How to become a qualified accountant (Definition and steps)

Updated 28 August 2023

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A woman sits at a desk working on a computer. There's a list of steps to become a qualified accountant. The headline reads, "How to become a qualified accountant"
The steps below are:
1. Complete A-levels in maths and economics
2. Study an accounting degree
3. Start specialised qualifications
4. Seek an accounting apprenticeships
5. Gain an accounting apprenticeship
6. Complete qualifications for a chartered accountant
7. Achieving high-level accountancy qualifications
8. Applying for jobs as a qualified chartered accountant

Accountants play a vital role in maintaining and advising on company finances. Qualified accountants, also known as chartered accountants, take their training further to support businesses with in-depth knowledge and financial expertise. If you're looking for a role that requires high attention to detail, software skills and financial knowledge, a qualified accountant position may be a good choice. In this article, we explain how to become a qualified accountant, plus tips to find a job once you've completed your training.

What is a qualified accountant?

A qualified accountant is a chartered professional who has passed all necessary exams to manage and communicate financial information in a business. As a chartered accountant, you use analytical skills to help define business targets, financial knowledge to support budgeting and decision-making and software skills to record and manage day-to-day finances effectively. Qualified accountants typically work alongside a larger finance team, including bookkeepers and administrators, to meet business needs. This role involves direct contact with the management team, providing expert advice on the state of business finances to support growth and other activities.

Qualified accountants undergo comprehensive training and necessary exams to qualify for these roles. Employers for this position can vary from small businesses where you are the sole financial professional to multinational firms where you operate as part of a large finance team. You may also work as an accountant in an agency or external firm, providing services to clients or on a freelance basis offering similar services to multiple businesses. As a highly skilled profession, qualified accountants are a requirement in every industry to handle finances, manage taxes and help with money-related decisions.

How to become a qualified accountant

Qualified accountants have years of training and experience to complete before becoming fully chartered, which is helpful to know when learning how to become a qualified accountant. For example, you complete at least three years of practical experience and pass all necessary exams to qualify as a chartered accountant. Some of the steps you could follow to become a qualified accountant include:

1. Completing A-levels in maths and economics

A-levels in relevant subjects such as maths and economics are a valuable foundation for training as an accountant. These courses help you develop the analytical and numerical skills required for day-to-day responsibilities in a chartered accountant job. A-levels in subjects such as IT and business studies are also helpful for developing skills necessary for qualified accountant positions while providing the grades essential to continue to higher education.

Related: 13 essential accountant skills

2. Studying for an accountancy degree

Accountancy degrees can be a valuable way to further your skills in an academic environment. While a degree in accountancy isn't a requirement for becoming chartered, it can be helpful in finding positions in competitive environments. Accountancy degrees can be general or specialist, such as degrees in management or banking accountancy.

Related: How to get an accounting degree and succeed as an accountant

3. Starting specialised accountant qualifications

Specialised qualifications provide specific training to develop your skills as an accountant, using a combination of practical working skills, industry knowledge and on-the-job training to further your learning. Starting with a foundation course from an accountancy association or institute can be helpful in qualifying for entry-level accountant positions. Some of the most common sources for accountant qualifications include:

  • Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT)

  • Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

  • Association of International Accountants (AIA)

  • Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

  • Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)

Many workplaces accept accountancy qualifications from any of the boards above. Foundation courses from these providers can offer the skills necessary for specialised training courses. For example, completing basic training with the ICAEW can lead you to become a chartered accountant.

Related: What is basic accounting (principles, jobs and education)

4. Choosing your specialism

Accounting splits into two disciplines, management accounting and financial accounting. These areas also have options for further specialisation, such as developing your skills as a budget and financial analysis professional as a management accountant or training as a finance controller. You may also choose to specialise with the goal of self-employment, such as training in tax accountancy or learning how to handle unique accounting for project-based industries like construction.

Related: How to become a financial accountant (with certifications)

5. Seeking an accountancy apprenticeship

Accountancy apprenticeships are a practical way to gain initial experience in the field. Temporary or summer internships are standard options for larger companies, while smaller businesses may hire an apprentice accountant to train them for a specific role. Getting experience in different areas of accountancy is valuable in deciding where you'd like to work and developing real-world skills beyond theories and technical knowledge.

Related: How much does a trainee accountant make? Plus duties

6. Gaining three years of accountancy experience

To become a fully qualified chartered accountant, a set amount of experience is necessary. For example, the ICAEW requires 450 hours of workplace experience before qualification. Gaining experience in junior accountancy or finance-related position can be an excellent option to develop your skills and understanding of finance.

Related: 13 accountancy degree jobs for graduates (with salaries)

7. Achieving high-level accountancy qualifications

Completing the necessary practical work experience and achieving passing marks in exams are the final steps necessary to becoming a fully qualified accountant. Once you've passed all modules, you are eligible to apply for jobs as a trained professional in any field you prefer. You may also choose to diversify with further specialist training, such as forensic accounting or specific software knowledge.

Related How much does a CFA cost? (Plus common FAQs)

8. Applying for jobs as a qualified chartered accountant

Once you have completed your qualifications, you can apply for positions as a qualified chartered accountant. For example, you may choose to re-apply to companies you've interned at in the past or consider finding a job in a specific industry that interests you. You may also opt to go freelance or work for an accounting firm, providing professional services to a range of clients.


  • Learn How To Write an Accountant CV in 6 Steps

  • Accountant personal statement CV examples (With importance)

Tips for finding qualified accountant jobs

If you're considering a career as a qualified accountant, gaining experience and understanding the different kinds of opportunities is helpful. For example, an accountant for a small business may have separate responsibilities from an accountant working in a large finance department. Some of the tips you may consider when applying for qualified accountant jobs include:

Seeking work experience in different environments

Accountancy can be a varied profession depending on where you work. For example, accountancy for an office environment may differ from accountancy for a project-based business, such as video game development or agency services. Seeking experience in different environments and companies can help you decide what kind of place you'd like to work in once you qualify and be helpful in standing out from other applicants in the jobs you apply for.

Related: How to write an accountant trainee CV (with example)

Considering an accredited degree to save time

An accredited degree offers the benefits of a typical bachelor's degree in accountancy while covering some of the modules and requirements for chartered accountancy. For example, a degree accredited to a specific accountancy board may allow you to skip particular exams or coursework to qualify quickly. If you already have experience in accountancy, this option offers a fast way to qualify and find a job without the significant time investment of a traditional route.

Researching summer internships to gain corporate experience

Large-scale businesses often provide summer internships or short-term placements to allow you to gain work experience in a multinational company. Seeking an internship can be valuable in gaining unique knowledge and understanding the different requirements for high-end clients in comparison to standard businesses. If you're unsure whether you'd like to work in a large accountancy firm, a summer internship is an ideal way to try out that particular environment.

Training in different types of financial software

Financial software proficiency is a useful skill for most accountancy roles. With different businesses utilising bespoke, custom or industry-specific software for finances, it's crucial to have a broad knowledge of the accountancy tools you may use. For example, if you know you'd like to work in the entertainment industry as an accountant, you could research and train in the most common software used in that field.

Related: 8 most effective cloud accounting software for businesses

Finding an employer to sponsor your qualification

If you'd like to work in a specific field or prefer to work for a local company, you could consider approaching them and asking about apprenticeships. Smaller employers may offer the opportunity for you to gain qualifications and experience as you work, sponsoring your education. Many companies provide this service on the understanding that you continue to work for the company for a set amount of time after qualifying. Typically, employers request a commitment of two or more years following your qualification to remain within the business.

Related: A guide to graduate accountancy schemes (with salary info)

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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