While there is no industry that has not been adversely affected by the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, accounting is one of the few careers regularly bestowed with the title ‘recession-proof’. Not only has the number in employment remained stable, but, according to Finance Dublin’s latest annual Accountancy Survey, it actually showed signs of growth. Only logical really, given that firm control of the books is even more important in lean times. The prospects for future employment are also strong. The same survey revealed that the top 14 firms intended to recruit 1,469 people between June 2012 and June 2013. Smaller- and medium-sized firms are also looking to recruit again.
But how would a postgraduate accounting course help a job seeker to stand out among a large number of candidates?
‘Postgraduate qualifications are becoming increasingly desirable in differentiating oneself from other candidates in a competitive employment market,’ says Brendan Doyle, Acting Head of Department of Accounting and Business Computing at Athlone Institute of Technology. ‘Obtaining a postgraduate award marks you out as a candidate willing to invest time and other resources in their career. In the field of accounting in particular the benefits are enhanced by the extra professional exemptions on offer from some accounting bodies to holders of Masters qualifications.’
Doyle refers to the four professional accounting organizations listed below:
Each professional body is highly respected at home and abroad, with qualifications facilitating entry to roles in the public and private sectors, as well as self-employment. Would-be accountants should research each of the above carefully in order to find the qualification that best suits their needs. Issues to bear in mind include entry routes, exam exemptions, duration of training, modules of study, fees, and the employment status of current students and those who recently attained the professional qualification.
A focus on managerial skills marks the CIMA qualification. Award holders are qualified to make strategic business decisions based on financial data, and are thus suited to positions as financial analysts, consultants, as well as to a host of managerial roles. The CIMA entry route is their Certificate in Business Accounting, which consists of five modules that can be studied and assessed at the student’s own pace. As with all professional accounting qualifications, exemptions may apply depending on the qualifications already held by the student.
With the opportunity for accounting graduates to find work and carry out their professional training by night, why should someone delay undertaking employment and professional exams in order to pursue a full time postgraduate qualification? Doyle offers the following response:
‘This is always an option, but like all options it brings compromises. Many professional positions are extremely demanding in terms of time commitment and intellectual effort. It is not easy to face into a night’s lectures and study after a draining day at work. Also, commitments to your employer will often mean that lectures are missed, with corresponding gaps in your syllabus coverage. Pursuing a postgraduate qualification ensures that your academic training is obtained in an environment most conducive to learning, with constant guidance available. In addition, the better Masters programmes offer a large element of professional development, as does Athlone IT, which will assist in preparation for the workplace.’
A full-time postgraduate Accounting programme can also provide a shortcut to professional qualification. A one-year full-time postgraduate course can equip a student with the exemptions that would be equivalent to three years of part time study and assessment with a professional body. For that reason accountancy firms will sometimes sponsor a student to undertake a postgraduate course, thereby minimizing the amount of study leave required. This is an option that accounting graduates need to explore with potential employers.
The research skills acquired by postgraduate students during a Masters programme are also attractive to employers: accountants regularly need to research and understand their client’s business and financial strategy. Vital communication and writing skills (something accountants are often accused of lacking) are also enhanced by prolonged academic study.
Apart from Athlone Institute of Technology, Accounting Masters programmes are also available from UCD, UCC, DCU, NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, DIT, Dundalk IT, Letterkenny IT, Waterford IT, Dublin Business School (with Finance – International), Independent Colleges (with Finance), ICD Business School (with Finance) and Griffith College Dublin (with Finance Management). Investigate your options fully, as these courses vary in terms of duration, professional exam exemptions, work placements, career prospects and modules of specialisation.
Conversion courses, which are offered in NUI Maynooth, UCC, DIT, DCU and Galway-Mayo IT, are available to those with no accounting experience at third level. The only prerequisite is usually a second class honours degree, which can be in a completely unrelated topic. The accessible nature of these programmes has led to a diversity of backgrounds among accountants today; with many professionals having previous experience in law, teaching or IT for example. These transferable skills are looked at favourably by employers and reflect that in addition to a talent for numbers, the candidate has other impressive qualities such as an insight into business practice, analytical abilities and communication skills.
You can research your options for studying accounting as a postgraduate student on Postgrad.ie.
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