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Accounting and advisory industry overview

Emmanuel Payne

An enormously popular profession with grads, the sky’s the limit if you have patience and strong analytical skills.

The phrase ‘taking care of business’ was never more suited to a profession. Accountants are the professionals we trust to prepare financial statements, develop and monitor budgets, provide tax advice, monitor weekly expenditure, and ensure their client achieves (and maintains) financial health. Often, when they do their jobs well, accountants also do their jobs invisibly: for example, while the CEO of a multinational company is on TV announcing a new charitable initiative, accountants may be back in the office ensuring that the same initiative makes fiscal sense. 

Accountants can be found working for companies of every size, from sole traders and small businesses to multinational corporations and government agencies. This is a profession that offers graduates many opportunities to specialise. For example, management accountants provide income forecasts, analysing how a business is performing and advising managers on how it could improve. Forensic accountants look through business and individual accounts, searching for discrepancies, and, in many cases, contributing to the prosecution of tax frauds, money launderers, smugglers, and other criminals. Internal auditors keep an eye on the way money and inventory moves around within a business, allowing them to root out sources of inefficiency and ensure their business complies with rules and regulations. 

The ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – EY, KPMG, Deloitte and PwC – hire a large number of accountancy grads each year, offering structured career development programs that allow recruits to set out on the fast-track to the executive lounge.

According to the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment, the estimated average income of an assistant/junior accountant was between $44,000 and $55,000. More experienced accountants without a CA/CPA qualification can earn a salary as high as $90,000, while mid-level accountants with up to four years' experience usually earn between $76,000 and $106,000. 

Job market outlook

The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and an Employment report that job prospects for newly qualified accountants are good and likely to remain so thanks to the growing demand for financial services. Job prospects improve for accountants who pursue graduate professional qualifications, such as by becoming a chartered accountant or a registered member of the Accountants and Tax Agents Institute of New Zealand. 

How to get hired

Larger firms tend to hire graduates who have already taken part in vacation or ‘taster’ programs, so seizing upon early internship and placement opportunities provides a crucial way for you to get a foot in the door.

In-depth knowledge about an employer will not only impress recruiters but also provide you with an opportunity to find out whether you would genuinely enjoy working at an organisation. One easy way to research a target employer is to log on to the GradNewZealand website and check out our graduate reviews. You can also set up a Google News alert to notify you when your preferred employers are mentioned in the news, allowing you to stay abreast of important developments. 

Almost all types of organisations, from technology companies to government agencies, recruit graduate accountants. These roles can be highly competitive, with most major accounting firms accepting applications for the graduate program between February and April, and intern programs from June to August. If you’d prefer to work for a smaller organisation, wish to set out on your own, or simply missed out on a role at a large firm, consider using LinkedIn to network, apply directly to businesses, or set yourself set up as a sole trader.

Key skills you need

Love of learning

Graduates with a focus on continuing professional development will thrive in the new economy, as the accounting industry experiences a strong push to standardise accounting standards on a global level. New practices, techniques and standards are released on an almost daily basis.If you choose to become a chartered accountant (CA), you’ll need to commit to a minimum of 120 hours of continuing professional development every three years, with no fewer than 20 hours to be completed each calendar year.  

Problem-solving ability

Problem-solving abilities are useful in most professions and particularly indispensable with accounting. For example, if you’re management or forensic accountant, you’ll need to be able to provide practical advice to organisations as they confront business challenges and rely on your skills to keep them from drifting into murky waters.

Well-rounded interests

Employers consistently tell us that a key recruitment criterion they rely on to identify promising candidates is involved in extracurricular activities. Employers favour candidates who not only perform well academically but have diverse interests in sports or community service initiatives, which they see as revealing a well-rounded personality and a healthy approach to work and play.