Securing a graduate accounting role in Australia is hard work. There are specific pre-requisites you must attain, there are many other people you will compete with and it involves a lot more than just being good with numbers. 

We’re making the assumption that you’re legally allowed to work in Australia, If you’re not sure, and you’re a graduate, click here.

Along the application journey, you should think about two questions:

  1. How well do you know the organisation?
  2. Why should they choose you and what makes you different from the person next to you?

Reading the below will put you on the right path to answering these two questions and dramatically assist your potential success upon graduation.

Know the accounting firm you’re applying to

You can’t apply everywhere, so before filling out any application, figure out which firms you wish to apply to and what you wish to do for them.

Whether it’s a big four professional service firm or an in-house finance department, each organisation will have its pros and cons. Some will pay more, but work/life balance is sacrificed. Some offer broad skill development, others specialise you in one area. Understand your objective at the start.

Each potential employer will ask you why you want to work for them, so make sure you have a clear answer that is specific to them. Do not simply copy and paste your application for each firm, this is a waste of your time. Applications take time, don’t rush them.

Demonstrate that you have an understanding of the firm’s culture and operations:

  • How large is it?
  • What are their clients like?
  • Do they specialise in any fields?
  • What markets does it operate in?
  • Is there any significant news items or events in their history?

We have further information on how to put your best foot forward when writing your resume and cover letters here.

What are you going to specialise in?

You will be asked early in the application process which specialisations you are interested in and why. Your choice of subjects at university (and your grade in them) may influence your chances of pursuing certain specialisations; for example, a pursuit of actuarial schemes. Many of the larger firms have ‘self-selection’ tests on their website, which will help you narrow down the options if you do not already have an inclination.
Read a brief synopsis of the 11 main areas of specialisation here.
KPMG Self-Selection Questionnaire.

Work on your English

These organisations are looking for people they can put in front of a client. If your English isn’t proficient, you risk being overlooked. Insider Guides has heard plenty of stories of high-quality graduates being rejected by firms for this reason alone. Don’t let it be you. Be sure to work on your English like your job depends on it. Because, well, it does! It also means your IELTS score will be better for Skilled Migration.

Put a face to the name

Follow the organisation’s social media pages, take a look at their event calendar and try to attend and speak with the people there face-to-face. Building a rapport with members of the organisation before the end of the application process will enable you to perform well in the interview stage and give you the recognition that others won’t have.
Ernst and Young Upcoming Events

Be prepared for the interview

If you have put in the effort to get to know the organisation, demonstrating your desire to join their team will not be difficult. You should also try and consider some responses to potential questions you will be asked during the interview.

While there are many different questions that could be posed to you, they are all basically asking you to prove two things; do you have the skill set necessary for the role? Do you have the character traits to become a high-performing member of their firm?

Read more: How to answer behavioural questions in interviews (click here).

Some examples of technical questions that you may be asked can be found here.

Do you have any experience you can relate to this position?

Experience working in any relevant capacity will help give you an edge over other graduates. While on the hunt for a graduate role, see if there is a way of doing some work experience in the finance team of your current employer. Volunteer at a charity or community group as their bookkeeper or other part-time accounting jobs. You can then use these examples in your interview responses. It will show your determination and initiative, which is very favourably looked upon.

Other life experience, unrelated to accounting, can still be very beneficial. Whether you have extracurricular hobbies, have travelled the world or have volunteered somewhere, show the firm you are open to new experiences and have a broad range of interests.

However, if you’re trying to match up with State Nominated Occupation List, only work experience in the realm of accountancy will add points to your nomination.

Know the deadline          

Even if you aren’t able to apply until next year, make a note of when the firms you wish to apply to accept applications. The ‘big four’ firms, for instance, open their applications intake around the 20th of February. As each application needs to be carefully considered we advise allowing plenty of time to assemble the best application you can.

Something else to consider

It may seem early, but have you thought about the post-graduate accreditations you will undertake while at the firm you are applying to?

There are three post-graduate qualifications that you will eventually undertake once you commence professional work, however, you can still join them today as student affiliates. This is a great way of networking, staying up to date with industry news and best practices and shows potential employers you are serious about a career in business and finance.

In Australia, you must be accredited by one of three industry regulatory bodies; CPA Australia (CPA), the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Australia (ICAA) or the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA). The minimum qualification for entry into CPA and ICAA is a Bachelor Degree in Accounting (or relevant equivalent). IPA requires only a Diploma of Accounting.

Therefore, depending on your goal, you should be selecting subjects that will provide you with a particular level of tertiary qualification in Accounting. Without the correct accreditation, you will not be able to sign off or produce any financial reports.

Is there a difference between CPA, ICAA and IPA?

Absolutely. Depending on what type of accounting you are hoping to practice, you will choose to apply to one or more of these bodies. The majority of accounting bodies however, are seeking individuals who are already, or who seek to become, CPA or CA qualified. IPA is much smaller and tailor their approach towards public practice accountancy.

CPA
Members of CPA Australia are known as Chartered Professional Accountants. Suited towards those looking for a broad focus on many varied accounting skills, such as costing, production, marketing and planning.
Join the CPA network and learn more here.

ICAA
Members of the ICAA are known as Chartered Accountants (CA). The course is suited to those looking to specialise in a particular technical function and the content is geared heavily toward auditing and tax matters. This is the preferred accreditation of the big four professional service firms (KPMG, Deloitte, PWC, Ernst & Young).
Sign up as a student affiliate here.

IPA
The smallest accrediting body, members are recognised for their practical skills and broad understanding of the total business structure. Interestingly, they offer a Masters Degree in Professional Accounting as part of their accreditation pathway; the only one to do this.
See more information for students at IPA here.

When should you attempt this accreditation?

It is quite common for businesses to offer one of these accreditations as part of your career development and for you to complete them while employed. You should discuss with your employer which will best suit your career path.

While this may seem as if we are looking a little bit too far into the future, understanding these accreditations will help you understand which field of accounting you wish to pursue, and therefore which graduate role to apply for.

Interesting further reading

What’s the difference between the big four service firms?
Moving from the Big 4 to mid-tier firms
Advice from someone who completed three internships.