Work experience is integral to graduate recruitment for many leading employers. Once again employers have repeated the warning that graduates who have had no previous work experience are unlikely to be successful in their graduate recruitment process. Read on to find out more about the different types of opportunity available.

When it came to graduate recruitment last year the outlook was cautiously optimistic. However, this year graduate recruitment is expected to rise ‘substantially’, with one of the biggest increases within the accounting and professional services.

That said, an increase in places has brought an increase in applications, and employers are reporting they have received 4% more graduate job applications so far compared to 2017-2018*. This means that you will have to stand out from your peers and promote yourself in the best possible way.

Many employers now see work experience as the most reliable way to find candidates for their graduate vacancies. It’s a great way to show employers that you have the interest and the ability to succeed in the accountancy profession and therefore could help you secure a graduate position. There is also the added benefit of giving you an understanding of the industry and to help you decide whether or not the accountancy profession is the career for you.

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

What’s on offer?

There are two main types of work experience; placements and internships. Placements are available with specific degrees and allow you to take a year out of your studies to work for a company in a related industry. This differs from internships , which usually last 6-12 weeks, are not linked to a degree course and are normally taken in the summer.


Some accounting, finance and business degree courses will give students the options to take a placement year as part of their degree. Firms local to your university may offer placements, especially if the university has good business links. Larger national employers may offer these programmes too. There are huge benefits to taking part in a placement year, including:

  • Gaining valuable industry experience
  • Increasing your subject knowledge
  • Building your employability skills
  • Earning money to support yourself through your studies
  • Understanding the graduate recruitment process more fully

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. University careers fairs and the Accountancy Careers website are both good places to start.


Formal internships are a popular choice among students. 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 and while in the past they have been reserved for penultimate year students, High Fliers have reported that nearly three-quarters of employers have work experience places for first year undergraduates. These could come in the form of paid internships, introductory courses and course placements.

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.

Alternative types of work experience

In today’s competitive market, there are not enough opportunities for every student interested in work experience. If you haven’t been able to secure work experience, don’t worry, there are other routes to consider. For example:

  • Volunteering as a treasurer for a university club or society. Being a treasurer of a club could prove useful in an interview situation and on your CV. This role demonstrates to employers that you have experience of budgeting, basic accounts and expenditure. It will also show that you can balance work, study and outside interests, not to mention holding a position of trust accountability and authority.
  • A part-time job. Customer facing experience is crucial in any role, even more so in accountancy. Therefore your part-time job could prove that the perfect work experience. If you want to make it more relevant to accountancy, you could always ask to be involved in company stock takes. And, while no one likes working late, putting this on your CV shows some of the key skills required for an audit. It also shows that you are committed, are able to take on extra responsibility and have a good understanding of 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 and as part of a team as well as possibly speak multiple languages.


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

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