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  • Name: John Heald
  • Job Title: Trainee Accountant
  • Location: London
  • University: Southampton
  • Degree: BA History
  • Areas of Specialism: Forensic Accountancy

When you leave university it’s often difficult to know how to start your career or what you can do with your degree. That was certainly the case for me. I chose what I studied at school and university based on what I enjoyed rather than with a particular career in mind. However, the transferrable skills I developed during my studies have been put to good use during my first 18 months as a trainee accountant.

What does a trainee accountant do?

My time is split between studying for my ACA exams and working in the audit department of my firm. One of the best aspects of being a trainee is that my employer gives me plenty of time away from the office to study, giving me the best possible chance of passing my exams first time.

I am away at college approximately six to eight weeks a year, receiving tuition from professionals who know the ACA qualification inside out.

The standard of teaching is excellent and I really enjoy this part of the training as I’ve gone from knowing virtually nothing about accountancy to having a solid grasp of the fundamentals in a relatively short space of time.

Most of the rest of my time has been spent working in audit, which I’ve found to be a stimulating environment and a great place to apply the knowledge I’ve gained from my ACA qualification. Don’t believe those who tell you working in audit is dull! The work is extremely varied and no two businesses are the same, so you really get an insight into how their accounts are put together.

As well as audit I’ve also had the chance to work on some slightly more unusual jobs. I spent four months working at the Serious Fraud Office with a team of forensic accountants, lawyers and specialist investigators working for the prosecution on a high value fraud case. This was within my first six months of work and was a brilliant opportunity to experience a really specialist area of accountancy.

How did you get your job at Carter Backer Winter?

When I decided I wanted to be an accountant I spent a lot of time researching jobs, employers and qualifications, looking into how they differed and what each one offered. I decided to train for the ACA based on the comprehensive coverage of the qualification and the opportunities that being ACA qualified can create.

Once I decided this was the route I wished to take I started to look into specific firms. I began to realise that a medium sized firm such as CBW offered exactly the kind of training experience I was looking for. The clients range in size and nature and trainees are given responsibility and ownership of their work from a very early stage in their career. It was apparent that this was not something that was available at all firms.

I therefore applied to CBW through ‘Pass Training’, an organisation that specialised in recruiting trainee accountants for medium-sized firms.

What was the interview process like?

The application process was relatively straight-forward and consisted of the initial written application, a telephone interview, first interview which included a numeracy test and then the final interview with CBW. I prepared well for each stage and made sure I researched the profession and the firm. My application was successful and I was offered the job.

What is the work/life balance like?

This is one of the main advantages of working for CBW. Unlike some of my friends, who work for larger firms, it is rare for me to work much more than my contractual hours. The atmosphere in the office is very friendly and my colleagues are always approachable and happy to answer my questions.

There is also a social side to CBW. The first Thursday of every month sees the majority of staff at the local pub after work and there are usually a few free drinks on offer for those that attend. The end of the working week seems to act as an incentive for people to socialise and there’s often a core section of staff who can be found at a local night spot on a Friday night. All in all, it’s a very lively place to work.

What are your goals for the future?

The ACA qualification can act as a real stepping stone to a number of different jobs in accounting and finance. There is the option when qualified to go into industry and work in a management, work for other financial institutions such as banks or insurance companies or stay in practice and work towards becoming a senior manager or even partner.

Personally, the time I spent working in forensic accountancy has made me aware of the different specialist areas of the profession and this is something I’d like to explore when I qualify. Luckily, CBW has a wide variety of specialist areas, which will give me plenty of options when I reach that stage.

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