Work experience is integral to graduate recruitment for many leading employers. According to High Fliers, the country’s top employers had received 10% more graduate job applications by December 2019 than they had the previous recruitment round. This means that the competition is fiercer than ever, and work experience all the more vital. Read on to find out more about the different types of opportunity available.
When it came to graduate recruitment last year, the outlook was optimistic. Last year’s report said that graduate recruitment was expected to rise ‘substantially’. According to the report this year, graduate recruitment at leading employers was expected to rise by 3.3% in 2020, with twelve out of fifteen key industries expected to recruit more graduates this year.
However, since the High Fliers report was released, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold, suspending graduate recruitment and cancelling undergraduate opportunities. While some firms are taking their recruitment online, many are suspending them altogether.
It is expected that, come September 2021, recruitment will be back to normal as lockdowns are eased and the economy starts back up again, but it does mean you could face double the competition.
Work experience is now more important than ever. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of work experience places at leading employers was expected to increase by 3%, with more than four-fifths of the top employers offering paid work experience. It is also interesting to note that there has been a substantial increase in the number of employers who offer work experience places for first year undergraduates.
Many employers see work experience as the most reliable way to find candidates for their graduate vacancies and it is a great way to show employers that you have an interest in the accountancy profession. 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.
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 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:
- Increasing your subject knowledge
- Building your employability skills
- Earning money to support yourself
- Gaining valuable industry experience
- 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 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. Internships usually last 6-12 weeks, are not linked to a degree course and are normally 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, it is becoming increasingly common for employers to offer these opportunities to first year students too. These could come in the form of paid internships, introductory courses and insight days.
If you are interested in taking part in an internship then the key is to do your 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
Unfortunately 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:
- 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 your job more relevant to accountancy, you can 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.
- Volunteering: Volunteering as treasure for either a charity or a university society could prove useful in an interview situation and on your CV. It 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.
- 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 transferable skills and commercial awareness.