How to avoid the Catch-22 of No Work Experience

How to avoid the Catch-22 of No Work Experience

PQ magazine’s Graham Hambly looks at the thorny issue of getting work when you don’t have any practical experience.

One of the most common questions I get asked by PQs is how can they get an accountancy job when they don’t have any practical experience. Too many still seem trapped by this Catch-22.

The professional accountancy qualifications are, of course, designed with the working PQ in mind. You are supposed to be moving up the company as you sit your exams, and this real-life work experience should help you understand what the examiner is asking for. These qualifications are supposed to be vocational qualifications, after all.

The problem is many accountancy bodies also allow students to sit the exams full-time, and so a miss-match is created. So, there are lots of exam-qualified accountants out there with absolutely no practical experience. They are, in truth, the bane of many a recruitment consultant’s life. What can they do with an over-qualified accountant who knows the theory but doesn’t know how to actually do the accounting? The analogy often used is learning to drive a car. You can know all the theory in the world, but it’s not until you get behind the wheel you realize practice is what makes you perfect.

Recruiters admit they struggle to keep the salary aspirations of these ‘over qualified’ passed finalist in check, too. If you have no experience you really are going to have to start at the bottom, job wise.

There has, however, been some good news. New research from CV-Library seems to suggest it isn’t always necessary to have work experience to bag that first job in accountancy.

While the majority (68.8%) of accountants said it is important to find work experience before starting out on a career in accountancy, some 50% admit that they didn’t find it hard to secure their first job without it!

A study of over 1,000 professionals revealed that two-thirds of respondents did not take part in an internship of work experience before they started their first job.

There appears to be a real problem about getting good advice early on. The research found that 42.4% of accounting professionals said they were never told how important work experience was during their time in education. What’s more, some 39.4% admit there was no opportunity to undergo work experience while at school, college or university. The vast majority, we are talking 93% here, believe that schools and universities should do more to encourage students to find work experience and internships while they are studying.

CV-library’s MD, Lee Biggins, said: “It is clear that more needs to be done across the education system to support students in finding work experience. After all, undergoing such placements can help to introduce young people to the world of work and help them learn valuable skills.”

There is another interesting point to be made here, too. If you get exam-qualified without getting work experience, how do you know that you will like being an accountant? Over a third of respondents to the study (35.5%) said that work experience could help you decide whether being an accountant is what you actually want to do. Back at the turn of the year I wrote about a LinkedIn study that revealed that seven in 10 professionals (72%) were encountering a ‘quarter-life crisis’, which was making them reassess their career path and life choices. You really do need to find a career you are passionate about.

Editor of PQ Magazine

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