Strong academics and work experience, but MATURE CANDIDATE... Any hope for ACA contract?

Grant Thornton
Kingston Smith


Although no company would officially state it, I’m very anxious that there is a strong bias for ‘fresh’ graduates for ACA training contracts…

A little about myself, or my ‘pros’:
*Oxford graduate, with a strong 2:1.
*3 A’s at A-level.
*Fully trilingual in English, Japanese and French.
*Qualified teacher (taught A-level Japanese and French), so communication skills, making the complex accessible etc.
*Several years’ experience working for large Japanese corporation on contract negotiation, strategy and compliance (often working together with in-house accountants).
*Strong numeracy skills (passed the Kenexa online tests for Grant Thornton and Kingston Smith).

What, I fear, is the main ‘con’: I just turned 33.
Just got rejected after an Assessment Day at Kingston Smith which I thought went very well. They haven’t given me feedback yet, but the only thing I can think of is my age (the other candidates were much more recent graduates).
I’m in a stable commercial job currently (above Japanese company), but have hit a major ceiling, and am now committed to pursuing the ACA.
Am preparing to really apply hard for the post-September cycle.
I’d appreciate any advice/opinions on age as it applies to ACA contracts. Thank you.


All I can say is don’t give up hope. Your strong academic background plus rich real-world experience in various fields in both private and public sector should give you some excellent examples to talk about when you have a phone or face-to-face interview. Won’t say my age but I graduated back in 2012 and only managed to land a graduate trainee job late last year starting this September (taking a bit of a break after graduation). Had quite a few heartbreakingly close attempts (rejections after Partner Interview) but kept plugging on and that moment when the HR person rang me to offer me a job (one of the Big 4) will forever live with me.

With regards to your age, it may be a bit of a problem with some mid-tiers and regional firms, but certainly not Big 4 from my experience, who really value diversity and variety of backgrounds in the trainees they recruit, not just simply paying lips services or doing point-scoring PR stunts. Apply to any firm you wish by all means, but I think given your circumstances that you stand a much better with Big 4 (plus possibly GT, BDO and Baker Tilly) so would “reserve” special efforts with them.

Other pearls of wisdom:

  1. I think all the Big 4 start their application cycles around July/August, so don’t wait until September to apply if possible.
  2. You’ll almost certainly be tested on commercial awareness when you reach 1st interview stage, be it phone or in person, so regularly read what’s in the business news. You can even start now as what I found from experience is that with commercial awareness, they’re more interested in your viewpoint/insight on a particular business news story, as opposed to just regurgitate what you read in the news. When I failed my earlier 1st round interviews, the feedback I was given was that my commercial awareness was a weak point, but as soon as I made following business news a daily habit (around 15-30 mins a day, even with no scheduled interviews coming up), I found that area much easier to prepare and can spontaneously answer unexpected follow-up questions. Not long after my first ever offer, I turned up for another Partner Interview at a different Big 4 firm for which I did minimal preparation and the hardest questions she asked were based around commercial awareness (which I thought were rather difficult as I’ve never heard those kind of questions asked but I somehow just came up with sensible answers on-the-spot which really impressed her). Shame I had to turn her down!

Kind regards.


Thank you very much. I really appreciate the effort you took to write that. Your advice rings true. I’d sort of been avoiding the Big4 for various reasons, but figure I should give the a crack. Plus Big4 name would doubtless be stand me in good stead if I end up moving to Canada in future, where I’m a citizen (dual with British).


Thank you for sharing your experience, I am in a similar position and just wanted to know how many days after the assessment day did they take to get back to you. I know you got a rejection email/call, i just wanted to know how long this took after the assessment day. I ask because I had my AC on Wednesday and i haven’t heard anything from them.


Hi Steve, they got back to me on about the Tuesday after the Friday on which the AD took place.

But there’s been a massive silver lining for me. I didn’t mention that I’d passed the academic stage to becoming a solicitor, but had long since given up on getting legal training contracts, hence the interest in ACA. BUT, I just managed to land a TC at a US law firm starting next year. Bring on brutal working hours etc, but sort of relieved not to have to sit the ACA’s. Even though money is good in law, I still like the idea of how ACA gives you more options post-exit, but will see.

Good luck and keep pushing.


Apologies for the delay. It turned out I was successful on my assessment day, hr contacted me a week after and confirmed the partners interview. Unfortunately i was rejected after this stage, which i still cant work out why? i feel bitter, lonely. glad that you’ve found a new role. But i was just thinking am 29 now, I might never have golden opportunity like this ever again, as all other firms including 2 of top 4 already have rejected me. really hate my job and dont really know what to do. Can i still do the aca with a local chartered accountants, is that just as good if i do it with a mid tier firm? Anyway congrats many thanks for your reply.


Hey dude, if you got as far as partner interview, you will get through somewhere. It’s just a matter of persistence. I ended up hating my last job too, and I’m 33. Just keep thinking better late than never.


thank you for your reply. I will take your advise and re-try with the big 4 again, maybe grant thorton too.


Age is a nonfactor - after passing all these stages they may have thought maybe you wouldnt have liked it/fit in or perhaps even a small thing like appearing hesitant during a presentation. really couldve been anything keep going.


I wouldn’t worry about age - I am 30 and have my final interview at KPMG coming up! Wait and see what feedback you receive, to know what you can work on.

There are so many firms out there, so get applying! I have been rejected in the early stages by smaller/mid-size firms, but then have progressed to the later stages with two of the Big Four. Your work experience will really help out with telephone and in-person interviews as you will have tons of examples to demonstrate your abilities.

Best of luck!


I would echo the advice not to worry about your age. I have received a Big4 offer, and I will be in my mid-30s when I start! If you are good enough, then it won’t matter. You will be able to bring additional skills and experience to the firm, and you will have proven that you are capable of succeeding in professional life.