Finding your Career path in the Accounting Profession
Whether you chose to study accounting at University because you absolutely loved numbers or you somehow fell into this area, like a lot of people, wouldn’t you be interested to know where it can actually take you in the future.
I was in the second category of falling into accounting, after starting out with a business/computing degree at Uni. After one semester of studying computing I realised this wasn’t for me and continued to complete a commerce (accounting) / business administration degree at Macquarie Unversity. I’ll be honest that after studying accounting for 4 years and then finally working in this field, they were two completely different sides of the coin and it took me some time to adapt to working life and the real world challenges in the accounting profession.
It wasn’t until I studied the CA program through the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia that I really understood the concepts well and could put a lot of this knowledge into practical use.
But after 8 years, having worked across many different areas of accounting from tax, audit, financial/commercial accounting and financial management I can now say that it is an extremely enjoyable, challenging & diverse field. It is one of the most portable professions that are needed in every single business. The choices are truly endless where it can take you.
I’ve had the benefit of working across many different types of industries from medical, property development, motor industry, FMCG wholesale distribution, engineering, mining & oil/gas. This is all in the space of less than 10 years, due to some of the roles where we were servicing clients that worked across a number of sectors. I’ve also had the benefit of working in small, medium and larger organisations and have been able to understand the different dynamics in different sized organisations.
So, if you’re studying accounting, have just graduated or even having had some experience working in accounting, what area to you choose and what is the best path for you in the accounting profession? Where is even the best place to start?
Solid skills base
My advice if you are just starting out is to get a good solid base of core accounting skills, the broader the better. When starting out it’s probably too early on to start specialising, unless you are convinced you know what you want to do. If you become too specialised too early on this can limit your future job prospects, so important to consider this.
It’s really important to get a good job in a supportive environment where you can learn as much as you can about accounting whether this is in tax, audit, insolvency, commercial or another finance related functional area. It is important thing is that you are working with numbers and know how to use them, read them, interpret them and can develop your skills to become more accurate and develop a stronger attention to detail.
Gaining valuable experience
The best type of organisation you can work for is to work with other qualified accountants within the business that you can learn and gain valuable mentorship. It doesn’t really matter the size or the type of industry so long as you are learning not only accounting but how to work with other people. I’ve noticed a number of graduates getting roles in large top tier Chartered Accounting firms for the broad level of experience and training that these organisations offer. Having worked in one of these organisations, myself, I can say that they do offer a brilliant training ground, through a wealth of experienced people, resources, client experiences and challenges. There are also plenty of organisations offering fantastic graduate programs and good career paths. Even a number of smaller organisations can offer a great starting point of accounting graduates, due to the broader level of duties required to do due to being smaller in size, which can offer great experience.
Finding your strengths
What you will find after working for a while is what area interests you and where your strengths lie. It is important to recognise what area interests you the most. This may take you some time to recognise and understand. For example you may love auditing companies and going into businesses and learning about how they operate and identifying all of the risk factors. Alternatively you may love working with accounting systems and working on accounting-related IT projects involving change management, training & technical systems understanding.
You may be a very process oriented individual and love to develop and enforce business processes. I’ve also come across very technical people in accounting and taxation concepts and who love accounting standards & tax law and have moved onto much more specialised areas within these fields. What is important is that you enjoy what you’re doing, in adding some type of value to the business and being recognised for what you do.
Here is a small sample of some of the types of areas that you could try:
- Budgeting / Forecasting
- Business decision support
- Compliance – audit & tax
- Financial Control
- Financial Management
- Financial Processing
- Systems support
It is important to recognise different jobs that you could see yourself doing one day and this generally takes some time and experience once you have had exposure to different fields within Accounting. If you can think ahead in 5 – 10 years what you would like to do, this makes it a lot easier to start getting experience that will provide you with the right skill set for these roles. It’s always good starting point to look on a job search website and find out what skills are required for the job of your dreams. Also talk to other people working in accounting roles and get their insight. In the mean time you can work away refining these skills until you finally land the job of your dreams. Good Luck.
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