As I left student life behind me and entered the professional workplace, it did seem a bit daunting at the time.
During any one month I could be on a year-end audit at our larger clients, or preparing monthly management figures for those clients too small to have their own finance director.
I enjoy spending time at clients’ premises because I can build up a really good relationship with the people, and it gives me a much clearer view of business as a whole, rather than just the accountancy side. And no two clients are the same – their structures, the products and services they sell, the way they produce their accounts will all be different, not to mention the characters that run them! Accountancy opens your eyes to the business world at large and I think I’m improving my people skills, and developing as a rounded business person along the way.
The day can be quite long sometimes if the client is out of the area, as we have to do a full working day on their premises, but at least the mileage expenses are good!
Spending time in our own office is good too, as I get chance to catch up with my friends at work and the rest of the students. When I’m in the office I’m typically preparing annual accounts, personal tax returns or VAT returns for clients. The phone rings regularly with client queries, which could range from asking for help with something that’s come through the post to Sage accounts training. It’s very rewarding when you get a nice email from a client who really appreciates your advice.
Depending on which qualification you opt for, some are day release and some block release. I’m doing the chartered exams (ACA) so I’m doing block release, but I have to put in quite a few hours of private study every week alongside my courses. It was quite a shock at the start to discover how much more difficult the exams are, and how many extra hours are needed to be able to pass them. I guess it’s the same though for any professional career path – at least it’s quicker than studying to be a doctor or a vet!
This can be tough though when I’m working out of the area, as the working day is already a long one with travelling added to it. The key is getting into a routine and being disciplined enough to stick to it (easier said than done sometimes when my friends are going out and I’m not).
One bit of advice I’d give is not to rush through the exams as quick as you can. If you take on too many at a time you’ll run out of steam and have no time for your personal life – I need time to play hockey and to go out socially to keep me sane! You’ll also be passing the exams quicker than you’re learning in the workplace, so you could end up without the experience to do anything with the qualifications you’ve got.
Choosing the right firm for you is important too. There are reasons for and against each size of firm, but personally I’m glad I chose a mid-sized one because I’m not pigeon holed into one large department at work. Mitten Clarke is an award winning firm and big enough to give me really broad training, and I travel around the country meeting clients of all sizes.
Socially there’s plenty going on too – we go out regularly, some of it is paid for by the firm and other times it’s just a few of us getting together to see a band or to go out for a drink. This year a few of us completed the national Three Peaks Challenge for our designated charity, and we hold our own 5 a side tournament to raise funds too. We don’t play regularly enough to win anything, but it’s good to let off steam together out of the office.
So the exams aren’t easy, and you have to be prepared to put the work in, but the rewards are there to be had. Whether I choose a career in business or the profession, and decide to work in the UK or abroad, I’ll have a very promising future and hopefully a very good salary to go with it!
Craig McIntyre, aged 24
Trainee Accountant at Mitten Clarke. BA (Hons) Accounting and Finance