Work experience has become an integral part of graduate recruitment for many leading employers. According to the High Fliers report The Graduate Market 2017, more than a third of employers warned that candidates with no previous work experience had little or no chance of being successful in their graduate recruitment process, regardless of their academic achievements.
While there was no dip in work experience available in 2017, the outlook for 2018 has been cautiously optimistic, with work experience places expected to increase by 0.8%. However, the field is still fiercely competitive and 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 you have the interest and the ability to work as a chartered accountant and 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 accountancy is the career for you.
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 are available with specific degrees and allow you to take a year out of studying 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 undertaken in the summer months.
Some accounting, finance and business degree courses will give students the option to take a placement year as part of their degree. Firms local to universities may offer placements, especially if the university has good business links. Larger national employers may offer these programmes too. Placement years can help you to:
- Gain invaluable industry experience
- Increase your subject knowledge
- Build employability skills
- Earn money to support yourself through your studies
- Get a greater understanding of the graduate recruitment process
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 can be a good place 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 they were typically reserved for penultimate year students, High Fliers have reported that a sustainable amount of employers now offer 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 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 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, able ot 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 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.