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How to break into the accounting industry as a graduate

Team GradAustralia

Over 30 different accounting jobs to discover and three ways to launch your graduate accounting career [infographic].

So you want to be an accountant…

Good for you! You’re primed to join the ranks of Nike founder Phil Knight, Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and UFC fighter Chuck Liddell. And those aren’t even the shady fellows.

Accounting gets a bad rap, but it’s actually a key part of business. Aside from the fact that accounting is consistently ranked as one of the most desirable professions in terms of income and quality of life, accounting underpins everything in business. The world is technologically advanced enough that accountants are no longer just moving financial information into a system. Sure, there’s some of the traditional bookkeeping and bean counting involved but accounting also relies on strategy, creativity, and high-level analysis.

Accounting involves organising records, analysing information – showing how much money has been spent and where – finding patterns to indicate financial weaknesses or risks, summarising and reporting on results. This is how decisions are made in business. And accountants are at the heart of that. This system is just as necessary for small-scale lemonade stands and non-profits as it is for multi-billion dollar organisations.

The world of accounting is both diverse and rewarding. It offers a range of jobs and remuneration packages that reflect the talent and hard work of its practitioners. As a leading business discipline, it is found in almost every industry in the world, allowing you to apply your skills to an area that you’re passionate about and create a varied and exciting career path. You might choose to join a global accounting firm, or engage in corporate accounting for a smaller organisation. There’s also the opportunity to specialise in tax, work for the government or start your own business.

Types of accounting jobs

The accounting industry is constantly growing. According to the Australian Jobs Report, the accounting industry grew by 17.7 per cent over a recent five year period and Bankwest predicts that the number of accounting businesses is expected to grow along with employment in the sector.

The moral of the story? If you’re a bright spark who is willing to work hard, you won’t be short of an opportunity. The downside is that you’re looking at some stiff competition so best be clear about what you might want to do so that you can maximise your training and experience.

With that in mind, let’s shop around for a job that’s right for you, shall we?

How to apply for a graduate accounting job

The best way to get hired is to do your research. Once you’ve decided which type of firm you want to work for, begin researching whether they run a graduate program, if they’re advertising jobs for junior accountant and who you might be able to contact to help get your foot in the door.

Having in-depth knowledge of an employer will not only impress those responsible for recruitment, but it will also give you the opportunity to find out whether you genuinely would enjoy working at an organisation. There are lots of ways to find out more about employers to get a more realistic understanding of what their working life is really like.

One easy way is to log on to www.gradaustralia.com.au and check out our graduate reviews. You can also set up a Google News alert to send you notifications when your preferred employers are mentioned in the news so you can stay abreast of movements and issues.

As a graduate, there are three general options open to you:

1. Join the grad program at a Big Four professional services firms. These include Deloitte, PwC, EY and KPMG. Each of these firms offers a solid graduate program and list of specialties, usually sampled based on a rotation schedule.

These programs are not easy to gain access to, and you can’t get by on academic performance alone. You need to show up, be present, and introduce yourself to the people who matter (grad program managers, recruitment people, mentors).

Find out when the intake for their graduate program is. Take note of key dates, such as information or networking events, summer ‘taster’ programs or internships. If you miss out on application dates, there are rarely second chances. You can check their employer profiles at GradAustralia application dates and details.

2. Begin as a graduate trainee at a smaller accounting or professional services firm. ‘Mid-tier firms’ aren’t simply runners-up in the financial world. They might be smaller than the Big Four but they offer many wonderful benefits, including more personalised mentorship opportunities and hands-on experience for first-year grads. These firms often have branches in multiple major cities and work with some significant brands. Online applications are usually the way into these companies.

Smaller accounting companies might only take on one or two graduates, so expect a more standard application and interview process. Jobs are often posted on LinkedIn or career sites and will require you to write a stellar cover letter. Prepare a CV, brush up on your interview skills, and be ready to convince the head of a small company why they should invest a considerable amount of money in your training.

3. Join the finance department of a commercial or public sector organisation. 

All types of organisations recruit graduates as accountants, and many degree disciplines are accepted (though having a finance background can mean exemption from some exams down the track).

An option is to join the vibrant graduate program at a large multinational company, such as Lendlease or Commbank or join a public sector organisation such as the Department of the Treasury. The advantages of choosing this path include practical business experience and a concerted effort to broaden your skill set.