Getting into finance

According to finance recruitment specialist Robert Walters, in Asia, the accountancy and finance profession experienced a 42% increase in jobs being advertised in Q2 2014, while 62% of employers surveyed in the UK want to hire finance professionals – the most in-demand being newly qualified and junior accountants. But what are the paths into accountancy and what jobs could you expect to see advertised? Here is the first in a series of articles looking at key entry-level roles

First up: financial accounting

Financial accountants play a crucial role in the operations and performance of any organisation. ‘Financial accountants are always in demand,’ says Daniel Simmonite, manager of qualified finance recruitment at Robert Walters North. ‘The role is an absolute necessity for most businesses, which need to file annual statutory accounts and undergo annual audits and, as a result, there will always be financial accountant jobs out there.’ 

Where do they work?

Financial accountants work in both industry and practice. In industry, you could be the accountant for an entire company, doing all the accounting and more, or in teams within a large finance function for a big business. Or you may choose to outsource some finance duties to an accountancy practice, which provides the spectrum of accountancy services for clients.

The skills you’ll learn

Double-entry bookkeeping, payroll, accounts receivable and payable, purchase and sales ledgers, petty cash, credit control, all the way up to producing and reporting financial statements, assisting audits, cash flow statements, balance sheets, profit and loss statements, and providing business strategy based on financial analysis fall under the responsibilities of a financial accountant. Financial accountants provide management with a backward-looking view on company operations, financial position and business performance. 

‘A trainee accountant will learn a diverse range of skills,’ says Giles McIntyre, an associate director at Investigo, ‘and being able to differentiate between the following is essential: payables and receivables, costs and expenses, assets and liabilities.’

The skills you’ll need

Qualifications are important. Simmonite believes ‘a strong degree, ideally accountancy and finance, maths or business’ is a good starting point and, from here, you can go on to complete your ACCA Qualification. Of course, you can study ACCA at any time and even use it to count towards a degree. Many trainee financial accountants study ACCA ‘on the job’ with support from their employers, applying their studies day-to-day.

While it may seem obvious that a good head for numbers is a prerequisite, it’s not the only important skill.

‘An eye for detail and the ability to comprehend large amounts of data’, are also essential, says Simmonite, as is ‘a strong wider knowledge of key business concerns’. In fact, as you develop through your career, you may find that the focus on numerical skills makes way for other professional qualities, such as interpersonal, communication and leadership skills. 

What does the future look like?

‘The opportunities available to trainee accountants are endless and will vary depending on what your strengths and preferences are,’ explains McIntyre. ‘For example, you could choose a commercial role, or a business partnering role, or a more technical role – the options are vast.’ 

Simmonite highlights a more traditional but no less valuable career path: ‘The most classic route is to progress to finance manager, through to financial controller and then, ultimately, finance director. There are a number of other routes that one can go down – consultancy or moving into management accountancy, for instance.’

How to get the first role

Despite endless opportunities and optimistic economic recoveries, you still can’t expect to walk into a junior accountancy role but, as McIntyre explains: ‘The more you have to offer with regards to your skill-set, the better your employment chances are.’

It may require thinking outside your comfort zone to achieve these skills, so take unpaid work experience, or volunteer in finance functions, apply to graduate schemes, network on LinkedIn (see 'Related links' for more), basically get your foot in the door and build up that ever-important experience.

It’s also good to seek advice from experts, says McIntyre: ‘It’s worth making contact with a specialist finance recruiter in your local area to get up to date market knowledge and an understanding of what you might need to do to get your first role.’

And finally... hard work, and plenty of it!