Importance of work experience

We take a look at just how crucial work experience is to your career progression chances. Alex Miller explores

In a highly competitive job market, the CVs of trainees must be tailored to highlight that they really want the position they are applying for.

One of the very best ways to stand out from the crowd and to show enthusiasm and dedication for a career in accountancy is to have a significant amount of work experience to be able to draw upon.

Gareth Davage, senior managing director at Michael Page Finance London & South East Regions, says: ‘In today’s competitive job markets it is important to have an all rounded set of skills, as it will be a key advantage when looking to secure a role. 

‘Gaining work experience is essential and will significantly develop your commercial skills, as well as your understanding about working in a corporate environment. 

‘Apart from a good academic record, companies value excellent soft skills like communication, commercial awareness and flexibility; these kinds of skills are especially important in a team-based company and will provide invaluable commercial awareness.’

Soft skills

More specifically, it is important to have practical experience in areas that are in high demand. 

If you and your CV are successful and you make it to interview level, you will stand a far better chance than a trainee who seems unpersonable or uncommunicative, irrespective of their first time pass rate.

‘Many of our clients are looking for trainees who already have advanced Excel skills and knowledge of accounting software such as Sage, SPSS and Crystal Reports’, adds Davage.

‘A versatile skill set will enhance your chances of success in any role. Future accountants need to show more than traditional number crunching; a candidate who can add value to the business as a whole will have that advantage over a candidate with limited skills.’ 

A good place to look for potential intern opportunities is online job postings or employer websites as well as contacting recruitment consultancies for help.

Competitive jobs market

Josh Rufus, manager public practice at Morgan McKinley, says: ‘Today’s graduate employment market is still fiercely competitive and, without a doubt, industry experience can really distinguish you from the pack in an employer’s eyes. 

‘If you can secure an internship within practice or in a finance department, then it can really pay dividends. Not only does it allow you to decide if the field is right for you, but it also enables you to build a professional network – extremely useful when it comes to looking for your first professional role.  

‘Most importantly, it boosts your CV, proving to future employers that you’re not afraid of hard work.  

‘Obviously, it can be equally difficult to find relevant work experience as it is to find an actual paid position, so it’s worth casting your net as far as possible. Attending recruitment fairs or local chambers of commerce events, for example, or searching on company websites to see if there are any internships going will help you find opportunities that have perhaps slipped under the radar.’

It is worth remembering to never underestimate the value of calling a company directly to see if they have any work experience opportunities available – it shows proactivity and you are more likely to get a satisfactory response than using email only.

Solid track record

Joss Collins, a financial services specialist at Venn Group, says: ‘As already mentioned, experience is crucial and any gained while at school or university is generally valued very highly by employers as it shows that the person is serious about a career in the sector and highlights their desire to secure a role.

‘In fact, it is highly unlikely any professional will be able to secure a role, regardless of their qualifications, without at least some track record of working in the sector. Any experience is valuable, particularly that gained in a practical role where the individual could utilise their pre-existing contacts to their advantage.

‘However, it’s important not to be too selective when looking to gain experience. Organisations will generally recognise any history of working in the sector as a good thing and professionals shouldn’t get tied down with trying to secure experience at a large firm.’

It is also worth bearing in mind that work experience opens up valuable recruiting opportunities for trainees and employers alike. Research suggests that in the region of 70% of employers who offer work placements to students have taken one or more of them on as permanent staff.

More than 60% of employers say that the hope of finding good employees is their main reason for offering work experience in the first place.

"It is highly unlikely any professional will be able to secure a role, regardless of their qualifications, without at least some track record of working in the sector"

Joss Collins - Venn Group