ACA with a small firm or Postgraduate studies


Hi just seeking some advice as to my next step. I was unsuccessful in securing ACA training contract with any of the big/medium sized firms but was offered a training contract by a very small sized regional accountancy firm. I also just got an offer for a postgraduate study from the Warwick Business School. If anyone could advise me as to which offer to take it’d be much appreciated.


Hope this helps…I have been in a similar scenario to you. After graduating in Accounting I tried to secure a training contract anywhere but to no luck. I managed to get to the assessment centre many times but the position was never offered to me which is a real demotivator I must admit.

I pretty much got rejected everywhere and with little time left I opted to study a MSc as well but mine was at LSE. It was the time of year again when I nearly finished my MSc and it was time to apply to training contract vacancies again. This time I pretty much applied to the same firms again but was only offered 1 or 2 more interviews this time round compared to last year. More surprisingly the recruitment people didn’t even ask about my MSc at all!.

In my mind somewhere I would have thought that the MSc would help me somehow but in reality it appears to do very little. I was offered a training contract in the end with a high mid tier firm but this wasn’t thanks to the MSc but the work experience I did during my MSc which pretty much all recruitment people asked about.

In my eyes an MSc is next to useless in terms of securing a training contract…but it could be useful when you have worked in a firm for a few years and promotions are available according to my friends mum which works in a big4 HR area…

So in the end it is up to you. Warwick is a amazing place to study and it would be a shame to give up on it but in my opinion it is a bigger shame to give up on your offer despite it coming from a small firm. I mean look at the current economy, if you read the news today another major clothes store went into administration today (Republic) and it really does seem like jobs are going to get harder and harder to get from now on…

This is just my 2 pennies…

Who knows, maybe after you qualify in 3 years, the economy will pick back up again and then you can jump ship to the other bigger firms when more opportunities arises! At least get the ACA under your belt first.


Don’t underestimate the value of a training contract and don’t overestimate the value of an MSc.
I also did an MSc and found that no one cares about the qualification. The only benefit for me doing it was that I gained some experiences that I can talk about. I’m still searching for that elusive training contract, which is a real pain.

Whilst the choice is entirely up to you, I wouldn’t rule out the training contract simply because its with a small firm. I currently work for a small company as a Finance Assistant, and find that although I don’t have work to do all of the time, the office atmosphere and environment is extremely positive. This doesn’t occur often at bigger firms (so I hear).

But whatever decision you choose to make, I wish you all the best!


Thank you very much guys for the very quick replies. It helped me clear my mind a little :).

Just want to raise some follow up questions of what kind of future opportunities would be there for a newly qualified ACA from a small regional firm? Do I possess as much potential to fare well in the industry as the competitors from the bigger sized firms? Or would I be treated very harshly against all those competitors from the Big4 and the medium sized firms, and if so how great a challenge would it be for me to find a senior position job? Would it be more wise to take this offer and get my qualification ASAP or to wait and keep applying for the medium/ large firms?

Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts/experiences.


As long as you get your ACA qualification, you will always have opportunities to branch out and move up the corporate ladder. You will most probably not get the experience that those working for larger firms will get, but you will get experience nonetheless.
Statistically, I could not tell you if you fare better than the bigger firms; I would guess probably not, however you will fare a LOT better than someone who has less experience. As well, you could always move up the ladder in smaller steps, rather than go from small firm to big bank.

If you truly want to work for a larger firm (top 20 or even Big 4), and you truly believe that an MSc will help secure you a place, then go for it. However, be warned that very few employers look at your MSc; rather they will only consider the experiences you gained that you will demonstrate in your competencies.

Pleasure! Good luck with whatever decision you choose to make.


Hmm could anyone list what type of roles will I be eligible for once I am ACA qualified? I’ve seen a variety of roles named senior audit, etc but not sure where I would fit when I am newly qualified after 3 years. Thanks a bunch!


As background, I used to be a graduate recruiter for one of the Big 4 and also HR Manager in two of the Big 4 and a regional firm.

You will get good opportunities after qualifying with a small regional firm, but very probably not as good as if you were Big 4 qualified. Obviously it would be easier to make partner in a smaller firm though, if that is your aim. I would generalise and say that no, you would not possess as much potential to fare well in the industry in general as competitors from the bigger firms - but there will still be potential to do well. Much will depend on you as an individual.

Which stage in the process are you falling down on in the Big 4? Is whatever it is that is tripping you up something you can improve on for next time?


Thank you for your honest answers. But what do you think? Should I turn the offer from the really small firm down and aim for medium/bigger sized firms by taking it more slowly with more time until start my career, for the next intake, or should I start the ACA asap and get qualified as quickly as I can? I can’t decide at the moment as I am unsure how much difference it would make by starting with a very small firm. I got round to the telephone interviews and didn’t get a chance for a face 2 face or assessment centres with the big 4.

I am feeling pressurised as I have graduated 2 years ago now and also have to give this small firm an answer within a week. Please help.


Well I know you got a lot of questions right now especially revolving around will the small firm hinder you from bigger things etc.

Well I can answer you that yes, the small firm will hinder you in terms of prestige and other things compared to big 4 but don’t forget that the ACA is very good regardless and any employers will not look down at it full stop.

I have came across people who said that they went from a high street firm to the big 4 and I also have heard people from the big 4 stepping down to smaller firms for one reason or another. Additionally, my friend trained at a relatively small firm of around 50 people and he managed to get into industry with relative ease but this is prior recession though…

At the end the questions you are asking does not have any answers as it has too many variables such as what work you will be doing, the client you will face, the experience you pick up, what you can offer the firm/company you want to jump to and the economy at the time you want to jump ship etc etc.

All I can say is go with your heart but for ME PERSONALLY I would leap at the aca contract despite it coming from the small firm because I know how hard it was for me to land the current contract I have now and I definitely do not want to go through the whole recruitment process again.

If you feel that doing a masters will help you and it would not be too difficult to land another contract then by all means take the masters route but who knows what the future holds.

You still got a good week of thinking left and I think you should think deeply for yourself on whether you mind working at the small firm or whether you personally feel you can reach greater heights…but remember to be more realistic and truthful to yourself with these things…

Anyway regardless I want to know what your decision will be anyway!!


Well the day of the decision is near and I’m probably going to accept the offer for the training contract for now. Guessing that some kind of experience and ACA qualification (or passing some exams first time before applying for any other positions out there) will be more beneficial for the career in a long run than a Masters.

Novadragon can I ask you which tier firm you landed your training contract at and how long it took you in total to do so?

And if anyone’s got anything they would like to add it’s always welcome even after I had posted the letter of acceptance as I still will be trying to comfort myself in one way or another :p.

Also any information as to what it would be like (how hard, etc) to move from a very small accounting firm to a mid tier firm to use as a stepping stone to bigger firm/industry would be appreciated. It might even be that I would prefer sticking to that mid tier once I settle down.


Good decision you are making in my opinion DoubleUP!

A bit of background info from me which I hope can convince you that the choice you made was a good one.

I graduated in 2011 in an accounting degree with a 1st from a russel group uni. I then did a masters in another russel group uni in finance with a distinction. During this time I did relevant work experience at a small local accounting firm which I loved.

In terms of applications, I applied to a variety of firms. If I remember right I went to 7 assessment centres which is the last stage of the recruitment process and was only given an offer from one firm which is not big4 but still in the top 10. I was chuffed to bits as I made a large number of applications and then onto online tests and first interviews before reaching the assessment centre and finally to offer.

Personally all the rejections really got to me and it got to a point where I didn’t mind where I was working as long as I got a training contract. This feeling really is bad and certainly not something you want to go through…It certainly wasn’t because I was a bad candidate according to the HR people but simply because competition is that fierce. For example ALL of those assessment centres I been to, all of them was only recruiting 2-3 people for that particular office but there was like 10-12 people at the assessment centre… The worst one must be the AC I went to that was recruiting one person but there was 15 people on the day!! .Despite the truth that it is difficult to get to the AC anyway, the harsh reality is that even if you do, the chance of success is still so low…maybe around 15-20%!

It was like I struck gold given the current economic climate that I got the offer and it just so happens it was with a top 10 firm but please don’t think I was aiming that high to begin with. I even applied to a handful of high street firms with under 10 employers because the economy really is that bad!

I hope you the best of luck! I begin this August what about you? Maybe we can sulk our life away when doing the ACA! Bring on another 3 years of work and study!

I hope this post helps and reassures you at least a little bit…


I think you are making the right decision too.

When you said this: ‘Guessing that some kind of experience and ACA qualification (or passing some exams first time before applying for any other positions out there) will be more beneficial for the career in a long run than a Masters’ did you mean that you may try to transfer between firms during training contract? If so, I think that’s really hard to do (not even sure if it is possible, I’m sure the ICAEW could advise).


Thank you very much, nova and interview, for the thumbs up.

Nova, I’ve been through some ACs and I totally agree with you about its absurdity. As a quiet, respecting individual I could not shine above 20 people in impressing the assessors at all! I am just feeling a little demotivated and lack of confidence, let down by myself that the no-name, highstreet accounting firm was the only place that I landed a training contract on…

I’m quite content though, in the sense that I will have enough time and room in my mind to enjoy the whole learning process and that I will be reporting straight to the partners (hope this IS a plus).

And Interview, I’ve heard from someone in the Big4 that it is in fact possible to start a new training contract when you have passed some exams for the ACA already (not partly qualified but some exams under the belt). Not completely sure if I will try that but I really hope that I can move to a bigger size firm (anything ranging from mid tier upwards) in London/Surrey area to use as a stepping stone or to be my permanent workplace for many years as that is where I want to settle down later on.

Right now stuck in the Midlands for another 3/4 years but fingers strongly crossed I’ll make it down there in the end. <- the possibility of doing so was the main concern for me really and I’m just left with the only option of “Hoping” :stuck_out_tongue:


Hey DoubleUP, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind saying where abouts you got your regional training contract? Not the name of the firm but roughly whereabout it is? I’m hoping to secure a training contract in London but reality is that it might not be likely :frowning: So I just wanted an idea of how far out of London I should go while looking for a smaller regional firm. I’m moving to London hoping to work for several reasons and if I can’t get one which allows me to live in London and commute, I might consider staying where I am or other options.