Planning for the future? Accounting skills are no longer enough for graduates


Plenty of students and graduates might now be wondering over the direction their career will go. Some will have work experience lined up, others might be taking time out and seeing the world. But I bet you one thing: all of them will be thinking ‘what next?’.

Over the years I’ve helped numerous newly qualified accountants manage their careers and I can say it’s never an easy question to answer. So much of it comes down to ambition and personality, it’s why I advise people to think about where they see themselves in the future.

Even that can be hard given the vast array of disciplines people can pursue. Take accounting, for example, some grads will already know what they want to specialise in; this determines any further qualifications they will need and the practices they can join.

At the other end of the scale, many will want to run their own business, as is the trend amongst millennials today. That requires all manner of other skills from HR to marketing.

Of course, some grads will have no idea, or will only have an inkling but no real idea as to how to achieve it. There is nothing wrong with that. It can take time to find the right path and if you fall into that category I usually suggest you start with how ambitious you are as that will help determine how you get there.

For instance, if you see yourself as a VP at an international bank, or a CFO at a FTSE100 then you will need more than accounting qualifications, you’ll also need experience of running a business. Those sorts of roles require a good aptitude for managing change and understanding the wider economics, locally and globally. That means thinking about roles outside of, but linked to accounting, and thinking about qualifications like MBAs.

If you think that’s the career path for you, then heading into the big four might be the right decision to begin with. As once you are in that size of practice you are likely to able to move between disciplines broadening your skills. You’ll then be in a position to move on to similar sized organisations when the time is right.

The culture will be broadly the same at large companies so stepping from practice to practice will be straightforward to a certain extent. Big firms can provide more variety in specialist roles and you will have a choice of career paths and room for your ambition to grow and come to fruition. Plus, you’ll get plenty of access to mentoring, coaching and support to do additional qualifications; accounting or otherwise.

Crucially though if you’re working in the industry, for example with a retailer or a telco, you’ll also be exposed to the business decisions that drive the demands on the accountants. It’s this exposure that will help you acquire the skills a CFO needs.

Of course, there are also smaller practices. They tend to have a very different culture to the bigger firms, which suits people who want to grow their career at a different pace or enjoy dealing with smaller clients. Small firms generally offer support to obtain qualifications, and they can be a great way to get immediate hands-on experience.

But whatever you decide, you need to think beyond your accounting skills to where the industry is going. Artificial Intelligence is gathering pace in accounting and it will almost certainly influence the companies that thrive.

Accountants will need: good communication and interpersonal skills so they can provide consultancy and strategic advice, and they will need analytical skills – they must be able to sense check the machines.

It’s therefore, a good idea to consider how you match up and what you need to do to get ready for this new generation of accounting. Ask yourself which companies are adopting AI and how can you make yourself most attractive to them?

Finally, and this goes for anyone planning their career, be true to yourself. It doesn’t matter if you want to be an accountant for Sainsbury’s or a marketing director for Apple. You have to be yourself; only then will you achieve your potential.

Interested in a career in accounting?
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