Accounting Graduate Jobs and Programs
Accountants measure an organisation’s financial situation, by calculating and recording information about an organisation’s economic activities (such as assets, liabilities, revenues and expenses), in order to communicate that information to internal and external users like management, regulators, shareholders and investors.
What do you need to know to get a job in accounting?
Areas of Accounting Study
To find work as an accountant, a tertiary accounting qualification (usually a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field like commerce with an accounting major) is usually the minimum qualification required. An accountant needs generalised knowledge of each of the major accounting fields (financial accounting, management accounting, taxation, financial auditing and accounting information systems) in order to become fluent in the “language of business”.
An accounting degree may be used to count towards the completion of membership requirements to a professional accounting body like the CAA or CPA (more on chartered accountancy below). A master’s degree will improve a candidate’s desirability to some companies, as will specialised knowledge.
- Financial Accounting
Financial accountants prepare financial statements using data from a past period to give as accurate as possible a depiction of an organisation’s current financial position and performance, in order that people outside the organisation with an interest in it, such as investors, stakeholders, creditors and government agencies may make informed decisions based on relevant and accurate reporting. They rely on the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to complete their work.
- Management Accounting
Management accountants provide both financial and non-financial predictive information to managers, in order for them to make future decisions and plans regarding their organisation. Management accountants are not merely reporters, but are involved in the decision-making in the organisation. They are “value-creators”, integrating information from all areas of the organisation. Their work covers strategic management, performance management and risk management. Instead of GAAP, management accountants will often use “management information systems” (MIS) to compute their work, meaning a management accountant will need a clear understanding of accounting and management information systems.
Tax accountants use accounting information to calculate tax payable by an organisation, and are involved in the preparation of tax returns and other documents for regulatory bodies. In addition (and in contrast to a tax agent), a tax accountant looks ahead to the company’s future, offering advice on financial planning, legitimate tax reduction strategies, and in general helping businesses grow.
- Financial Auditing
Financial auditors independently examine accounting records and make a judgement on their validity and reliability, expressing an opinion as to whether the documents are a “true and fair” representation of the company’s financial position and performance. This includes cost accounting – verifying that the costs of everything recorded in a company’s cost accounts are accurate. Before a publicly trading company may release its financial statements to investors and shareholders, they must be approved by a third-party auditor, who then expresses a public opinion as to whether the statements can be trusted or not. The “Big Four” (Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst & Young and PwC) audit most public companies.
Industry experience is absolutely essential to gaining graduate placement with any major accounting firm, or a position in any large corporation. Most firms offer vacation work or internships, as do some small to medium companies. Work experience can count towards (and is a requirement) for gaining membership to a professional accounting body such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants.
Professional Membership and Chartered Accounting
Membership with one of Australia’s three professional accounting bodies, the Institute of Chartered Accounting (CA), Certified Practicing Accountants Australia (CPA) or the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA) is a prerequisite for employment at many large accountancy firms. The CA and the CPA are the two most common forms of membership – similar in many ways, although there are some slight differences.
The CA has traditionally been associated with accounting firms, while the CPA is a qualification more commonly found in accountants working inside companies. The CA requires a tertiary degree with an Accounting major, 26 weeks Practical Experience with a chartered accountant, and completing three years employment with a recognised CA organisation (like the Big Four). It is said to be slightly more difficult than the CPA which requires a tertiary degree (or passing eight exams on foundational accounting and business knowledge), completion of the CPA program (which has theoretical and practical components) and continued professional development.
As part of their graduate programs, the Big Four offer Chartered Accountants Programs to support their graduates through coaching, workshops and peer learning. They will also sponsor their employee to undertake the CA.
Strong communication skills
Contrary to common belief about accounting, the profession requires someone highly skilled in written and oral communication. A financial statement, a cost analysis or an auditor’s evaluation – all an accountant’s numbers need to be contextualised and explained for them to have meaning to decision makers. Yet many accounting graduates leave tertiary education with inadequate communication skills. This is a huge disadvantage given employers rank good communication high on their list of priorities. It is essential for a student to develop their communication skills in order to succeed in this profession. There are a few ways this can be done – including studying effective communicators, undertaking writing courses, debating and learning to speak up in class. Most universities will also require presentation as part of an accounting subject’s assessment.
Macroeconomic Trends and Accounting Graduate Work Prospects
The Australian labour market for accounting is saturated. A market trend towards outsourcing and offshoring financial reporting, coupled with increasing numbers of graduate accountants and a reduction of graduate positions offered by top-tier accounting firms has made finding employment difficult for many graduates.
Across the sector, graduate intake has been slashed, which has led to a situation where a large proportion of accounting graduates (estimated 25-40%) fail to find employment within a year of completing their degree. International students may find it particularly difficult to find positions, since many recruiters prioritise communication skills and local knowledge, and non-native English speakers are at a disadvantage in this regard. However, accounting graduates may find work elsewhere in the financial sector, in banking and business operations.
Competition between candidates for jobs is very high, and the major companies’ criteria for a successful applicant are very demanding. Most applicants tend to be inexperienced or lacked the skills required by the position. Tertiary qualification is not enough to make a candidate desirable. Work experience, excellent communication skills; a high degree of competence with accounting software, specialist knowledge and professional membership with the ICA or the CPA are also expected for many jobs. Employers typically receive 30-40 applications for each position. 10% of these applicants are deemed suitable.
The Big Four accounting firms (which have bases and positions Australia-wide) do hire graduates however their graduate recruitment levels have fallen in recent years, making it more difficult than ever to secure a place. Instead, they focus on converting vacation workers to graduate employees, to cut recruitment costs. Large accounting firms’ demand for graduate employees has also dropped overall due to increased competition, rising costs, and a reduction of government incentives to these companies.
In contrast, government incentives have advantaged small to medium accounting firms, which are now expected to raise their demand for recruits in this sector, especially for Bookkeepers, Assistant accountants and Accounts Payable Officers. These organisations increasingly seek short-term contracts with people with expertise in financial management, cost analysis and reporting systems.
In a market characterised by uncertainty and competition, students are advised to set themselves apart with specialist knowledge or a double degree, as well as by improving their “soft skills” of leadership, communication and teamwork. Knowledge and experience with management information systems (MIS) and business intelligence (BI) tools is also an advantage in an increasingly technologized market.
Accounting Salary Averages
Graduate salaries in accounting fall into the $40-50k range, depending on state. Victoria and Queensland averaged $42k and $45k p/a respectively, regardless of whether or not the graduate was in a major city or a regional area. In contrast, graduates in Sydney received on average $48k p/ a, while accountants in regional NSW received only $42k. Graduates in Perth, Hobart, Canberra, Adelaide and Darwin all received $48k p/a. Across Australia the average yearly salary increase is 3%.
Benefits to accounting graduate employees vary depending on the organisation. Large firms such as the Big Four provide many benefits such as ongoing professional development, mentoring and support, discounts on such things as banking and travel, flexible work hours, gym membership and healthcare.