more than a trainee with no experience. I have to train them from the very start (including debits and credits!) so why should I pay them more than someone with no degree? I’m being honest so you gain an insight into what your potential employer is looking for!

Here are my top tips:

1. Look for a part-time job as soon as you apply for your accountancy course.

2. You will need to work at least two days a week to learn enough and become useful.

3. Don’t wait until you see a job advertised. Have a look around. Practices close to where you live that you would like to work for and send them your CV.

4. Look out for ones that have awards, or who are proactive on social media. They’re much more likely to be technology driven, giving you a good education in software.

5. Find out what software they use for bookkeeping and do some training on it before you go for interview.

6. Find out as much about the practice before the interview and show that you chose them for a reason.

7. Be keen. If you struggle to get a job, ask if you can come and work for a week for no pay. Prove yourself and you’re likely to be kept on. But if they just don’t need someone you just have to widen your search for work experience.

Don’t use the excuse that you’re too busy learning to get a job. In the accountancy world you have to show you can study and work at the same time. It can be fantastic working in a small practice as your much more likely to get to work on a wide range of clients and do everything from bookkeeping to accounts production to management accounts to company secretarial.

It’s much more varied and gives you the opportunity to find out what you really enjoy if you decide you’d like to specialise later on.

• Gloria Murray is an accountant at award-winning firm Murray and Associates