All about professional qualifications in accountancy

Professional qualifications for accountancy sector
When you’re a qualified accountant it means that you have finished the required training and obtained enough experience to do your job to the highest possible standard.

Whether you decide to go to university or join a school leaver programme, you can gain a professional qualification in accountancy. You will have to work and study hard to get qualified, but the benefits are enormous: variety of work, travel opportunities, status and salary. You can expect this to increase each year post-qualification. Your choice of employer will typically determine which professional qualification you work towards, but in some cases your employer will offer you an option.

You will carry out accountancy work for your employer before you’re qualified, of course. It’s a bit like training to be a doctor. If you had a serious health problem you would want a fully qualified doctor to make the ultimate decision about your treatment, although part-qualified doctors would assist in the process of diagnosis, treatment and care.

Professional accountancy bodies

There are several professional bodies offering qualifications in the accountancy sector. Most of these professional bodies were originally formed by royal charter, hence you’ll often hear the phrase ‘chartered accountant’ used interchangeably with ‘qualified accountant’. Some bodies are generalist, covering all areas of accounting (eg ACCA, ICAS, ICAEW, to name a few), while others offer training in a specific area, such as management accounting (CIMA) or treasury (ACT).

Obtaining membership to a professional body entitles you to use the designatory letters after your name, eg Joe Bloggs ACCA, bestowing prestige that could make all the difference to successful career progression. Read An introduction to professional accountancy bodies on our graduate careers site TARGETjobs for an overview of the main professional qualifications you can get in accountancy.

The graduate route to professional qualification

Qualifying with a professional body usually takes about three years after you’ve finished your university degree, and comprises a number of exams and practical on-the-job experience. It is possible to study for accountancy qualifications at an academic institution without working at the same time, but you cannot normally gain membership with the professional body until you have a certain amount of experience in accountancy as well. For this reason, most people opt to study and work at the same time. Most accountancy employers will pay for your exam fees and give you time off to study.

The school leaver route to becoming professionally qualified

School leavers usually take five years to become professionally qualified once they secure employment. The majority of employers will expect you to spend your first two years working towards a basic qualification (see below) plus a higher apprenticeship. If you show aptitude you will then be invited to remain with a firm for a further three years to gain your professional qualification. At this point you will study and work alongside graduates also studying towards their professional qualifications.

Below are the three main qualifications (usually referred to as a basic qualifications or certificates) you could expect to obtain in your first two years on a school leaver programme, and links to their professional bodies’ websites for more information:

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