Part Qualified Trainee Accountant: What’s next?

Within the accountancy practice world, the number of jobs out there for part-qualified and newly-qualified accountants is only going up. The majority of our clients understand the value of hiring candidates starting in their career, a few exams in, or making that step from trainee to chartered accountant. This can be quite a daunting move for trainees to make and, for some, it can mean paying clawbacks (although not if you’re doing the Level 7 apprenticeship!). For others, it can symbolise the start of a long and hopefully rewarding career as a qualified accountant.

This interview is designed to give you an insight into the reasons why people move during their studies or why they are keen to move once gaining their ACA / ACCA / CTA qualifications. (For advice on which qualifications might be best for you, check out Georgina’s blog “what accounting qualifications should I choose?”)

About the interviewee 1: This interviewee is a Part Qualified Trainee Accountant, studying the ACCA at a top 20 firm of accountants. With 18 months of practice experience, she’s able to give an insight into what it’s like to work in practice and make that leap to a new firm, mid-training contract.

About the interviewee 2: This interviewee is studying the ACA with a boutique independent firm in Brighton. With just 12 months of practice experience, she knows what it’s like for the impression at an interview and the reality of the role to be quite different things!

What first interested you in a career in accountancy?

1: When I was younger I had no idea what I wanted to do, however, I was always good at Maths and after getting an A in my GCSE I decided it was probably wise to go into something finance-based. With both my parents working in the business and finance sector, I decided to start studying for a career in accountancy.

2: I chose to work in accounting because I liked the scope of work that accountancy had to offer and the balance between office work and client-facing work.

With so many options out there (AAT, ATT, ACA, ACCA, CTA), how did you decide which accountancy qualification you wanted to study?

1: When I left school, I decided to start working pretty much straight away as I was unsure what career path to follow. This meant that I didn’t have any A-levels so I decided that AAT was the best course for me to start with. I started studying for my AAT in the evenings alongside working full time.

2: I didn’t have a choice as to what qualification I would study, my employer chose it for me, but I’m very happy that I am studying the ACA.

Were you fussy with the type of accountancy firm you wanted to work for? E.g. Big 4, top 10, small independent boutique.

1: My first 2 roles were actually in the industry which I feel was a great experience. It’s a good stepping stone towards moving into a practice role. I did a lot of research and sent my CV to probably over 30 different accountancy practices. I even dropped some in by hand to the owners/directors. These were practices ranging from family-run to the top 5 and I managed to secure interviews in both. After a lot of consideration, I decided to take a role in a local practice. I believe this was the right decision. I wanted to learn the basics of everything. By joining a smaller practice I would get this, as all accounting services were dealt with in the same office, whereas some of the bigger firms had different departments or specialised in something specific.

2: I never had a preference. This early on in my career I feel being able to get the experience and complete the qualification is far more important. In the long run, it doesn’t matter where you do it.

How do you find juggling studying the ACCA with your day-to-day audit & accounts work?

1: I do find working and studying a struggle. I’ve never been the most self-disciplined so studying after work and in the evenings can be difficult. Especially when your friends are in different situations and go out and enjoy themselves! Recently I’ve decided to start getting up earlier and studying in the mornings as I feel this works better for me but everyone finds their way.

2: If I’m totally honest, I have very rarely found the time to study during weekdays. It’s tricky after a long day at work. All my study is done on weekends or days which have been booked off. This reinforces the need to find a firm that really will support you and not ask for 14-hour days whilst you’re a trainee.

If you could start all over again, is there anything you would change about your accountancy training?

1: If I could start all over again, I may have chosen a path that would enable me to have been qualified by a younger age! Ideally, I would’ve liked to have been qualified by now, but after changing jobs and a few failed exams, this makes the journey longer. I may have skipped working in the industry had I known I would end up in practice but I do feel that this has given me lots of valuable experience.

Why did you decide to change accountancy firms during your ACCA studies?

1: I decided to change firms during my studies. I didn’t feel that there was any future progression for me at the firm I started working for. I didn’t feel motivated or inspired by any of the management/partners and didn’t want to further my career in that practice.

2: I decided to change firms during my studies so that I could benefit from a better balance between working, studying and my personal life. Studying the ACA is a big commitment and reducing my travel time was a way that I made life easier for myself!

Were there any penalties for changing jobs part qualified and, if so, was the move worth it?

1: Yes, there were penalties for moving firms halfway through training. I had to repay all training costs incurred, all travel costs, annual subscriptions etc. which was difficult for me being on a low salary. However, I was aware that this was in my contract so would always be a possibility. I knew that, had I stayed longer, this cost would only increase so I decided to leave before it got to a point where it would be physically impossible to leave due to the costs.

2: I didn’t have to pay any clawbacks because I was studying on an apprenticeship scheme. As far as I know, money can’t be claimed back if you’re on such a scheme.

What benefits would you say you gained from changing firms halfway through?

1: I think it is always good to see how similar businesses work and the differences in practices. So I believe this will only help to open my eyes to potential problems or issues that may arise in the future. I learned the basics in my first practice role. I am now able to implement what I learned in my work here but at a higher standard.

2: Changing firms has developed my accountancy network. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people and as this is the first real-time I’ve ever changed jobs. It’s been a useful experience and process to go through. I also have more time to study in the evenings and less of a commute to work. This has a big impact on my work-life balance.

What one piece of advice would you give to people looking to embark on a career in accountancy?

1: Keep studying and get qualified as soon as possible – the hard work will pay off in the end!

2: Research which course you want to do and the different study options which are available as there is a pathway and a firm to suit everyone. Remember that the most important priority is to pass your exams, pick a firm that will ensure that gets done!

If you’re a Part Qualified Trainee Accountant and looking for advice on what to do next, don’t hesitate to get in touch.


Dominique Smith is a Senior Consultant in the accountancy division at Harvey John.

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