Accounting firms are looking for driven, motivated and resilient people with intellectual agility and curiosity who can stay focused and get things done. 

It's also important that candidates have a high degree of self-awareness – that is, that they understand their own strengths, weaknesses and development needs. 

Accounting firms invest heavily in developing their employees' skills, so getting into this industry as a graduate is not so much about what you've done already as showing you're passionate about learning, improving your abilities, and progressing in your career.

It's worth noting that taking part in a penultimate year internship can be an excellent way to get onto an accounting firm's graduate programme. 

The application process will often follow the same structure, and it's an opportunity to gain experience in accounting, and to make sure it's right for you before committing to a graduate programme. A significant proportion of accounting firm interns will usually receive a graduate programme offer on the strength of their performance during their internship.

Here are the main steps involved in applying to an accounting firm for a graduate scheme place or internship:

Applying to an accounting firm step 1: research and thinking

It's important that you go through an honest process of self-analysis and think about what you want from your career and what kind of accounting employer would suit you best.

Next, think about what you've achieved so far in the context of the skills accounting firms ask for. For example, you could demonstrate your drive and motivation through having sought out a valuable internship and then gained skills from the experience. 

It doesn't matter whether your achievements are in voluntary work, academics, sporting activities or work experience – accounting firms are most interested in what you've learnt, rather than the context in which you did so.

Applying to an accounting firm step 2: written applications

The next step in applying to an accounting firm is usually an online application.

The application will typically involve an application form where you'll need to fill in details of your qualifications and experience, complete some numerical and logical reasoning tests, and answer some questions to test your knowledge of the firm and the role you're applying for. 

There may also be some questions designed to test your understanding of the accounting industry in general and your general commercial awareness.

Applying to an accounting firm step 3: interviews and assessment days

If your written application is successful, you may be initially invited to a first interview, either over the phone or face-to-face.

If you pass this hurdle, you'll then be invited to an assessment day. This will involve a mixture of activities, probably including a group exercise, a written assessment, more interviews, and an opportunity to meet people currently on the firm's graduate programme.