Managing Partner BDO
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A-levels are not the only route into accountancy

15th Aug 2019
Managing Partner BDO
Columnist
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Two girls celebrating exam results in school corridor
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Cue teenagers jumping in the air clutching their exam results: it’s A-level results day. As accountants relive exam stresses of yesteryear, BDO’s managing partner Paul Eagland reflects on his A-level results.

Today, students in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are discovering whether their hard work has paid off and if they've been accepted into their chosen university.

But not every student will receive the news they wanted. As anxious teenagers will jam UCAS phone lines, many may feel their future role career in accountancy hinges on these A-level results. 

University is not the only route

As the managing partner of a firm of 5000 people, with offices in 17 locations in the UK, some people assume that I attended a top university and worked my way to the top from there. However, this is not the case.

I attended a large comprehensive school in Walthamstow, East London and nobody in my family had gone to university.

At school expectations were fairly low; we received very little homework and weren’t expected to apply for a place at university. I achieved a B and two Cs in my A-levels which, believe it or not, placed me in the top three in my school year.

Myself and a very small number of my friends were offered university places (mine was to study maths); however, we just weren’t in that mindset. The only people I knew who had gone to university were my teachers. I was keen to earn my own money and my parents were unable to finance me, so university just wasn’t for me.

In the meantime, I was also offered a one-year foundation course at a college in London along with a four-year training contract with an accountancy firm – the idea of having a secure job for four years at a time when UK unemployment was around three million appealed, so I took that option.

I have been lucky. I really enjoyed working as a trainee and my career thereafter. I qualified as an accountant at the age of 21, just when the economy was booming and have held multiple roles in BDO over the years.

Don’t be defined by your A-level results  

I have never regretted the route I’ve chosen. It is natural to label ourselves and others, however. People ask if you went to university and if the answer is yes it’s not unusual for them to go on and ask what university, what grade etc – but if someone answers no, the questioning branches into why not or what did you do instead?

But once you are in the work environment, these types of questions grow into “Are you qualified yet?” “Did you study the ACA or ACCA?” or “Did you go on and get your tax qualifications?”

Whatever choice an individual makes on education and then professional exams they will always be involved in these conversations, whereas promotion conversations focus on what you are contributing to the business.

Create a diverse workforce

Although this route worked for me there is not a one size fits all model. An example is our leadership team who are an even mix of university graduates and those who started straight from school or college.

Each year BDO takes on both apprentices and graduates from a variety of backgrounds. In my view, this creates a more diverse and dynamic workforce who will develop into advisers of the future who are focused on servicing and helping our clients succeed.

We are well aware that there is a lot of competition for talent in our profession. In 2016, we widened our entry requirements so that graduates with a 2:2 degree or higher were eligible to apply, and apprentices are expected to achieve 3 A-Level grades at A*-C. We had over 10,000 applications for just under 400 positions, so plenty of great candidates to choose from.

We know that grades are a great way of demonstrating a person’s academic capabilities, but our interview process focuses more on getting to know a person and whether their skills and values align with what BDO and our clients require.

By the end of 2019, we will have welcomed over 400 trainees across our internship, summer school, graduate and apprenticeship programmes, with even more apprenticeship positions than last year. So if today is your results day, remember there are plenty of options.

Click here for more information and details on how to apply for BDO’s trainee programmes. Did you get the A-level results you wanted? Did these results affect your future career in accountancy?

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