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Job prospects remain bright for recently qualified ACAs

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 18 Aug 2021

In the face of tough competition for graduate roles, budding chartered accountants should expand their job search, by both sector and location, suggests Chris Barlow, Director of Employability and Placements at University of Liverpool.

Recently qualified ACAs are finding it harder than usual to secure a graduate role this year. Many businesses put a freeze on recruiting accountancy graduates in 2020, and those that are now opening up again are being flooded with applications, according to Chris Barlow, Director of Employability and Placements at University of Liverpool.

“While salaries for experienced finance professionals may be increasing, recent accounting graduates are finding that there are fewer prospects compared to last year or 2019, before the pandemic hit”, says Barlow.

That’s because there are effectively two cohorts now applying for the same roles, he says, as “a lot of the students who graduated in 2020 didn't get a job and are applying again this year.” 

Barlow, who is ACA-qualified, oversees the Year in Industry programme, supporting students from when they start in year one, helping them secure a placement for the third year, and then when they return in their final year, ensuring that they have every opportunity to secure a graduate job in what is quite a challenging environment.

Broaden your horizons

One way to get around increased competition is to expand the search criteria, suggests Barlow. This doesn’t mean giving up on the dream job, but simply exploring other avenues outside the professional service firms. Barlow says a lot of students have been successfully applying for roles within the in-house finance function of a business and also the public sector.

“Quite a few of our students looking to apply to the NHS have been successful and they have some fantastic graduate schemes. We've also had students that have gone to work in the finance function of some local borough councils too.

“But because they've opened up their eyes and looked elsewhere, they find these roles and have realised, ‘hang on, there’s better working hours, better holiday, better pension, and you still get funded through the ICAEW qualification’,” he says.

Another way to extend the job reach is by location. Rather than just applying in their hometown or London, Barlow encourages graduates to apply for roles in places they wouldn’t normally expect to apply. As a teacher in the north west, Barlow sends his students to places such as Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle and Scotland.

Distance is no longer an obstacle

One positive to take from the current climate is the increased opportunities for students by moving online, Barlow points out. Students who had to attend physical assessment centres and physical interviews previously may not have been able to attend the assessment centre or the interview purely from a cost perspective. But now these procedures have moved online, they just go to their bedroom and can access the assessments through their computers. This has increased opportunities for widening participation of students.

“We had a student two years ago who was invited to an assessment centre at a company in Windsor, and had to get there from the north west, and it was taking place at 9:30am on a Monday morning. He was looking at the train prices and the length of time it took, plus the costs, and it didn't work out. The student even looked at going on the Friday and staying overnight, but he just didn’t have the money to do it. We tried to get him funding but it was too short notice which meant he had to pass up on the opportunity,” says Barlow.

“Whereas now, it doesn't matter what time of day it is, or which day of the week, students can attend these interviews online. This is a real example where it does help widening participation students, which helps business as well, because they've been trying for a while to increase the uptake of widening participation students.”

Irrespective of whether the market is hot and flooded with double the number of applicants, “once you’ve got your professional qualification the world is your oyster”. 

This article is from an ICAEW Insights series on Navigating the new employment landscape for finance professionals. Click here to access the full four-part series.

Visit ICAEW’s Student Insights page

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