Choosing the right speciality for your career…

What are the different specialisations within accountancy, and how can students choose the right one for their career goals?

For many people, the training contract is quite a structured time. It can be daunting coming out of contract with many people unsure of their potential options. Which specialisation you decide on should depend on your interests and ultimately your long-term career goals.

Step 1: The Market

Before we start thinking about the types of roles, you first need to step back and look at the wider context of the market. In Barden, we use what we call “The Three Pillar Model” to simplify the market. The market can be broken down into practice (accounting firms) and non-practice. If you enjoy practice, there are a lot of options to build a great career and we will come back to practice options again.

Non-practice can be broken down into two separate pillars, financial services (any company with a financial product or service which includes asset management, insurance, banking, and aircraft leasing) and industry (companies with a non-financial product, so everything else from retail to manufacturing and tech). The general rule is it is easier to move within a pillar than between them, and as you gain more post-qualified experience (with a salary reflective of that specialism) it is harder to move between pillars as it is to move within a pillar.

Step 2: Understanding Role Titles

The second you start to read job specs and consider the types of roles you will notice that companies call similar roles by different names. Broadly speaking qualified accountants moving to non-practice will see three different types of roles: Financial Accountant, Financial Analyst, and Internal Audit.

About 75% of people coming from practice will start in some form of a financial accounting role. Financial accounting is the historical side of accounting, accounting for things which have already happened looking at month-end and year-end reporting. These roles will vary depending on the organisational structure of the company, usually with roles in larger companies being more set and defined and with smaller companies having broader and more undefined roles. Financial accounting can be a great first move to learn the foundations of the finance function, and you can easily pivot this experience into any of the other roles later.

Approximately 10% of people will make a first move into a Financial Analyst position. Financial analysis is the forward-looking side of accounting which will include activities such as budgeting, forecasting and variance analysis usually with the goal of becoming a finance business partner.

The final 15% then is split between internal audit (circa 7.5%) and other areas such as (Tax Accounting, Corporate Finance, System/ Project Accounting). Internal audit can be a great way to pivot audit experience into industry and the first thing to note is that is very different to external audit. Internal audit roles vary from company-to-company and can be operational or financial focused and in a lot of cases is used as a steppingstone to a more commercial role in the company.

Step 3: Staying in or Moving from Practice

The practice pillar is also still an option and worth considering. Firstly, staying on in practice, and or within audit, are good options if it is something you are enjoying or you want to further develop your skillset. A lot of people who have trained in audit, don’t consider other options within practice. Some of which may be worth considering, particularly if you are trying to pivot your career and skillset in a different way. Other departments include Corporate Finance, Advisory or Consulting such as Management Consulting or Financial Accounting Advisory Services, Data Analytics or ESG to name a few. The advice we would give here is to think of the career path you want to follow from the department you are considering, and ensure it aligns with your long-term goals and will be of benefit to you spending time there.

At the end of the day, it is all trial and error, and some moves will require steppingstones so don’t worry if your next role isn’t your forever role. Focus on taking steps in the right direction and on getting as much learning and development as possible and this will give you a great platform for the rest of your career.

About Bernie Duffy ACA

Bernie Duffy ACA is a Senior Associate with Barden’s Accounting, Finance and Tax Talent Advisory & Recruitment Practice, and in particular she supports Recently Qualified Accountants.

Bernie successfully qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 2021 having completed her training contract with the ICT Assurance and Audit teams in EY. Prior to this she completed a BA in Accounting & Finance in Dublin City University (DCU) followed by a Master’s Degree in Accounting, also in DCU.

Contact Bernie at or via LinkedIn.

Credit: The Bottom Line

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