Beyond the Lecture Hall: Career Paths in Accountancy and Finance for UK Graduates

Beyond the Lecture Hall: Career Paths in Accountancy and Finance for UK Graduates

University is over, and with graduation, the safety net of classes and schedules has been replaced by the quite real situation that you now need to make important career decisions. Many graduates feel ill-equipped for this moment, but the most important thing to realise is you’re not alone.

This guide will talk through your options, explore the routes available to you, the differences between practice and industry and also take a look at non-accountancy roles where your skills can be utilised effectively. We’ll also take a look at alternative paths for those who might not want to pursue a professional accountancy qualification.

We hope this guide helps you make a well informed decision about your career path by understanding the landscape of opportunities available, and the qualifications that can support what you want to achieve. Whether you’re aiming to work in a large multinational firm, or a smaller business, Sewell Wallis are here to help.

Professional Qualifications

Obtaining a professional qualification can be a crucial step for those seeking a successful career in accountancy and finance. It demonstrates your commitment, expertise and knowledge to potential employers, and whilst not essential, they’re highly recommended if you want to progress into more senior roles throughout your career.

ACA – Associated Chartered Accountant: The ACA qualification, offered by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) is widely recognised and well respected in the UK. Typically completed as part of a training programme with an accountancy firm, it combines practical work experience with rigorous study. It’s well suited to those wanting to work in practice, as it covers a broad spectrum of topics. It’s also recently become of interest to a lot of industry businesses looking for some of the strongest finance talent to beef up their finance teams.

ACCA – Association of Chartered Certified Accountants­: A globally recognised qualification, this is suitable for those wanting to work in either practice or industry. Able to be completed independently or as part of a training contract with an employer, it provides flexibility for those balancing work and study, and covers a comprehensive range of subjects. It’s a versatile qualification that can lead to a variety of roles in both the public and private sectors.

CIMA - (Chartered Institute of Management Accounts): The CIMA qualification specialises in management accounting, and is particularly well-suited for those looking to work in industry, due to its focus on financial strategy, risk management and business decision-making. CIMA can be completed independently or with your employers support, and provides a strong foundation for those seeking to work in commercial roles like financial analysis, budgeting and forecasting.

Working in Practice

Working in practice involves providing a range of accountancy services to clients, ranging from small businesses to large corporations. They offer a variety of services, including preparing financial statements, conducting audits, providing tax advice, and offering business consultancy services. Accountancy firm vary in size and scope, from small local and regional practices, to the “Big Four” multinational firms (Deloitte, PWC, EY and KPMG). Larger firms typically offer a broader range of services and opportunities for specialisation, as well as structured graduate programs. Smaller firms can provide a more hands-on experience and exposure to more areas of accountancy, allowing for a more personalised career development path. They also offer training contracts which combine practical work experience with studying for professional qualifications like the ACA or ACCA, which usually last around three years and provide a clear path for career progression.

Working in practice offers several key advantages, which include exposure to a diverse range of clients and industries, opportunities for specialisation in areas like audit, tax, corporate finance or forensic accounting, and structured career progression and training. There’s also the potential for high earnings, particularly at senior levels, although it is important to note that working in practice can involve long hours and high pressure, particularly during busy periods like financial year-end, and this can make work-life balance a challenge.

Working in Industry

Working in industry involves being employed directly by a company rather than an accountancy firm. This can cover a wide range of roles, from financial and management accounting, to more specialised positions in areas such as tax, treasury and internal audit.

Roles within industry tend to have their own focus and responsibilities. Financial accountants prepare financial statements and ensure compliance with accounting standards, management accountants provide financial information and analysis to support decision-making and strategic planning, and financial analysts identify trends, opportunities and risks to provide insights to support business decisions. You’ll also find tax accountants, who plan, report on, and optimise tax strategies, treasury accountants who take responsibility for cash flow and investments, and internal auditors, who assess and improve the effectiveness of financial controls and governance processes.

Working in industry offers several advantages, including the opportunity to gain deep knowledge of a specific industry or sector. Industry accountants are exposed to a wide range of business functions and can gain a wider understanding of business in general, and roles within industry open up opportunities for progression into senior finance roles, as well as potential for moving into general management or commercial roles. You’ll also have the ability to have a direct impact on the success and growth of the organisation you work for.

Alternative Paths

If you don’t want to go down the professional qualification route immediately, or at all, there are alternative paths within the broader field of finance and accounting which can provide valuable experience and serve as stepping stones to other opportunities in the future.

These roles include payroll positions, where you’re responsible for managing the process of paying employees, credit control, where you play a key role in managing cash flow and minimising financial risk for the organisation, and accounts payable, involving processing and paying supplier invoices and ensuring the organisation you work for is meeting its financial obligations.

These roles can provide exposure to key financial processes and can be a good entry point for graduates looking to gain experience in a finance environment. They will also help you build skills like communication, problem-solving and attention to detail, all of which will benefit you in your future career.

Non-Accountancy Roles

An accountancy and finance degree equips you with a wide range of transferable skills that are highly valued in many non-accountancy roles, including analytical thinking, problem-solving and commercial acumen. If you feel a traditional accountancy role is not the right fit for you, there are many other career paths where your skills can be applied effectively.

Alternative industries include Financial Services, where you could go down the path of investment banking, insurance or wealth and risk management, roles which require strong analytical skills and the ability to communicate complex financial concepts to clients and stakeholders. You could look at Management Consulting; these firms provide strategic advice and operational support to a wide range of businesses and often seek graduates with strong problem-solving skills, commercial awareness and the ability to analyse complex data and develop practical recommendations.

There are also non-traditional finance roles available in many other sectors. You could work in retail analysing sales data and managing budgets, or in a government department developing public financial policies. All types of businesses need finance talent.

Working with an Accountancy & Finance Recruitment Specialist

You now have lots to consider – what qualifications align best with your chosen career path, what you want your lifestyle and work-life balance to look and feel like, and what progression you’d like your career to have over the next few years. You should also take into account your own personal interests and motivations, and consider what type of work will be most fulfilling and engaging for you in the long term. If you are unsure about what path to pursue, talking to someone at Sewell Wallis will help inform your decision.

Navigating the job market and making career decisions can be overwhelming, especially for recent graduates. Working with a recruitment consultancy that specialises in finance and accountancy can provide invaluable support, guidance, and opportunities throughout your career journey.

Sewell Wallis are a specialist accountancy and finance consultancy and have expert knowledge of the qualifications, skills and experience required for different roles. We can provide tailored advice on how to position yourself for success.

Working with your recruitment consultant is a two-way partnership. We’ll work to build a strong, trusting relationship with you, find out about your career aspirations, skills and current experience levels, and help you build a solid CV. We’ll stay connected with you, even if you’re not actively seeking a new role – we can keep you informed of market developments, salary trends and potential opportunities that may be of interest in the future. By building a long-term relationship with us, we can help you build your perfect career path.

If you’re a recent graduate, or about to be, and want a more detailed dive into the options available to you when you finish your studies, you can request a call with one of our consultants by emailing

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