Employers want skill, not run of the mill

Aspiring accountants may need more than a degree to secure a job,

These are curious times in which to earn your spurs as a young accountant. The improved confidence in the economy means there are more positions available. Because there is still an "overhang" of candidates, however, employers are generally happy to report that salaries are not going up by more than the inflation rate.

The other result of the plentiful supply of young accountants is that recruiters can be picky. "Employers are more demanding in the kind of people they are trying to attract, with few prepared to settle for a run- of-the-mill accountant," says Dominic Wade of Wade Macdonald, the South- east-based financial recruitment consultancy.

Desirable attributes are first-class communication skills, the ability to be a team player, a second European language, knowledge of information technology and an appreciation of global business issues. Blue-chip companies generally require a degree, while US-owned companies may specify an MBA and accountancy qualification.

Despite these hurdles, Mr Wade joins in the general chorus that the fortunes of the profession, which can rarely have seen times so tough as in recent years, are improving. "If accountants can offer the additional skills required by today's more discerning employers, this year is likely to provide some of the best job prospects since the late Eighties," he says.

Denis Waxman, managing director of Hays Accountancy Personnel, is in general agreement. He says: "Employers want to hire the best and nothing but the best. The 'give them a try' mentality of the Eighties has disappeared and the recession has made employers more cautious."

In one area, though, recruiters are being bold. They are increasingly favouring members of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants for vacant positions. Another recruitment consultancy, Harrison Willis, says: "Cima membership is firmly established as the qualification of choice across commerce, industry and much of the financial services sector." Some 41 per cent of employers questioned in Britain expressed a preference for Cima-trained accountants, compared with 33 per cent for chartered accountants. A further 18 per cent had no preference, while certified accountants only received about 8 per cent of the votes.

The figures continue a phenomenon first apparent at the end of 1994, when demand for those qualifying with Cima, which had been growing since the mid-Eighties, surpassed demand for those with chartered accountant qualifications.

Chartered accountants have maintained their concentration only in London, with just over half of employers in the capital favouring the qualification. This is thought to be because leading banks still lean towards the chartered qualification, particularly if it was gained while training at one of the Big Six firms.

Such clear preferences mean that although salaries are not rising quickly, outstanding candidates can pick and choose. "There is no question that for those candidates who have the right blend of technical knowledge and business awareness the opportunities are outstandingly good, whether they are in commerce and industry, public sector or public practice," Mr Waxman says.

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