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Best path for 26 yr-old grad who's never had job?

Non-accounting degree, one internship, never had a job. Best path to chartered qualification?

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Please help me determine what the best route is for me given my circumstances to become a chartered accountant (ACA). I would hugely appreciate any advice given as I am at a truly desperate point in life.

My degree was not in the UK but North America (though I am a British citizen). I did not do well overall (2:2 equivalent) and it took me six years in total, due to mental health issues that caused me to drop out and rejoin as well as change my subject (which you can do in North American universities) several times. So I was 24 when I graduated. The 2:2 equivalent rules out master's degrees at top universities (though I was told a master's would not be useful for accounting anyway) and many graduate trainee contracts.

2 years after graduating, I only really have one very short office-based 'internship' outside the UK. I have started studying for the first level of ACA exams which I plan to take by myself to try to give myself some edge and save costs for graduate trainee employers, because I don't know what else I can do.  Since graduating I have applied to hundreds of accounts assistant, graduate trainee, clerk, even temp admin office roles with a grand total of one phone call (not even an interview) for a graduate trainee position (I haven't heard back since). I have even heard that most of the jobs advertised online are fake jobs put out by recruiters (is this true?). It doesn't help that I am stuck in the experience paradox wherein you need experience to get a job, but you need a job for any experience (the vast majority of all these roles require specific experience in similar roles), so I am even more screwed since I have zero work experience at 26 years old.

I have suffered from crippling social anxiety and low-level depression for years but I have been trying to help myself with things like CBT and meditation, and have improved considerably since then. 

With that said, the problem is that you can't tell employers you have battled mental illness and improved yourself, because you become a liability. So I have huge gaps in my CV over 2 years, an unusually long degree, and no way to explain this. My dad did suggest putting fake internships on my CV as though he mentored me at his previous employers (as he has a different last name), but I don't know if this would even help much since the gaps are so huge.

My question is what route should I take? Should I do these 6 exams and just keep applying? Where can I find a list of accounting firms that accept a 2:2? What roles should I apply for, since I'm literally getting nothing even with the most basic roles? Should I find a way to "retroactively" fill the gaps in my CV (if you know what I mean)? How do I even get a role while stuck in the experience paradox? Should I go back to uni and get a bachelor's in accounting? Is it even realistic to think I have any shot at this career?

Replies (10)

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
20th Nov 2020 14:37

Becoming "exam qualified" is possibly going to only compound your problems.

To be a good accountant, exams AND practical experience go hand in hand.

There are tons of "exam qualified" people around who quite frankly are not much use to anyone.;

I don't have a magic wand I can offer on this, but whilst recruiters will reject you out of hand, I would have thought a frank cover letter long the lines of your post might clinch it with an independent firm recruiting rather than lobbing in a CV full of holes. Lets face it, if you do land a role you are going to be pretty loyal. Stress what you can do, and be straight about any accomodations you would require.

Accountants have more than their fair share of mental illness. I lost several years to a stress related illness, I am not alone.

NB add your location in on here. Accountants are often looking for subcontract work this time of year.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By Southwestbeancounter
20th Nov 2020 14:43

Great response Ireallyshouldknowthis....

I agree - honesty is what will get you that lucky break and like you say with a smaller independent firm.

Keep sending your CV to as many firms as you can, with that all important covering letter to explain the 'gaps' and hopefully at least one will land on someone's desk who sees something extra in you as it appears with the right employer you have a lot to give and no doubt having steady work could help you enormously with your confidence issues too.

Good luck and don't give up!

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By hsk123
20th Nov 2020 14:57

Thank you for your helpful response. I'm not really sure why you think self-studying and taking the first level ACA exams would hinder me; would they not show self-initiative, determination, and knowledge? Surely that is a selling point, given that I have virtually none of those at the moment?

I will try sending out honest cover letters. I suppose that's all I've got right now.

Also, I'm in London.

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Replying to hsk123:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
20th Nov 2020 15:18

@HSK, the issue about being "over exam qualified" is this could hinder you in a standard set up. There tend to be jobs for trainees. Jobs for qualifieds. but not any clear paths for "done the exams, never done it for real".

Think of it like doing press ups. use both hands, and you strengthen both sides of your body. Only use one and not only is is much much harder, if you just exercise that side you will be lopsided ans risk breaking your back.

That said, for a "non corporate" role, your odd shaped peg would probably still be a plus with the exams. If nothing else it shows you are smart enough and disciplined enough.

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Replying to hsk123:
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By Cheshire
20th Nov 2020 15:20

Quote:

Thank you for your helpful response. I'm not really sure why you think self-studying and taking the first level ACA exams would hinder me; would they not show self-initiative, determination, and knowledge?.

Briefly because there are many thousands of people doing exactly the same, so its how you differentiate yourself besides this.
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Im going to buck the trend a little here, despite some great advice from my fellow posters.

I would suggest that if you have had to deal with mental health and stress issues in the past then Accountancy is probably not the job for you. Read a few posts on here over the last 3-4 months and listen to all of the professionals who are being pushed over the edge with furlough and other issues.

That said, this is not just a 2020 issue, Ive seen many an Accountant have anything from minor anxiety to complete breakdowns, even from when I was a child seeing my parents' close friends who were in the profession.

So, the question has to be, why Accountancy?

If you are still determined then I would go further than my learned colleagues and suggest you start by finding a job, any job, anywhere. Get some other world experience under your belt, prove you can be an employee who can stick it out. Earning some cold hard cash will be good for you anyway. Progress your studies, but perhaps at a less stressful level to start, say AAT, building up gradually to the ACA.

Whatever you do, do not write youself off at 26 (and note that is NOT what Im doing by my original comment). Do not listen to your Dad. Ive found people out for faking a CV, it didnt end well.

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Replying to Cheshire:
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By hsk123
20th Nov 2020 18:28

"I would suggest that if you have had to deal with mental health and stress issues in the past then Accountancy is probably not the job for you."

Virtually every career and job I have read about online makes them out to be very stressful, though stress isn't really the main problem for me. Social anxiety is, and that is very fixable. If I let my mental health issues dictate my life then I probably wouldn't be here anymore, or I would stay inside forever. These issues are not an intrinsic part of a person and this is something people who go through therapy realise. They are problems that can be solved. but that doesn't mean one should limit oneself due to manageable issues.

With that said, I have heard that industry and government accounting tend to be relatively less stressful. Would you agree with this?

"If you are still determined then I would go further than my learned colleagues and suggest you start by finding a job, any job, anywhere. Get some other world experience under your belt, prove you can be an employee who can stick it out. Earning some cold hard cash will be good for you anyway. Progress your studies, but perhaps at a less stressful level to start, say AAT, building up gradually to the ACA."

Thank you for the advice. I have heard of the AAT to ACA route. I am curious to know why you think the AAT is less stressful than the ACA?

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Scooby
By gainsborough
20th Nov 2020 14:39

Firstly, well done on taking steps to help yourself through your depression and anxiety.

It is important to remember that we are living in very unusual times at the moment and the market has been flooded with over-qualified applicants applying for fewer positions.

Having said that:
1. With your job applications, make sure that you are researching the company and position you are applying for and tailoring your application accordingly. I have had so many generic applications where individual clearly hasn't bothered to find out my name and tells me a lot about themselves without stating why they would be an asset to my firm. These get an equally generic response saying no.
2. Unfortunately, candidates with no work experience do tend to be filtered out in the application process. Prioritise getting work experience ahead of going back and doing another degree - otherwise you will be having the same issue as a 29 year old. Try smaller firms in your local area - some may be willing to give you a try during the busy self-assessment season - even if it is just phoning clients to chase info. At least you will have something on your CV and perhaps some useful contacts in that firm. If you can't get accountancy experience immediately, then find something that uses customer service/inter-personal skills. I've hired a trainee who had previously worked in a supermarket but had great customer service skills that would transfer across to accountancy clients.
3. If you have started studying for ACA, stick with it. This will show commitment and a strong work ethic to future employers.

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By tom123
20th Nov 2020 15:41

Hi OP,

I would suggest you are open to the field of accountancy outside accountants firms. That way, you are not fixated on the 'graduate' scheme for big employers.

I have a 2.2, in accountancy, and didn't get onto such schemes.

I now work as an FD in industry, and have had a good living for many years.

I followed the AAT and then CIMA route, and certainly had a few lumpy years at the start of my working life in a recession.

Try to keep busy outside of applying for jobs too - don't make job hunting the whole purpose of the day.

26 is no age. You will be working till 70!

Oh, and just realised I graduated about the time you were born :)

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By Paul Crowley
20th Nov 2020 19:57

Find a local firm
Offer to work say 3 Months free as work experience
If that works out, Discuss terms
Its the work experience that matters.

Exams are for you, not the workplace. My work partner is QBE.

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By New To Accountancy
20th Nov 2020 20:37

I've worked a lot longer for free Paul and still don't feel 'up to scratch'.
OP: 3 months is not long enough, imo. If you really are made for this then you will think of the experience as the reward, not the salary, that'll come later (if you deserve it and can handle it). I feel privileged that I've been able to stay in this field, I have worked much harder than i can imagine most people do just to stay in a profession.
The more I learn, the more I realise how much more I have left to learn and the more respect I have for accountants.

Ps: OP, is your name Paul? This will help you too.

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