Work experience has become an integral part of graduate recruitment for many leading employers. According to the High Fliers report The Graduate Market in 2017, more than a third of employers warned that candidates with no previous work experience would struggle to succeed in their graduate recruitment process, regardless of their academic achievements.

Within the UK’s 100 best-known and most successful employers alone, 1,914 work experience places were on offer for 2017. This is a slight dip from last year, making the field more competitive, but there are still a wide variety of opportunities available. You simply need to stand out from your peers and promote yourself in the best possible way.

Work experience is a great way to show employers you have the interest and ability to work as a chartered accountant. The experience can give you an understanding of the industry and help you to decide whether or not this is the career for you, as well as looking great on your CV and possibly helping you secure a graduate position. In fact, many employers now see work experience as the most reliable way to find candidates for their graduate vacancies.

The recruitment process you go through to secure a work experience position is similar to applying for graduate positions. This means you could already be part-way to securing a graduate position by the time you start your placement or internship.

What’s on offer?

The two main types of work experience are internships and placements. Placements, also known as ‘a year in industry’ or ‘a sandwich year’, are opportunities available with specific degrees to take a year out of studying to work for a company in a related industry. Internships, on the other hand, usually last 6-12 weeks, are not linked to a degree course and are normally undertaken in the summer months.

Placements

Some accounting, finance and business degree courses will give students the option to take a placement year as part of the degree. Some firms local to universities may offer placements, especially if the school of study has good business links. Larger national employers may offer these programmes too. Placement years can help you to:

  • Gain invaluable industry experience
  • Get a greater understanding of the graduate recruitment process
  • Apply the theory from your degree and increase your subject knowledge
  • Earn money to support yourself through your studies
  • Build employability skills and help secure a job post-graduation.

Most universities that offer placement years will have a dedicated department to assist your placement search, but students can also search for and contact employers directly.

Internships

Formal internships are popular among students, as they can provide up to 12 weeks of experience, and they are usually completed over the summer holidays. Larger firms often have formal programmes available. In the past, these have usually been reserved for penultimate year students, however the High Fliers report suggests that employers are now almost as likely to be targeting first year students when promoting their opportunities. In fact, 83% of employers held events in 2016/17 specifically targeted at first years. If you are interested in an internship, the key is to research and apply early: the ideal time to find out about application deadlines is during your first year of university.

Accountancy internships are usually paid, but smaller firms may offer shorter, unpaid internships to individual students which can be equally as useful. Some larger firms also offer taster/insight days and weeks.

Alternative types of work experience

In today’s competitive market you need to create every possible advantage for yourself to stand out from the crowd. If you haven’t been able to secure any formal work experience in chartered accountancy, have you considered…

  • Volunteering as a treasurer for a university club or society? This experience could prove useful in an interview situation and on a CV. It demonstrates to employers that you will have experience of budgeting, basic accounts and expenditure. It will show that you can balance work, study and outside interests as well as hold a position of trust, accountability and authority.
  • Your part-time job? Employers always look for customer-facing experience, as it is crucial to an accountancy role. You could also ask to be involved in company stock takes. Okay, no one likes working late but putting this on your CV shows some of the key skills required for an audit and shows that you are committed, able to take on extra responsibility and have a good understanding of a commercial business.
  • The relevance of your gap year experience? If you have travelled, maybe taught English abroad, think about how this could benefit a future employer. You can work across cultures, work alone or as part of a team, meet different people and possibly speak foreign languages.

While internships, work experience and placements are useful in securing a training agreement, other experience you gain can also benefit future employers with transferable skills and commercial awareness.

Source: The Graduate Market in 2017 by High Fliers

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