Graduates applying to firms of chartered accountants

| 11th April 2012

As an expanding practice, we have needed a graduate trainee for a while now – hungry, capable and durable!

We therefore advertised a single vacancy on the ICAEW website.

How many CV’s did we receive? 25? 100? Much higher as it turns out.

A staggering 252 CVs with cover letters – mostly through email but a handful through the old-fashioned postal system.

We went through every single one in detail. As you might expect, there were around three or four magnificent applications and around 50 frankly embarrassing ones. However, that means that around 200 needed further scrutiny in order that we could call a suitable number to the next stage (psychometric tests).

Below are some observations and advice that I hope may be useful for the next generation applying for a graduate position at an accountancy firm in this ridiculously competitive era.

1.       Attention to detail:

Watch out for a reference number! This isn’t just so that your application falls into the correct person’s in-tray. (In a smaller firm it might well be the actual business owner rather than an HR employee going through your job application). It can be a differentiator as an accountancy job is all about attention to detail!

Read the website. Read it properly and thoroughly and take notes. At the very least make the effort to tailor your covering letter to the business you are applying to and show that you have a modicum of initiative. If you can’t be bothered – save yourself a little extra time by not bothering to apply at all!

Include the correct name of the firm you’re applying to. Half a dozen cover letters had our competitors’ names in the cover letter rather than “Howlader & Co”. Now, we’re not naïve – we fully expect that you’re applying to as many firms as you can. What we don’t expect is such a lack of attention to detail. As soon as we see the wrong name anywhere your application goes in the bin. With 252 applicants we would prefer someone with an eye for detail. Mistakes cost money at every level. On a related note, run spell-checkers and pay particular attention to spelling of names.

2.       Detail your A-Levels and GCSE’s (as well as your degree). You are graduates that are applying for the graduate trainee role. Your grades are an important indicator of whether you can make it through some pretty brutal exams. If they are poor then so be it. If you have mitigating circumstances it is worth describing them. Don’t think you can outsmart your potential future employer by simply writing “4 A-levels” and hoping we won’t notice. We will simply assume that they were awful!

3.       Be polite and not presumptuous – not a common problem but if you’re not humble you have no chance whatsoever. Nobody likes arrogance!

4.       Make an effort in your covering letter. Give a real life example or two of what sets you apart. How you went that extra mile at some stage in your life. After all, that’s what we’re trying to do – distinguish you from the others.

5.       Sense check – It is a good idea to show your application to somebody to check for the basics. Does it read well? Is it easy on the eye? Any major grammatical mistakes? Do you look professional? Would your friend/tutor hire you on the basis of what you are submitting?


In general, you are better off really putting time and effort into a smaller number of applications than just blanket emailing swathes of employers. Even the decent CVs that didn’t quite make the initial cut we have kept (with permission) on record in case there is a need further down the line. There is every advantage to investing some time in this.

Good luck.

A career at an ICAEW (Chartered Accountancy) firm is a good one with unlimited domestic and international opportunities. The ACA is (in our view) the most respected accountancy qualification in the world and if you are accountancy-minded in any way a graduate training programme at a firm of chartered accountants, like Howlader & Co – Chartered Accountants London, is gold dust.