When it comes to accounting practices size matters. There are lots of differences between big and small accounting practices. In fact, every firm – big and small – is different. Those who train in a smaller accountancy practice will typically have broad exposure to many areas including accounts preparation, VAT returns and payroll.
In the majority of larger accountancy practices, however, trainee accountants will specialise in a particular stream during their training contract. Although the titles given to particular departments may differ, larger firms typically work in three main areas – audit, tax and advisory. They differ on clients, culture, hours, pay and a whole host of factors. It’s impossible to describe every difference in detail, but we thought a few rules of thumb might help you:
- Bigger practices tend to have more graduate training contracts. The higher their revenue, the more graduates they hire.
- The bigger the practice, the more likely they are to have stricter entry criteria around exam results.
- Bigger practices tend to have bigger clients – makes sense, right? See the ‘like with like’ concept (see the Barden Part Qualified Career Guide for more info on this) to understand a little more about why this matters.
- Bigger practices tend to have more niche departments (audit, tax, consulting, corporate finance and transaction services, for example).
- Bigger practices tend to be a little stricter about passing your exams and you might find a clause in your contract to say that if you don’t pass, you don’t get to continue as an employee.
- Bigger practices tend to limit the qualification you can study, with Chartered Accountancy (ACA) their qualification of choice. Some firms are a little more flexible about this but expect the default qualification to be ACA in the larger firms.
- Smaller practices tend to have less graduate training contracts.
- The smaller the practice, the less likely they are to have very strict entry criteria around exam results.
- Smaller practices tend to have smaller clients (‘like with like’ cropping up again).
- Smaller practices tend to give you broader exposure – they don’t have big, niche departments.
- Smaller practices tend to be a little less strict around passing your exams quickly.
- Smaller practices may not be as limited as to the qualification you can study, but they will tend to have a leaning to one or another qualification (often the one the key partners hold). If you’re interested in training with a smaller firm, each of the professional bodies will usually provide a list of training firms and/or vacancies.
Your training contract, like your college course, will last for three to three-and-a-half years so it’s important that you understand what working for the company is like, what the role involves on a day-to-day basis, and what impact the experience will have on your CV once you finish your training contract. This can only be done by knowing what areas interest you, where in the country you want to work (now and in the future), and – most importantly – by taking time to research thoroughly the different types of accountancy firms hiring graduates and being as proactive as possible in asking questions.
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