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Training to become an accountant: what is needed?

by Maz Williams | 24 June 2022

If you are training to become an Accountant, you will need to think about what educational route and career path would suit you best. By doing so, you will be able to find an accountancy job that meets your long-term professional goals.

To have a successful career in accountancy, you will need to ensure that you have the right training and professional qualifications to give you the skills and credentials that employers are looking for. This means thinking carefully about what is needed when training to become an accountant.

Fortunately, accounting offers a great deal of flexibility as a career path, meaning there are numerous potential routes that candidates can take to secure their accounting qualifications, obtain essential skills and secure a desirable role with an accountancy firm or private company.

Here, we will discuss the various pathways that accountants (or those thinking about a career within the sector) can explore to obtain the accounting qualifications they will need, as well as exploring additional soft skills and credentials that can maximise your chances of landing the accounting job you want.

What are the different routes to obtaining accounting qualifications?

One of the most positive aspects of training to become an accountant is the broad range of different routes and pathways that can be taken. Rather than being locked into a single career path, you will have several options available, allowing you to progress your accountancy career at your own pace, according to your level of prior learning and your preferred industry focus.

Becoming a chartered accountant

Many accountants choose to go down the academic route, focusing on getting the professional qualifications they need to become a chartered accountant as quickly as possible. This approach is most suitable for candidates who already have a relevant educational qualification as a starting point – this will usually be an accountancy or finance degree, or a qualification in a related area of study, such as economics. 

Going down this route to become a chartered accountant is generally seen as the more technical and workload-heavy approach, involving significant amounts of study and reporting. The key benefit is that you can become a fully qualified accountant much sooner, as this will exempt you from having to obtain the foundation-level AAT qualification stages, skipping straight to professional qualifications such as the Association of Chartered Accountants (ACA), the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).

By committing to take on the workload required to get fully qualified through the chartered accountant route, you will be able to obtain high-level credentials in just a few years, meaning you will be able to command a better average salary in the early years of your career, and potentially put yourself in high demand among leading accountancy firms.

Becoming an accountant through industry placements

The main alternative to becoming a chartered accountant is to pursue an industry route, which involves taking on an entry-level placement or apprenticeship with an accountancy firm, performing basic administrative work such as processing invoices while studying at the same time.

This approach does not require the same level of prior academic training, making it a good starting point for candidates from a wider range of educational backgrounds. Through this pathway, you can become an AAT qualified accountant through a combination of studying in your spare time and practical work on the job, giving you a solid grounding in basic accountancy work before moving on to a professional level ACA, CIMA or ACCA qualification.

By qualifying through this industry pathway, a broad range of career opportunities will be available to you. Although the starting salaries tend to be lower than for chartered accountants, industry roles tend to pay better at the top end, and by forming relationships with an accountancy firm or business during your time spent as an apprentice, you can often transition naturally from a training agreement to a full-time role. This can however, put limitations on opportunities eventually as more senior roles within Finance require a professional qualification.

Which route is right for me?

Choosing the right training pathway will often vary depending on whether you have an existing accounting degree to help you obtain chartered status, but it will also depend on what kind of accounting role you are ultimately looking for.

For example, if you are interested in auditing, it will be easier to get this sort of work through the chartered accountancy route, whereas those who are more interested in management accounting will usually find more of these roles in the business world. When you are just starting your career, you may not immediately know which accountancy specialism is right for you, so taking time to work this out can be very helpful in mapping out a career route.

You should also remember that many careers within accounting can be quite fluid, giving you the opportunity to switch the focus of your job over time as your skills and interests evolve. Many chartered accountants move into industry roles later in their careers in order to achieve a higher salary, while other professionals will choose to move laterally between roles and accountancy specialisms, using their transferrable skills to pursue new challenges.

Whether this will be possible for you will depend on your specific skills. For example, those with auditing skills will find that these can transfer easily to general accounting and reporting roles, whereas skills relating to tax and filing tax returns are more niche and specialised.

What other skills are accountancy employers looking for?

When applying for an accountancy job, it is vital to remember that employers will also be assessing your practical skills in addition to your accounting qualification status. This means you will need to work on cultivating and obtaining any additional soft skills and qualifications that may help to differentiate your application from others.

Although these practical skills will depend on the exact role, many employers will be looking for the following:

  • Good working knowledge of the systems and technologies that are used most often in financial accountancy. In particular, this should include Microsoft Excel, due to the significant reliance on spreadsheets in processing financial information.

  • Qualifications in using common business accounting software platforms such as Sage and Xero, both of which offer online courses to obtain a qualification. Accountants can then learn to utilise larger-scale accounting systems such as SAP as their career progresses.

  • Personal attributes and capabilities such as problem-solving, self-motivation and a strong commitment to the highest standards of financial accounting. To succeed at an accounting firm, you will need to have drive and hunger, with a willingness to study and expand your knowledge in your spare time to pass your accountancy courses.

By exhibiting these credentials, you will give yourself the best chance of progressing through your accounting courses quickly and landing a desirable job within this fast-moving and flexible sector, setting you up for a long and successful career in financial accounting.

Find out more

If you are looking to become an accountant and want guidance and support in navigating the accounting jobs market, Sellick Partnership can help. We can offer advice on training to become an accountant, including your career path options and the key skills that are valued most highly by accountancy firms and other employers.

Learn more by visiting our Finance and Accountancy recruitment hub, where you can browse our latest finance & accountancy jobs, or call us on 0161 834 1642.