Share this content

Career Change in 30s- AAT / ACCA / ACA Query

Retail Manager turning 32 soon, desperate to make the change to Accountancy. Most feasible ways?

Didn't find your answer?

Morning all.

I've been doing extensive research recently but having found your site I am hopeful some of you may be able to give quicker, more concise answers to some of of my queries save me endlessly bouncing around many outlets of conflicting information!

So with that in mind, I'll get straight onto it;


- 31 year old Retail Manager for 8+ years, worked internationally, in good stead with employer.

- Waining job satisfaction and stunted progression into senior management.

- Disproportionately lower than average salaries offered by current employer at all levels, even if promotion was successful.

- Concerns over lack of job security moving forward post-coronavirus.

- Natural flair and self-taught knowledge in numbers and spreadsheets from a young age.

- No previous experience in Finance or Accountancy.

- To switch career ASAP, turning 32 this September means I absolutely must get my skates on as whilst I am aware it is not 'too late', time is most certainly not on my side.

- Immediate large scale funds are unavailable, therefore studying alongside my full-time Retail Manager position is a must. I am aware of the challenges this may present but have thought about this long an hard and I am confident I can do this for a finite amount of time.

- Once qualified (to an appropriate level), gain work experience natively in the UK.

- Long term (hopefully in approximately 5 years as a maximum), apply my new skills to acquire a permanent position in a foreign soveriegnity and ultimately move abroad.

- An extremely local college offers very affordable courses in AAT Levels 2, 3 & 4. All of these would be able to fit around my current employment as they are 1 - 2 days per week and I have full autonomy over my own rota schedule in work. With no prior knowledge of areas such as double entry bookkeeping would this be the most natural starting point and if so, at what level do you think would be most beneficial?

- Is it possible to get job within the sector having ONLY completed AAT qualifications, either Nationally or Internationally?

- Despite my initial findings, further reading online has suggested that in order to be attractive to employers and indeed secure a position, a further qualification in ACA, ACCA or CIMA would be needed? Is this correct and if so, would you still recommend completing the AAT qualification first?

- Parallel to the above question, which further qualification would best benefit me when we consider a) My current employment & financial restrictions, b) My age & c) My desire to hopefully take this with me on a journey to move abroad?

I don't expect there to be a 'one-size fits all' answer to this but any advice would be greatly appreciated. I will need to enrol on a course in the coming weeks to ensure a placement is guaranteed but don't want to 'put my foot in it' before I know all the facts of course!

Thank you all in advance and I hope you are staying safe.

Replies (9)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

By paul.benny
03rd Jun 2020 12:35

There are actually lots of threads on this - although tbf the search function doesn't always make them easy to find.

Some remarks that don't directly answer your questions:

Qualifications are important. But so is experience. You can succeed to some extent with experience alone. But qualifications without experience are more or less useless.

Practically everyone studying accounting qualifications does so alongside a day job in finance. If your retail salary is as poor as you suggest, there's probably little difference and if you're studying ACA/ACCA/CIMA, reasonably rapid salary progression is possible.

Why accountancy? You've expressed very clearly why Not Retail (or at least Not Retail with your current employer). But why accountancy and not, say marketing? If I was considering hiring you I'd want to hear why this choice.

Have you spoken with any accountants - in business or in practice - to get their insights into the work?

Thanks (0)
paddle steamer
03rd Jun 2020 12:48

" Concerns over lack of job security moving forward post-coronavirus"

I am not, for the longer term- presumably in your case next thirty years or more- totally convinced that accountancy is where I would go rushing to for future job security, whilst retail certainly has significant issues I also do expect the rapid rise in tech and AI to significantly reduce the number of people required in accountancy/ finance roles, it could become a very crowded employment marketplace.

Certainly if I was your age I would have some reservations, things like software development (at graduate/post graduate level) to me look to be a safer long term employment bet or maybe retraining as a sparks is an idea (The average age of UK electricians seem to be getting higher and higher, there must be a real shortage coming down the wire)

Thanks (1)
By Moonbeam
03rd Jun 2020 13:12

Experience is what most employers will want. Your main concern is how to get it. Qualifications can be done in the evenings and are frankly the least of your worries.

If I were you I wouldn't do the college option you describe. Sadly many of the other students are placed there by their desperate parents (ex trainees tell me) and are badly motivated. The teaching standards may not be the highest. It's a grim environment to learn in. If you're a bright spark you should be able to learn online.

Look at your current employer's operation and think about how they might accommodate you in their own finance department. Changing career within a company is often the easiest to do when your employer already knows you, but you need to think about how you can sell this to them. Retail accounts staff are often not of the most dynamic quality, given the low levels of pay. If you can demonstrate something extra you can bring as a result of your experience elsewhere in the company that might be the key.

You should be clear that it is going to be difficult to find the right level job elsewhere given that you don't "fit" the typical role.

Thanks (0)
By AGreen84
04th Jun 2020 10:31

I changed career into accountancy at age 33. I was made redundant from a position, my background is all hospitality.

I took a part time course to be an accounts technician. Its ATI here but would be the equivalent of ATT. Half my course mates were working in Finance in some form. The rest were not. I am now working in the sector, as are most of my course mates. I have been encouraged to progress further and study with CIMA, but I'm happy as an accounts technician at the moment.

Best of luck in the career change.

Thanks (0)
Red Leader
By Red Leader
04th Jun 2020 12:03

Random points:
1) I agree that online course may be a cheaper option if you are well motivated.
2) Investigate studying for CIMA with your current employer.
CIMA is geared towards working as an accountant in industry as opposed to practice. If you want to move abroad, then the jobs outside the UK are presumably nearly all for work in industry.
3) If you are more interested in working in practice, then think seriously how you will do this outside the UK; tricky I think.
4) The long-term prospects of retail v. finance: on balance I think finance is the better (less bad?) bet.
5) If you have demonstrated good skills and acquired good experience with your current employer, then why not get a better job in retail elsewhere? Working abroad for a multinational retailer is possible if this is your main objective.
Good luck.

Thanks (0)
By sammerchant
05th Jun 2020 11:20

I suggest you sharpen your IT skills at the same time. Very nearly all aspects of Accountancy require a good knowledge of Excel, specially as all software is based on that. You can teach yourself a great deal from YouTube etc, but I would recommend you sign up to the Excel Community at the ICAEW ( And good luck!

Thanks (0)
By Simpleton2
05th Jun 2020 11:37

If you are sufficiently motivated and believe you have the capacity to complete the necessary study I would move straight to ACCA, the exam structure assumes no prior knowledge with the first exams being very basic. When I first started studying I tried this route with an introductory course at the local evening college, but found the pace of study way too slow.

I do not know about AAT as a potential employee, but as an employer I would be uninterested unless I was recruiting for an essentially admin role.

I would not suggest completing the AAT first, but starting with the qualification you want to complete as long as you meet their minimum requirements. I don't think the exemptions you get for AAT are worth the time taken and you only need to get a little experience and a few exams under your belt before you can start referring to yourself as part qualified.

I believe to become an ACA student you need to have a training contract in place, so your situation may make this a particularly difficult route to aim for. Unless you are interested in practice ACCA or CIMA should both be fine for your needs.

Personally I found ACCA very adaptable when I went through a similar journey and it wasn't long before I was able to find some accountancy work.

Regarding finances I was able to complete the qualification without having to pay for courses, as so much material is available (such as textbooks, previous exams, question books, recorded lectures), that if you are willing to do the legwork you find everything you need. At least for the early exams I would recommend not paying for a course and starting with the textbooks directly, if you are buying them second hand make sure you pay attention to when syllabus changes have occurred and don't get one that covers the wrong content. However if you do go down this route, I suggest trying to find someone you can bounce ideas off and help you when you hit a dead end, either an experienced mentor or another student.

Regarding moving abroad then experience is going to be the key consideration for finding a role, though you should also check specific visa requirements of the countries you are looking at for

Good luck

Thanks (0)
By CatsandDogs
05th Jun 2020 11:49

This is very similar to my situation. I had 15 years in retail but was made redundant in my mid 30's. I did a full time fast track bookkeeping/Excel/payroll course and was lucky enough to be offered a job after 4 months.
My employer appreciated my management experience and my loyalty to an employer as much as my desire to get into the accounts sector.
I too thought that Accountancy had more of a future than retail although as a previous poster says, entering the profession now it helps to be as much of an IT guru as an accountant.
I would suggest starting AAT and work towards applying for some sort of graduate recruitment scheme. Temping or work experience are also useful where you can get them

Thanks (0)
By paul.benny
05th Jun 2020 14:29

I see that OP was stunned into silence by the thoughtful and considered responses.

Thanks (0)
Share this content