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Is your son or daughter looking to start a career?

A friend of the family approached me recently to ask for tips on how her 21-year-old son Tom could start an accountancy career.

This inspired me to put together the advice I have given many people over the years in answer to this question.

In compiling it I realised that it has relevance for starting any career.

Here’s the advice I offered to Tom:

1. Firstly, accept that you need to be really self-motivated. This will distinguish you from 90% (99%?) of the competition to start with!

2. Don’t just use agencies – most employers dislike them and the excessive fees that they charge.

3. Instead, directly approach companies you’d like to work for. Call or email and ask for the name of the person who makes hiring decisions, then write to them (try doing a hand-written, snail-mail letter perhaps – these are very rare and so stand out), setting out why you want to work for them and what you can offer them. But give an email address for replies and mention your LinkedIn page (see below) to show your are not IT illiterate!

4. Don’t use a silly sounding email address (my daughter used to use ‘dizzylizzy@…..’). Be casual but professional. Maybe use the word ‘accounts’ or similar as part of it.

5. Look for businesses with connections to areas where you already have experience and credibility, based on your other qualifications, hobbies or experience. In Tom’s case this was piano music and teaching, so perhaps he could start with music schools?

6. Get on LinkedIn to start building a personal ‘brand’. Use it to look for opportunities to link with potential employers and contacts who can help you now and in the long term.

7. Contact the AAT, which is the entry-level accountancy professional body for advice.

8. Sign up to some cheap courses to start learning the basics of accounts, maybe an accountancy A level, at a local tech college (or whatever they call themselves now).

9. But, practical skills are often more valued by employers than academic ones. Try getting on a cheap Sage course for their Line 50 software and/or get a book like this.

10. Google for videos and tutorials for other training resources for this sort of thing.

11. Of course you may need to do volunteer work to get some real work experience.

12. Interviews: when I interview people, I prefer them to interview me. I think you can judge a person better by the questions they ask than by the pat answers they give. Take a list of questions – mainly ones about the company (what it does, who its customers are, future plans and targets) and how you would be able to help them. Leave questions about “what’s in it for you” till the end.

13. Finally, be confident – you have loads to offer!

Let me know if there is anything else that you would advise people like Tom – particularly based on what influences you when you hire people.

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