As professional services starts to diversify its workforce, how can the newly emerging entrants into accountancy firms garner long-term success within the industry?
Straight A’s at A level, a 2:1 from a Russell Group University and the belief that only the best and the brightest would even be able to get their foot through the door: is this your atypical perception of professional services?
Whilst this used to have an element of truth to it, recent years have seen an advancement in school leaver schemes, such as Deloitte’s Bright Sparks, and the emerging apprenticeship market, which has questioned the long-held beliefs of before.
So with this adapting face of professional services, how can the newly emerging entrants into accountancy firms garner long-term success within the profession? Typically in the past, any school leavers joining the profession would study the AAT and then perhaps move onto ATT, whereas graduates were much more likely to come in at trainee level and immediately commence studying the ATT/CTA/ACA pathway.
The market has remained buoyant in recent months. Despite uncertainties surrounding Brexit and many firms taking steps into making tax digital, the market remained relatively strong with a steady and consistent flow of jobs. Transfer Pricing and Corporate Tax have been big players this year with Big 4 firms, in particular, ambitiously expanding their teams and departments in this field. Similarly, the demand for Indirect Tax specialists has also seen an uplift within the practice market in the bigger firms. Employment tax jobs have been available, so any professionals looking for opportunities in this area have had plenty of choice.
The Personal Tax market has also been steady this year with steady recruitment amongst the Top 20 and many General Practice firms. Now, more than ever, there is the increased requirement for qualifications, with ACA/ATT/CTA qualifications placing premiums on salary and on the quality of candidate. It would be fair to say that there is an expectation from firms that young professionals study towards the ATT and subsequently the CTA; firms will typically fund this study both in terms of fees and study leave.
Working within tax in a practice firm is a strong choice at the current time; with the economic uncertainties of post-March 2019, choosing a trainee scheme within an accountancy firm can offer you a sense of security as well as the best level of training and exposure to interesting and complex work.
With this in mind, the first question that is always asked by young job seekers is ‘why accountancy firms?’ Often inadvertently generated by the firms themselves, accountancy firms can still have that reputation as stuffy and old-fashioned entities; where there is paperwork galore and outdated decor. Some also still believe that a job in an accountancy firm means goodbye to a social life and hello to excessive overtime! However, this is no longer the case, with more and more accountancy firms taking steps towards ensure a happy and healthy working culture – and not just for their senior staff.
Big 4 firm PwC offers a full and comprehensive Work from Home package – this can be all five days of the week if that is what suits the particular employee. Gone are the 9-5 routines of before – unless, of course, that suits you. Many firms are embracing the idea of flexible working hours wherein, as long as you complete the statutory hours of the week, you can work whatever hours suit you best. Other perks such as a casual dress policy and a Choices Benefit package, which allows you to take your benefits in the form of cash, have transformed the working culture of the firm and has formed ripples of change within the fabric of PwC.
PwC is not alone in its stance; other Big 4 firm KPMG was rated in the top 10 Graduate Employers of 2018, and are considered to be very attractive employers for people starting their careers. Similarly, Top 50 firm Berg Kaprow Lewis (BKL) have recently won awards for their entry level schemes for young people choosing against the university route. The emergence of school leavers programmes and the use of the Apprenticeship Levy has meant that many firms are now using this funding for their tax apprentices.
There are hundreds firms of accountants in London and it is important to remember that bigger does not always mean better. Top 30 firm Price Bailey won the 2018 Graduate and Non-Graduate Programme of the Year (BAA Awards) due to their innovative trainee scheme. Assessment days are the most frequent method of recruiting juniors, but it is also a chance for employers to show off what they can offer and Price Bailey has successfully attracted top talent which in turn has proven to offer long-term progression and set them apart from their competitors in the job market.
However, whatever your situation is, whether you are 18 and a school leaver, or if you are 21 and a graduate, accountancy firms can offer you full training, long-term career growth and a competitive salary.
The surge of opportunities does naturally lead to a surplus of talent and this means that in order to be successful, you will need to set yourself apart from your competitors. This can be done in simple ways such as cleaning up your social media. Stories of candidates losing their offers as a result of inappropriate social media posts may sound like faux horror stories, but it is not unheard of. Clear up any inappropriate material and improve your privacy settings if necessary.
Take time to write an exceptional CV. At entry level, employers do not expect to see extensive amounts of experience, but they do look for details such as good spelling and grammar. If there is a video interview, make sure you wear interview appropriate clothing; this could be a suit and tie, or a smart dress/skirt suit blazer. Prepare appropriately for any interview. Online forums often give potential interview questions which can be a useful preparation guide. In face-to-face interviews, it is crucial to dress professionally but it is equally as important to offer a firm handshake, make good eye contact and smile. It may seem obvious, but interviews are stressful and sometimes the basics can go out the window.
Many entry level candidates fall down as they feel like they don’t have good or relevant experience. At entry level, any experience is good experience as it is what you have learnt that is helpful. Go into the interview with 3-4 scenarios and examples that you could draw upon for competency based questions and you’ll find that you’re able to answer these questions a lot easier. The saying goes: ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’, and with interviews preparation is key. It is easier to relax, answer questions and come across well if you’re armed with a few loosely prepared responses and this will certainly set you apart from your competitors.
The graduate tax market is buoyant and there are more less-traditional routes into accountancy firms in 2019. Despite the increase in opportunities, becoming successful within tax is still a very real possibility. Certain targets achieved – whether this is exams passed or revenue generated – can trigger progression. With full study support, and the modern approach to trainee schemes, the opportunity to succeed is there on a plate from employers. It is up to you to utilise what is on offer.