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Scared by the internet: should I become an accountant?

Scared by the internet: should I become an...

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I am currently a Master/PhD student at a top Ivy League university and will graduate in December. I have many career choices, including a PhD paying me a net salary of 20000 GBP a year.

I applied to many graduate positions with ACA training in the UK because it seemed to be an interesting career with a lot of progression and customer contact where I could keep on using my quantitative skills (I am especially considering external or internal auditing).

However after reading a lot of unbelievably negative comments online, I am double-guessing myself. While I have a lot of work experience in various fields (from packing frozen meat during night shifts to researcher at the very top!) I never actually worked in an office. Is it really such drudgery?

If you could do it all over again, would you be an accountant/external auditor... again?

To be perfectly honest, I wish to move away from science and research because after years of working 70+ hours a week with only a week or two off at Christmas at best, I want to move into a "normal" job. Forget about making friends, the competition is so intense people will back stab you to get their project noticed as soon as they can. In my field women are not even expected to think about having children, and the final blow struck when a company came on campus to advertise their egg freezing services! I am in my early twenties but it still is at the back of my mind. To top it off, we are also expected to change lab for every promotion, meaning moving (probably to another country) every 2 years or so for the next 10 years to hopefully land a permanent underpaid position.

I have no hope left if accountancy is an awful field as well!

Would you advise young people to join accountancy? What are the worse points of working in accountancy?

Many many thanks, and I apologize for the long post!

Replies (19)

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By Moonbeam
30th Oct 2011 08:00

Plenty of Scope for you

The world of Accountancy is a bit like the world of medicine - there are so many different aspects to suit all personalities.

The practice world is thought of by many as a perfect place for accountants with a poor personality, but those of us who enjoy speaking to clients find it interesting and rewarding in terms of personal contact. There are plenty of lively people on Aweb who can prove you don't have to be boring to be a practitioner! You can earn as little or as much as you want to, depending on how much hard work you want to put in. As for boredom, there is a bit of that in every job, no matter what you do.

Then there is the commercial world. This is so very different from the practice world, in that you have one employer and have to fight your corner with others from different backgrounds as you go up the promotion ladder. The earnings potential here is very high, but being an employee is something a lot of us find unbearable after a while.

That's why a lot of accountants from commerce switch into the practice world. It isn't an easy transition as they are such different areas of the market place. But you are in charge, running your own business, and it suits the life style of people who don't want bosses, who are fairly self-motivated. Many people find it helps with childcare requirements to juggle their time as a practitioner.

There are lots of variations within commerce and practice. The best way of judging if it's right for you is to talk to real people working as accountants. Most of us on Aweb are in practice, so you will also need to get hold of the people in commerce as well, but lots of us come from that area.

I wish you luck in your research into our profession!


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By ShirleyM
30th Oct 2011 08:37

Is accountancy for you?

Are you passionate about accountancy, or are you just looking for something less demanding than your current field of expertise?

All careers have their downsides, but if you go into accountancy for convenience, then you are more likely to notice the 'downsides', and less likely to enjoy the 'upsides'.

You appear to be a bright, and forward thinking, individual. On the assumption that you could have any career you wanted, what would you really like to do?

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By Steve McQueen
30th Oct 2011 12:57

Swings and round abouts

There's good and bad to accountancy. Depending on the day you catch me I would tell you about:

1) The week I travelled from London to Basel to Philidephia to London and saw just industrial estate after industrial estate and could bearly remember my own name by the Friday.

2) The (several) weeks I clocked around 100 hours for a large firm and the months and years I did 80+ hours every week.

3) The 76 telephone call messages I had one afternoon when I escaped for a coffee for around 1 hour as I was sick of everyone wanting a piece of me.

4) What was done to Albert Camus (of this site, not the French writer) by the ICAEW because be became ill.

5) The collegue who's hands use to shake as he was so stressed and drank so heavily to try to claim himself down.

6) The Christmas day I had to go into the office to complete a deal

7) The holidays I didn't go on despite having booked and paid for them.

8) Waking up after 15 years thinking what the hell did I do in the last 15 years...

or, I could tell you of:

1) The lady who came to me with a tax demand for over £80k and who was teriffed of losing her home, who, 24 months later, was eventually repaid several thousand pounds by HMRC who had cocked up her records.

2) The client who was so thankful for the deep do-do I got him out of, gave me an all expenses paid first class trip to Dubai (staying at the Burj-al-arab)

3) The thrill of watching a business I started over a chip shop in the suburbs become a 77 person operation in the centre of a major city

4) the sheer adrenaline of coming "this close" to borrowing £750million for a client who wanted to basically redevelop a town, knowing I was on 1/2 percent if the deal compeleted.

5) The £50m yaght I stayed on whilst having the use of an Aston Martin and advising on a multi billion deal for a household name (than didn't complete)

6) Signing for the takeover of XXXX knowing that I had blagged my way in and had no money to do it, but, by God, I had a plan and would find a way in the next 7 days to pull it off

7) Facing complete oblivion on several occasions and pulling a rabbit out of the hat leaving everyone wondering how the hell I did it.

8) Knowing how "the system" works

Like everything, there is good and bad to accountancy, its what you make of it and what you want out of life. I have always been drawn to it and still am despite having been kicked in the cajones over and over again by the accountancy world.

But would I advise someone else to go into accountancy? No, I probably would not.

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By accountant_87
30th Oct 2011 14:48

Steve, that post is as awesome as the actor.

I am 24 years old with my own small part-time practice that is growing, a full-time job for a company that demands the world and a wife and two boys.

I don't quite know whether or not you've inspired me or slapped me and woke me to what more I need to do up or both. Being in this profession has already brought experiences that frankly as a the child of a single-parent in a council house in the North East I didn't imagine I would have and the future is exciting too.

That being said I've already made so much sacrifice and my marriage has only survived because I have a wife who is as hungry as me to make something of ourselves.

Can you be my Dad? We can make plans to go on camping trips to bond but then one of us cancels because we're "...just too busy".

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By taxhound
31st Oct 2011 09:05

Don't believe everything you read!

I am a very happy accountant.  There may have been other careers in which I would have been just as happy, but I don't know what they would have been.  I confess it does suit my sligtly ocd personality and gives me a good opportunity to be pedantic with reason, which suits me well, but I am not alone. 

Accountants get a bad press for being dull, but I think that is probably because we seem like an easy target for jokes, like Essex girls etc (sorry Essex - my sisters were born in Essex, no offence intended).  Accountancy certainly isn't for everyone, and it has its dull moments - like most jobs I should imagine, but it can be very rewarding and challenging.

Try to speak to some real accountants and even get some experience in a practice - that is how I stumbled into it.

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By Ken Howard
31st Oct 2011 07:43

Low barriers to entry

Accountancy is a funny profession.  The trouble with accountancy is that it's got very low barriers to entry.  Unlike other professions, you don't need straight A's in your A Levels - you don't even need a degree.  Let's face it, anyone can call themselves an accountant.  True, it takes some hard studying to get a recognised qualification.  "Accountancy" covers a very wide spectrum - at one end you have auditing international PLCs or giving tax advice to billionaires - at the other end, you've got doing the VAT and CIS for a plasterer subbie or an OAP's simple tax return - all for the same piece of paper saying you're a Chartered/Certified accountant.  A lot of qualified accountants will agree that their formal studies and qualification are fairly useless once they're out in the real world and have gained experience in a particular discipline - many important areas are never examined at all and others that are examined are barely ever revisited in real life.

I think you have to work backwards from where you want to be.  If you want to be a high flyer in audit or tax practice, maybe working abroad on big projects, then you really should think about getting a training job with a big 4 firm of accountants and going for the chartered qualification.  If you're just wanting a relatively good "job" working relatively normal hours for relatively good pay, then look towards more local firms and maybe the lesser AAT qualification which is perfectly adequate for small practice.  Then there are the bodies for industry (CIMA) and public sector.  Moving between disciplines is possible but does waste time as you fall down the career ladder a few rungs to do so, and it may be a lot harder in today's climate.

One thing to remember is that the accountancy qualifications are only the beginning - not the end result.  The real experience gathering and training to reach the top starts when you've qualified. You also need to tread the right path for you.  Simply having ACA or ACCA after your name doesn't cut in anymore - OK you'll get "a job" but it won't be a top job without the right experience and other personal skills.



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By 3569787
03rd May 2016 18:01

I suggest a personality test!

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By thisistibi
31st Oct 2011 10:32

Wrong place for advice

There is lots of valuable advice in the above posts, in particular regarding the wide variety of jobs within the accountancy profession.  You say that you are especially considering internal or external audit - but I doubt many (if any) of the members of this website actually spend much of their time on internal or external audit.  It's quite a different job compared to those who work in practice, especially on smaller clients (i.e. typical members of this website).

If you go into a large accounting firm as a graduate (coming from Ivy League, I assume you will probably do this) such as PWC, Deloitte, E&Y or KPMG then I would say that is a very good career choice.  There is an extremely high probability that you will subsequently leave those big accountancy firms to pursue other avenues which are far more interesting, such as being a Finance Director or similar role in a large company.  But those years in a Big 4 accountancy firm are required to secure the best roles in industry.

I am not sure specifically what your concerns are of accountancy, or in particular auditing - it's probably not as rewarding as a creative job e.g. artist, musician, engineer - and perhaps not as rewarding as working with children or the sick, e.g. teachers, doctors - but it appeals to people with a different skill set.  If you get stuck in a boring accountancy role it simply means that it's time to move on and try a different job somewhere else or doing something slightly different within the accounting umbrella.  Any idiot you find whining about their job in audit probably doesn't have the motivation to get of their [***] and find the right job for themselves.  Or perhaps they expect to get paid for doing nothing, like a lot of people these days.

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By chatman
02nd Nov 2011 00:17

Be a solicitor or a doctor instead

The low barriers to entry mentioned by Ken Howard mean that you will be competing with anyone who wants to call themselves an accountant. Train for a profession that gives you a protected title (doctor, solicitor etc). I know solicitors and doctors who are not that bright, so the  exams cannot be that hard, but medicine requires some very long hours and many years of training. I think you need a lot of money to train as a barrister, and I don't know how hard it is.

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By Moo
02nd Nov 2011 11:21

forget auditing, look at tax

Auditing can certainly be drudgery and restricts you now to working in one of the big firms as only large concerns need an audit.  Many of us consider tax to be the more cerebral end of the accountancy profession and as it can be practiced at different levels it is convenient if you want to combine career and family as you can run a small practice from home for a few years.

Or another suggestion, have you looked at the possibility of continuing in academia in North America where academics are more highly valued than in the UK.

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Replying to Old Greying Accountant:
By chatman
02nd Nov 2011 13:07


Moo wrote:
Many of us consider tax to be the more cerebral end of the accountancy profession

I agree; many of us consider what we do to be harder than what everybody else does.

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By Rachel_martin
02nd Nov 2011 12:07

I'm retraining from being a teacher.

I am currently retraining from being a teacher, and have not regretted the decision. When I was looking at a career change, I drew up a list of things that would interest me. These included analysing data, developing spreadsheets and an opportunity to progress. I then carefully chose jobs where I could be given an opportunity to develop these skills. I realised that I wasn’t interested in working in practice or audit, but industry.


Trying to get a foot in the door was difficult, and to begin with there was a lot of drudgery as I had to start at the bottom of the ladder doing a lot of tedious data entry. But I see that as valuable experience, as I now I am progressing it gives me a better understanding of the processes and data behind the figures, and allows me to look at the accounting process and implement improvements with a fully understanding of the implications these decisions make. I have now found a position, where I am now proving my ability with spreadsheets and data analysis, and hopefully, when I move on from here, I will be able to secure a job that really reflects my skills and talents.

Don’t get me wrong, it has not been easy. I have had to take a big pay cut, and the demands on my time are great, as I have a young family, a full time job and studying on top. You need to make sure you do your research and that you are doing this for the right reasons, but not to let other peoples negative comments put you off totally. 



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By ktspncr
02nd Nov 2011 13:24

the grass is greener.....


Your post has frightened the life out of me, because after 17 years in accountancy I am currently studying biology with the OU with a view to changing career and moving into.....of all things...... scientific research.

I want to get out of accountancy because personally, I find it very, very dull. (Apologies to the many of you on this site who do not) Although this is partly because I chose to work in a just-slightly-less-than-full-time job that is well below my capabilities, so I can pick up my children from school 3 days a week and look after them when they get ill and in the holidays.

I trained with a firm just outside the big 4, even won a couple of prizes in my exams. I found auditing very, very boring and pointless, but accounts prep suited me better. But the time-sheet culture, where you have to account for every 6 minutes of your time, is soul destroying. You get shouted at for charging too much time to jobs, for having too many write offs, for quoting achievable budget figures instead of insanely optimistic ones, and you get shouted at for charging too much time to admin. This, and the fact that part-time working isn't compatible with managing a department, was why I left practice.

While training I spent a year in internal audit for a major PLC. This was great fun; interviewing the directors to develop the business continuity plan felt like the big-league. Then I found out that less than lip-service was paid to anything we wrote, and that kind of killed it for me. 

After leaving practice I have worked for 6 years as the management accountant for a local professional firm (not an accountancy practice). It's better than practice, because it's more relaxed, which suits me very well while the children are little. But it is not at all challenging, and my skills are haemorrhaging away. I may never have the confidence to walk back into the type of job I used to be capable of.

I'd never work as a sole-trader accountant because I genuinely feel there are too many rules and regulations for one person to know, and it would just be a matter of time before I screwed something up.  

So I would say, No, I would not in a million years train as an accountant if I had my time again.

Have you thought about lecturing in your field? My sister does that part-time, and is a succesful researcher, and she has a young child. She loves it.

People often say “PM me” on here - I have no idea how to do that - but it might be a good idea if you know how, perhaps we can help each other avoid making a big mistake!

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Replying to Glennzy:
By Katanaji
02nd Nov 2011 14:18

Thank you everyone for your replies!

ktspncr I am sorry if I come across as very pessimistic, but I  very much doubt you'll find any biology job, let alone research, with an OU degree.

I have graduated from Harvard and can finish a fully funded cutting edge phd at Princeton and I doubt I can land a good job! I apologize as this is off topic...

To start off you will need a PhD with a lot of lab work at a top (and I mean TOP) university/research center to get a foot in academia. The old "professor" jobs just don't exist anymore. In my lab alone here at Princeton, we have hired 5 new post-docs this autumn. All of them have at least one PhD and 3 to 6 previous post-doc positions. They come from all around the world and have worked all around the world, from cruises to the deep-sea to trips in the Himalayas!  Yet these incredible people cannot get anything beyond a 2 years contract for 30,000GBP a year before they have to move on.

Of course if research does not really interest you, you can always try and get into the lower ranked universities, or the European ones (save for the Netherlands, where I have also worked btw). There the departmental politics will be even worse as it won't be about who gets the grant for a new mass spec but who gets to stay open for another year, without any hope of making any significant discovery because of the way the funding cycle works (you essentially fund what you have already done, so you only get money for something you have already researched using money from another source, which is why you have to be at a top uni to do something worthwhile). Then again you might also end up in my case where after years you think you have something which could change people's lives, only to realize that it had been done in secret 57 years ago, and no one cared about the results despite the fact that it would have been even more significant back then with hindsight... 

If you think accountancy is boring, you have never tried research. As a colleague of mine put it: "Doing the exact same thing 200 times and expecting a different result  is madness"! Then you have to enter these data extremely meticulously as lives or patents' lawsuits are on the line, and present them in front of people to be humiliated and ripped apart by your peers as science progresses only by demonstrating what is wrong.

Also, in Biology, forget about weekends or holidays. You will probably grow cultures, and depending on what you work with and how lucky you are, you'll have to OD and repick them every 12 to 72 hours. You cannot tell your bacteria that it is Christmas and that you'd appreciate them not dying on you!


Last time I checked, a lab microbiologist with 2-3 years experience earned 18,000GBP outside London.


I apologize for the gloom and doom! Maybe you will be lucky, especially if you have family in academia. For those who asked, beyond all these difficulties, I am leaving the USA for another 2 reasons:

- Healthcare: despite receiving free healthcare, there is so much co-pay that it remains unaffordable. My jaw has been dislocated for a week but I am looking at $500+ to get it sorted.

- Racism: I am French, engaged to a British man. I have been experiencing a rising amount of bullying to the extent that recently I was not even shortlisted for a fellowship; despite the fact that the fellows told me that I was one of the best candidates they had seen, the chair bullied me through the whole meeting and I feel it made the decision. America is a strange place right now and changing fast. It is becoming very nationalist, and I am bullied more now than when France did not join the war on terror...

Sorry for the long post, and thanks again everyone for your help!

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By ktspncr
02nd Nov 2011 14:36


Thanks katanaji and I will certainly take your comments on board regarding the drudgery of research.

I'm under no illusions I will land a job with an OU biology degree, as I won't get anywhere near enough lab-time, but it will earn me some credit transfer for when I've saved up enough money to attend a conventional university. And it is stopping my brain from atrophying in the meantime.

In the end though, no job is perfect, is it? If it was, they wouldn't have to pay us to turn up


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Replying to slypimpb:
By Katanaji
02nd Nov 2011 14:49

ktspncr you have made my day! Please allow me to quote you on that one!


Try Holland for unpaid work experience. They are on a big research funding spree these days, and more new labs have opened last year than in the last decade!

I do no want to work there myself because I strangely did not adapt too well to the country and the people, but don't let that scare you. Almost all Dutch people are fluent in English.

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By andrewdiver
02nd Nov 2011 17:16

I think carving a niche is what makes it interesting

Like everything accountancy world is what you make of it.  The people who you meet and the type of work it entails.  Auditor, internal accountant, tax advisor, corporate financier & management accountant all very different fields to name but a few.  Many start with the fundamental ICAEW qualification and specialise beyond there. 

From your background if this is a route you pursue perhaps you would be suited to working on some of the Biotech industries around the Cambridge area?  you clearly have insight in that field as I find makes a significant difference to have a real knowledge of their business when advising them.

I have a number of contacts at the Big accountancy firm in that region if you would find it helpful to speak with them.  

But last of all good luck in whatever you choose. 

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By jalwebster
17th Nov 2011 11:48

Should I be an accountant

I am in practise with my daughter in law, which allows her to juggle the requirements of her two very small children with some work, that will increase as children become slightly less demanding.  She and I find the client contact rewarding and feel we are genuinely helping small business people in an increasingly over-legislated and competitive world.  My daughter in law trained and qualified with a big 5 accountancy firm and it was a bit of a slog with lots of boring audit work and she is very much enjoying the more "hands on" private client work and learning a lot more about personal taxation in the process.  Perhaps you could contemplate qualifying with a big city firm and then go into private practice with someone already experienced in the field and work together just as we do and it works wonderfully for us.  That would allow you the best of all worlds - family life - being your own boss - earning some money and, hopefully, a deal of satisfaction

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By taylorjauk
31st Jul 2012 16:33

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