Applying for a finance and accounting apprenticeship

Looking to start a career in finance and accounting? While academic routes are often the first thought when entering the field, there is no better way to gain hands-on experience in the sector than embarking on an apprenticeship and working while you learn. In the guide below, we'll help you on the first stage of your journey in applying for an apprenticeship, what to expect at the interview stage, and some advice and guidance from live employers in the space.

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Typical recruitment process for a finance and accounting apprenticeship

Finance and accounting are the cornerstones of UK economy, underpinning the success of start-ups, established businesses and enterprise corporations. With areas like investment banking, corporate finance, forensic accounting, and financial planning looking for apprenticeship candidates, knowing what's ahead could make all the difference to succeeding against the competition. So, what can you expect from the application stage of your journey? We sought insights from leading finance and accounting firms across the UK to take a look at their initial stages of apprenticeship recruitment.
  1. CV, applications, and cover letters

    You will start with a simple application process, that can vary from CVs, detailed cover letters, and/or comprehensive application questionnaires. This stage is a crucial opportunity for you to highlight your enthusiasm for the field of finance, along with any relevant experience, certifications, or academic qualifications that make your profile stand out from the crowd.
  2. Interviews

    Interviews in the finance and accounting sector, whether with enterprise corporations or local firms, are likely to be the next step in your journey. These interviews may take place in-person or through virtual platforms and serve as a dual opportunity for both employers to gauge candidate fit and for yourself to enquire about specific job responsibilities, company culture, and growth opportunities.
  3. Assessment centres and psychometrics

    Leading finance and accounting firms may invite you to an assessment centre next, where they undertake a series of short psychometric evaluations designed to assess your aptitude in areas like critical reasoning, numerical analysis, and communication. These assessments may also include exercises in financial analysis, ethical decision-making scenarios, and group activities with other candidates that simulate real-world financial challenges, allowing you to demonstrate your ability to work collaboratively.

Dos and don'ts when applying for a finance and accounting apprenticeship

  • Demonstrate an awareness of the firm and your chosen finance pathway in your application by researching the company and the apprenticeship in detail.
  • Try to make your application stand out as much as possible. Finance and accounting employers value creativity highly.
  • Talk about your skills outside of the job role that complement your academic qualifications, think of transferable skills you may have picked up during your time both inside and outside of the classroom.
  • Don't assume that an aptititude for maths is the most important trait to have in when working in the field. Employers are looking for something that makes you stand out from the crowd.
  • Don't forget to proofread your CV or application before you submit it. Attention to detail is a highly sought after skill, and one or two small mistakes could make all the difference.
  • Don't submit an incomplete application, even if the questions don't seem relevant to you. Contact the employer if you can't provide specific details. The chances are that you aren't the first!

Let’s talk about… finance & accounting apprenticeships

A word from existing finance and accounting apprentice experts

Research into the apprenticeship role you're looking at for is the key to creating an effective application. Join Katie Thistleton as she talks to accounting and finance degree apprenticeship experts, Associate Professor Rachel Johnstone from the University of Exeter, Anthony Clarke from The Association of Accounting Technicians, and Tan To, Accounting Apprentice at Disney.

What are finance and accounting apprenticeship employers looking for?

  1. Great communication skills

    Communication skills are invaluable as a finance and accounting apprentice. Not only written english and proficiency in numeracy, but the ability to communicate complex problems and information to other members of the team. Is there a way you can communicate your skills from your past experiences? Perhaps you have led a problem-solving project in your academic career, or excelled in a team building event in a club or sport setting?
  2. Practical experience

    Being able to demonstrate your experience in finance and accounting is a great way to get the attention of employers. This doesn't necessarily need to be direct experience at a finance firm either. For example, if you have handled the responsibility of money handling in a retail or hospitality environment, then that's a good place to start.  
  3. Hobbies and interests

    Finance and accounting employers are not just looking for experience and qualifications relating to money, they require certain characteristics from candidates, too. Your hobbies and interets are an easy way to show your commitment to success, especially if they show off an element of team work, communication, or analytical problem-solving.
  4. Extra-curricular responsibilities

    Not all activities fall under hobbies and interests. Perhaps you have a part-time job, you're a young carer, or you volunteer for a local charity. This is invaluable information at the application stage to prove your drive, determination and maturity. 
  5. Industry insight

    Research is critical. Finance and accounting employers are looking for someone with a good knowledge of their company and the role they are applying for. Make sure you look into the company as much as possible to get a feel for the industry and the clients that they serve, as well as their culture and values too.

The top five skills that finance and accounting employers are looking for

We spoke to a number of finance and accounting apprenticeship employers to find out exactly what skills they were looking for from their ideal candidate. Here are the top five! 

  1. Communication
  2. Proficiency in written English and Numeracy
  3. IT knowledge
  4. Teamwork
  5. Problem-solving

Common interview questions to expect for a finance and accounting apprenticeship?

To give you a head start on your interview, here are some of the questions that an employer might ask you during the process:
  • "Can you describe a scenario where you've applied analytical skills and attention to detail in either a professional or educational setting and how it aligns with the challenges faced in the financial sector?"
  • "Where do you envision your professional journey leading you within the next five years in the realm of finance and accountancy?"
  • "Can you discuss any relevant work or volunteer experience you've had that you feel prepares you for this role?"
  • "How have you managed past challenges or deadlines, and what strategies do you believe will help you succeed in the dual role of working and studying as part of our team?"
  • "Can you detail the skills and behaviors you believe are critical for a successful accountant and provide examples of how you've demonstrated these?"

A word from the experts

Gareth John, Executive Director, First Intuition
Applying for an apprenticeship isn’t a scary process. It’s a great opportunity to show off all of your academic achievements and extra-curricular activities, but do explain what benefit you gained from each experience. It’s really important to do some research on the employer that you are applying for and to tailor your application to both them and to the apprenticeship you would like to undertake.

A word from an existing apprentice

Lucy Jennings, Client Support, Scrutton Bland LLP
The common misconception that students have when considering and applying for accounting and finance apprenticeships is that they need to be a genius in mathematics, which is certainly not the case. One of the main skills that employers in the finance world are looking for is someone who excels in written and verbal communication as building relationships with peers, colleagues and clients is pivotal to customer experience and therefore success in the finance world.
The percentage of F&A employers that opt for face-to-face interviews over virtual
1-3 months
The average time the apprenticeship recruitment process takes for 56% of F&A employers.

Examples to wow an employer

An example of a cover letter section

Since an early age, I've always been fascinated with problem solving, mathematics and numeracy, where logic beats interpretation. This fascination has seen me develop a clear passion to work in the accounting industry for a enterprise level company. Following XXXX for many years, I am particularly keen to gain invaluable experience in your professional accouning degree apprenticeship, and fit in among your creative and bold culture.

My passion for numbers is backed by my educational choices, having studied accounting and business at college level, where my predicted grades are XXXX. Not only have I made accounting a big part of my educational life, my responsibility has spread to my hobbies and interests too, taking a leadership role in handling cash and accounts and communicating changes and updates for my local rugby team on a regular basis. 

Why is this a good example?
  • Describing passion for the field: This applicant tells a story that goes beyond immediate further education, building up a personality, passion and commitment to the field.
  • Hands-on experience in a related field: While this applicant doesn't display any relevant experience at a business, they show their willingness and responsibility in leading a local team, particularly in a monetary sense.
  • Company knowledge: The applicant mentions the particular company, role and values. This is a demonstration of their prior research into the company, and that their cover letter isn't following a one-size-fits-all approach.
  • Relevant skills: The applicant clearly states that they offer skills relevant to the roles, such as numeracy, problem solving, communication and leadership, with examples to back up their statement.