The Careers Adviser
Your careers adviser, whether at school, college, or in the local authority's Careers Service, should have full information about careers in accountancy, and lists of local and national vacancies for trainees in all branches of the profession. He or she will also be able to advise you on which firms offer the best training schemes, and whether your qualifications and personal qualities are suited to the job. The careers adviser knows local conditions, and the advice is free and unbiased.
The Professional Institutions
The professional institutions all produce lists of vacancies in their member firms and organisations, and can give other help in finding a post. CIMA, for example, has ten regionally based part time careers officers who can advise on local opportunities. Twice a year the Institute publishes a Directory of Opportunities offered by employers who provide CIMA training. Training vacancies are also publicised in the CIMA journal Management Accounting. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales publishes a list of training vacancies every September. In Ireland the Institute advises students to apply as early as possible in the year and publishes its list of vacancies in the spring. Many firms use the 'milk round' of employers' visits to universities and colleges to recruit students. Although the lists of vacancies published by the professional institutions are not exhaustive, and many firms recruit trainees without putting their names on the list, they are a useful guide to what is likely to be available, and it is always worth writing to the appropriate professional body to find out how they can help you. Videos describing the work of the various bodies are also available.
Many colleges will have detailed knowledge of opportunities available locally. The tutors are in regular contact with local employers and may know of vacancies as they occur. They will also know of employers who offer day release, financial assistance and are positive about staff development.
Press advertisements are frequently used to recruit trainees and people for posts requiring more experience, as a glance at the 'sits vac' columns of any newspaper will tell you. As well as the local and national press, there are the specialist publications, such as Accountancy Age and Accounting Technician, which you should be able to find in your local reference library.
There will always be competition for the best places, so the earlier you apply the better. If you are taking a full-time course before entering into training, it depends on the type of accountancy qualification and on the preferences of the employer whether or not you obtain sponsorship for the course or take up a traineeship once you have qualified. If you are not sponsored during the course, you may be able to get a local authority grant.
Find out as much as you can about as many firms and organisations as possible before applying for a traineeship. The amount of support and help you get during training is very important. So you need to know how much study leave you will be allowed, and whether your courses and exam fees will be paid for. It might also be as well to ask whether the organisation will be equally generous if you have to retake any exams. You need to check that it can offer a wide range of experience, that enough time is allowed for each area of expertise, and what amount of travelling is likely to be involved. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland also suggests that you ask about the firm's recent success rate in the exams, and arrangements for learning and review of your work experience. Whether you decide to join a small or a large firm or organisation, you should enquire about promotion prospects, and chances for career development.
These are all important matters, but just as important is the way you present yourself to a potential employer. So it is essential to take a good deal of time and trouble over your application for a post. Your preliminary letter or application form will decide whether or not the firm will put you on a short list for interview, so make sure it is neatly presented and spelt correctly and, in the case of a form, answer the questions fully.
Always read a form right through before completing it. It is a common mistake to start filling it in straight away, and then find you have misunderstood a question or have made an important point in the wrong place. It helps to make copies of the form so that you can keep your own copy of what you have said, and have a spare if you make a mistake.
Think carefully about your answers or the points you want to make in a letter of application, and present yourself in a good light without overstating your case. Be concise, and type any long statement if you can, as employers faced with hundreds of applications will soon dispense with those that are difficult to follow.
You are almost certain to be asked to give references for a job as an accountant. The golden rule here is to ask the people you give as referees before naming them to your potential employer. It is helpful to explain what kind of work you are applying for, and to mention any special points you would like them to stress in the reference. People leaving school or college will be expected to give a reference from one of their teachers. Usually the head will sign these, although they may be prepared by a member of staff who knows you well If you are afraid that the head will not give you a good reference, you can ask a sympathetic teacher to write one instead, but you might have to explain why at an interview. Most schools and colleges are anxious to help people into work, even if there has sometimes been some conflict in the past.
If you are already in a job, you may not want your employer to know that you are looking for something else. In that case you could explain the position to the new employer and ask them not to write for a reference unless you are fairly sure of getting the job.
Once the interview and selection procedure is over, whether or not you are successful, it is good manners to tell the people who wrote your reference how you got on.
Most employers will interview you before deciding whether or not to offer you a traineeship, as it is important for them to find out whether you will fit into their organisation, regardless of your educational background. Most people are nervous at interviews, but it helps if you prepare yourself properly beforehand by finding out as much as possible about the firm and its work. The interviewer will have some kind of plan for conducting the interview, usually based on covering the following four areas.
Education: Although you will have given the basic facts about your education, the interviewer will want to know what you feel you got out of it, why you chose certain subjects, and whether your choices were good ones. If you have failed in something important, try to give a reasoned explanation of why, without putting all the blame on someone else.
Experience: If this is to be your first job, very little will be expected of you here, but it does help if you can show that you have tried to prepare yourself for the job in some way, perhaps in Saturday work or holiday jobs, or in your leisure activities even something as simple as being treasurer of a club or society.
Motivation: Why do you want to be an accountant? Can you show that you persevere if faced with difficulties? Do you understand what the job entails? Can you produce evidence to show that you can cope with the exam work required? Why did you apply to this particular firm? These are the sorts of questions that will be asked.
Personality: This is the most subjective area of all, and depends very much on whether you and the interviewer get on well together. If you don't you may be able to console yourself with the thought that you would be unlikely to enjoy working for someone uncongenial in the fairly close quarters of an accountancy office. What the interviewer wants to know is what kind of person you are, your interests outside work, your opinions about business or public service and your temperament.
The more interviews you have, the less daunting they become, so it helps if you can get someone to give you a mock interview in advance, which might help you to pick up any bad habits or weaknesses, as well as giving you practice in answering unexpected questions. Remember that an interview is for your benefit too, as it gives you an opportunity of finding out more about the post and what kind of place this would be to work in. Have some questions of your own ready to ask, but don't drag them in regardless if the subject has already been dealt with.
Give yourself every chance to relax in the interview, by advance preparation, by allowing plenty of time to get there, having checked the route beforehand, and by being comfortably and suitably dressed. Even more important than what you choose to wear are cleanliness and neatness, and that includes hair, nails and teeth as well as shoes. Bring something to read in case you have to wait.
The worst people to interview are those who remain uncommunicative, refusing to respond to any question with more than a Yes or a No. Talking too much can be written off as nerves; talking too little gives the interviewer no chance to find out what kind of person you are.
People with a Disability
There is no reason why anyone with a disability who can pass the exams should not become a successful accountant. There are indeed many examples of accountants with disabilities who have thriving professional careers. Most colleges are prepared to make special arrangements for people with disabilities. The best plan is to write and explain your particular circumstances, and what you hope to achieve.
Local education authorities can grant the Disabled Student's Allowance to students receiving mandatory grants for higher education if the student can show that extra expense is incurred because of a disability. Full details can be obtained from your LEA, or from the Scottish Education Department or the Northern Ireland Department of Education, depending on where you live. In the Republic of Ireland information about grants can be obtained from local authorities, the library boards and educational institutions.