For a great finance career, complement your theory early with real-world experience
While the job market has been gradually improving over the last 12-18 months, competition is still fierce for those vacancies hitting the market - and the opportunities that are attracting the most interest are part-qualified accounting roles offering study support.
These roles are likely to offer the successful applicants steady progression over a two-to-three year period in which they can learn, develop and ultimately become qualified accountants - and therefore earn a healthy salary increase, and open up a new world of opportunities. No wonder, then, that so many applications come flooding through when such vacancies arise.
Unfortunately a significant proportion of applications made will fall at the first hurdle, and there is a common reason for this: when theoretical studies have gone far beyond practical experience.
All too often I see CVs that show that the jobseeker has raced ahead with their exams without gaining any or enough relevant hands-on accounting experience to complement their studies.
In many cases it’s not for the want of trying to get that experience, but until it's been gained it’s probably worth slowing down, or even putting a temporary hold on your studies. A legal cashier at finalist level of CIMA or ACCA would typically lack the practical experience to jump straight into a finalist level management accounting role. On the other hand, with only a couple of exams to go they could be deemed too near to qualifying for a role at assistant management accountant level.
Unless specifically recruiting at a finalist level, most employers expect students to have at least 18 months to go before qualifying, and they can’t offer the individual the responsibilities - nor remuneration - of a qualified accountant until that point arrives.
CIMA and ACCA studies typically complement progression within core accounting responsibilities. This might begin with some basic ledger work (accounts assistant), and then progress through to include assisting with statutory and management accounting responsibilities (assistant accountant), then on to taking more and more responsibility within this area (financial/management accountant).
Worth noting is that, if you have progressed along this central accounting path (e.g. within cashiering, billing, credit control), the sooner you can switch in to an assistant accounting role the better. That may mean taking a drop in salary and status, but the sooner you make that leap, the less painful it will be.
Personally, I don’t believe it’s ever too late to begin studying for professional qualifications. But if you are considering doing it, it’s just as important to consider the opportunities that will allow you to put theory into practice as it is to consider the commitment of your time and energy.