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A Career In Accounting – Myth vs Reality!

By July 2022August 14th, 2022No Comments
A Career In Accounting Myths vs Reality - Beyond Accounting

Most of us have misconceptions about other people’s careers, and accounting is no exception. For one thing, you don’t need to be some kind of maths genius to work in finance. Given that the accounting role has changed so much in recent years, we decided to bust some of the myths people have about accountants and explore some of the skills that are needed to excel in this job.

To help us in this task, we enlisted Brendan O’Brien, who has been working at Beyond since 2019. Who better to give us a first-hand account of the journey from trainee accountant to qualified accountant?!

What was he expecting back then, and how did things turn out in the end? Read on to find out.

How many grey suits do you own?

OK, so let’s bust the big myths straight away, starting with the suits. You may assume that all accountants wear suits, but in fact at Beyond we like people to wear what they feel comfortable in, as long as it’s smart. We even have a range of branded t-shirts that employees can wear!

Brendan, do you wear a suit to work?

Brendan: I did walk in on my first day wearing a suit and tie. I remember looking around and thinking, “I’m a bit overdressed for this.” But that was the image I had, coming from Wexford, of what it would be like working in an accounting office in Dublin.

Do you go for weeks without speaking to another human being?

Another myth we’re happy to bust at Beyond is that of the accountant as introvert, who chose this career specifically to avoid human contact. Not only is the Beyond office a bustling hive of activity, but communication and collaboration are an absolute priority for us because we see the accountant’s role as being about much, much more than just filing returns.

Brendan, tell us a bit about the client-facing side of your job.

Brendan: Everyone has this idea that accountants work in some back room with piles of papers and spreadsheets, never seeing anyone. When I started, I did imagine the job was a case of filing VAT returns and tax returns, whereas now I’m working with clients on things like business plans and forecasting and grant applications too. It’s not usually the case that I see a client just once a year, there’s a lot of support we offer to clients and that’s part of the job.

If you had told me when I started that I’d be seeing lots of clients at least once a week, I probably would have thought this wasn’t a career for me. If you are a bit introverted, that doesn’t mean you can’t do this job, because people skills can be learned. I’d say I’m proof of that. At first, you have a more experienced accountant that you shadow, so you see how the people side of things is done, and your confidence grows as you get more experience. After your six months’ probation, you start being given your own clients to take care of.

For me, that’s when my problem-solving skills really got going, because I’d have a client calling with an issue, and it would be up to me to find the solution and show it to them. An accountant is part of a business now. If someone wants to grow and be successful, they have to work closely with their accountant. It’s less of a compliance role and more of an advisor role. Three years on, I know a lot more, and I’m able to do a lot more than I would have thought.

How many forests get cut down because of your job?

If you think accounting is all about paper cuts and storage boxes, think again! Beyond has been proudly paperless for a decade now. Modern accounting is about using amazing cloud solutions like Xero and connecting them up with the other systems in the business so that financial data is available at the touch of a button.

Brendan, what did you think about this digital approach? 

Brendan: I read up on Beyond when I applied for the role of trainee, so I knew that there was a focus on paperless in the company and that interested me. I remember looking at Xero and thinking that it was pretty cool, so I suppose that gave me a new perspective on accountancy and where it’s going in terms of digitalisation. Which is true, as it happens; at Beyond, you don’t see clients arriving with boxes of receipts at the end of the year or doing everything with pen and paper. Which is definitely what I thought before.

There is a lot of onboarding when you start. Beyond has its own learning management system, and you have to go through that to learn how everything works and get your Xero certification and things like that. Technology is the facilitator for all that, you’re not sitting in front of a person being taught what you need to know. But I think the real learning starts when you’re thrown in at the deep end, and you have tasks you have to complete, and it’s up to you to figure it out.

Aren’t you just creating boring financial statements that no one will read?

Absolutely not! The finances underpin everything in the business, and a business with poor financial management will never succeed. But your financial statements are just one small piece of the puzzle. Show us the books and we’ll show you areas of the business that are underperforming, because the numbers never lie.

Brendan, tell us more about the intersect between business and accounting.

Brendan: I think that nowadays you have to know about business to be a good accountant. You need to be able to interpret the figures and spot the gaps and issues in the business. The accountant’s role is about helping businesses to grow and being an advisor. In fact, anyone in business should understand their own numbers.

I have learned a lot about business along the way. You have to, because clients will have questions and expect answers. But you can’t just pretend you know what you’re doing and leave a trail of errors behind you. The company has support structures to review all work before it is signed off; as a trainee or assistant accountant, you have to know that your mistakes will be pointed out and be ready to learn from that and not repeat them.

It’s not the firm’s job to turn you into a polished accountant, they are just the support structure that can help you put in the work and do the learning. That’s as simple as thinking about a problem you have and trying to find a solution, rather than just asking someone more experienced what the answer is. Take the initiative! It’s natural to doubt yourself at the start, but you have to remember that people are paying for your advice, and they’re expecting a certain level of professionalism and trust.

So, can anyone just decide to become an accountant?

It won’t come as a surprise at this point if we say that being an accountant is a varied, interesting, and rewarding job. But what about qualification? You have to pass your exams and get your experience to become qualified. Brendan chose to do the two at the same time, but you can of course study for the exams on their own, and then go and get your experience afterwards.

So tell us, Brendan, what kind of person becomes a great accountant?

Brendan: It was definitely tough working in practice and studying at the same time, but I’m glad I did it that way. My sister was working in one of the Big Four firms, but only in one particular department. So, her experience at work didn’t help her much with her exams, whereas I found it really helpful that the things I was doing at Beyond every day were some of the skills I needed in my exams – things like doing annual accounts or cash flows or tax returns. Even client meetings gave me valuable experience when it came to my FAEs, as those exams focus on advisory rather than dealing with the numbers.

Even though we get time off to study, it’s still challenging to do that while holding down a full-time job. But if it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing! The responsibility is on you to learn and put in the effort. A lot of this job comes down to personality. I think there are three key things you need on your side: you have to enjoy hard work, you should be someone who can learn new skills easily, and you must have a good eye for detail.

The technical side of the job will come if you have those three traits. You can learn the rules and ways of working and how to accomplish specific tasks, but I think that attention to detail is probably something you either have or don’t have. It’s a tough three years, but it’s definitely worth it. The rewards are there.

Do you really want to be stuck in an office until you retire?

We all know that the nature of work has changed and that there are lots of opportunities to carve out the career AND lifestyle that works for you. We’re very proud of all our past employees, who have taken the unique experience of working at Beyond and gone on to a wide range of jobs. As a qualified accountant, you could end up working in business, in practice, in the public sector, or for yourself. You could combine your skills with a personal passion and go into the non-profit sector. There’s really no limit.

Brendan has decided to go abroad next year, so he’ll be a digital nomad, combining sightseeing with some part-time accounting work. We’re imagining him sitting on the beach with a coconut in one hand and his laptop in the other.

Brendan, what kind of career options are you weighing up now?

Brendan: I know quite a few people in accounting, so I’ve seen that the way we work at Beyond is different from other practices and the bigger firms. Trainees just get given individual tasks to complete, but they don’t have any clients they’re responsible for like we do here so they’re not seeing the bigger picture with any particular client. Or they might be stuck in a particular department and even by the time they qualify they just know that one thing, like audits for example.

At Beyond, we’re exposed to everything. Even if we’re not yet involved in delivering the work because it’s something a senior accountant does, we’re still in the meetings and involved in the conversations around these topics. So, it’s a really varied experience and if you’re interested and want to explore related areas there’s no limit to what you can learn.

I know a lot more than I did three years ago and I believe there’s still plenty more to learn too. I’m looking forward to travelling next year, but I’m going to work part-time still so I can keep chipping away at that. If you’d asked me a year ago where I would go next, I probably would have said I’d just go into industry in a finance role, but actually now I can see myself maybe helping small businesses in more of an advisor capacity. That’s a future decision, I’m not sure what I’ll want to do in five- or ten-years’ time. But there are a lot of options out there and that’s pretty exciting.

Ready to launch your accounting career?

Our thanks to Brendan for sharing his thoughts. Accounting is a challenging but fulfilling role, and we hope we’ve shed some light on whether it could be a good fit for you. If you’d like to know a bit more about training opportunities at Beyond, or send us your CV, head over to our careers page. We post our open roles to LinkedIn’s job section, the Chartered Accountants Ireland website, and occasionally