Skip to Main Content
by Vault | March 10, 2009


There are various accounting firms in the UK along with numerous firms who recruit trainee management accountants. Combined with the forecasted talent crunch, this means there should be no shortage of opportunities for graduates in the near future. However, the competition for these spots may intensify as the role of accountants transform. As software takes over the traditional number crunching, accountants will be asked to provide more value-added services and provide strategic business advice. So, aspiring accountants must have a wider skill-set including strong communications, analytical thinking and other general management abilities, in addition to technical accounting knowledge.

So, if you’re wondering to yourself, “How do I get a job in accounting?”, you should know there are various ways to break into the field …

Internships at the Big Four

The most popular and easiest way for graduates to get a full-time position with one of the major accounting firms is through an internship. The larger firms will always accept an influx of interns studying at prestigious universities and a majority of these will receive full-time offers once their internship ends. Competition for these intern positions is tough and the opportunities are precious. So be prepared. Know the answers to likely questions: Why do you want to work at the firm? Why accounting? And what can you offer? For internships positions, interviews will usually focus on behavioural and competency based questions. But you should be prepared for some of the basic technical questions.

Summer internships are a great way to understand early job responsibilities within the industry. Usually the work will be very similar to full-time employees in their first year with the firm. If university will allow, the “busy season” between January and April would be a great time to intern. However, this would involve negotiating time off university. For people studying towards an accountancy degree, time spent within a firm may be viewed as a bonus by the university. For those who apply for an internship at the Big Four but don’t make it, never fear. Secure an internship with another firm in a related position. For example, you can work within a smaller accounting firm, of which there are thousands, a government institution, or go into industry. The Big Four will always be interested in any accounting related experience, and even internships with very small firms will be looked on favourably. After all, it is drive and ambition they are looking for.

Full-time positions

Especially at the Big Four, who can afford to be picky, competition for full-time jobs is fierce. Interviewees should be prepared, completing thorough research on the firm and the type of questions that may arise. Interview questions will assess how you have handled certain situations relevant to the profession. This is to ascertain that you have the necessary competencies to succeed. Firms will sometimes ask technical questions related to accountancy, but this is not always the case. The companies are not necessarily looking for one answer, but assessing how well you think about certain questions.

Those that do not go directly into public accounting from school or university can still be hired later on. Individuals with valuable work experience within industry are often hired directly from their firms to work at all levels within public accounting firms.

Educational background

Anyone with an aptitude for numbers and problem solving can apply for a career in the industry. Of course, many firms will look for accountancy related degrees such as business, maths and management. But they will also look at the calibre of the applicant just as closely. An arts or science related degree is no disadvantage, although you may need to work harder to show you are really interested in the profession.

What do I put on my CV?

As with any job application your CV is the first, and perhaps only, chance you get to market yourself. If it is not work experience heavy, do not worry, but ensure you list skills relevant to accounting.

Accountants must be interested in analysing financial information. In addition to analysing financial information you will be asked to identify and analyse information processes, evaluate the effectiveness of those procedures and identify recommendations for improving them. All accountants will work in a team interacting on a daily basis with others. Therefore, communication and interpersonal skills are extremely important. IT skills are also a bonus, as working with spreadsheets is often required to analyse financial information.

Organisation and time management are also important, particularly during the busy season as you will be expected to work longer hours with a very heavy workload. You will need to be flexible to accommodate uncertainty, the demands of a big workload and potential travel to various client sites. In summary, the following skills should be clear on your CV:

Analytical skills – To analyse financial data, identify and explain discrepancies and variations.

Teamwork – To work well with other team members and clients to obtain the necessary information.

Communication – To interact with clients to discuss issues in a professional manner.

Organisation/time management – To prioritise and juggle various tasks and to identify and discuss time constraints.

Flexibility – Adapt to changing clients, schedules and hours. As you prepare your CV, ensure you highlight these skills and, if possible, how you have displayed them in the past.

The recruitment process

Most accounting firms have a very similar and very tough, recruitment process. Most firms will usually recruit around January and September each year for full-time positions, although this can vary. Initially, candidates will be asked to complete an online application form. This will ascertain, in the firm’s eyes, if you have the right qualities.

If the initial application is successful, you will usually have to complete online psychometric tests that will assess your verbal and numerical reasoning skills. Sample tests can be found all over the internet, so complete a few before you dive in. If those are up to scratch, then it’s the interview.

Interview preparation

It’s never too early to begin preparing for your initial interview. There are several key steps that may help:

ResearchKnow the firm, its strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities available. The goal is to impress the interviewer with your knowledge. This will allow you to get one up on other candidates by revealing your interest in the particular firm.

Use careers servicesStart early. Universities may be able to provide some services for interview preparation and practice. Take advantage of this. The career development department will have valuable information that can help you prepare for an interview. They should also have a good idea of what firms are looking for.

Develop your interview strategyKnow your skills and strengths and know what to emphasise. Keep this in mind at all times and ensure you can demonstrate how you have displayed these skills in past pursuits. Prepare your story. Be able to tell the interviewer why you picked the university, public accounting and audit, for example.

Prepare answers to sample questionsIf you are being recruited for a full-time position, the interviewer will want to understand why you chose accountancy and what experience and relevant skills you have. They will also be interested as to why you chose their firm ahead of any other. Knowing a bit of the firm’s history or success will help here, rather than acting like you have applied everywhere.

The interviewThe preparation is done. The suit is donned. If it’s not then go home and change. And put on a tie (if you’re male, that is). Be early. Be clean. Wow them with your accounting knowledge. Be confident – firm handshakes and good eye contact. They might try and rattle you, but don’t let them.

Accountants must function under pressure. The interviewer will want to know you have ethics and an active lifestyle too. As well as grades, extracurricular activity is extremely important. If your grades are good, make sure they know.

What now?

Up to a week after your interview you should hear back whether you are through to the next round. If not, don’t panic. It’s not over. There are other firms out there, don’t just apply to one. Try and speak to the interviewer, find out the problems and resolve them. If you do get invited back for second rounds, again, it’s not over. There is still a lot of work to do. The second round will involve another interview, similar to the first, but normally with a more senior member of staff. Make sure your answers are consistent and that you continue to show interest in the firm.

Try and send a thank you note to each interviewer. It could score brownie points, and let’s face it, everyone likes politeness. Second rounds will also involve an assessment centre with more psychometric tests. If you don’t finish it’s not the end of the world, they are designed to push you to your limits in a relatively short time span, usually fifteen minutes. It will also involve a group presentation or task, ensure you come across as a team player and display your problem-solving skills.

After the assessment centre, candidates should find out within a few days whether or not they have been successful. If not, again, don’t panic. There’s plenty of other firms and interview and assessment centre practice is never a bad thing.

Sample Interview Questions

Commitment questions:There are no right answers to these questions, as long as you appear passionate and committed to the career. The interviewer will be looking for a relatively organised thought pattern that shows you’ve really thought about your career goals.

  • What are your long-term and short-term goals?
  • What do you see yourself doing in five years?
  • How do you plan to achieve your goals?
  • Why have you chosen accounting?
  • Why have you chosen this firm?
  • What other firms are you interviewing with?

Maturity questions:These questions address your maturity, abilities, and cool-headedness under pressure.

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses? How have you displayed them?
  • What qualifications do you have, and how will they help you succeed?
  • How do you function under pressure, and can you give me an example
  • Describe a major problem in your life and how you dealt with it.

Motivation questions:Recruiters will want to know what drives you, what you enjoy and what you don’t. They’ll want to assess how your motivations and working style fit with their corporate culture.

  • What are the most important rewards that you expect in your business career?
  • What is the most important to you, money or job satisfaction?
  • What motivates you to put forth the greatest effort?
  • How do you determine and evaluate success?
  • What are the qualities of a successful manager?
  • Why audit? Why tax?
  • What work environment are you most comfort able in?
  • What things are most important to you in your job?

Communications skills questions:These questions are designed to assess your level of preparation for the interview. Interviewers will be looking to see whether or not you can effectively convey information in a thoroughly yet concise manner. These questions will also assess your ability to think on the spot.

  • What are five words that describe you?
  • How would someone else describe you?
  • How has college prepared you for accountancy?
  • What would your epitaph read?
  • Why should I hire you?
  • How can you contribute to our company?
  • What is your greatest accomplishment?
  • What is the proudest moment of your life?
  • What is the worst?
  • If you were me, what would you look for in a candidate?
  • Are your grades an indication of your academic ability?
  • What have you learned from your extracurricular activities?
  • What do you know about us?


Filed Under: Job Search