Offering a huge variety of work and attractive salaries, accountancy has become a popular career choice for graduates. Kate Hilpern reports

Even better news for graduates is that the "Big Four" firms - KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and Deloitte - as well as many smaller firms are increasingly willing to consider any degree discipline. "What we look for are good intellectual skills, the ability to work in teams and be analytical. Obviously, we need people to be reasonably numerate too," says Dovedale.

Catherine Pinchen, senior recruitment manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, adds that commercial awareness is key. "We need people with a genuine interest in business. Some experience of extra-curricular activities is important too, or at least some demonstration of responsibility outside the university course - perhaps in a part-time job. It's not good enough just to have a straight 2.1, with nothing else to add to your CV."

By far the biggest reward of a career in accountancy is gaining a professional qualification with one of the key professional accountancy bodies. After all, they are recognised as the "par excellence'' of business training. Employers usually have a structured programme that combines the practical experience required for the qualification, with opportunities to study for the examinations. Some employers offer impressive packages to cover the cost of studying, including tuition fees and paid study leave.

"Here is an opportunity to get proper business training, funded and supported by an employer, with a qualification that is yours forever and highly valued," says Terry Jones of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS). "The alternative is doing a Masters, where you have to pay fees and whose acceptability in the marketplace is questionable."

Caroline Luff, 24, an audit assistant at KPMG, is about to sit her last set of exams in November. "It's been brilliant to have time off to study for each exam and not have to think about work during that time. But the exams are stressful and I've had to give up a lot of weekends to do even more studying. But suddenly, after having my head down for three years, I can look forward to opportunities to move about internally at KPMG or go overseas."

Sarah Shillingford, graduate recruitment partner at Deloitte, says that client exposure is another major pull for university leavers. "As a trainee accountant, you get to work on the client premises, working within their team for a few weeks, then you get to move onto another client. So you learn how the companies work from the inside, and that broad-based experience is fantastic."

With rapidly improving salaries and benefit packages, and increasingly flexible working practices, it's little wonder that many people are ditching the idea of investment banking for accountancy. Admittedly, one of the reasons for this is that there are fewer jobs in investment banking than in the past, while there are more in accountancy. Indeed, the accountancy sector now offers the bulk of graduate jobs - almost a quarter of the total. But the shift is also down to the recognition that accountancy provides an excellent opening into the world of business, with unrivalled opportunities later down the line. A large proportion of CEOs in the FTSE100 companies have come up through the finance director route and boast good accounting qualifications.

The variety of the work itself is also attractive. Accountancy is now a multi-faceted profession, with accountants being expected to take an interest in all aspects of a business. For management accountants, the opportunities are particularly exciting. "With financial accounting, there is an emphasis on backward-looking functions, whereas management accountancy is forward-looking and about strategic business decisions," says Lottie Muir, of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).

Colin Mannell, 26, a trainee management accountant at Jaguar and Landrover, says, "You really get to shape the future of the organisation with management accountancy. It's a very analytical role."

There are also growing opportunities in the public sector, where graduates may be sponsored through the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) qualifications. "You will need an empathy with the people at the receiving end of the service," says says Frank Garvey, head of business development at CIPFA. "So, if for example, you work in the NHS, you'll need to understand patients' needs and make sure you're working to keep those hospital beds open."

Joseph Holmes, 24, works for the Audit Commission. "I have always been more interested in contributing to society than working in the private sector, but I was also interested in finance, so working for the public sector was a perfect way to marry the two. I love the people side of the job, and working with clients ranging from the NHS to local government."

Lucy Nicoll, 26, associate in technology, media and communications at Deloitte, advises potential accountants to get as much work experience behind them as possible. "I got my job after doing a summer vacation scheme, and a lot of people working at Deloitte can say the same."

Sam Welch, 23, is a graduate trainee at Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC): 'Accountancy boring? The work is challenging and exciting'

I've always wanted to do something business-oriented and initially wanted to be some kind of trader, although I lost interest at university when I did a work placement as part of my degree in business administration. I realised how cut-throat it was.

Accounting never appealed to me until I was looking around at a careers fair in my penultimate year of my degree. I met some representatives from PWC and learned that accountants do a lot more than the obvious. I was fortunate because a lot of my friends on my course had done placements at PWC, so I was able to ask them questions too. After going to a PWC presentation, I was sold and after a rigorous recruitment process, I was fortunate to get accepted last year.

For the first two-and-a-half years, the emphasis is on passing the ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) qualifications. The exams are tough - harder than my degree.

I had a lot of exposure to really big clients, and a great deal of responsibility, from day one, which I didn't really expect. That's been great, especially as it's backed up with a support network -- for example, peer group meetings and access to a career coach. There's always someone there for reassurance if you need it.

The rewards of training to be an accountant are the career options. There will be opportunities in just a few years to work globally, and if I do ever decide to move on from PWC, my experience here will look good on my CV.

Some people have the view that accountancy is boring. Far from it - the work is challenging and exciting.

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