We look at some of the best ways to gain work-based experience in order to boost your career prospects
As part of your journey to become a qualified ACCA member, you will need to demonstrate relevant skills and experience in a real work environment.
The Practical Experience Requirement (PER) has to be completed in addition to your exams and Ethics and Professional Skills module before receiving full membership. There are a number of ways that you can meet the required three years’ work experience.
Firstly, it is worth remembering that there are a great number of companies out there willing to hire volunteer accounts assistants and who will offer subsequent progression – even if you have little or no previous experience or qualifications.
It may also be worth considering scanning through your contacts book to find out how many of your contacts have their own firms or work in firms where you can be hired as part-time or full-time help.
Consider NGOs and help groups in your local area. Free help is nearly always accepted and if the help comes from a part-qualified accountant, then that is so much better. And if you show enough passion for both the company and your career, then it will be hard for an employer to refuse you.
Once you have one foot in the door, boost your chances of eventually being paid by showing a general willingness to work longer hours, volunteer for additional jobs and so on. If it is a good company, you may well be taken on and paid soon after staring, if you are putting in a sustained effort with enthusiasm.
A secondment is a great method of varying your experience. Staff often transfer to other posts (or departments) for a fixed term, and these can be excellent opportunities to gain a different level of responsibility and new challenges.
When trying to find a suitable secondment, look for opportunities to provide extended cover; for example, for staff on maternity or long-term sick leave, or on a sabbatical. Your workplace mentor, or those that can authorise such moves, may not have considered a secondment to be an option for you, so make sure you proactively present the secondment in a way that benefits everyone.
Project work is another way of picking up new experience. This involves participation in team or inter-departmental projects. It is generally a good idea to volunteer for project work as it might lead to opportunities you had not considered when originally planning how to meet your performance objectives.
Tasks such as negotiating, writing reports, hosting meetings, planning ahead and coordinating the activities of others will develop your personal effectiveness skills, which are mandatory practical experience requirements.
Shadowing can also give you valuable new insight. Shadowing involves observing the working practices of a more experienced colleague, usually for a task for which you cannot yet be given sole responsibility.
You can learn a lot by watching and listening to fellow employees – provided they have the time to explain their actions as they work.
Shadowing keeps disruption to colleagues to a minimum, but don’t forget to ask questions as many people respond well to the opportunity to demonstrate their own specialist skills.
There are often many more opportunities to gain practical experience than you might think. It often pays to think creatively and be proactive with your workplace mentor and colleagues.
There is also more to practical experience than meeting ACCA’s membership criteria. As you witness first-hand how different techniques can be applied to different tasks or business areas, you should find your own sense of job satisfaction improving.
You will also equip yourself with the skills to become an effective manager or workplace mentor in the future.
Alex Miller, journalist