Accounting has traditionally been seen as a boring sector, but that’s not really accurate. Just a lazy stereotype - like the perception that cats like milk. Not all cats like milk.
In fact, accounting is exhilarating, lucratively paid and ALWAYS evolving. Accountants have tossed aside their abacuses, and now use emerging technology like Artificial Intelligence and Cloud Computing to solve real business problems.
But it’s a tough field to get into, and you’ll need to bring your A-game when it comes to applying for a job. Arming yourself with some real accounting work experience will have future employers on their feet, demanding an encore…
And this guide is here to help you get there. It’s packed with advice on how to find an accounting internship, placement or insight scheme with one of the finest employers in the land…
Top Placements, Internships & Insights in Accounting
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Accounting work experience
If you’re wondering whether you need to bother with work experience, you do. For starters, work experience in an accounting firm or company finance department is an entry requirement for many of the qualifications you’ll have to take to become an accountant.
Aside from that, it’s the best way to get a taster for a role before you commit to a full-time position. It’s like moving to Spain to learn Spanish. Compared to downloading the Duolingo app.
Let’s break them down...
DURATION: 4-16 weeks
FOR: One and all
WHEN TO APPLY: Sep-Mar
If your course doesn’t include a placement year or you don’t want to commit to 12 months in work, you can opt for an internship. In the accounting world, these are usually referred to as summer internships - simply because they take place during the summer holidays.
Whilst the word ‘internship’ might make you think of endless photocopying and sandwich runs, the opposite is true when it comes to summer accounting internships. Accounting interns get stuck in, they meet clients, work on ongoing and important cases, and are generally given the opportunity to make a real impact.
There’s also the potential to earn some decent money. The average salary for an accounting internship is £19,279 (based on the 5,117 reviews submitted to RateMyPlacement.co.uk by students in 2020).
DURATION: 5-13 months
FOR: 2nd years
WHEN TO APPLY: Sep-Jan
Accounting placements involve a year-long stay with an accounting firm, typically during your second year of university. As a placement student, you’ll contribute to the business, get involved in key projects and work on accounts - just like a fully-qualified accountant.
At the end of your placement, you will have built a lifelong network of industry contacts AND acquired the very skills future employers will be looking for (e.g. resilience, critical thinking and business acumen), BEFORE you even graduate!
Plus if you dazzle during your time there, it’s likely your employer will offer you a proper graduate accounting job at the end. (Or at least fast-track your application.) So you can sleep easy in your final year, safe in the knowledge that you have a job waiting for you.
COOL FACT: The average salary for year-long placements in accountancy is a tasty £18,744.
Insight schemes in accountancy
DURATION: 1-10 days
FOR: 1st / 2nd years
WHEN TO APPLY: Sep-Mar
Insight schemes are the shortest types of accountancy work experience you can get whilst you’re still a student. The duration of each scheme varies between companies; some are only a day long, others up to ten.
Accounting firms and professional services often have different names for their insight schemes - just to spice things up. KPMG calls their work experience vacation schemes - a term usually associated with legal work experience. Other companies call them spring internships, because they take place during the Easter holidays.
But what they all have in common is that they are a BRILLIANT first step towards a career in accounting. And they all involve:
- Rotations around different areas of the business
- Workshops on applying for graduate schemes and training contracts
- Q&As with experienced professionals
- Information about future accounting internship programmes
- Insights into company culture
Best Student Employers to work for in 2021-2022
Every year we announce our Best Student Employers table; a list that is based on all the reviews that students submit to RateMyPlacement.co.uk
These employers are the Tyson Furys of the business world. They are the champions of undergraduate work experience in accountancy. And they are looking for students like you to get in the ring, and show them what you’re made of.
This year’s top companies for accounting internships, placements and insight schemes are…
- Grant Thornton
- Volkswagen Financial Services
- Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)
When you’re choosing which employer to work for, bear in mind that accountants can be found in FTSE 100 companies and start-ups alike. So you might be able to pair your numerical aptitude with a real passion or interest of yours.
You could end up working for a tech giant, a panda charity or even a celebrity. (Like this accountant who helps her A-List clients curb their spending and make smart business decisions to prolong their careers.)
Spotlight on KPMG work experience
KPMG is one of the Big Four, has over 200,000 employees worldwide, and has been around since 1897. It is the Blue Whale of the accounting world.
And their undergraduate programmes are a magnificent way of getting an insider’s view of what it’s like to work at the firm; including the work they do, the industries they work in and the challenges facing the businesses they work with...
Placement students at KPMG are exposed to lots of different areas in the business, and get to work on real projects with real client impact. This Tax Assistant at KPMG had a whale of a time, rating the experience an 4.1/5...“Placement students in the Capital Allowances team are treated more like fresh graduates than interns. Just weeks after joining, I was working on a par with the other graduates and involved in client work, including meetings and site surveys.” Tax Assistant at KPMG
These shorter accounting internships at KPMG are great for expanding your skill-set and working alongside experienced professionals.
Students on KPMG's Audit Vacation Programme spend their summer developing the technical skills, commercial understanding and industry knowledge needed to succeed in their careers.
Most of KPMG’s insight days are targeted toward a specific audience. Like their Women in Technology Insight Programme, aimed at female students wanting to explore a career in Technology & Engineering.
This three-day programme is paid, and promises networking opportunities with inspirational female employees, key skills workshops, and an insight into the technologies they use (including AI, Cloud technology and machine learning).
The FBI employs over 2,000 accounting special agents (basically forensic accountants), who use their skills to solve crimes. It was accountants who finally brought down AL Capone; his reign of terror only came to an end when he was convicted for income tax evasion!
Finding accounting work experience elsewhere
Summer accounting internships with the Big Four (Deloitte, EY, PwC and KPMG) are wildly competitive, so you’re not guaranteed to get a spot. Even if you meet all their requirements.
If you don’t, these are FOUR other ways you can get relevant work experience:
- Apply for current vacancies at SMEs in the financial sector (Small or Medium-sized businesses take on 1-20 students a year)
- Send speculative applications to SMEs
- Volunteer to be a society or club treasurer
- Look for a part-time job that will develop key skills (e.g. teamwork, communication and problem solving)
Accounting internships in London
If you’re on the hunt for an accounting internship, you’ll find a high concentration of opportunities in the capital. London is the financial epicentre of Europe, and Brexit-aside, will continue to be home to the majority of employers offering accounting work experience in the UK.
All the big banks, professional services companies and government institutions have a big presence in the capital. On the flipside, that means competition for accounting internships and placements is intense, despite the number of jobs available.
So it’s best to start applying early - aim to get your applications for summer accounting internships in London sent off between September and November. In the meantime, our Guide to Internships in London will tell you more about the ins and outs of interning in London.
There are, of course, tons of opportunities OUTSIDE of London, if big city life isn’t your vibe. Most firms have regional offices, and smaller, local accounting firms also take on students seeking work experience.
We advertise jobs everywhere from the South West to Yorkshire and Humberside...
Accounting jobs: where your career can take you
There are innumerable different options for those who want a career in accounting. You could end up working for a government institution, fighting financial crimes or helping businesses scale up...
If this sounds exciting, that’s because it is. Forensic accountants are the detectives of the finance world. It’s not quite Silent Witness, but you will be tasked with solving financial crimes like fraud or financial irregularities.
"Forensic accounting is often thought of as the more colourful side of accountancy. Projects come in all shapes and sizes… from quantifying losses and analysing damages arising from breach of contract, to protecting businesses from cyberattacks." Alison Cregreen, Forensics Senior Manager at PwC
For a little bit more background on a career as a forensic accountant, ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) have written a smashing overview here.
An internal auditor scrutinises a company’s finances with a fine-tooth comb, looking for evidence of fraud or any flaws in their financial systems. (Sharp eyesight is a must.)
A governmental accountant looks after the financial performance of institutions in the public sector. Just like Liam Neeson’s bad-ass character in Taken, these kind of accountants have a specific skill-set and often specialise in their field for years and years and years.
Watch Liam Neeson in all his glory here...
Before singing 'Paint in Black' as The Rolling Stones frontman, Mick Jagger was preparing to keep clients in the black. Jagger reportedly studied accounting at the London School of Economics for a whole year, before ditching his degree for rock ‘n’ roll.
Once you’ve secured a graduate accounting job, you can start thinking about gaining chartership. The title ‘chartered accountant’ (or the letters ACA/FCA) is given to someone who has:
- undertaken a minimum of three years of in-depth training
- passed exams in auditing, business strategy, financial management and taxation
- committed to their own professional development, keeping their skills and knowledge up-to-date
There are THREE professional institutes of chartered accountants in the UK:
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
- Chartered Accountants Ireland (Ireland and Northern Ireland
And there are THREE terrific reasons why you should consider becoming a chartered accountant:
#1 Boosted earning potential
Accounting jobs tend to come with hefty pay packets. According to High Fliers: The Graduate Market in 2021, the average graduate starting salary for the Accounting & Professional Services industry is £30,600 a year.
But this figure SOARS once you get all your professional qualifications. The average salary for an ICAEW Chartered Accountant in the UK was £108,000 in 2018!
#2 Global recognition
There’s a lot of respect for accountants who have completed the ACA qualification. (The kind of respect you might get when you land a double backflip on the trampoline.)
Their unique combination of commercial awareness, analytical thinking and numerical ability means they are sought-after by employers around the world.
Accounting is a global industry. Once you’re qualified, you can basically work ANYWHERE. Deloitte, for instance, has offices in Azerbaijan, The Bahamas, Taiwan and many, many more exotic destinations.
Accountants need to be hot on their rules and regulations. These are ALWAYS changing in finance, which means there’s ALWAYS something new to learn.
Like the great white shark (which continues to grow throughout its lifetime), accountants never stop growing as professionals. Regular training and qualifications help them maintain that razor sharp edge throughout their careers.