Accounting and finance work experience & internships: expert career advice and an insight into this industry
Find the hottest placements, internships and work experience jobs with the biggest accounting and finance companies in the UK here.
If you're interested in working in this exciting industry, we've got all the info you need and the jobs to get your successful career started.
Overview of accounting and finance: what is it?
There's a good chance you've heard of the accountancy sector before now, but may not have any real idea of what it covers. It's a word that's often thrown around without any explanation offered as to what accountants actually do. Well, it's time to change all that. Carry on reading to get an idea of what the accounting and finance world is all about.
Reasons why accounting is a great career
Accountancy stacks up well against other industries, offering many benefits to people working in the sector. We’ve listed the main ones below.
Great job security: accountants are highly-trained and their expertise is always needed, so jobs in this field are probably some of the most secure around.
Opportunities everywhere: every company, from start-ups and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to large corporations, will need advice from an accounting expert on issues like tax, payroll and loans. This means there are many roles out there.
Promotion chances: experienced accountants will have an enviable understanding of finance and business principles, meaning they can progress into senior roles and also consultancy.
Earn a good salary: you’ll be pleased to hear that, after all the hard work needed to become an accountant, professionals in this sector can progress to earn high salaries.
“It is highly unlikely any professional will be able to secure a role, regardless of their qualifications, without at least some track record of working in the sector. Any experience is valuable, particularly that gained in a practical role where the individual could utilise their pre-existing contacts to their advantage.” Joss Collins, Venn Group (2015)
Top Placements, Internships & Insights in Accounting & Finance
Accounting: what degree do I need?
Even though it’s an industry focused on finance and business, you don’t need to have studied these specific degrees as a student to enter the profession.
In fact, an undergraduate degree in a mathematical, scientific or social science subject could serve you just as well.
In many ways, the accounting and finance internships that you take on during your undergraduate degree will be just as important as the degree itself.
Many employers will highly value the proactive and ambitious nature of students who get involved in accounting and finance internships 2018, which is why it’s so important to find work experience.
What about accounting exams and certificates?
To reach chartered accountant status, aspiring accountants will have to go above and beyond just gaining a university degree. Many graduates go on to study towards the Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (CFAB) for instance.
To find out everything there is to know about the steps you should take after completing your undergraduate studies, it’s worth taking a look at the information provided by the main industry bodies. In the UK, these include the:
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
- Chartered Accountants Ireland (oversees Ireland and Northern Ireland)
As well as these key industry players, it’s also a good idea to take a look at companies like the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and the Institute of Financial Accountants (IFA).
What’s a chartered accountant?
A chartered accountant is simply an accountant who’s gained chartered status from an industry body. These professionals offer everything from advice and reporting services to auditing and insolvency services.
Their underlying aim is to offer reliable and up to date advice to their employer or clients, in order to help them manage their finances and abide by UK law.
Similar to business consultants, chartered accounts can work with a wide range of companies and in different sectors.
For example, you’re just as likely to find these finance professionals working with small start-ups, charities and public sector organisations as you are to find them working with multinational corporations.
The specific business tasks a chartered accountant works on will depend on which type of company it is that they’re employed by. For instance, in public practice companies, an accountant could advise a range of clients, ranging from individual clients to commercial companies or public sector organisations.
Specific tasks that people working in accounting typically manage include compiling financial reports, procurement and treasury supervision.
Accounting work experience: everything you need to know
What is work experience?
Work experience is a period of time that you’ll spend working for a company in order to gain an insight into what it takes to work in a professional atmosphere.
Why should you do accountancy work experience?
One of the main reasons why is because many employers will only consider taking on graduates and supporting them through a training contract if they already have some prior work experience.
Not only does it show that you are proactive and ambitious, it also gives you something valuable to include on your CV.
Accounting work experience placements will open your eyes to the world of professional work and offer you an idea of what’s required to succeed.
You also get to work on real projects and will be treated like any other employee would be, which will help you to improve your ability to work independently and manage your own workload.
After all, you learn by doing.
What are the benefits of work experience?
There are many benefits that stem from undertaking work experience with a company. Carry on reading to see what they are.
- Develop key technical and soft skills that you can list on your CV
- Work on key projects that you can include on your CV
- Network with industry experts who can help your future career
- Learn how to thrive as part of a team
- Find out how to manage your time well and organise your workload
- Learn how to cope with pressure and deadlines
- Benefit and learn from training that’s provided
- Gain an understanding of how to interact with clients
- Move around and experience working in different departments
- Earn a competitive salary and benefit from company perks.
Where can you do work experience?
Many major accountancy companies have offices dotted around the country, so the chances are that you should be able to get involved in work experience regardless of where you are.
Of course, there are also many accounting work experience London opportunities available if you fancy working in the capital.
When can you do accounting work experience?
A lot of accounting companies run a range of programmes, from insight schemes to full on placement years in the industry.
Some of these programmes will take place during the summer months, between university years, while the longer placements generally slot in between your second and last year at university.
How to find the best work experience?
When you’re searching for an undergraduate job it can be confusing to sift through the hundreds of jobs that are available. How can you tell which companies offer the best work experience programmes?
That’s why we actively ask previous years’ students to review their experiences on our website, so that current students can look through these reviews and see which companies offer the most comprehensive programmes.
We have tens of thousands of honest, insightful company reviews that offer a glimpse into what it’s like to work for hundreds of companies, including thousands for accounting organisations.
Once you’ve decided which companies you want to work for, you can apply for their work experience schemes on our job pages.
When should I apply?
As soon as you can!
If you’re an undergraduate in your first year looking for accounting work experience, then while you may not be able to secure a place on a placement or internship yet (these are generally for penultimate year students), you may be able to secure a place on a work shadowing day or insight scheme.
More and more companies are running these programmes now, to give students an initial taste of the industry, so if you want to get ahead of the competition then it’s definitely worth applying for one of these. These can last from a day to a week or two, so offer a nice introduction to the sector.
If you want to secure a place on an accountancy placement or internship, you should start searching for these jobs as soon as you start back at university in the autumn.
Yep, we know that’s early, but it’s worth it if you want to give yourself the best possible chance of landing the undergraduate work experience you really want.
Many accountancy companies will advertise their work experience programmes between autumn and winter (generally between September – January), before then selecting the students they want to take on for the summer or following academic year.
Therefore, this is the prime time to start applying, whether it’s for a placement year in industry or a summer internship.
However, even if you miss the boat, all is not lost as some companies close their schemes to applications later in the year, while some have rolling deadlines. We’d still advise getting in there early though.
Final year student
Again, if you want to give yourself a good chance of landing a place on a company’s graduate scheme, many of these will be open to applications in the autumn. So this is when it’s best to start applying. You’ll also be able to include your recent work experience on your CV.
Many accounting companies use their placement and internship programmes to unearth the best student talent around, so there’s a good chance that if you did well on yours, you may already have an offer of a place on a graduate scheme after you finish your degree.
What’s an accounting internship?
An internship is a structured introduction to the world of professional work. Internships are designed for undergraduates who are in the penultimate year of their degree. They generally last for less time than placements, instead running for between one and four months.
What will you do on an internship?
The specific projects you get to work on during an internship accounting will obviously vary from company to company, but one thing that you can count on is the fact that you’ll be given meaningful work to do. You won’t just be doing the tea runs.
As accountancy companies want to see what you can bring to their organisation, you’ll be measured on how you perform while working on business-critical projects.
Why should you do an accountancy internship?
You should do an internship if you want to get ahead. Many businesses use them as a kind of extended interview in order to find the next intake of talented students and graduates.
As stated in ‘A Student’s Guide to the Top Undergraduate Employers 2017 – 2018’, ‘51% of students will be offered a role at the end of their scheme.’
On accounting internships in 2018 you will get to test your skills in real-world scenarios, find out what working as an accountant is really like and gain the kind of insight into the workings of a business that you can’t get from your studies alone.
Want an internship? Apply early!
If you really want to bag a place on an accounting internship, then you should keep checking back to see when jobs are added and apply as soon as you can.
Competition is tough and just because there’s a deadline doesn’t mean companies will wait until then to start interviewing and hiring people.
The longer you spend on your application and the earlier you submit it, the better your chances of getting the response you want will be.
When you apply for an internship in accounting...
Clearly outline the skills you have that are relevant to the role, along with any relevant experience. Make sure you research the company you’re applying too and explain why you’re keen to work in accountancy.
Companies look for more than just academic ability, they also look for enthusiasm and signs that you’re willing to go above and beyond the norm.
“There are many opportunities available for you to gain relevant experience (whether relevant through sector or through transferable skills) that will help you during the accountancy recruitment process. Draw on not only your paid work but internships, work experience, work shadowing, part time jobs, voluntary positions, extra-curricular experiences and your education.” Jo Carrington, London School of Economics and Political Science (2014)
Accounting summer internships
What’s a summer internship?
As the name suggests, these are internships that take place in the summer months. While they’re shorter than placements, they still provide you with a taste of what it’s like to work in the accountancy sector.
Why do accounting summer internships in 2018?
If you don’t have time to take a year out to do a placement, but still want to get some work experience under your belt, then you should think about doing one of these summer accounting internships.
They still let you work on live projects and expand your skill set, and companies will still value the work you do highly.
Accounting internships London
As the UK’s largest city and business capital, it’s no surprise that London is where many large accountancy companies choose to base themselves.
In the video below, Judith Tacon from Deloitte UK speaks about her experiences at the company and what inspired her to become an auditor. Find out more in the video.
Major globally-leading companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young (EY) and Grant Thornton International have their head offices in the city. So, if you choose to apply for an accounting internship London, there’s no doubt you’ll be spoiled for choice.
What’s a placement?
Placements are the longest form of work experience that undergraduates can undertake. These generally take the form of placement years, which make up part of a four year course (between the second and fourth years).
Why do an accounting placement?
If you’re able to do a placement in the industry, you’ll essentially have a year’s worth of experience before even having graduated. This experience will be a great thing to have on your CV.
How to find an accounting placement for 2018?
We advertise hundreds of placement jobs on our website, offering you access to companies’ latest vacancies.
Accounting: the sector’s Top Undergraduate Employers 2017 – 2018
Our annual guide lists the UK’s top undergraduate employers who offer placements, internships and insight schemes by industry, based on the thousands of reviews submitted to our website by previous placement students and interns. This year we’re pleased to announce that the top accounting and finance employers are:
- Deloitte (10th)
- Grant Thornton (16th)
- PwC (18th)
- EY (22nd)
- BDO (28th)
- KPMG (32nd)
Check out our Top Undergraduate Employers here.
Finance Industrial Placement Student
Placement Year (10 Months+)
"They have great training and development opportunities which are a great prospect for my personal growth"Read case study
What do accounting employers want to see from you?
The accountancy industry is very well established, so employers generally have a very clear idea of what it is that they want to see from graduates, candidates and prospective employees.
For example, companies love to see graduates with relevant work experience lighting up their CV, whether this comes in the form of an accounting placement, accounting internships, insight schemes or work shadowing.
As well as evidence of accountancy work experience and your academic ability, companies will also want to see that you have the right skills and temperament to make it as an accountant. Desirable skills include:
- The ability to show initiative
- Business / commercial awareness
- The ability to work well in a team and lead projects
- Commitment to the profession
- The ability to use computers and technical software
- Strong communication skills
- Having a numerical mind
- Competency and self-organisation
- Analytical ability.
Remember though, this list is far from exhaustive and you should always research individual employers to see what they want.
Accountancy training contracts
To reach the esteemed heights of chartered or certified accountant status, you’ll have to take part in a training contract.
You’ll work towards completing your contract while working for your employer, and the contracts themselves are accredited and approved by one the three main industry bodies mentioned above (namely the ICAEW, ICAS or Chartered Accountants Ireland).
Wondering what’s it like to work as an assurance associate at PwC? View the video below.
Accountancy training contracts are thorough, generally lasting from three to five years, as they build upon what you learned at university and combine professional training with a set amount of work experience and exams.
Each of the industry bodies has its own individual assessments, so you’ll need to research these beforehand to see which one suits you and your learning style more.
After you’ve completed your training contract...
You’ll probably want to rejoice and party hard. But remember, learning and development never stops. To enjoy a long and prosperous accounting career, you’ll need to stay current with developments in the industry, such as legal changes and new regulations.
Acronyms you’ll learn to know and love
If you do pursue a career in accounting, there are many companies, qualifications and institutes that you’ll become familiar with. As well as the ones already mentioned, here’s a bit more information about some others that you’ll hear mentioned a lot.
The ACA (associate chartered accountant): the ICAEW’s professional qualification.
The CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy): a professional qualification relevant to working in public services.
ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants): the ACCA qualification is largely business-focused.
CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants): the professional qualification in management accounting focuses on business accounting.
If you’re considering working towards one of these qualifications, bear in mind that you’ll be given real responsibilities from the very start. These could include speaking with external clients, leading teams and preparing reports, to name just a few.
Working in finance: an overview
Few industries offer as many undergraduate opportunities as finance does. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, because of the sheer size of the transnational organisations that operate in this sector. Secondly, because of the countless different job roles than exist within these organisations.
Many students apply for accounting and finance internships each year, so you’ll face competition for places. However, there are certain things you can do to maximise your chances of landing a place on a finance work experience programme.
Apply early: work experience programmes are becoming more and more popular and important, so increasing numbers of students now apply for them. However, you can still give yourself an advantage by applying early. We advertise vacancies all year round, so there really is no excuse.
Make sure your CV is up to scratch: feeding off the last point, your CV should be geared towards the companies that you apply for. All this means is making sure you’re including skills and experience that is relevant to what the company does and the finance sector.
As an example, on some companies’ finance internships you’ll be able to get a taste for working in areas like auditing, human resources, risk management, treasury and mortgages, among others. This is designed to give you an idea of what different departments do, how projects vary and also find out if there’s a particular area that you enjoy or excel in.
What do these finance terms mean?
There are lots of terms used in the financial world that may seem alien to you at first. Below is a breakdown of what some of these key terms mean.
Actuary / actuarial – this role involves analysing risk. Professionals in this area could find themselves working on anything from predicting future financial trends to calculating the costs associated with natural disasters.
Audit / auditing – this area of finance focuses on finding out whether a company’s accounts offer an honest view of its financial activity and standing.
Insurance – insurance helps individuals and companies to limit the financial impact of a damaging event or accident, therefore limiting the risk posed by such an event.
Investment – this branch of finance centres on the performance of funds and wealth that’s been invested in order to earn a return, involving pensions, trading, stock broking, risk assessment and data management.
Risk analyst / risk management – as the name suggests, risk analysts spot potential risks that could impact a company, like new legislation, fraud, market fluctuations and commercial changes.
Taxation / tax advice – tax advisers help companies and clients to pay the correct amount of tax, benefit from available exemptions and also stay up to date with any tax legislation changes.
Treasurer / treasury – this role involves helping a company to improve its financial performance, by focusing on its strategy, investments, funding and also touching upon risks it may face.
Finance internships: how you can benefit
Finance internships in the UK can help you to find out what you really enjoy doing. Rather than graduating and going into the competitive job world without an idea of what you’re good at, internships will let you get an idea of what area you could work in while you’re still an undergraduate.
When you come to graduate, you’ll have a much better chance of finding a first job that suits you and your skills.
Internships in finance are designed to expose you to a range of experiences. This benefits you by helping you develop key skills like your leadership ability and project management skills. With this broad financial foundation you’ll be much more informed when it comes to finding your first graduate job.
Doing something like a corporate finance internship while still at university can also have a knock-on effect on how you perform on a graduate scheme when compared to someone who did not undertake work experience, as you have that extra understanding. The benefits are truly wide-ranging and will have a positive impact on the start of your career (therefore influencing your entire career).
What do financial employers look for?
Broadly speaking, companies look for motivated students who possess potential, along with strong communication and teamworking skills. It’s also important to show that you have ambition to progress within the company and reach senior positions.
What does the hiring / selection process involve?
This process often includes an online application and also psychometric tests. If you successfully get past these stages, you will probably be offered an interview (either on the phone, over video or in person) and then, if you get through that, you’ll be invited to a one-day assessment centre.
To get a better idea of what psychometric tests are click here.
Things to bear in mind: applications, research and questions
Many financial businesses use summer finance internships as a recruiting tool, as it’s a better way of attracting talented undergraduates before the graduation rush kicks in. Many companies expect potential interns to have an interest in the sector and be up to date with what’s happening. It’s a good idea to read publications that offer in-depth information about the global finance and business industry, such as The Economist, the Financial Times, Forbes and Reuters.
With this background knowledge, you’ll also be better placed to answer questions about why you want to work in finance and which area you think you’d suit. It’s important to remember that different jobs require people with different skills and personalities. For example, working as a trader is very different to working in research, even though both areas are critical to the finance industry.
Finance summer internships: what to expect
Financial organisations want interns who can add real value. This means performing well on projects and reaching a better end result than would have been possible had you not been there. You need to fit into the company’s overall strategy, and potentially influence it.
Morgan Stanley professionals share advice on how to get into finance and why internships are so beneficial. Watch this video to learn more.
On finance summer internships in 2018, you could be asked to work with people across the business, helping to identify areas where costs can be managed and also on research and development (R&D). This will typically involve working through problems to find a solution and also analysing and using data to reach conclusions.
On a summer internship in finance, you’ll need to be comfortable working with colleagues throughout the organisation and also probably have the chance to present your findings to your managers.
While this may place you under pressure, it will also help you to develop your presentation skills and gain a grasp of complex financial information. After all, the better you can explain something, the more you’ll understand it.
Finance internships in London
London is one of the world’s most prominent financial centres, on par with New York as the most influential financial hub. With the large concentration of major financial companies in the city, there are many opportunities for students to get involved in finance work experience in London.
To succeed on one of these programmes, you’ll need to be comfortable operating at a high level and working for companies that dictate what happens financially on a global level. You’ll benefit from working with experienced financial professionals and doing a job that has a real impact and tangible results.
The experience of working on a finance internship London will provide you with an understanding of financial management and certainly improve your ability to work to tight deadlines and in a constantly moving, fast-paced environment.
Finance placements in 2018
As mentioned above, placements are designed to offer you the chance to assess what it’s like to work for a certain employer in a specific industry, while also letting companies assess your skills and whether you’d be a good fit for them.
As a result, financial placements aim to test your analytical ability, while seeing how you fit into the organisation’s culture at the same time.
Undergraduate finance placements, what with being the longest form of work experience available to students, seek to enhance your professional and personal development. On a finance industrial placement you’ll always be learning, because challenges come in all shapes and sizes. Remember, the experience is what you make it and you get more out of it if you put more in.
Typical tasks you could be asked to perform include offering support to organisations, compiling monthly analytical reports and results, and streamlining processes. For those of you who really excel on a finance placement and show great potential, there’s always a chance that you may be offered a place on a graduate scheme when your programme comes to an end.
Your financial journey starts here
We’ve discussed in detail the accounting and finance sector, as well as what you can expect from placements, internships and insight schemes in these sectors. Now the rest is up to you.
If you’re feeling enthusiastic about working in this challenging and exciting area, then you should consider applying for a job today. To see all of our available jobs now, click on the link below to be taken straight there. Good luck!